In Providence, I saw more monuments dedicated to Roger Williams than to Stewie Griffin. As it should be: The rogue Puritan minister founded the Rhode Island colony in 1636; Stewie is the animated infant with the plummy accent voiced by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, who attended the Rhode Island School of Design . One established a haven for religious freedom; the other converses with a talking dog named Brian and plots against his mother, Lois. Not the same contribution to society, I know, and yet both man and baby embody the character — and quirks — of Providence.
The Ocean State capital is open-minded and sometimes outrageous. On a recent weekday morning, a three-eyed troll hobnobbed with bus riders at Kennedy Plaza, an ironclad excuse for arriving late to work or a coffee date. The hub of higher learning is also smart and urbane. I could feel my brain cells multiplying while walking around the College Hill campuses of RISD and Brown University. Standing in line for coffee at Brown’s campus center, I started to question the wisdom of choosing that other college town to the north.
Providence is one of the oldest cities in the country, and I grew accustomed to seeing historical plaques announcing a structure's birth year and tripping on sidewalks buckling under centuries of soles. But I also heard plenty about the future, including Plant City, a veg-centric food hall set to open next month, and a new pedestrian bridge that will connect the shores of the Providence River. Unfortunately, after three days on the ground, I never found a Stewie statue. However, I did learn that the Providence Athenaeum has a children's reading room and allows dogs and talking inside the 188-year-old library. Perhaps someday I will meet a real-life Stewie and Brian among the hallowed stacks. In Providence, that wouldn't be at all weird.