In Providence: Staying in Providence

Providence Rhode Island skyline in 2017

There was a plan.

When I started writing this column, it was Labor Day. The weekend when Providence comes back to life with students and people who, for whatever reason, vacate the city during the summer.

I told my editor that I would write about Providence until summer, and then I would tell stories about other parts of Rhode Island that are more vibrant during the summer months — places like Newport and South County.

It seemed like a fun opportunity to have a special “Summer Edition” of this weekly series, like in “Saved by the Bell” when they all worked at the beach house for a few episodes.

Then, as we got closer to summer, I was starting to rethink that idea.

After all, Providence has a lot to offer during the summer. PVDFest, Pride, and more events popping up all the time. If the old wisdom was that nothing happens in Providence during the summer, then what better way to combat that idea than by using this column to highlight what a fun place the capital city is even when the weather gets warm?

I should mention that I’m one of those weird people who get seasonal depression, but not in the winter. Something happens around Memorial Day weekend that sends me spiralling into sadness, and it usually doesn’t let up until I start seeing signs of autumn.

Maybe it’s the shifting you can feel in Rhode Island as graduations empty out the East Side and people start traveling more and big life changes send friends of many years off to new jobs and new homes in other states.

Rhode Island is a transitory place, and as much as we use summer to highlight all the things about the Ocean State that make it special, it’s also a time where we experience some growing pains, and Providence tends to feel it most of all.

Oh sure, there’s WaterFire and food truck festivals and India Point Park on the 4th of July, but the perception that cities aren’t for summer isn’t just one that gets put on Providence, but places like New York and Boston as well.

So as I was planning out what this column was going to look like as we approached the end of May, I decided I could try and wrestle with that bad advertising myself. I could shine a light on all the awesome things that make Providence a perfect place to hang out in the summer, and most of those stories were going to be based around the myriad events that Providence hosts all summer long.

At least … that was the plan.

Now most of those events have been cleared off the calendar, and most cities are seeing an exodus occur as people head back to their family homes or wait eagerly to find out when they can plant themselves on a beach again.

Fate would seem to suggest that if this was the year you wanted to make a case for Providence being an ideal summer destination, you might want to reconsider.

Then Memorial Day Weekend arrived, and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give up on the idea of proving that Providence still has a lot going for it, even if none of it will involve much fanfare.

This column may have been envisioned as one thing, but it quickly became clear that it was never meant to be about pomp and circumstance. 

It’s about the smaller stories of the people who may not have the option to head to a summer home or even take a 40-minute drive to the beach. They’re the ones who don’t have the luxury of living their lives as if it’s a television show, where major events only happen between September and June. They’re not necessarily the types you’d see at festivals or concerts or networking at high-profile events, but they also see a part of the city many of us never do. It’s the part that happens in backyards and in third-floor apartments with two fans going to keep the heat at bay. It’s the part that happens when two people are leaning against the back of a car in a driveway late at night trying to work out whether they’re still going to be dating when fall arrives. It’s the part where a group of kids on summer break walk all over downtown on an endless Saturday and where people hang out on the roof of the Providence Place Mall parking garage because it’s the best place to see fireworks happening all over the state. These aren’t the people I was planning on meeting when I started this column, but they’re the ones I’ve been so honored to meet and talk to and write about all year long.

They’re Providence — for better or worse — and I think we need to be telling their stories now more than ever.

So I’m staying in Providence this summer, and I hope you’ll join me.

It might be a little quieter, but maybe that’ll give us a chance to hear the stories we’ve been missing until now.

Dinner Is Served! Pop-up dining room brings quirky quality to quarantine dining

For the van der Wals of Newport, Rhode Island, thinking “inside the box” led to a creative and nifty way to not only quash quarantine boredom, but also support local restaurants in the process. What began as a simple idea to beat the doldrums of lockdown grew into a great bonding experience for the foodie family: Onne and Tenley, and their two children, Read and Adrian. Quarantining at home with the whole fam got to be monotonous, especially with cooking full meals and cleaning dishes every night (ugh!), and with the family planning to sell Onne’s photography trailer, it seemed to be the perfect time for the van der Wals to do something innovative.

“We own a trailer that is used to haul large prints and a trade show booth setup, but it was sitting there with no purpose during the COVID lockdown. We decided to take everything out and build out this pop-up dining room concept,” says Read. 

