little rhody, or, a sorely needed tribute post

i am from the Greatest Little State in the Union. It is the smallest state, and has the longest name: State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. We were the first to declare independence from Britain and the last to sign the Constitution (last of the original 13 colonies, that is). No place in the state is more than a half hour’s drive from the water. Block Island was the first part of the state to be “discovered” and by Giovanni da Verrazzano, whom one assumes later discovered a bridge in New York.

The Native American we call “Squanto” was the first famous native Rhode Islander. (The Farrelly Brothers are the most recent?) We have a longer, more distinguished tradition of dissent than any other state. During the Revolution, we mustered the first African American military unit. Unfortunately, in the years after the Revolution, Rhode Island families controlled between 60-90% of the American trade in African slaves. Included among these families are the Browns, after whom Brown University is named (although several notable abolitionists were also members of the family). In 1866, we abolished racial segregation across the state. We never ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Yup…we drank.

We are the “birthplace of the Industrial Revolution” (in the U.S.) because Slater Mill is located in the state. (I remember a horrifying trip there in Elementary School…horrifying because we were told about all the children who lost fingers working the looms. It was, however, better than the school trip to the Weiner factory.) I think we are now the Costume Jewlery Capital of the World.

Our Mayor, Buddy Cianci, was convinced on RICO charges and sent to prison. I went to school with his daughter Nicole, around the time that he attacked a man with a lit cigarette and his urine because he claimed he was sleeping with his wife.

We have a higher percentage of Americans of Portuguese ancestry (including Cape Verdians) than any other state. 87% of us are Christian, and 67% (give or take) are Catholic. While Jews are only 1.6% of the state population, they were about 90% of my classmates. We have the first Baptist Church and the first oldest surviving Jewish Synagogue in the U.S. We also had the first gaslit street and the first nine hole golf course.

Growing up, the state was basically run by members of the Italian “crime syndicate” called the Patriarca family. We literally were discouraged from sitting with our back to the door at a local restaurant we went to for Sunday dinners.

We allegedly have the highest number of doughnut/coffee shops per capita in the country, including over 225 Dunkin’ Donuts. The official drink is coffee milk. We effin love Del’s Lemonade, as discussed. We eat grinders, not subs; and pizza strips; jonnycakes; quahhaugs; and take our chowdah clear, thank you.

We also make clam cakes, and there’s a place on Block Island that makes dougnuts in the morning in the same oil…Dad, Mom and I call them “sinkers.”

We have minor league teams that are affiliates of the Red Sox and the Bruins. Our now-gone baseball team, The Providence Greys, won the very first pennant, in 1884. Babe Ruth played for them in 1914. Until 1983, the America’s Cup races were held off Newport.

And, as you have heard, we have the world’s largest termite, Nibbles Woodaway, the Big Blue Bug



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17 responses to “little rhody, or, a sorely needed tribute post

  1. We allegedly have the highest number of doughnut/coffee shops per capita in the country, including over 225 Dunkin’ Donuts.

    I’m glad you put this in, because this –Dunkin’ D’s on every corner! — was my overwhelming impression when I first visited Providence in the winter of 1995. (My first year in grad school. I went up to see my brother, who was a sophomore at PC at the time.)

  2. Jenn Lena

    I may have to search one out in the city today to indulge my craving for their iced coffee. I perpetuate the urban myth that they spike the sugar, to make it extra tasty.

    Did your brother take any sociology courses with Dr. Lena, Kieran?

  3. I’ll have to ask him. I don’t think he took any sociology courses, but I could be wrong. (How’d he end up at PC? He was on the track team, one of a stream of recruits from Ireland and the UK.)

    Also: Vinegar on the tables of diners and restaurants as a matter of routine. Hurray!

  4. mom

    I know someone who lives in Boston and has 4 dd in walking distance of her house. Are you suuuure Boston doesn’t win the contest?

  5. Jenn Lena

    Kieran: My father was a distance runner until his mid-40s, and played faculty host to many of those runners. I grew up with them in the house at dinnertimes and on holidays, singing bawdy songs, challenging me to Trivial Pursuit games.

    Mom: The statistic I’m quoting is *per capita*, and *all kinds* of coffee/doughnut shops. Plus, this thread is a celebration of Little Rhody. Do your Boston boostering elsewhere! ;9)

  6. ezrazuckerman

    Jenn: Since you had so many of my fellow-tribe members in your class, I assume you grew up on the East Side. Where?

    As for DD, I worked at a DD this summer and my hat sits proudly in our kitchen, where our kids wear it from time to time. And while Boston has an insane ratio of DDs/pc, it feels right that it’s higher in RI. When I returned to this area from living in California for a while, I was so blown away by the number of DDs (which was high when I was a kid, but not this high) that I kept on wondering what we had in Calif. to take up that space…

  7. Jenn Lena

    EZ: I was a scholarship kid. Or really, a faculty brat. I went to Wheeler (84-92) but lived near PC, just off Smith St. Were you a five-schooler? (Btw, my mom taught at Hebrew Day for about a decade, so we were neck-deep in jews.) And is it true what they say about the sugar?

  8. ezrazuckerman

    Your mom was my fifth grade (and science) teacher!!!! How cool is that??

    (What do you mean about the sugar [I can’t tell if you mean among Jews or DD!?]

  9. Kieran

    Ha! Now I’ll have to see if my brother ever threw up all over the Senior Prof Lena’s dining room carpet.

    I kept on wondering what we had in Calif. to take up that space…

    There’s a DD down the road from the UA campus, which is quite unusual: of about 5,000 franchise locations, only about 100 of them are west of the Mississippi.

  10. Jenn Lena

    EZ: I’m now asking my mom to remember any embarrassing stories about you… (And I mean the DD sugar. Do Jews have sugar parties or something? Secret sugar associations? This would be big news to me.)

    Kieran: I don’t remember any vomit, but one of the guys destroyed a dining room chair once, and there was a famous incident involving a closed chimney flue.

  11. ezrazuckerman

    Please say hi to your mom. I remember her very well. I distinctly remember her giving us a lecture about going into science as a career– and feeling a bit guilty that I didn’t think I wanted to be a scientist…

    Re sugar, there’s no Jewish-sugar thing that I know of (ironic, given my last name). We just use it like everyone else. What’s with the DD sugar? (Everything was pre-made, so I don’t remember seeing much sugar).

  12. ezrazuckerman

    BTW, I don’t think RI is the costume jewelry capital of the world anymore… probably China (see

    Also, while Touro Synagogue is the oldest *surviving* synagogue in the US (and historically important because of George Washington’s letter to the congregation, pledging “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” [] , it wasn’t the first.

  13. Jenn Lena

    My spam filter totally didn’t like your parsing of synagogues! I’ve changed the claim, and now am spelling “synagogue” correctly.
    I’ll talk to moms. We’ll see what she’s got. Hopefully, you were not in the class to which I gave a lecture on “blankey” and “bun-bun.”

  14. ezrazuckerman

    That’s cute. I don’t remember her bringing a daughter to class.

  15. ezra zuckerman

    I see now that you were asking about the sugar in the iced coffee. I don’t remember anything untoward but I do remember being astonished at the quantities of sugar people asked for. A standard coffee in those days (1989) called for two sugars in a medium coffee, I don’t remember how many in an iced coffee. There was also counter service in those days, and customers who would hang out for hours.

  16. Jenn Lena

    If you worked at the DD on Thayer Street, I was one of those “campers.”

  17. ezrazuckerman

    Nope– the one on North Main– a very different crowd. Think Cliff Clavin.

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