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Terrible Trains & Great Graffiti

What to love and loathe about living in East Greenwich this week.


RANT: Anyone who knows me knows that I love trains. And as much as I would welcome a little Beam-me-up-Scottie teleportation, I think I would still take the occasional train journey. The world flows past in a way that is not possible in an airplane. Or a car, for that matter. When you are driving yourself, you have to pay attention (well, that’s the assumption anyway), so you can’t gaze whimsically at the landscape, letting whatever catch your eye (I once saw a field full of Day Glo turkeys). Nor does being a passenger do it – there is something so retro about being on a train. I even love train stations. Reading the destination board is a step back in time to the road not taken, the possibility of a journey, the promise of an adventure, the hope of a romance. I feel like I can hop on and go anywhere – San Francisco, New Orleans, Miami, Seattle, Montreal.... 

But  I hate the trains in our town. Scratch that. I hate their location. Whoever thought sticking a gravity road – as tracks used to be called - on the waterfront was a good proposition? Certainly not real estate developers. And most definitely not me. There I was, happily kayaking in Greenwich Bay, appreciating the cranes – or were they egrets?, the sandpipers – or were they plovers?, the cormorants – or was it a loon?, the swans and their half-grown goslings (those, even an ignorant  birder like myself recognize) when the Acela came whistling through, disturbing my peaceful reverie and sending all the exotic wildlife aflutter. I was brought back to my first night at college. It was 2:44 a.m. (this is relevant in a few sentences). My new roommates and I were hanging out and getting to know each other (i.e., asking oblique questions to get a read on these strangers that we would be spending the next nine months sharing living, sleeping, eating, and showering space with) when we were disturbed by what sounded like a bomb attack. We all dropped to the floor, terrified and trying not to cry “Mommy!” When the sound continued without diminishing for what seemed like hours (but was really only a minute or so), I inched commando style to the window to get a bead on our enemy. Just outside our window were previously unnoticed train tracks and the NY-bound freight making its daily early dawn journey. Needless to say, by the end of the month, we no longer noticed the sound – which proves you can get used to just about anything. Anyway, the point is, trains are bomb-level noisy. Here we have this potentially lovely waterfront and it is ruined what? 7 times, 10 times a day when the freight, Amtrak or commuter trains make their daily commute.

However, since we clearly can’t re/move the tracks, why not make lemonade and make them a feature? Perhaps we can have a small tourist train or even an old-fashioned train trolley travel back and forth from Providence and the new Wickford Junction station (which, by the way, is not located right in the center of Wickford but is a discreet few miles up the road where it bothers no one). I can just picture it (to paraphrase Journey via The Family Guy): We are small town folks, living in a lonely world; we took the midnight train to East Greenwich….

Rave: Speaking of trains, when I moved here many moons ago, the tunnel under the train tracks that connects Water Street to New London Avenue was, in a word, gross. It was regularly lined with soda cans, fast food containers and all kinds of turd.

Then came August and the East Greenwich Housing Authority’s Great Graffiti contest. Whoo-hoo! Instant makeover. Every aspiring local Banksy came to strut their stuff.

Maybe you believe that graffiti is just another name for visual pollution. There’s no doubt that graffiti has gotten a bad rap as gang art. When it shows up, people think, “Tarnation, there goes the neighborhood!” In some cases, this is true and graffiti is a defacement of public property.

All of the negative descriptions above certainly applied the year that vandals struck mere hours after the contest and over-sprayed the wall art with their ugly scribbles. But that, luckily, was an anomaly. The art created at the contest ranges from colorful tags that resemble creative writing with colors to beautiful renditions of Monet’s lily gardens.

Which is the sheer genius of the Graffiti Contest. The Housing Works ID’s a potential neighborhood blight and turned it into an annual art exhibit. (Catch the running theme between the rant and rave here?)

What’s especially ironic is that East Greenwich is actually more open-minded than San Francisco on this one. A few years back, the mayor of “Don’t call it Frisco” tried to ban a similar contest as sanctioning vandalism! So uncool, dude.

Now just one request – can we use glow-in-the-dark paint next time?

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