I moved to Providence 20 years ago and moved away four years later and while I’ve been back to visit on a few occasions, this time was somehow different. Derek and his buddy were running a race downtown, the start line near the mall where I used to work. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the capitol building, ashamed I’d never been inside. Realizing my love of beaux arts building maybe came a little later in life.
They went for a warm-up run and I wandered into the heart of downtown (the city calls it “Downcity” which has always made me laugh) to find a cup of coffee. I saw a few things I recognized, but mostly I was confused. After walking in circles for awhile and finding large scale murals and other massive public art projects, I found myself in front of a building I once knew as a gentleman’s club. A tall, skinny brick building I remember having neon naked ladies in the windows. It was down the street from a bar I’d been to a couple of times. A bar that was still there, but here I was in front of a building I mostly ignored, walking into a coffee shop.
The entire building had been transformed into a boutique hotel with beautiful mosaic tiled floors and the kind of black and white and brass aesthetic I’m used to seeing in New York or London. I ordered a coffee and a donut and then told the woman behind the counter I didn’t recognize the city anymore. Twenty years had passed and now I was standing in a spot I wouldn’t have been brave or maybe dumb enough to stand in two decades ago and was being offered oat milk for my drip coffee. Her co-worker, a life-long resident of Providence smiled at me and said: “Things have changed.” The two of us started telling the woman, a two-year resident what the city was like all those years ago and her eyes got wider and wider.
I left and thanked them and then just stood in front of the building marveling at the architecture, wondering why I never used to spend time downtown. I felt that familiar tug of regret, why didn’t I appreciate where I was back then? Why didn’t I take advantage of all the city had to offer? It was different back then, I know that. Cities change and evolve and grow. Old places you loved fade away, new places prosper. Some things stay the same.
There’s a middle eastern restaurant on College Hill that both Derek and I used to go to when we both went to school in Providence at the same time. We didn’t know each other back then, but we shared a few spots we both loved. My first night alone in Providence I went to East Side Pockets and ordered a falafel wrap. No other falafel is as good as the falafel at East Side Pockets. We took our friend there after the race on Sunday and I felt like weeping as a bit into the wrap, the perfect combination of hummus, hot sauce, tabouleh, tahini, falafel, and cucumber raita, so happy to be eating a good and happy memory. On our way out we told the man who made our sandwiches how happy we were that everything was still the same, that it had been so long but the falafel was still amazing. “My first meal in this town was right here, twenty years ago,” I said. “I started working here twenty-one years ago,” he said. The woman behind the cashier smiled at us both. Twenty years ago she was a newborn.