It was early 2000, we were moving here for my new broadcast job and my wife and I were weekend house shopping with our buyer agent around the state. After a long touring day and a headache that came with it, we stopped at a pharmacy in East Greenwich for some aspirin. We were in line to check out and the guy at the front sees the guy behind us and starts a conversation with him over and past our heads.
“Hey, how u doin?”
“Not bad, how u doin?”
“Not bad, whatchu up to?”
“Nothin much, just got to go up to Providence for some work on a job.”
“Providence? I hate that place. I haven’t been there in 20 years and I will be happy if I never go back again.”
Now part of the sales pitch to my partner in moving here was how cool the city is, you know, Federal Hill and all the restaurants, the East Side, the events, the culture, etc.
My wife looks at me with this, “are you kidding me?” expression. I had no explanation.
And over the last two decades-plus, I’ve heard the same sentiment over and over again.
The degree of provincialism we have here in this beautiful state that’s 50 miles long and 35 miles wide is ironic enough. But the level of ambivalence or downright disgust and hopes of demise for the capital city is, to me, repeatedly shocking.
The studied history of Providence would probably reveal when and where the outside city population first began its urban disdain. The city life of experiences such as Federal Hill, Waterfire, PPAC, Hope Street, the P-Bruins and Friars are seemingly a rented pleasure at best.
I say this all as debt-ridden Providence is going through another tough time. Two years ago, the state took over the city school system and then removed the newly transplanted superintendent. In the last year, the swarming ATV riders have wreaked havoc on the quality of life, and right now, some serious deadly violence seems to be springing up in the summer cycle.
The mayor, Jorge Elorza, has completed his rise to full Peter Principle, showing a weird tin ear for all of it, often blaming it on the state and picking embarrassing fights with Gov. Dan McKee because, get this, he wants his job.
The Providence police union cries out for respect and charges abandonment against the City Hall brass. And now the City Council, at press time for this writing, was poised to conduct an emergency meeting to bring the stakeholders together for solutions, one of which is to petition to the governor for manpower assistance on the street from our State Police, against the mayor’s will.
It’s messy all around, and an already COVID-agitated populace is carping.
Even the mayor of Johnston, Joe Polisena, felt the urge to dump on the city last week in a radio interview, announcing that his family would be staying out of Providence until it’s wrapped its arms around the problems. While a common sentiment, he’s another case of a mindless leader crawling at the bottom and adding to the fragility of his neighboring city’s economy.
We all pay for most every asset Providence provides for our transitory enjoyment, and we pay a sizable portion of its sustainable bills.
We can’t take some sick pleasure out of the city’s struggles. We must constructively engage and encourage solutions with affection.
Without that esprit de corps, we risk all going down together.
C’mon, you can say it: As Providence goes, so goes Rhode Island.
Dan Yorke is the PM Drive Host on 99.7/AM 630 WPRO, Dan Yorke State of Mind weekends on MyRITV/Fox Providence and owns communications/crisis consulting firm DYCOMM LLC.