If you happen to be a night owl in Providence, there are only a few select spots where you can be around others of your kind in a social setting.
That’s why the proliferation of closures and adjustments that sprang up a year ago seemed to hit the hardest the first time I found myself itching to get out of the house sometime after midnight and realized that my go-to late night routine was no longer available to me.
That routine consisted of driving to the IHOP in Providence with my laptop to get some writing done only to find myself people-watching the entire time I was there while pushing scrambled eggs around on the plate in front of me.
If you’ve never been to the IHOP after 1am on a weeknight, you have no idea what you’re missing. Regardless of where they seat you, I promise that a Robert Altman movie will begin to unfold all around you.
One night, while telling myself I was working, I proceeded to watch a couple break up, get back together, get engaged and break up again all in the span of an hour and while only one of them spoke.
As they were leaving, the woman in the pair caught a glimpse of me, turned to her fiance (?), and said, “Do you believe people still eat alone? I could never do that. Good for him. He looks sad, but good for him.”
Several times, I’ve seen people burst into song. I don’t have a record of every title, but my favorite, by far, was a table full of what looked to be truckers belting out Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” as though they were at a local pub instead of under the fluorescent lights of the pancake palace.
During an unexpected blizzard, I was once stuck at a back booth until nearly dawn, and somehow, one of those plastic beach balls appeared, and people began tossing it back-and-forth from table to table, while waitresses offered free refills on the coffee. Somebody started playing Kid ‘N Play’s “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody” on their phone, and reader, if there’s ever been a better party, I’ve never attended it.
Even Studio 54 didn’t offer the Split Decision.
Before this becomes an advertisement and I have to do a SponCon disclaimer, I’ll point out that there are a few other places you could kill time on a Tuesday evening if insomnia was rearing its ugly head. Haven Bros is the immediate go-to, but I have a bigger story about them that you’ll read in a future issue.
Once in my mid-20s, after a particularly bad break-up, I found myself wandering around downtown in the hopes that, like any good ’80s movie, something interesting would happen that would send me on some kind of wacky adventure.
It was just after 2am and the clubs had all closed. Little pockets of buzzed smokers were huddled outside every establishment, and as I made my way past one of the now defunct gay bars, I spotted four of the most attractive men I have ever seen in my life.
There is a certain kind of attractive that we simply don’t have in the Rhode Island LGBTQ community. I’m not bashing my home state, but the fact is, no gay man resembling Jason Statham has ever come out of Providence, and if I’m wrong, please DM me the details immediately.
In addition to the J-Stat doppelganger, this pocket featured a guy who looked like a Brazilian soccer player, a Matthew Perry-esque sardonic-seeming fellow, and a fourth guy who I’m sure was very nice, but who I cannot remember for the life of me.
My initial impulse was to introduce myself, and then I realized that whatever league I was in was about seven leagues down from theirs, and I decided to keep on walking. Then, like a gift from the John Hughes gods, I heard one of them ask if there was anywhere you could get food in Providence at that hour.
Like a homosexual roadrunner, I blasted into the conversation and asked if they wanted to come get breakfast with me.
I remember the one I can’t remember recognizing me immediately as a thirsty and newly heartbroken hanger-on, but the others seemed somewhat charmed by my unique mix of unwarranted theatricality and anxious assertiveness.
So we all loaded into my car — which I believe only had three wheels and one brake. I learned that they were from New York, but that Matthew Perry had planned to fly them all to the Cape where they would then head to PTown, except the weather wasn’t great, so they had to land at TF Green instead.
At least, I think that was the story, because all I heard was “Rich,” “Gay,” “Pilot,” “Handsome,” and “Single.” Some of the words were never used, but I inferred them, because I still had so much hope back then.
We ate quickly, because they wanted to get to the airport, but both Perry and Statham gave me their business cards, which I held onto for years even though I never contacted them. I drove them to TF Green and bid them farewell the same way Rick did as Ilsa was boarding the plane in Casablanca, except in my case, I was parked across the street at the Hooters wondering where in the Hamptons the five of us could vacation that summer.
Looking back, I imagine them taking them off and looking down to see the state underneath them still covered in darkness, except for the lights of those all-night businesses that offer a wired writer or a sad single the chance to stay up a little later in the hopes of finding some excitement to ensure them that life still has a few surprises left to offer.
Some of America’s greatest gems are the 24-hour diners and eateries that act like sentinels against the night, helping some of us sleep better knowing we don’t have to.
Knowing that if we want, there’s a place we can go to sip coffee, sing Fleetwood Mac, or spend an hour with four people we’ll never see again.
I know how badly everyone wants to get back to normal, but what I miss was never really considered normal. Those late nights where, even in a city as small as Providence, you could still find someone or something so interesting you almost wonder if you’re dreaming.