11.25.2006

Craaaanston!!!

There's a fabulous article from last week's Globe defending my hometown, Cranston, Rhode Island, which apparently was rated one of the "Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America". Ahem. Love the Wein-o-Rama reference. I reproduce the article in full below:
"There's no place like home, especially Cranston, R.I."

By Tina Cassidy, Globe Correspondent | November 18, 2006

CRANSTON, R.I. -- When the author of "The Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America" placed this city on its list -- proclaiming Cranston an ideal location for "white trash, mall rats, mafia wannabes, ultra guidos, old-school metal heads, and paper clip company employees" -- I laughed.

Then an editor asked me to defend in print the quirky place where I grew up, and I choked. I have rarely asked for an extension on a deadline, but I had to this time. I needed time to reflect, and to do some additional reporting. On the one hand, this was a place that I -- and every one of my friends -- abandoned after graduating from Cranston High School West in 1987. But it is also a place that we look back on fondly and, sometimes, with warm bemusement.

We left for college, for bigger cities, for bigger dreams, for places that were more expensive, more pretentious -- places where you can't get a Del's Lemonade in July, or a heavenly slice of cold strip pizza from the aptly named Superior Bakery, or veal at the legendary Mike's Kitchen inside the Tabor - Franchi VFW Post, or a dog with everything from Wein-O-Rama , or anybody's grandmother's meatballs on a Sunday.

When my friends and I left for Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and even more-exclusive ZIP codes smattered around New England, we left behind the Falconettes, our high school's acclaimed half time high-kicking dance troupe. We left behind the Italian feast in Knightsville . And we left behind our tight-knit families. But we always come back.

And what we find when we get there is not white trash or mall rats (unless -- and I say this good-naturedly -- you count my sister-in-law, but she is originally from Boston). There might be some mafia wannabes, but there are just as many in Medford. There may be some ultra guidos, but what does that mean 20 years after the local Chess King closed? If you are looking for mullets, poke around in New Hampshire; you won't find any here in this fashion-conscious city. Old-school metal heads? They live in West Warwick, the next town over. Paper clip company employees? Now the authors are really stretching it. Just ask my mother, a bank executive who became president of the Chamber of Commerce, for real, after I accepted this assignment.

"We just made Money magazine's list of the Best Places to Live -- number 78," she said patiently, before e-mailing me a two-page love letter about Cranston, a place where she moved us 29 years ago. (I was born in Connecticut.) "We don't have a mall," she gushed. "We have Garden City." Garden City, for those of you who have never been, is an outdoor mall. She also ticked off other amenities, including its proximity to other places. There are local farms, she added, and yacht clubs sited on Narragansett Bay. The public schools, she noted, educated me and all my friends who have since moved on to become artists and law partners and advertising executives and PTO organizers.

Next I consulted the Money survey. The magazine cites Cranston's low crime, short commutes, and bevy of cultural attractions as merit-worthy highlights.

But, of course, there were some finer points that no survey could take into account.

"What about sledding at the ACI?" my Cranston-bred friend Beth, now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., said without any hint of irony. (ACI stands for the Adult Correctional Institution, one of several incarceration and justice facilities situated in a hilly section of the city.)

How could I forget?

Then Cheryl, in Connecticut, another classmate from West, piped in: "I agree with the mall rat thing, but white trash? Maybe I'm fuzzy on the definition, but I think of white trash as the illiterate, unwashed, and ignorant. People who don't mow their front lawns," she said.

And have you ever seen the front lawns in Cranston? Immaculately manicured, if frequently bracketed by a set of white concrete lions, freshly spray-painted white every spring.

"And mafia wannabes ?" Cheryl continued. "It's not like they're petty burglars. Maybe they sell stolen speakers out of the trunks of their [Chevy] IROCs , but they don't break into houses. And they'd kill anyone who broke into their mother's house."

Her comments made me think lovingly of my own brother, Jake, who, despite having a well-paying job in Boston, preferred to live in Cranston -- with my parents (and his wife) until recently, a few months shy of his 31st birthday.

It was not about money. It was about community. About my aunt and uncle and cousin across the street, another cousin and her family next door, my grandparents down the street, and friends from childhood all around. Cranston is a place that doesn't let you leave. It's sort of like the ACI, come to think of it. But with much better food.

2 comments:

Dan said...

Nice article. It touches on what people outside the region don't get. Yes, it all looks really retro and insular, but that's also what makes it home.

Nathan said...

I didn't know you were a Rhode Islander! I did my undergraduate at Brown and now, three thousand miles away at the Santa Barbara religious studies program, miss it constantly and unexpectedly. Keep them saying stuff like that. It will keep Rhode Island Rhode Island.

Nathan
The Row Boat