Sunday, May 29, 2016

Surprise, surprise!

Lucille Ball
When it comes to surprises, what’s better, to give or receive?

Last week I pulled off the biggest surprise of my life by dropping in on mom in Pittsburgh, for her 80th birthday. (Only possible because a sudden business trip took me nearly there, to New York.)

A while ago, I asked mom what she wanted for her birthday. “Dinner at Lidia’s,” she said. “Plus, I would like someone to detail my car and plant some herbs in the backyard.”

“Consider it done mom,” I said. She didn’t question how I would pull off these gifts, considering I was 4,000 miles (or about 6,000 kilometers) away.

A popular Italian restaurant, Lidia's had only one available slot open, at 4:30 p.m. Like many true Pittsburghers, my parents eat early, so this wasn’t a problem. In Paris at this time, we’re usually having “goûter,” or a snack to tide us over until dinner at 8 p.m. Lidia’s is also wheelchair accessible, which is important to my dad.

Now came the hard part, herding the Burke cats, with my mom and dad as the wildest ones to corral. They started to waffle as the date approached. “There's a possibility we may have to cancel dinner at Lidia's,” mom wrote in an email to my sister-in-law, who was supposedly handling the reservation, “Dad doesn't want to go.” He has a way of digging in his heel.

Tiramisu at Lidia's
I asked everyone to hang tight until I got there. My brother picked me up at the airport late Thursday, and my sister-in-law phoned ahead the next day to make sure mom would be at home. “I’m going to Shadyside, and thought we would drop in for a visit on the way there.” Mom still didn’t suspect a thing.

Mom opened the door to my niece, and then saw my sister-in-law approach with luggage. “That’s one big lunch,” my mom thought. Then she saw me on the sidewalk and raised her hands to her cheeks in The Scream pose, as if she saw a ghost!

My dad was in the living room, enjoying the scene. “I guess this means I’ll have to go to dinner,” he said, without missing a beat. We were all speechless.

If that wasn’t surprise enough, then came the ride to dinner with Access, a public transportation shuttle for seniors and the disabled (funded by lottery revenues). It’s great, but you’ve got to build in a lot of time. We got a 2:30 p.m. slot for the 4:30 p.m. reservation. Once we realized we were in it for the long haul, as the driver made several drop-offs and pick-ups, we sat tight. We had to, because this van rode like the Thunderbolt wooden roller coaster at Kennywood!

From the South Hills, we climbed Mt. Washington, where my dad was born. From there we went to East Liberty, and then careened down Penn Avenue, bisecting the Strip District. This area of Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River is rapidly gentrifying, spurred by tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook that have built offices. Riverlife just announced plans for a riverfront park that is sure to continue Pittsburgh’s surprising (but slow) transformation from the Steel City to a tech town (by day and party town by night).

When it comes to life’s surprises, it’s great to give them and receive. An easy way is to be open to life’s wild rides. In the age of Google Mail, Calendar, and Maps, we’ve overplanned our lives and wrung out most of the possibility of the unexpected—how boring!

When was the last time you surprised someone, or had the surprise of your life?

-----------------------

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes the blog Paris, Pittsburgh, And More, about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Find me on LinkedIn, email me at rose.burke89 "at" yahoo.fr, or follow me on Google+.