Friday, July 18, 2008

Escape to (or from) RI

If you notice even more cars with New York license plates than usual tearing up the asphalt in South County this weekend, you can thank today's New York Times. The "Escapes" section of the paper includes a backcountry southern New England road trip under the headline, "134 Miles of Yankee Charm." Mile 105 stops at Kenyon's Grist Mill in Usequepaugh, but makes no mention of johnnycakes. ("Pick up a bag of fresh cornmeal - the muffins or pancakes you make with it later will be a revelation.") Mile 110 stops in Kingston, accompanied with a note on the Allison B. Goodsell Rare Books shop. What Times readers miss about the local roads this weekend: Hot air balloons filling the skies at the South County Balloon Festival, actors going the "Full Monty" in West Kingston and roots rock reggae playing en route at the Ocean State Reggae Festival at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. With gas above $4 a gallon, drivers might like to know that they have a few more options than picking up a bag of cornmeal and a $4000 copy of Capt. James Cook's memoir about his voyages on the H.M.S. Resolution.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baseball blog

Dragging a bit after staying up until 2 a.m. to watch Major League Baseball’s All-Star game. Thought about writing a rant on boorish Yankee fan behavior (a.k.a. “morons being morons”) but decided that would just incriminate me for my own boorish Red Sox fan behavior. So instead I’ve chosen to post a few sentences on Rhode Island’s connection to the American pastime. The Providence Grays were an early National League franchise. They won two pennants (in 1879 and 1884) back when pennants meant championships. They also won the first-ever “World Series,” before the American League existed, beating the New York Metropolitans of the rival American Association 3 games to 0 in an arranged series after the 1884 season. (In 1903, the A.L. Boston franchise that we now call the “Sawx” defeated the N.L. champs, the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5 games to 3 in the first modern World Series.) After the major-league Grays disbanded in 1888, a minor league team in Providence kept the name alive for another generation. One of their players was a promising young pitcher and power hitter named Babe Ruth. The Grays have been reinvented as New England’s longest-running vintage baseball team, playing 19th-century rules against competition throughout the Northeast. The “PawSox,” playing at Pawtucket’s gem of a minor league park, McCoy Stadium, were involved in the longest game in baseball history in 1981. Cardines Field in Newport has been a baseball ground since 1908. Negro League ballplayers used to barnstorm there, and there are few more enjoyable summer rituals than quaffing a pint or two in Mudville Pub’s caged-in bar along the right-field foul line during a Newport Gulls game. Rhody has produced hall-of-famers, such as Napoleon Lajoie, and recent all-stars, like Rocco Baldelli. South County-born major leaguers include Guerdon Whiteley of Hopkinton, who broke in with the Cleveland Blues in 1884, Dave Stenhouse of Westerly and a graduate of the University of Rhode Island, (Washington Senators, 1962) and Sean Maloney of South Kingstown, (Milwaukee Brewers, 1997).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bridge blahs

The good news is that Rhode Island's bridges rarely fail to entertain. The bad news is that they don't always sustain. If you're a bridge, that's a problem. In the wake of last year's Minnesota bridge collapse we learned that the Ocean State is listed as worst in the nation in the category of bridge safety, with 55 percent of its 749 bridges rated deficient or obsolete. Residents routinely encounter detours for bridges that have been shut down or lanes closed for repairs. Truckers passing through Rhody have to go north-south via Route 295 or else risk fines (and limbs) driving on the Pawtucket River Bridge. The old Jamestown Bridge - the Erector Set - was notorious for seeming more like an amusement park ride than a serious way to get from South County to Conanicut Island. Some state transportation officials living on Jamestown refused to cross it, choosing to add miles and minutes by traveling over the Newport and Mount Hope bridges instead. But the news isn't entirely grim. Bridges have given Rhode Island two of its quirkiest one-day events in the past two years. In April 2006, the whole state came to a standstill to watch the old Jamestown Bridge get blown up, with the comical sideline of pandering pols pushing an ACME/Wile E. Coyote-style detonator just before the implosion. Four months after the "big boom," the Iway "bridge float" captivated Rhode Islanders, when the Providence River Bridge was transported by water over Narragansett Bay to its designated resting place. Last month, the R.I. Department of Transportation earned a national innovation award for the bridge float, which was also featured on the History Channel's "Mega Movers" series. Less impressive was the fact that state taxpayers paid $50,000 to name and promote the Iway so newspaper editors and reporters would stop calling the project "The Little Dig." Only in Rhode Island will an inferiority complex cost you five bills.