It is a little before 5.00 a.m. when I walk out of the
Renaissance Hotel in Providence.The air is thickly humid, and the temperature is 80°.
A colleague from the professional meeting that I have been
attending is also outside of the Renaissance to wait for a taxi.A
couple walks out of the hotel, and they too are looking for a taxi to the
airport.One taxi arrives.The couple are quickly upset that the
taxi doesn’t appear to be for them—the taxi driver has my name.I think we should all crowd into the
taxi and head promptly for the airport—instead, the taxi driver calls his
dispatcher.He paces back and
forth beside the car, throwing up his arm as he complains to the dispatcher
about the screw-up.He’s on the
phone for five minutes—and I would really like to be on the road to the
airport.When he finishes the
phone call, the driver says he can take only one of us.We must wait for two more taxis, and
this driver won’t budge until the other two taxis arrive.“They’re on the way,” he says, “be here
in a few minutes.”The couple
grumbles.My colleague and I roll
our eyes at the absurdity of the situation.The driver paces.
Soon, two additional taxis arrive.The couple take one.My colleague takes another, and I get in my taxi.Off we all go to the airport, one taxi
trailing the other down the freeway.
[The photo is the view from my room at the Renaissance Hotel
in Providence. This present tense essay actually refers to events that might have happened several weeks ago.]
midnight. We step from baggage
claim into maritime air—moist and cool.
The disjunction of air travel—a modern oddity—wraps time in discomfort. It had been brightly sunny and aridly
hot when we left Washington about noon.
The hours of flight disappear in a miasma of immobility, in which
muscles stiffen and the mind, racing impatience, searches the minutes for way
arrived in Providence—at least at its airport. As we wait for our bags, I read the numerous advertisements
for medical and surgical supplies that are posted on the walls. One almost wishes there was still
whaling—if only to give businesses some regional color. We could be anywhere, except that the
t-shirts advertise Brown University.
bags behind us, we walk to the taxi stand, find a cab, and begin our next
journey. The driver has jazz on
the radio. We look out of the
windows at the trees and then the nightlights of the industrial margin of the
city. A sense of the dark city
begins to take shape, and we exit the freeway. We are downtown at a stoplight when the driver first speaks: “Been in Providence before?”
surprised when we say it is our first visit. In the block that remains between the stoplight and the
Biltmore Hotel, where we will spend the night, the driver says, “It’s an
interesting city. A lot to
do.” He points left and says, “The
art museum is up there at the Rhode Island School of Design. There’re wonderful restaurants. On Federal Hill—there are good Italian
restaurants.” And we arrive at the
Biltmore. I am beginning to taste
our room at the last minute. We
had not planned an itinerary for Providence. I have a professional meeting here, and we have come a few
days early. We will spend part of
a day with art and then go to New York City. I reserved a room at the Biltmore because it was close to
the train station and convenient to art.
Despite its expense, the location will allow us to walk to our
reception desk, we are told that all of the rooms have filled so we will be put
in a suite—better accommodation that we had reserved.We take the elevator to the top, where we find the
large space that we will occupy only for the night.In the living room, we slump on the couch, which has rough
edges that betray the superficial elegance of the lobby.We eat cashews and make a plan for the
next day.It’s a plan that begins
with sleeping until the last minute before we must rise to shower, dress, and
check-out on East Coast time.