Scott MacKay Commentary: Time To Perk Up R.I. It's Summah Fer Gawd Sakes

May 21, 2014

Once again, Rhode Islanders are making national news for the low regard we have for our tiny state. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says it’s time to stop taking Rhode Island  for granted.

Rhode Islanders need to focus on all the great things our state has to offer.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

The Gallup poll discovered that Rhode Island is the state least appreciated by its own residents. Just 18 percent of Rhode Islanders said our small slice of southeastern New England was the best place or one of the best places to live.

The New York Times picked this up.  Times reporter Kit Seeyle wrote that ``poor Little Rhody’’ was a sinkhole of a state ``sized just right to contain its pride.’’ This  came in the wake of a public opinion survey commissioned by Bryant University, the Providence Journal and Channel 36 that showed just two percent of Ocean State voters rated state leaders as ``effective’’ while the vast majority, 82 percent, said our political hierarchy rates as ``fair’’ or ``poor.’’

Call Rhode Island the low self-esteem state.  Or perhaps the glass-half empty state. What’s a well-balanced Rhode Islander? A person with one big chip on each shoulder.

Well, today is Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of summer, the best season our cozy and sometimes claustrophobic state has to offer. We’re not going to have a change in latitude, so let’s have to have a change in attitude.  We are the home of Dr. Peter Kramer, but no one is going to be putting Prozac in the Scituate Reservoir.

As the days lighten and lengthen and the sun climbs higher in the sky, it’s time to shed our collective cabin fever and explore what makes our state so special.

It’s true  that Rhode Island’s economy, while recovering from a brutal recession, is still in the doldrums, staggering under the nation’s highest unemployment rate. And yes, some of our politicians continue to act foolishly, even corruptly.

Providence has forever lived in the long shadow cast by Boston, a world-renowned city that  sports  the Red Sox and Bruins while we host  their minor-league affiliates.  And nobody is pleased about the taxpayers being on the hook for millions of dollars in loans granted to bankrupt 38 Studios, a mess foisted on us a dumb and,  perhaps,  greedy Statehouse.

Yet even  in this season of discontent we can stop being such  negative nabobs. It helps to have money to enjoy the Ocean State’s summer charms, but it isn’t a requirement. You can take a RIPTA bus to one of our fabulous beaches. That’s better than staying home and cursing  the humidity.

Your family can watch the Pawtucket Red Sox at McCoy Stadium for less than the cost of a movie. On Mondays   hot dogs are just a buck.

It doesn’t cost a nickel to walk Benefit Street’s spectacular mile of architectural history. Ditto for a stroll through Wickford. Taking a picnic lunch to Beavertail is free, as is access to Newport’s majestic Cliff Walk and Providence’s  Waterfire.

History encircles us : From Bristol’s iconic July Fourth parade to the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, from the John Brown House on Providence’s East Side to Napatree Point in Westerly.

Summer is a fine time to take a break from the corrosive cynicism of talk radio. Better to go fishing for stripers in Narragansett Bay or take an afternoon ocean swim and stay to view an orange-and -plum  sunset streak  across the evening sky. 

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, why not take some books or videos out from your local library. Or head to the wonderful   summer theater the Ocean State offers, such as Theater-by-the Sea in Matunuck.

Too many of us blame the government for our ailments. If you think you’re in a dead-end job, there is no better  time than the present to take courses at Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College or the University of Rhode Island to learn some new skills. Unemployment and under-employment is largely a function of a lack of education and skills. At some point, you create your own opportunity.

We are in the echo chamber of  a campaign season. It often feels as if our politicians hunt for votes by pandering to the everything-in-Rhode Island stinks crowd. If you are mad as hell and can’t take it anymore, why not try getting involved in a solution. Working on a campaign or public issue in your spare time might improve things.

Rhode Islanders don’t like change. It is our state’s beauty, and of course, bane. It means that we cling to tradition; it is this impulse that gives us our appreciation for the past and the historic preservation of buildings and neighborhoods unparalleled in the nation. But it also has meant that we are wary of new ideas and too often dismiss them because of the ``we’ve always done it this way’’   syndrome.

The grand irony of Rhode Island is how much outsiders admire our state.

They love being here so much that they spend a thousand dollars a week or more to rent a cottage along our miles of cobalt coastline. They clog our highways and line up to get into restaurants from Block Island to Burrillville. They come for the ocean, the history, the food, the festivals, the music, and yes, the people. They would love for their kids to be accomplished enough to get into Brown, RISD or Providence College. It’s no surprise that national magazines such as Travel + Leisure consistently rate Rhode Island as one of the country’s top tourist destination.

People who weren’t hatched, matched and dispatched in the Ocean State love us.

Are grass-is-always greener Rhode Islanders the only folks who don’t like Rhode Island?