“”It happened everyone. I think we just hit peak Rhode Island. Think about it: a legislator called Ruggerio being pulled over by police, while a fellow lawmaker called Ciccone swears at them about about pensions. The only way that could be more Rhode Island is if they were all somehow clams.
“”Please God, don't let me die in Rhode Island...
Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States, founded in the 1630s by Roger Williams because of religious repression in the Bay Colony. Until 2020, it also had the longest official name of any U.S. state: Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Realizing they were compensating for something, residents voted to change their state’s name to the much more reasonable Rhode Island.[note 1]
Contrary to popular belief, Rhode Island is in fact not an island, though in Narragansett Bay there is an island which -- no, it's not actually called Rhode Island, but it was described in the early days of the colony as resembling the island of Rhodes. Or possibly comes from the Dutch rood eylant, or red island from the explorer Adriaen Block. The state motto is "Hope" which is in short supply the past 30 years. The state bird is a chicken.
It has the largest per capita proportion of Catholic residents and Italian-American residents in the United States, and despite being so close to Boston that it's essentially one giant outlying suburb, it has quite a distinct identity and culture. For example, while people from Massachusetts live and breathe local politics, Rhode Islanders tend to avoid it due to being plagued with a long string of corrupt oddballs in public office. Locals get outraged when confused with or compared to those Yankee fans in Connecticut. SNL learned this the hard way when they called RI "Connecticut's foreskin" in 2010 and Seth Meyers got his tires slashed by Vinny.
Geography type stuff
Rhode Island's capital is Providence, a small post-industrial port city at the head of Narragansett Bay, known primarily for (in no particular order):
- Top-notch restaurants
- Strip clubs
- Scuzzy neighborhoods abutting a breathtakingly beautiful downtown
- A fancy private school that looks like a gulag
- Grilled pizza
- Strip clubs
- Sweet bread (the Portuguese kind, not the cow brain kind)
- Hipster strip clubs
- Hipster pizza strips (those bakery ones without cheese)
- Some sort of stuffed pizza that's... some sort of flat calzone with sauce on top? I guess?
- Lemonade that is frozen and has chunks of rind in it
- Serving caffeine in kids' lunches via coffee milk (like chocolate milk, but with coffee syrup)
- Milk Sandwiches, apparently a delicacy only during snowstorms, as evidenced by the people grabbing all the milk and bread whenever a snowstorm comes through
- Several highly esteemed educational institutions [note 2]
- Wes' Rib House
- An incredibly corrupt, yet ever-popular, (ex-)mayor who instituted a fast-track "gun court" to fight violent crime (riposa in pace).
- Strip clubs.
- John Brown, not THAT John Brown, but one who owned slaves. The family is the namesake for the university. The hippies there aren't happy
- Moses Brown, early Quaker abolitionist and brother to John who helps ease Brown's white guilt
- Rivers that overflow with sewage whenever there is too much rain
- Vinny Paz, boxer. In true Rhody fashion has been arrested several times
- Quahog clams, clam cakes, clam juice (just don't buy them "fresh" when there's too much rain; the sewage system stops working and the clam fields get "fertilized")
- James Woods
- Paul Konerko, ballplayer who put the wrong color Sox on
- A dancing cop
- A mobile diner that drives around Providence
- Lots of mentally ill homeless people
- strip clubs.
Other claims to fame that keep the state more relevant than Delaware:
- The Farrelly Brothers, makers of such highbrow films as Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary
- Gilbert Stuart, the guy who drew Washington like one of his French girls
- Some hockey players who were ringers for Mount Saint Chahles
- Seminal Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror author H.P. Lovecraft spent his entire life in Providence, except for a brief two-year period where he moved to New York and was extremely overwhelmed by all the yucky black and yellow people infesting the streets. Most of his stories are set in or in the vicinity of Arkham, a fictional city that bears many resemblances to early 20th century Providence, only with more evil body-swapping witches conjuring extraplanar monsters.
- Napoleon Lajoie, early baseball star who was like Ty Cobb but less racist. A name that French could only be from Woonsocket
- Nathaniel Greene, Revolutionary War General. If it weren't for Washington perhaps Rhode Island would be the mother of presidents. Or not.
- Senator Claiborne Pell, spearheaded the National Endowment for the Arts, and Pell Grants for higher education
- Pauly D, sorry
- John Cafferty and Bill Conti, responsible for the Rocky soundtracks
- Retired right wing baseball player Curt Schilling took $75 million in corporate welfare from the state to start a video game company, and promptly went bankrupt. He blames former governor Lincoln Chafee, which could have some truth to it. Neither are considered geniuses in the area. Many cite his failure as the reason the Red Sox' minor league team didn't get their own bribe to stay, and thus the PawSox are going to Worcester.
Other important municipalities in Rhode Island include:
- Pawtucket, home of the Hasbro toy company and until 2021 the Boston Red Sox' AAA farm team (pronounced PUHtucket, not PAWtucket. Someone needs to tell Seth MacFarlane)
- Woonsocket, home of CVS/Pharmacy and a large French Canadian population, possibly the most thoroughly depressing place in existence.
- Warwick, home of the TF Green airport, the choice destination for Boston travelers who don't want to deal with Logan in Boston.
- Newport, home of lots of really rich people with astonishingly beautiful houses, and host of annual music festivals.