While the Pop-Up Dining Room looks like it was handcrafted by professional artisans, it was actually a totally DIY family project! “First step was to cut a carpet (with scissors) to fit the bottom, then set a table with five places. We strung up some lights, installed a speaker, and the vibes felt good. Final step, of course, was to cover every square inch of the interior walls with Onne van der Wal photography. Voila! Five star dining on wheels.” 

Since taking the Pop-Up Dining Room out for a spin, the community response has been great. Read adds, “We pulled up on Bannisters’ Wharf and ordered take out from Clarke Cooke House, and the reaction was incredible so we decided to keep it going. We also parked alongside Washington Square and ordered Bar ‘Cino and Stoneacre Brasserie, another huge success!” The Pop-Up Dining Room has also been spotted at Pasta Beach and Thames Street Kitchen, two other awesome local restaurants that have been rocking the takeout game in these past few months. Even though the Pop-Up Dining Room is currently wheeling around in town solely in Newport, the van der Wals have big plans for the future — maybe even hauling it over the bridges to PVD! Who knows, you might just see this resplendent rig rolling up to a restaurant near you soon!

Phase 2 to Begin June 1: Summary of the governor’s daily press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo, DOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor held the daily COVID-19 press conference today at 1pm at The Vets.

Today’s COVID-19 data breakdown is as follows: There were 170 new cases since yesterday; 242 people are in the hospital, 56 are in the ICU, and 40 are on ventilators. There are 23 new COVID associated deaths, bringing the Ocean State’s total fatalities to 579. The ages of the deceased ranged from their 60s to older than 100. Three were in their 60s, four in their 70s, nine in their 80s, six in their 90s and one person was older than 100 years of age.

The governor made a series of announcements today about Phase 2, giving Rhode Island an idea of the shape of things to come. Raimondo was happy to report she was satisfied with the current trendlines, and if they held on the same path, Phase 2 would begin at June 1. “We are on track,” said the governor. Her executive order concerning Phase 1 restrictions has been extended until then. 

Almost all sectors of the Ocean State economy will see some form of reopening starting in Phase 2. All state parks and beaches will reopen. Childcare will resume on June 1. Houses of worship will be able to reopen starting May 30 with new restrictions, like only 25% capacity. The social gathering limit will be raised from 5 to 15 people. 

Travel restrictions will largely be lifted with few exceptions. People traveling to RI from states or cities with stay-at-home orders still in effect will still be asked to quarantine. The governor said it was a blanket order, covering any places currently under one, or if future cities or states put another one in place due to an outbreak. 

Restaurants can have inside dining reopen with 50% capacity. Dining out will not be like it was before the pandemic. Office-based businesses should still work from home if possible. Starting in Phase 2, ⅓ of office workers can return to the office if absolutely needed. “In Phase 2, if you can work from home, work from home,” said Raimondo. Like everything else, offices can still expect new restrictions.

Hairdressers, salons, tattoo parlors, nail salons and other close-contact businesses/personal care services can also reopen starting in Phase 2. Gyms, fitness classes, yoga studios and the like can also start to come back online in June. The governor repeated there will be new restrictions, available at Businesses can expect to do more regular and intense cleaning regimens, mandate face coverings, frequent hand washing, etc. The governor acknowledged adherence to these have been hard on businesses and stated, “These are not intended to be permanent or forever.” Raimondo expects to lift them at the first possible moment it is safe to do so.

Music shows and other large, outdoor/indoor congregate setting festivals and events will not be returning just yet. The governor said it was hard to ensure proper social distancing at these large-scale, tightly packed events. Some outdoor activities are coming back online: zoos, historical place grounds, public gardens and boat rentals will be coming back in June. The governor said she will have more to announce on youth sports next week.

Motif today asked the governor about her response to an opinion piece from noted conservative columnist Geoge Will. In his piece, Will said Governor Raimondo would be a good VP pick for Joe Biden. Raimondo said she had not seen the piece, but it sounds like he said nice things.

Steve Ahlquist of Uprise RI asked what the governor was doing to help Rhode Islanders behind or struggling with rent, and if a rent moratorium was in the picture. Governor Raimondo said she would replenish the state assistance fund, where struggling renters can apply for grants to pay back-due rent. Since announcing it a few weeks back it had been emptied. 

