Shattered Expectations: Providence, RI

Let me start by saying that you can’t walk into a trip with any expectations.

You last saw me leaving New York City on a sunny, pleasant, Sunday afternoon with Sara, the driver, our friend Ian, and his girlfriend Elizabeth. We were off to Providence where Ian and Elizabeth go to college at the Rhode Island School of Design. The drive would take about four hours. Ian had been wanting me to visit him for about three years, since I live in Boston, about 45 minutes away from him by train. Finally, this was it! I was going to see his domain. I could finally get an image of this place that Ian raved about so much.

But, this trip was not at all what I was expecting. For an extreme metaphor, think of being a kid and finding out you are going to Disney World for the first time. Disney World! Oh man, you are going to have so much fun on all of the rides and taking pictures with Mickey Mouse. Then, when you get there, the rides are all broken, every single character is incredibly sick, and it’s raining. The only actual similarity to the Providence trip is that it was rainy on Sunday. But, my high expectations were taken and shoved into a hair-clogged drain. This is how it went.

I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a good dynamic while road tripping. For help with this, check out my post on How to Road Trip. Don’t let the driver pay for all of the gas. Don’t sprawl about in the car while riding passenger. Don’t make the driver uncomfortable. Don’t be demanding. Simple rules. Simple etiquette and courtesy. And I guess some people just don’t understand these simple things.

As we leave New York, the sun is shining, and we begin a quest for a gas station.

Now, I hope that most people would definitely pay for gas or at least offer to. As one who likes to drive a lot, I always appreciate when my passengers chip in for gas. If there are two people, then each will cover half of the price of gas. Three, a third. Four, a quarter. It’s simple math.

So we find a gas station outside of the city, and Sara politely asks if Ian and Elizabeth can cover the tank of gas to get from New York to Providence. Their answer should have been, “Of course! Here, let me swipe my card!” But, instead they said, “Oh, yeah, I guess so. Right now we only have $15.00 between the two of us, is that ok?” No. It’s not ok. Not when a full tank of gas is $40.00. It’s also not ok when the driver didn’t realize that your girlfriend would also be hitching a ride back home. Yes, that’s right. Ian never mentioned to Sara that Elizabeth would be needing a ride back to Providence as well. What if Sara only had a two-seater motorcycle and a sidecar for one? Sorry, girl, looks like you’re gonna have to find your own way back home. But, since Sara isn’t part of the Hell’s Angels, she has a normal car with enough room for four. Anyway, Sara takes the $15.00 in cash and uses her card to fill the tank to full.

Back on the road we went with a full tank of gas. About fifteen minutes later, I hear the sound of chewing. Food. And it is coming from the backseat. Now, I totally understand the concept of bringing your own food on the road, and, if there is not that much, hoarding it to yourself. But that is only after you offer it to the other people in the car. I never turned around to see what the food was, but I know it was there. And it was never offered.

We listened to music, then some comedy, then more music, and all was well. Then, after Sara and I both noticed Ian and Elizabeth essentially spooning in the backseat, it started pouring. This rain was similar to the rain Sara and I experienced at the Givers concert in Central Park, but now we were moving at 60+ mph. Someone might as well have been standing on top of the car spraying a hose onto the windshield at full blast on the jet setting.

It was actually pretty cool. We drove over a few bridges and couldn’t see anything on either side of us, except for a white wall of clouds. Our TomTom GPS alerted us that the time of our trip just increased by about 30 minutes. Awesome.

The rain cleared up just as we were passing into Providence. Our spirits lifted and our bladders all squealed, so we sped toward Ian’s apartment. And what an apartment that was. When you Google Providence, you get a bunch of pictures of a city lining a river. It is all very pretty and fitting with my expectations. What you don’t see is the rest of Providence. The part that looks like what used to be a cutesy town with nice houses, until a bunch of college students moved in and took a giant dump on the whole area. I apologize for the graphic description, but that’s what it looked like. The gray skies did not help to enhance this image.

Ian had been living in New York for a month doing an internship, so his apartment hadn’t seen any of his TLC for a while. But he has two other housemates, who did not do anything to liven up the space. As soon as you walk through the front door downstairs, there is a pile of old magazines, coupon pages, and newspapers stacked on a wooden table. Go up the stairs and go into the actual apartment…

Sparse, stained, sticky. Three words that came into my mind at first glance. Typical college dude apartment. Over-generalization, I know, but that’s what it was. Not what I was expecting. But the apartment was a great size. It had three bedrooms coming off the main living room. A large kitchen and a spacious bathroom in the back. The apartment itself was great, it was just the unfortunate things in it. The beer-stained white couch, the upsetting looking futon, and upside down laundry basket turned side table in the living room. The food-covered plates piled in the kitchen sink and littering the counters and table. The no soap, toilet paper on the ground bathroom. We were supposed to stay here? Really?