- The highest point in the state being a landfill, in Johnston.
- The highest natural point in the state being Jerimoth Hill in Foster, which has a 10 foot elevation gain when approached from RI (it's near the line with Connecticut, from which it's about 600 feet). Despite being only around a 1/4 mile walk on a hazard-free trail from the nearest road, and being on publicly owned property for more than 100 years, it was the hardest high point in the United States to get to until 2005 because the only trail crossed the driveway of an extremely crotchety old man; said trail is now entirely on public property and quite readily accessible from a state road.
- Also, Quahog, a small town north of Providence that doesn't technically exist.
Residents of Little Rhody are known for several things -- unusual names for foods ("cabinet" for what non-New Englanders call a "milkshake" and what is properly known as a "frappe"), a delightful beverage called coffee milk (exactly what it says on the tin), unusual local sports (like duckpin bowling), and just generally being sort of like people from Massachusetts but not. Try the johnnycakes -- they're awesome.
Prostitution was legal in Rhode Island (the only other U.S. state where this is the case being Nevada); however operating a brothel, pimping and soliciting on the street or from a motor vehicle were illegal in Rhode Island so prostitutes had to find novel ways to drum up legal business. Technically, prostitution was only illegal if any portion of it occurs outdoors; in this connection, it is noteworthy that most strip clubs in Providence abutted cheap motels. Also, that thing about "nothing really happens in the VIP room"? Tell that to a Rhodie -- you might get a couple of drinks out of it. Originally it was illegal, but when the law was updated in 1980 a judge noticed that technically as written prostitution itself was no longer illegal. Hearing about this the state legislature wanted to fix the law, but they were too busy
soliciting arguing to do anything until 2009, so the halcyon days are gone, or at least they claim to be. Robert Kraft might be able to help you out if you have any questions. By law, girls are allowed to work in the strip clubs as soon as they are 16. Which is also the age of consent. I'll hold on if you need to hit the hard liquor after letting that sink in. Back? Well, don't put the hard liquor away just yet; in spite of this, the giant pink barbie-house strip club was notorious for trafficking girls even younger than that to work there. So if you are traveling between Boston and NYC, you can skip this state.
It is almost impossible to insult Rhodies qua Rhodies. Everything an outsider might use in such an attempt — the driving habits that terrify stray Bostonians, the accent that makes many Rhodies sound like legbreakers, the famously corrupt politics, the population density of strip clubs and hipsters — is something Rhodies take as a point of pride. This is a place where "Keep Olneyville Beautiful" is a slogan. You could, however, ask them if they're from Hartford.
RISD, the local art school, collectively has the maturity of a 12 year old boy. No, that's giving 12 year old boys too much credit. None of them would actually choose this as their mascot (NSFW). For an idea of RISD's humor, their teams are given names like "Nads" so their cheer can be "Go Nads!"
The previous mayor of Providence, Buddy Cianci, was incredibly loved in spite of having a name straight out a cheesy movie about the mob. Buddy was loved by everyone as the daddy you never had, and given the state he was in this meant a whole lot of "my daddy could beat up your daddy!". His biggest accomplishment was helping get a mall built on top of a railroad, or something? Then he had a river moved, just so he could brag that he moved the river, because screw you river! Part of what helped him improve downtown Providence were the
Mafia goons regular Joes that operated in groups of two men with suits and baseball bats that would beat the ever loving shit out of "troublemakers", i.e., homeless, drug addicts, petty criminals, etc. The federal government stepped in and put a stop to that, for obvious reasons.
Just don't insult him to Rhodies. He also was convicted for rape, but didn't go to jail which let him run again for mayor (and win), but it's understandably a sore point amongst many Rhodies, so you know what, just don't mention him at all. He found out his wife was cheating on him with another man, so he had half the police force go into the other man's home and hold the man down while Buddy personally beat the crap out of him; most Rhodies thought this was the appropriate response, but apparently those federal jerks disagreed and he was forced to go to prison; he got re-elected when he got out. Then went back to prison for racketeering, witness tampering, and just about every other stereotypical mobster crime, got out again, and ran for re-election again; barely lost this time. He had a marinara sauce, because of course he did. Sadly passed away in 2016. Pre-felony charge he was the closest RI would ever get to having a presidential candidate, sorry Chafee.
The local fire departments have a stranglehold on all the cities' budgets, due to very good unions, to the point where union rules mean that whenever an alcoholic is found unconscious by a bus stop (every night), at least 2 fire engines will show up. The very good unions also mean that if you call in sick and your buddy fills in for you, he gets paid time and a half, but if he calls in sick during his normal hours you in turn can cover for him and get paid time and half, which is a good thing since there is a mysterious virus going around that only causes you to be sick on your scheduled work days. The result is that there are few fire deaths (except the 100 who died at that Great White Concert), but there is a police shortage.
In a surprisingly enlightened move, or due to budget issues, the Capitol building is not air conditioned. This has the effect of speeding up the political process.
- It must be said, contrary to popular belief, plantation in New England parlance has no connection to slavery whatsoever; it refers to how colonial era settlers encouraged people to move out to new tracts of land and "plant" themselves there, and ran the areas as "plantations" once there were some people there but not yet enough for a proper form of town government. Maine still has several plantations along these lines.
- Brown University, Providence College, and the Rhode Island School of Design.