Ode to Providence

PACK UP THE MOON, my latest book, is set in Providence, Rhode Island, a small city with a lot going on. It’s home to eight colleges—Lauren and Josh both go to the Rhode Island School of Design (where the coolest people go), and Josh gets another degree at Brown University, which is one of the prettiest colleges I’ve ever seen.

I spent my first year of college at Providence College. I didn’t do a lot of college shopping back then…I was very attached to my family and didn’t want to go too far. (Advice for the youths reading this: go far.) I had gone to a Catholic girls school, so I figured I’d go to a Catholic college, too. PC was pretty, the Dominicans were very nice, and it was in a city that didn’t seem too intimidating to my young self.

Believe it or not, I was very shy once upon a time. For some reason, I got a single room, and I’d been kind of counting on my roommates being my first friends. I knew a couple girls from high school who’d also chosen Providence, and that was nice. But as far as making new friends, I wasn’t sure how to do that. I had missed orientation because my grandfather died, and for some reason, I didn’t get the flyer about signing up for things like chorus or the radio station or anything like that. I did make a friend—a great friend to do this day, my darling Catherine—and eventually, I felt comfortable on campus. It took quite a while, though.

But I had a bike, my graduation present from my parents. And so I rode throughout the city, out of the kind of sketchy area PC was in, downtown to the capitol area. The Rhode Island State House has the world’s fourth-largest floating dome in the world, the biggest being St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s wicked pretty. I’d ride up to the Hill, where Brown and RISD are, and look into the little shops and bars and restaurants, and I’d imagine what it would be like to live in such a neighborhood. The giant, graceful houses around the campuses, the walled-in gardens. I remember going past a beautiful old brick building, then empty, and thinking what a great place it would be for apartments or lofts. Almost forty years later, it is exactly that, and the place I chose for Josh and Lauren’s home. (If you’re interested, visit www.grantmill.com and see where they—and Creepy Charlotte—lived.)

Providence has the best Italian food, and also, an allegedly huge Mafia presence (I did go to college with a young man with a famous last name who was dropped off in a stretch limo and had his belongings carried to his dorm room by burly men, just saying). But the food on Federal Hill…my dad used to take me out for dinners there, and the eggplant parm…oh, man.

Two winters ago, before the pandemic, the aforementioned Catherine and I met in
Providence. It had been a long time since I’d been there, and it was a bitter cold day. We walked through the neighborhoods my characters would, checked out the views, talked about the price of real estate. We had coffee and a huge cookie apiece. It was a lovely day.

Researching places is one of my favorite things to do as a writer. I try to infuse my books with local color…in the case of PACK UP THE MOON, I mentioned Del’s Lemonade, and coffee milk, something I have not seen in any other state. I think I used the world “bubbler.” I hope I did. (It’s a water fountain to us non-Rhode Islanders.) I mentioned Josh and Lauren’s love of Dunkin. In Rhode Island, there are more Dunkin Donuts per capita than any other place on earth. I love that fact. The Big Blue Bug is mentioned—Rhode Island’s most famous resident.

Definitely something Josh would order.

If you’re not familiar with Providence, check it out. It’s the unsung gem of New England cities. Go to the Eddy, where Josh and Radley would have drinks. Walk along the greenway or down Blackstone Boulevard. You’ll love it, I promise. And I’ll always be glad for that year of bike-riding and imagining what it would be like to live there.

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