You know that awkward moment where you don’t know if you really have to go to the bathroom badly enough to actually use the bathroom provided to you? Or when you are weary about sitting down because you don’t know what you will stand up with? Some form of mold growing on your pants, or a bacteria that will eat through your shirt. This was my welcome to Providence? I don’t need glamour when I travel, but come on!

After Sara and I reluctantly used the bathroom, we went out to look for food. We didn’t go into the city part. Rather, took a right, walked a block, and went to the Sawaddee Thai Restaurant. The food was delicious. I got the Pad Thai with Chicken and ate every bit of it. Afterward, we ran an errand with Ian, while he quickly showed us his neighborhood.

Welcome to the back end of Providence. The part you don’t see. I really like this picture and we were standing next to a nice park, but we didn’t go into the park. No, we turned around and went back to the apartment. When we got back inside, I was under the impression that we had just seen all of Providence (I hadn’t Googled it yet). That’s a reasonable assumption because I would think Ian would have shown us his city. I was wrong.

They introduced me to the tv show Community. And now I’m obsessed. We watched the first four episodes until Sara and I got restless. We pitched this idea, “Hey let’s go for a walk. It’s a nice night and it’s only 10:30.” Instead of, “Great! Providence is so cool at night! I can’t wait to show you,” we got, “Actually, I was thinking I would go to bed. I’m tired.” Really? It was 10:30. We had just come from New York, where we would be out until 1am walking around. We still had two hours! Instead, Ian told Sara and I that there was a convenience store we could go to for snacks about five minutes away. So we walked, got our snacks, got grossed out by the cashier who spit directly on the ground behind the register, and left. When we returned, Ian and Elizabeth were getting ready for bed. Sara and I ended up watching some tv shows on her Netflix app on her iPhone because Ian wouldn’t share his computer.

But, here is the best part and a series of hosting fails. Fail #1: Before we all went to bed, Ian realized he hadn’t asked his housemates whether they were going to be home that night.  Fail #2: He doesn’t really want to text them to ask, but considering Sara and I don’t have anywhere else to go, he gives in and asks. Fail #3: Ian thought that Sara and I would sleep in his housemates rooms. These rooms were something. Boy rooms. Messy beds, clothes covering the floors, bowls and cups of something on the dressers. Not prepped for other people to sleep in. And, WE DON’T KNOW THEM! It’s not like these are guest rooms at someones house. No. It’s not like they were aware that two girls might need to sleep in them. No. I was not going to put myself in between their most likely dirty sheets. Sara and I assumed we would both sleep on the futon. So we made Ian aware of that plan and all was fine.

Ian and Elizabeth went to bed and closed their door. Meanwhile, while hunched over and squinting at an iPhone screen, Sara and I made a plan. We would leave as soon as possible. We would not change into our pajamas and then our clothing for the next day. We would fall asleep in what we wore and wake up and GO! Might sound gross, but not quite as discomforting as the idea of potentially taking a shower near that hairy bar of soap or stripping down to our vulnerable bare bodies in there.

The futon was too short for the two of to sleep on. It came up to our knees. So we slept in a twisted version of the fetal position for the night. How unfortunate that we had gone from friendly hospitality with our friend Alex, to the beautiful French Hotel Sofitel, to this. Have you ever woken up at 5:30am and wished that it was later and time to get up? No! Never! That is not a thing that happens except on Christmas. Normally, if you wake up at that time, you sigh with relief and say, “Yes! A few more hours of sleep.” I forced myself back to sleep and slept restlessly until our alarm went off at 7:30. Ian stumbled out of his room to go to the bathroom, saw us packing up and said goodbye. Sara and I almost ran out of there. We got in the car, burst into hysterical laughter, and drove off. We set the TomTom for Rochester, NY and looked forward to the almost seven hour drive.

It was on the drive out that I saw the rest of Providence, and it does look like the image results on Google. The city lined the river and I actually saw RISD’s campus. Why hadn’t we explored there? Why didn’t we go out to the city of Providence? These questions will go unanswered for now. We stopped at a Dunkin Donuts for breakfast and put on deodorant and freshened up in the parking lot.

The drive home was pleasant and the weather was perfect. I snapped a few pictures along the way.

I am actually very glad that I visited Providence like that. Everyone needs to have a weird/bad stay like that to realize that most other trips are great. It taught me how not to host someone, and I am grateful for that. I apologize to anyone living in Providence who thinks I have written the city off completely. I haven’t. I would love to visit Providence under different circumstances, and most likely for a simple day trip. Then it’s back on the train to Boston to my own place. One day, I’ll be able to experience Providence differently, but for now, it has provided me with two lessons: 1.) Go in with little expectations, and 2.) How not to host someone.

Happy Travels!