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Before The Fall

Right. So last time, I had us just finishing up breakfast at the Miss Lorraine diner. We left there and Patty took us on a quick driving tour of the area. We went to downtown Pawtucket--which is, actually, where Martha was born. We went past her childhood home and where some of her schools used to be.

From there, we cruised briefly through downtown Providence. It is, actually... a happening place. Lots of new night life, lot of young people, lot of new building...

Honestly, I’m not sure why the town is undergoing a mini-boom, particularly in the area of real estate. Home prices are going up dramatically. I suppose, part of it is that the city is in easy reach of New York and Boston. There are trains that go each way. So, if it isn’t exactly a commuter town, I suppose it becomes attractive for people who need or want access to the big population centers north and south, but don’t want to pay the prices associated with those cities.

I suppose, too, that it is very much a service-based and knowledge-based economy (remember when those words were Big? And we all just knew we headed into a post-industrial utopia? Alas...) and those tend to do better at this stage of our national economic life. As think I already mentioned, Providence has no less than seven major institutions of higher learning...ranging from Brown University to the Rhode Island School of Design. There are also eight major hospitals, and hospitals almost always bring money into an economy. Even post-industrial potentates can get sick.

I don’t know how much (if any) high tech is coming into the city, though from a quick search for “High Tech Moving To Providence, RI,” I find that there is at least some . A number of software firms and companies have opened shop there ...not, just judging from the news reports, the big “horizontal” companies, like Microsoft or Oracle...but rather more “vertical” companies, selling into particular areas, like food service or medical applications. One such success story is Upserve ( which does restaurant management software.

First, some lovely flowers blooming not far from Patty’s house.

And there is much else beside. All of which, by the way, is a far cry from what Providence was when I first lived in New England. At that time, the city had a reputation for crime and corruption on a grand scale. Among other things, it was, the capital of the New England mob. Raymond Patriarca’s crime family was run from there. It still is, actually. Though I gather Providence is no longer quite so comfortable to criminal elements as it was, perhaps, once.(1)

But the really fascinating semi-criminal in Providence’s recent history wasn’t some thug from the Godfather. It was one of the city’s mayors, Vincent Albert “Buddy” Cianci Jr. He was nothing less than modern politician crossed with an old school ward boss. He could have walked straight out of Tammany Hall ...a faithful and honorable practitioner of George W. Plunkitt’s “honest graft.”

It says much about him that he entered politics as an anti-corruption candidate...presenting himself as the clean-cut and honest Italian-American doing battle with the notorious Irish-American political machine that ran the state at that time...and then, a few decades later, in 2001, he went to jail in one of the most dramatic corruption scandals in the city’s history.

Oh, and there was also this interesting incident a short while before, in 1984, when he had to resign from office (the first time) for assaulting the man whom, he claimed, was his estranged wife’s lover...

But, also, he was the man who kicked off the city’s current Renaissance in the 1990s. It was he who made the city cleaner, worked to make it more tourist-friendly, brought in hotels and sports venues, worked for business-friendly policies and tax breaks, and, perhaps most of all, encouraged the arts. He pushed hard for the WaterFire festival, for example.

So...nothing and no one is not complicated.(2)

Anyway, we toured around a bit...looked at the new and big buildings...and then headed back to Providence to go to one of the areas that is up and coming...where there are lots of little shops and boutiques...and many of them funky and not corporate...

What we didn’t know was that things were about to get very complicated...

..and very painful.

Very quickly.

More to come.

Second, something which has nothing to do with the story (as per usual) and from a while ago… but I love it just the same. This is Martha, Emily, and David the day before David graduated from the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia. It was a terrific day for us all.


2. You see more about the remarkable Mr. Cianci on Wikipedia here:


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