providence in reverse

the longest two blocks of my life

If you’re looking for an authentic Providence experience, I highly recommend getting your car stuck in a one-way street downtown.

Or maybe not, but I have to justify my poor decision-making somehow.

My band had just played at AS220. The inside of the venue was hot and loud, with enough people there for it to feel cozy but not so many that it felt crowded. Sweat dripping down my face, I stepped outside to get some air. Our drummer was standing with some friends smoking cigarettes, and I bummed one of them—I don’t smoke often, but playing a show was a special occasion, you know? Then out came a joint. I took three greedy hits and was pleasantly surprised by how strong it was. I felt the nicotine and THC percolating through my brain and watched the world become at once sharper and softer. I was thinking about what kind of very alcoholic drink I was going to order at the bar to kick my buzz up another notch when I remembered.

Shit,” I said to no one in particular. “I still have to drive the gear back up the hill.”

AS220 is located at the far edge of Downtown Providence on Empire Street. There, we have stashed three guitars, a drum set, a large amplifier, and other assorted pieces of musical paraphernalia. Approximately a mile away on the top of College Hill is our house, where the gear has to end up. Two blocks away from AS220 is my car, happily parked on Fountain Street. To Sober Me, picking the gear up and driving it back would have been simple enough. To High Me, however, this was a mission of Balto-esque proportions.

But, like Balto, I accepted the task before me. Entrusting my dear car to anyone else was simply out of the question, and besides—or so I told myself—I wasn’t that high. I got in the car and steeled myself for the voyage.

As I was driving the car down Fountain Street, I encountered what I refer to as the First Law of Providence Streets. This law states that if there’s a one-way street, it will be going the opposite direction from where you need to go. In my case, I needed to make three right turns to end up at the loading area of AS220. So far, this was proving impossible.

Then, I spotted Clemence Street, a narrow thoroughfare, but also one that was going the direction I needed to go. I made the right turn and felt an immediate pang of regret.

What I couldn’t see from Fountain Street was that there were cars parallel-parked all along both sides of what was already a tight fit. I made my way slowly, cautiously down the approximately-300-foot alleyway (because at this point I realized calling it a street would be deluding myself). The sound of my side mirrors collapsing against a trash can was not encouraging.

I noticed a line of people up ahead running perpendicular to the alleyway. After consulting my spotty mental map of Downtown Providence I reasoned I must be near Lupo’s, which must have been having some sort of club night. Wow, I thought, that must be annoying for the people waiting in that line to have to move every time a car comes through.

That was right about when the Providence Police officer began flashing his flashlight at me.

I stopped my car as he started to walk over. Surely he’s not about to tell me I have to back my car all the way out of this alleyway.

A few minutes later, as I was backing my car out of the alleyway, it occurred to me that I was still pretty high. What prompted this realization was not, as would have been sensible, paranoia over a ProPo officer noticing and slapping me with a DWI charge, but rather that I had readily and stoically accepted every new obstacle in the road to AS220. I have to snake through this narrow alleyway? OK. I have to back all the way out of said alleyway into oncoming traffic? You bet. There’s a black Escalade approaching my car in the opposite direction?

So now this was another thing I had to deal with. Once again, I stopped my car. This time, I was approached by the driver of the Escalade, who was big enough that he might very well have been a “driver” in the bodyguard sense of the word as well. He explained to me that, if I pulled up a little ways, he could park in one of the remaining spaces, leaving the alleyway open for me to back out and be on my merry way (I don’t think that’s how he phrased it, but you get the idea). Considering he was blocking my only exit route, I obliged.

As he was pulling into his space, the cop came back, although this time he wasn’t yelling at me, but the driver of the Escalade. I listened to one side of their conversation (“I just told you you can’t park there! …Well, drop them off somewhere where you can park legally!”) and waited.

The ProPo officer won the argument with the driver of the Escalade, meaning I was now the second in a two-car reverse convoy. We weren’t out of the woods yet, though. In what felt like a final boss battle, there were three very nice, very occupied cars at the end of the alleyway. I felt the burning sensation of eyes watching my car in case I slipped up and scratched or dented their rides. (I still don’t know what they were doing there—selling molly to clubgoers? Doing molly before they went to the club? Just chilling in an alleyway at 12:15 on a Saturday night?) I kept hearing one guy shout “Straighten out! Straighten out!” which, because I thought I was going straight, was confusing. Apparently I wasn’t, because all at once a hand shot in through the open driver’s side window and took the wheel from me. I realized right about then that, if I were to be carjacked or mugged, there was very little I could do about it. My life was in God’s hands or, as it were, in this dude’s hands.

Luckily he was actually super friendly and helpful. I don’t know if this was completely altruistic—he was looking out for his car above all else—but he even directed me backing out into a busy street, which had nothing to do with his car and everything with being a decent human being. So I appreciated that.

When I finally made it back to AS220, the band was waiting for me outside. Just in time to see me ram the curb with my front right tire. But at least I didn’t get a DWI.