This would be our reality for much of the East Coast no matter if we were close to one of our Mayors' Ride cities or not. Congested circumstance would precede us everywhere we went from now on. Any semblance of the big sky wide open riding of the West that had presented itself to me after three or four days of riding on my first two treks across the US, would not become apparent for weeks.
By the time we reached Rhode Island, we had to be mindful of the fact that we were in a new state. This was so, because at 37 miles wide and 48 miles long, we would not be in it for very long. Fortunately, even though all roads seemed to lead to Providence, its capital and a new Mayors' Ride city, the traffic that fed it seemed manageable. This was due to the fact that as the biggest city in America’s smallest state its population was only 173.000. For that matter, in the entire state there were less than a million people.
As we rode roads often flanked by sea water, it seemed like Rhode Island was made up of ribbons of land that ran through countless oceanside inlets. It was called the Ocean State for good reason as later I would discover that it actually has over 400 miles of coastline. And as the car drivers on its roads pointed at me, took pictures or gave me the thumbs up sign, I began to feel anxious for there to be talk about my book once again. After all, it was why I was doing the ride to begin with. I needed them to know why I was even out here on this precarious looking bike.
I knew it would take a while for the wire reports to start picking up the story so that the people in the cities and towns along the way would know what we were doing. And then there was USA Today. Soon they would be publishing my weekly reports from the road. Inside I sensed however that it would still take a few more states before more of the public was talking about the possibility of interconnecting America with a network of bike roads and paths. And yet even with that knowledge, I was still impatient. I couldn’t wait for our NBG Day event at City Hall and my second book signing of the trip that evening so that we could build on the excitement we had created in Boston
My mind finally grew quiet when I remembered my last ride. It was then that most of the 40 million people who had been exposed to my 1986 coast to coast crossing for the Head Injury Foundation, hadn’t even known what I was doing or why I was doing it until I reached the last few states. This time around I also knew that we had planted a lot more seeds that couldn’t help but soon saturate the media. We were coming at them from many different angles. There was the syndication we had worked out with USA Today as well as my bookssignings and the NBG Day events themselves. And if none of that got anyone’s attention, my old fashioned bike was very hard to ignore.
Working our way into the heart of downtown, we arrived at Providence City Hall. The pictures I had seen of it, had, before we even got there, aroused my curiosity. Back when we were setting up our 2006 visit, I found that Paul Brooks, the Mayor’s Chief of Protocol, knew a lot about this historic building.
He told me that it was completed in 1876, and that at six stories it was made of granite, most of which was quarried right there in Rhode Island. With floor to ceiling windows on every side and an entry way supported by robust rock columns, its style is French Second Empire. The entire top floor serves as an archive for this city’s centuries old past. A past this building honors for the casual visitor even today. Above the main doorway is a a bust of the man who in 1636 founded Providence.
No discussion of Providence is complete without talking about Roger Williams, the man this rock sculpture depicts. Banished from Massachusetts for his religious beliefs and unpopular because did not think it right to take land that belonged to its indigenous people. Williams found sanctuary in the small territory at the top of Narragansett Bay that he was able to buy from the local Indian tribes. Soon the King of England aware of Williams ability to mediate the difficulties that the Indians were causing the colonies recognized his settlement. The document that resulted has survived for 370 years and is now housed in Providence City Hall.
Providence (named by Williams to represent God's guidance and care) was once a haven for persecuted religious dissenters. According to the city’s web site, “His town became the "lively experiment" in religious liberty and church-state separation. This was and is its major claim to fame.”
Over the next two centuries, the town grew slowly. When in 1835 the railroad came to Providence, wending its way southward from Boston, Providence, with its well protected inland sea worthy port became a transportation hub. To help get its products on to the trains and boats that serviced it, in 1861 it developed a horsecar system. Called the Union Street Railway, soon teams of horses could be seen pulling massive loads along the steel tracks that had been laid all over the city.
It wasn’t long before Providence found itself at the forefront of the Industrial Age. So much that its many factories made it attractive for a new reason. With the world's largest tool, file, engine, screw and silverware manufacturers, also called the "Five Industrial Wonders of the World", it drew a wide array of culturally diverse job seekers from all over the country.
Here now in post industrial America, Providence is still a city on the move. Even though it is still a world class jewelry and silverware center, its many factories have given way to a new kind of economy. As Rhode Island’s capital. it employs many government workers. And with six colleges, jobs in education are also commonplace. Its five hospitals also make health care another familiar occupation.
Small in comparison to most of America’s big cities Providence thinks big. Even though its population numbers are small, it still has all the amenities of a city many times its size. It has museums, theaters, an award-winning zoo and many colleges, universities, even award-winning restaurants.