Monday, February 1, 2010

Our real-life brush with Goodfellas

There was a time in my life when I loved American gangster movies. Couldn't get enough of them. Once I started having children, the appeal of the American mafioso no longer gripped my heart. Though the movies were stylistically wonderful, the lack of morality of the characters started to grind on my mommy-sensitive nerves.

But I didn't leave the genre without finding out something I already knew: the Providence, Rhode Island division of the mafia are some of the scariest, meanest Goodfellas you'd never hope to meet. Without a baby in my arms when we visited the Federal Hill district in Providence, there's a good chance Kulani and I would now have cement on our feet as we sit waiting to be discovered along the bottom of the Pawcatuck River.

It was 2003, and post-911 America was experiencing an economic recession. Nothing like what is going on today, but it was still a tough job market. Kulani would be graduating from law school in April, and by February, he still hadn't found a job.

So being Kulani, he decided to increase his schooling in a much-wanted field in order to secure a job. His undergrad background was in mechanical engineering, but where the patent jobs were especially plentiful was for people with a background in electrical engineering. He decided that if he couldn't find a job, he would pursure a master's degree in electrical engineering.

When Kulani was in high school, his dream was to go to Brown University. Though he was accepted, his parents didn't feel they wanted to spend the money to send him there. After time and having kids, Kulani does not begrudge his parents that decision. However, now that it was him calling the shots for himself, he decided to give it another try.

Excitedly, Brown accepted him for his master's degree in electrical engineering. However, we knew that we had other, cheaper options if we stayed in Utah and he attended UofU. We decided to fly out to Providence and meet with the professors to see if he could get a scholarship and stipend.

Brown University, and Providence at large, has a very old-world feel. It had the feeling of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. It was cloudy and overcast when we visited, so maybe that had some bearing on my impressions. Nevertheless, it was an amazing place that I would definitely like to visit again.

While on our trip, we knew we had to experience some local cuisine. We hit up a nice restaurant and had Rhode Island clam chowder. Kulani also tried the Rhode Island-type of oysters. I had the lobster bisque.

We'd read in a brochure about Providence's "little Italy" called the Federal Hill district. We looked on the map to see where it was in the city and drove there. We didn't research exactly where to go, but we figured we'd find a good dive easy enough.

We found a little dive of a place that looked like it would have some good food, and we parked the car. When we got out of the car, I turned to Kulani and said, "This feels like a Scorcese movie." Though there was no one on the street, and the town almost felt empty, Kulani shooshed me. He could feel the change in this place as well.

Lilia was only six months old at the time, so she hung out of my front Baby Bjorn as we walked around Federal Hill. While walking to the restaurant we wanted to try, we passed a store that looked like either a butcher shop or an old grocery store. The walls were all bordered up, but I looked inside the front door to see two old men sitting on chairs. We made eye contact with each other for a brief second before Kulani snapped, "Don't look in there." I quickly looked away as if I hadn't seen them.

I'm pretty sure they were "made" men waiting for inconspicuous packages or something. They did not smile. Had I not had Lilia hanging off my personage, I would not be writing this post right now. (Maybe an exaggeration, but for a few moments there, trust me--it was real and it was scary.)

Note: If you ever find yourself traveling on the East Coast with a baby, you'll find you get treated very well. It's like people don't see enough babies there. Not like here in Utah, obviously.

We went into the restaurant and tried to enjoy our meal and calm our nerves. The restaurant was more of a pub. The food was pretty good, but the people inside the pub were even better. They had the thickest Rhode Island accents we'd heard on the trip. And they were so friendly. It was like eating lunch at "Cheers," where everybody knows your name.

The waiter was fascinated by our baby, and calls out to a guy at the end of the bar, "Hey, Paulie! How old is your baby? He sleep through the night yet?"

To which Paulie says, "No, he's keepin' us up every night. It's drivin' me crazy."

Just delightful. Except for the whole almost-getting-killed part.

Post Script: Kulani did get a scholarship to Brown, but in April he also got a job offer. He took the latter. Maybe one of these years he'll make it to Brown.


Pat said...

At least you didn't sit in the wrong booth. Then you would have been toast.

MarySquare said...

I didn't know you guys went out to Rhode Island. I have a friend from here at Purdue doing some experiments there right now.

If you went to Brown, who knows where you'd be right now. You could be dedicated East Coasters as opposed to denizens of the UC.

JL said...

You forgot to mention that you really weren't scared because you know the Patriarcas would have been the ones swimming with the fishes if they would have messed with your Fish...