I grew up reading about May baskets, and I went to a preparatory school where freshmen were required to learn a Maypole dance which was performed while the May Queen (always a senior) and her court were being crowned. But until I got to Rhode Island, I had never encountered the New England tradition of May breakfasts. I'm told that the tradition originated in Rhode Island in 1867 at the Old Quaker Meeting House, the first church in Cranston. It was originated to raise funds for a new building. The first breakfast was served to 466 people and raised $155.50. A conflicting account claims that the Oak Lawn Community Baptist Church started the trend 146 years ago. You choose.
The odd thing about May Breakfasts is that, despite the name, they actually occur -- generally at churches or community centers -- from mid-April to early June. The basic fare is pretty standard, with bacon, sausage, eggs, baked beans, potatoes, jonnycakes, pancakes, and various pastries as well as coffee and juice, but depending on the date, things can get much more elaborate. (I'm particularly fond of those breakfasts which include strawberries, which used to require a June date but now we can get them from Chile or somewhere no matter when the breakfast is held!) They are nearly always fundraisers of some kind. If you're a visitor, check the local newspaper and see if there's one in your area, and then tie on the feedbag and enjoy yourself!
I did enjoy a recent bit in the ProJo about the Oak Lawn's supply list. For their breakfast each year, they require "90 apple pies, 2160 pieces of cornbread, 144 dozen eggs, 2500 clam cakes, 170 pounds of ham and up to 100 volunteers" (one presumes that the volunteers are not SERVED, but that's how the list was written).
Every Rhode Islander has had an Original New York System "all the way" at some point -- they call them "gaggers" -- and many have had a lot of them, particularly late at night. These are pork sausages with chili , chopped raw onions, celery salt and a secret sauce, and they're delicious if totally lacking in nutritive value and crammed with cholesterol and calories. Although it isn't part of the System, you can get hot weiners at Haven Brothers, a diner which pulls up next to Providence City Hall every evening (and stays open forever). The main weineramas are located at 424 Smith Street (on Smith Hill) and 20 Plainfield Street (in the Olneyville section)
They don't do it deliberately, honestly, but "real" Rhode Islanders have a penchant for giving directions by landmarks that no longer exist. (This is a little like some of the directional signs in Boston which, if followed, lead you via a circuitous route back to your starting point -- presumably on the basis that if you don't know where you're going, you don't deserve to arrive anyway.) So if you're asking for directions, remind your guide that you have no idea where Almac's used to be, or even what it was when it was there. And NEVER accept any directions which include Dunkin' Donuts as a landmark, because there are so many of them in the State (there are six of them within a three-block radius in downtown Providence) that it is useless information. Be aware, too, that some streets change names when they go from Providence to another municipality (Smith Street becomes Putnam Pike, for instance) and that if you attempt to follow the local route signs for State roads, you will get lost because the local routes are not continuous through the city. Other than that, navigating around here is easy!
Only...don't follow the signs for the Russian submarine tourist attraction. It sank, and has been scrapped. But you can have a picnic where the submarine used to be.
As a non-native, I very quickly learned that Rhode Islanders have an entire lexicon of their own. Most of the time, this won't be a problem -- they speak English, so usually you'll be able to make yourself understood! -- but if someone from Providence gives you instructions about "the bubbla", YOU may be in some doubt about their reference. So I thought I'd give you a cheat sheet, and I'm hoping my fellow Providence residents will add to it or correct any of my errors.
As the above example illustrates, the problem is compounded by a regional accent, which tends to substitute the sound "ah" for "er" at the end of words. (In Massachusetts, this also happens in the midst of words, as in the famous sentence: I pahked the cah in Hahvahd yahd.) So "bubbla" is really "bubbler", which is Rhode Island-speak for a drinking fountain. "Down cellah" means something is in a sub-ground level. Other examples: a "cabinet" is a milk shake; "quohog" is a large clam.
And if a Rhode Islander responds, "Please?" to a query, they aren't trying to get you to be more polite. It's our way of saying, "Pardon me?"
When I first moved to Providence, I was asked to pick up a carton of milk for my office. I stopped at the court house amenities shop and asked if they had any. "Yes, but it's only coffee milk," they said. "That's okay, that's what I want it for," I replied. "No, you don't understand...it is COFFEE milk."
And that's exactly what it is. For some reason, while other people put chocolate syrup in their milk, Rhode Islanders like to add Autocrat Coffee Syrup to theirs. And when that's not available, they'll buy little cartons of pre-mixed coffee milk. Frankly, I think it is an acquired taste and I haven't been rushing to acquire it. But bringing home a bottle of Autocrat is a cheap and easy souvenir, and one that you're unlikely to encounter elsewhere.
James Norton, a very funny reviewer, has this to say about it: The syrup lends your milk an almost cloying sweetness tempered by a taste that conjures up both malt and coffee at the same time. It's easy to imagine slugging this stuff down while sitting at the desk, or watching the game — it's distinctively okay. And what if you added this syrup to coffee? You could enjoy the hot new taste of "coffee coffee." The potential is limited, but exciting nonetheless.
One coffee syrup mystery, however: it comes in an incredibly odd bottle. It's ribbed soft plastic, and features four little embossed singing birds sort of dancing around above the label. While a bird perched on the "o" of Autocrat may be the syrup's mascot, one has to ask — why a bird? Birds don't like coffee. They don't drink milk. You can't make a bird into either coffee, or milk. You can't milk a bird.
Rhode Island is the home of a superlative summer confection: Del's Lemonade. If you're a fan of Slurpees or SnoCones, think more solid than the former, and finer-textured than the latter. Del's comes with little chunks of lemon in it. (The company also has some other flavors, like watermelon, which are acceptable. But for my money, summer = lemonade.) Here is the special "cultural guidance": no one in this state EVER uses a spoon to consume Del's, even though it is often so thick that sucking it up a straw is practically an Olympic event. You aren't even given those funny Slurpee-type straws to make things easier. Scrunching the cup and shaking are the preferred methods. You have to drink a lot of Del's to get this down, so get going! Del's is sold at storefront and on carts throughout the state. They always have a big presence at WaterFire.
If you visit Providence or anywhere else in Rhode Island try a Del's Frozen Lemonade.
They have 10 flavors now, but lemon is still my favorite.
You can find it anwhere in Rhody. Just look for the lemon sign. They sell it out of buildings, vans, and carts !!
To be blunt Providence has a corrupt city goverment. Pay-off's, bribes, blackmail, and good old fashioned kick-backs.
The former Mayor of Providence Vincent " Buddy" Cianci is now in Federal Prison for RICO act violations.
The Police Department has been the focus of FBI investigations dealing with racial profiling and police brutality.
People in Providence are the most closed people I've met in the USA. Don't take it personally, it's just the way they seemed to be to me. Once you talk and warm up to the person though, they can be kind and friendly. I just found native Rhode Islanders to be a bit 'closed'....