Only in Rhode Island: Blocked by a Block Party

trafficI work on Smith St. This means that at least a few times a week, I witness something on my way to or from work that could happen only in Rhode Island. We live in the smallest state in the union with one of the most diverse populations per capita in the entire country. Last time I checked, we ranked second-worst in the nation for driving, right after Baltimore, Maryland. Come on, now, this can’t surprise you if you have ever dared to get behind the wheel and drive around here. But, on the plus side, we have great restaurants, an awesome music and arts scene, and our very own language, too.  As a non-native Rhode Islander, but as one who has chosen to live here for my entire adult life thus far and counting, please allow me to share with you my first official Only in Rhode Island moment:

I recently left work around 1 pm, approximately 300 yards from the state house, and began driving west on Smith St. I didn’t get very far. As I approached the light at the intersection of Smith, Orms and Candace Streets, the traffic piled up and stopped, way before the actual light at this unique five-way intersection. Oh, no, I thought, an accident. I hope no one is hurt. But it wasn’t an accident that was causing the traffic jam. It was a van parked right in the middle of all five streets, blocking each one except for a small scrap of Orms, onto which everyone tried to squeeze his or her vehicle.

The van in question looked like it belonged to a professional operation of some sort, based on the neatly painted signage that read Free Internet Service Provider on both sides.  A giant heap of wires and cables lay strewn all over Smith and Orms streets, which took up as much space as the actual van. It made me think of the U2 concert I saw at the Dunk at the beginning of the millennium. The words high voltage came to mind. More noteworthy, perhaps, was the line of people stepping around the giant heap of wires and cables in order to get to the van . . .  so that they could get free Internet?! Yes, that’s right: There were at least fifteen people standing in line at the van – in the middle of the intersection – who seemed completely oblivious to the honking horns and shouting drivers and backing up of cars in every direction. They really wanted that free Internet, I guess. Oh, and there was super loud hip-hop blasting out of a huge speaker right next to the van. It looked like a veritable block party getting under way. I couldn’t tell who was in charge.

My inconvenience by the traffic notwithstanding, I think it is awesome that someone is providing free Internet. The Internet should be free, just like parking at the beach should be free. It belongs to everyone, just like the ocean. There was no company name on the side of that van, but I’m counting on whoever owns it to make the Internet free for all of us. In the meantime, I’ll continue to negotiate my bill from Verizon – which is still cheaper than Cox – and remain proud to be a Rhode Islander.

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