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.