Dr. Alexander-Scott today was asked about the changing CDC guidance on surfaces and overall transmission of the virus. Alexander-Scott said this kind of changing attitude and guidance is commonplace when it comes to new infectious diseases. It contributes to the challenges of developing a vaccine as the virus changes over time.

As a final note, there will be no press conferences over the three-day holiday weekend. The next one will be Tuesday at 1pm. There will also be no COVID data update on Memorial Day, as Dr. Alexander-Scott desires some of the frontline data workers to be given a day with their families. Motif will be back with our live-tweeting and daily summary on Tuesday.

Raimondo’s Focus Is on Our Most Vulnerable: Summary of the governor’s May 21 press conference

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Providence Pedestrian Bridge.

Today Governor Gina Raimondo and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott held the daily press briefing at 1pm. The COVID-19 data is as follows: There are 189 new positive cases, 254 people are currently hospitalized, 56 are in the ICU, and 41 are on ventilators. There are 18 new deaths in RI: two people in their 50s, two in their 60s, six in their 70s, six in their 80s and two in their 90s.

Two days ago the governor announced they were launching the Crush COVID app for smartphones. Today the governor announced in the past 48 hours since launch, 25,000 Rhode Islanders downloaded the app. Raimondo stressed today that privacy was the utmost concern, saying that the application did not access any phone contacts on the phone.

The app does not work on older smartphones, which automatically excludes about 20% of residents. When asked for a comment by Motif, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the same resources on the app were available online, and stressed that it was key the state hears that kind of feedback.

The governor today talked about the team the state has put together. Made up of several state departments and agencies, the team has received calls from 44 nursing homes representing more than 3,000 Rhode Islanders. The team makes an assessment, and the National Guard is deployed to teach them PPE guidelines, infection control. “Data is crystal clear,” said the governor. “The most vulnerable is the sick, the elderly and our nursing homes.”

Nursing homes completed a first round of cyclical testing last week. From here on out, nursing homes and their staff will be tested every 7 to 10 days. With around 80% of Rhode Island’s fatalities coming from nursing homes, the governor said today she wished we could do better. Nursing homes aren’t set up or infection control, she noted. Nursing homes are seeing a slight decrease in positive cases, and the governor said it means they were reaching toward their goals.

Tomorrow’s press conference is at 1pm. You can watch it on local news, FacebookLive, or Capitol TV.

Scandalous Conduct: An exploration of an entrapment scandal in Newport

“The Newport Navy Scandal is something we stumbled on a couple years ago very randomly,” says Matthew Lawrence. He and his partner Jason Tranchida are creating an art project, Scandalous Conduct/Newport 1919, around this remarkable episode in Rhode Island history, which encompassed, as their website declares: “An Episcopal minister. 41 naval
recruits. A zealous newspaper editor. A drag show. A beanstalk. The YMCA. A future president of the United States.”

As the editors of the queer art magazine Headmaster, Lawrence and Tranchida “come across a lot of interesting, underappreciated moments in queer history, so when we found out about the Newport Navy Scandal, we were surprised that we hadn’t heard about it before.” The scandal, as Lawrence describes, involved “an undercover operation, where they get a bunch of sailors who are young and handsome, and basically start a secret mission to go out, entrap other sailors, and then report back on what they’ve done.” The Navy so mishandled the operation that it led to a Senate inquiry that almost derailed the career of then Under Secretary
Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

While largely forgotten today, the story became national news at the time, thanks in large part to John Rathom, the enigmatic former editor of The Providence Journal, who Tranchida describes as a “charismatic huckster.” It was Rathom who “singlehandedly took a homophobic Navy entrapment scheme and turned it into a national scandal.”

Rathom was a national figure at the time. He’d garnered national attention during the war by, as Lawrence says, “publishing a lot of stuff about German spies living in Rhode Island, this elaborate, spy thriller kind of stuff, and he was traveling and doing sold-out speaking engagements.” The problem was that Rathom’s spy stories were made up. When Rathom was
exposed by the Navy in 1917, he “got into an altercation with FDR,” which led to a personal vendetta against the under secretary. Rathom’s incessant coverage of the Newport story became a way to exact revenge on Roosevelt.

