Metal music, cars bring a couple together

Nov. 12, 2022, in Philadelphia

After Ali and the other members of the PhillyMINI club ended their group driving excursion in Jim Thorpe, he hopped back in his bright yellow Mini Cooper and drove another hour to Danville, Montour County, and the home of his friend, Liz.

Liz and Ali – a traveling critical care doctor from Port Richmond – became friends during their residency in Danville, Va. Many times she had invited him to visit her in Danville, Pa., but Ali always encouraged her to come to Philadelphia instead. “There’s nothing to do in Danville,” he said. But since the PhillyMINI rally had brought him so close, he told Liz he was finally coming.

“You have to meet my friend Heather,” Liz told him. “She’s cute, she likes metal, too, and I really think you guys will get along.”

Heather, a Thomas Jefferson University hospitalist whose childhood began in Allentown and ended in Coopersburg, then worked with Liz at Geisinger Medical Center. She got home from work that May day in 2018 and plunked into bed, exhausted. “I was not feeling it, but then I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to push myself to go meet this guy Liz keeps telling me about.’ ”

The three met up at a restaurant and Heather and Ali fell into such a consuming conversation about music they love that their mutual friend became the third wheel.

At meal’s end, Ali did not want to say goodbye to Heather. “Why don’t you come hang out with us?” he suggested

Back at Liz’s place, Liz promptly went to bed. Ali pulled up some YouTube videos of Meshuggah, a Swedish metal band, on the living room TV so Heather could hear them. Then they went up the stairs to the kitchen so Ali could make cocktails. “I was sitting on the kitchen island counter with Heather in front of me, and I thought, ‘I’m going to give this girl a kiss,’ ” he remembered.

But the next song to come on was by Metallica, and Heather ran back down the stairs to hear better. Ali followed. He sat on one couch. Heather sat across from him on the other one. “You’re on the wrong couch,” Ali told her. He says this is the only suave thing he has ever said in his life. It worked.

“We had our first kiss to ‘Fade to Black,’ ” said Heather.

Ali was about to start a new training program and Heather was soon off to the Philippines for a two-week vacation. “I liked this girl, and I knew I could not dillydally,” said Ali. He invited her to visit him in Philly, and less than a week after they met, she pulled up to his Port Richmond house.

“He opened the door and promptly introduced me to his cat, Maetel,” Heather remembered. “He said, ‘Maetel, this is Heather, and she has all of these good qualities.’ This gave me a really good impression of Ali – that he was kind, and an animal lover.”

Ali took Heather out for ramen and then to the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival. “It was a perfect first date,” she said. At dinner later that weekend, Ali told Heather he wanted her to be his girlfriend, and she agreed.

Heather, who drives a bright green Mustang GT, soon joined the PhillyMINIs. They dated long distance until 2020, when Heather landed her job at Jefferson and moved in with Ali. The Mini has been fitted with a cage, racing seats, and harnesses, and the couple loves taking it to the track. They watch Formula 1 races on TV and attended the Monterey Grand Prix, an IndyCar race, in California.

They are frequent concertgoers, and in November 2019, saw Alice Cooper in Atlantic City. Their VIP passes gave them preshow access to the stage, where they played with the props, including a model of Cooper’s head, which Ali presented to Heather in a mock proposal.

“Our shared interests make life easier and better,” said Ali, now 37. “Heather is also very intelligent, and very thoughtful, both in the way of being kind and in the intellectual way. She’s charismatic, and she makes people feel warm, welcomed, and unjudged, and it’s just amazing.”

Heather, 38, loves that Ali is an independent thinker who is unapologetically unconventional. “I like the way he always questions things – he has even pushed me to question my own assumptions on things. He pushes me outside of my comfort zone with encouragement, and he’s very affectionate to me and to the cats.” In addition to Maetel, the couple shares their home with Paul Gray, Sushi Cat, and Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

On Heather’s April 2021 birthday, Ali took her to Laurel – the same place they celebrated their one-year dating anniversary.

At the end of the meal, a string version of “Fade to Black” began to play from a speaker overhead. Then the server set a plate with a piece of cake and a ring box in front of Heather. It did not register that Ali had knelt in front of her.

“She looked like a bobblehead doll, with her head bobbing to look from the ring, to the cake, to the speaker, and then to me,” Ali remembered.

He got her undivided attention when he began to speak: “The last time I got down on one knee, I was giving you Alice Cooper’s decapitated head. This time is different – will you marry me?”

Once Ali suggested they wed at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, no other place would do. The venue choice gave Heather an idea – why not make their wedding ceremony as much like a Formula 1-style race as possible? They enlisted the help of planner Erin at Kyle Michelle Weddings.

Heather walked down the aisle to the “Formula 1 Theme,” as arranged and performed by the Philadelphia String Quartet. The guests seated closest to the aisles had checkered flags to wave them onto the altar, which was flanked by the bride’s Mustang and the groom’s Mini Cooper, which the couple like to call their mini cupid.

The women in the bridal party wore dresses that matched the Mustang while the groomsmen wore black pants and white jackets – the colors of the race flag – and bright yellow pocket squares to match the groom’s yellow tux. “It was his racing suit for Team Mini,” said Heather.

Officiant Susan Harte, from Journeys of the Heart, shared the couple’s story with their 125 guests and led them through their vows. After a kiss, the couple mimicked being on the victors’ podium by shaking and popping open mini bottles of Martini & Rossi for a celebratory shower while the string quartet played the “Carmen” overture.

Guests found their seats with key chains engraved with their names and a Formula 1 team name that matched a table. Favors were die-cast Mini Coopers. Their cake included a racetrack with flowers topped with an image of the couple wearing their driving helmets in the yellow MIni.

Heather danced with her father to Pink Floyd’s “Time” – he had taken her to a show at Veterans Stadium when she was 10.

As the reception finale, their DJ handed the musical reins to a progressive/psychedelic death metal band called Burial in the Sky – whose members include some of Heather’s friends from Danville. The band soon invited the bride and groom to join them on stage. Ali took the microphone and let out a deep growl. Then the drummer gave him and Heather his sticks. “I was hitting the cymbals and Ali hit the drums, and the drummer was laughing at us,” said Heather.

The couple will soon take a mini-moon to Vegas and Denver, where they will attend an Amon Amarth concert and visit Heather’s cousins. They are planning a longer trip to Italy or France that will include a racing history stopover in Monaco.