For anyone who might long for the simplicity of an era before fake news, Rathom, who lied elaborately about both the news and his life — Lawrence dug up a census form that falsely claimed he was born in Antarctica — is a reminder that such an era never existed.

While most of the Scandalous Conduct/Newport 1919 project is on hold due to COVID-19, Lawrence and Tranchida will present some of their research tonight, Thursday, May 21, in a free virtual talk hosted by the Providence Public Library (7 pm, registration required). The talk is part of the Library’s Exhibition and Program Series “The King Is Dead,” which explores “how we use and understand the news.”

Tranchida and Lawrence are planning other stages of the project that they hope to present in 2021. “There’s a lot of ways to approach this story,” says Lawrence, “from the military side, to the gay rights side, to the weird Rhode Island history side.” There’s even a parallel to the current pandemic, as the story takes place “just as the Spanish influenza was running through Newport.” In addition to an artistic component, Tranchida and Lawrence will put together a panel with scholars they’ve met who are researching different aspects of the story.

You can register for the PPL talk tonight at

To the Class of 2020: Recognition to the class no one will ever forget

We’ve rounded up the best advice from teachers, college students and those living through graduating in the time of corona. Check it out here.

A Letter from Your English Teacher, by Shannon McLoud

A Letter from Your Writing Teacher, by Kevin Broccoli

Opinion: Under Pressure, by Tess Lyons

College of Corona, by Tess Lyons

Writing on the Wall: New East Providence mural celebrates nurses

A new piece of art recently appeared on a wall in East Providence, on the side of the mixed-use industrial building at 89 Valley Street.

Muralist Sam White, along with his assistant Julia Gazzara, completed the mural, titled “Love for Nurses,” on Tuesday, May 19. The piece, which was commissioned by the Valley Street building’s owner, is rendered in White’s signature graphic style and pays tribute to the healthcare workers caring for those battling COVID-19.

White says of the piece, “My heart goes out to all the nurses out there who are putting their own lives on the line day in and day out. God knows, there are many workers who are putting themselves at risk so that society can continue to function through this pandemic, but I feel like the nurses deserve special thanks for the work that they do. As a muralist, I thought there was an opportunity here to be one more voice saying thank you.”

View the piece at 89 Valley Street. For more information, go to

A Letter to the Graduating Class of 2020: From your high school English teacher

Dear Students of the Class of 2020, 

I write this as we got the news. News that we all knew was inevitable, but didn’t want to admit to ourselves. The school buildings in RI are closed for the rest of the year. This means we’ll be continuing with our distance learning classes. Your prom won’t look the same, and of course neither will graduation. But we, your teachers, know you’ll be okay. We know this more than anyone because we’ve witnessed you persevere and come back stronger than ever time and time again. We see it every day in our classrooms from the calculus problems you conquer to the Shakespeare you discover. Not only that, but as educators we’ve witnessed the waves in education through your class. Common Core State Standards were rolled out when you were in the 2nd grade; parents freaked out (new math ack!) and you grew with it. You took the tests given to you, from NECAPP to PARCC, RICASS, to the SATs. You were in our classrooms when tragic national news broke out, and you were in our classrooms during aftermaths of such events sharing your thoughts, ideas and fears. You made memes their own language, (daaamn Daniel), flipped bottles to new heights, made SnapChat and TikTok a thing, and flossed your way in and out of Fortnite.

More importantly, you made friends. Friends who will lead this country with you one day. And yeah let’s say it out loud. This sucks. You are absolutely entitled to feel upset, you can cry, (God knows I already have a few times!) and feel that it’s unfair. You may not give up. Not now, not ever.  Because we know, Class of 2020, that although this moment in time seems dark, the light you are going to bring to this world will outshine this darkness for years. Despite this moment in time, you’re going to give our society so much more than we could give you. Dear Class of 2020, you’ll run our government, build our buildings, teach younger generations, design the next big thing in technology, solve crimes, create art so fantastic we can’t even imagine it yet, cure our diseases. We know you’ll accomplish all of these things, because we’ve witnessed your accomplishments every day in our classrooms.

So today, and tomorrow, and the next, as you return to your computers to attend class, it’s okay to do so with a sinking heart. But we’re throwing out the life preserver to you. Grab it, hang on and finish strong. You it owe it to yourself and all the hard work it took you to get here. You deserve to be celebrated in any way we can right now.

And yeah, when this is all a memory, let’s have those celebrations loudly and proudly.

With love and admiration, 

Your teachers

Churches to Partially Reopen: Summary of the governor’s May 20 press conference

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Providence Pedestrian Bridge.

With Memorial Day around the corner, Governor Gina Raimondo delivered a message that struck a balance between carrying on our daily lives and continuing to take COVID-19 seriously. As usual the governor started with a few numbers: Yesterday 10,000 Rhode Islanders downloaded the new “one-stop-shop” Crush COVID app; today the number of COVID fatalities was 6; and 209 new cases were confirmed. She then gave her empathy to those hurt by COVID-19 saying, “There’s a person behind that number.”

 Despite the time we are in, Memorial Day is still a special and solemn holiday and the governor is opening two beaches in Rhode Island (East Matunuck and Scarborough), “as a symbol that we have to carry on our lives.” Social distancing, mask-wearing, limiting the duration of an outing and keeping groups at five or fewer must all still be done when going to the beach or gathering for Memorial Day. There will be no public bathrooms, lifeguards or concessions. The governor warned us, “This is not the weekend to throw a big party…[or else]…two to three weeks from now we’re going to see a spike in hospitalizations.” 

The governor also addressed those currently serving America. “Thank you. We’re proud of you…We are keeping your families safe [here in Rhode Island].” She also asked all Rhode Islanders to, “find time to express gratitude for veterans.” She then brought attention to the 1,000 guardsmen and gaurdswomen helping with the COVID outbreak in Rhode Island. 

Healthcare, according to the governor, has seen a decline across the board in Rhode Island. “There’s been a “30 to 40% decline in child immunizations,” she said, and it’s important that Rhode Islanders call their doctors and arrange for healthcare such as cancer therapy, immunizations, doctor visits, and elective surgery. “I know you are scared [but]…it’s safe to do it,” the governor assured Rhode Islanders and emphasized that RI medical facilities have “fantastic infection control protocols.” 

Lastly, the governor announced that places of worship are scheduled to partially reopen the weekend of May 30 as long as the attendees don’t exceed 25% of the building’s capacity and all health and safety precautions are still being taken. Though virtual worship is not the same as in person, the governor once again warned those at-risk, such as seniors and those who have underlying conditions, “Please do not go” or at least, carefully consider what they are doing. In support of worship leaders who plan to keep the capacity below 25%, the governor remarked how, “The whole name of the game now is slow and steady,” which echoed her theme of caution and progress throughout the conference. 

Crush COVID RI App Launched Today: Summary of the governor’s May 19 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo opened her press conference on the state of COVID-19 in RI with the latest statistics: Today 26 people in RI died from COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths to more than 500, and today 134 more cases of COVID-19 were reported. After giving her condolences to the families of victims, the governor urged Rhode Islanders, “Above all, stay home if you’re sick!” It’s not just about a person being sick and more vulnerable to COVID-19; it’s about not putting others at risk, which happens when a sick person goes out.

The biggest news today also happened to be good news: the Crush COVID RI app is now out and available for free on Google Play and the App Store. In her talk, the governor mentioned a few of the app’s key features:

— For those who have tested positive and do not have a place to safely isolate themselves, the app can help them find options 

— Testing options 

— Options for food delivery 

— A location tracker that, with the user’s consent, records where the user has been. If the user has tested positive for COVID-19, then the user may choose to share their location diary with the Department of Health. Note: To protect RI’s data and privacy rights, the data is stored ONLY on the user’s phone, and the data shared with the Department of Health is registered with an ID number and not the individual’s name. 

Though the app is optional, the governor says it’ll work best and put systems in place so more businesses can safely open if people use it. Though downloading it is your choice, the governor says,“I, however, am asking you to do this.” At the very least, she says, keep a pen-and-paper location diary. And for those without smartphones, people can always call the COVID Hotline at 401-222-8022 or visit the website: With the app and being the number one state for testing, the governor says, “My hope is that together we the people of Rhode Island will crush COVID.”

Also, another good piece of news: childcare facilities are on track to reopen on June 1. Of course, it’ll be different and changes include mask-wearing, so the governor reported 50,000 masks have been given to childcare facilities to “keep kids safe.”