Memory Lane

A former East Side nomad retraces her steps on Blackstone Boulevard

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The first time I walked Blackstone Boulevard I wore a Walkman, (for those too young to remember, it was a portable tape player with headphones, kind of like the iPod of twenty-plus years ago). I lived a couple of blocks away from the path on the top floor of a three-family apartment, rather atypical for the elegant neighborhood of spacious, single-family properties. Frank Black’s Teenage of the Year was my soundtrack. I’d press rewind on the device to return the tape to the first track, wait for that click to signal it was ready, push “play,” and off I’d go.

I’d moved myself to Providence in the mid-'80s in what might be called a Gap Year today, but it was actually a period of academic and vocational confusion. Previously, I was a student at UMass Dartmouth, né SMU, and skipped any classes necessary for more air time on the college’s alternative radio station, WUMD, né WUSM. My friends and I were immersed in the Providence music scene and I wanted to be in the thick of the action, so I left school and got a job on Thayer Street, that then-hub of trendy-cool. I also acquired gigs spinning records at music clubs like the Living Room and the Cage, before becoming the regular DJ on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights at punk club The Rocket. I’d play my favorite vinyl LPs as loud as possible before, after, and between live music.

A series of twenty-something life changes led to various moves on the East Side. There was the refurbished apartment on lower Medway, the charmer with French doors and a stained glass window on upper Medway, and then the character-rich three-bedroom with a soapstone sink on Cole, a stone’s throw from the Boulevard. Through these uncertain, coming-of-age years, the city changed and transformed – as did I. The Angell Street Newport Creamery became a CVS, Thayer Market became a CVS, and Wayland Square’s original CVS became many things and is now Pasta Beach.

A constant, through all of these changes, is the Blackstone Boulevard walking path, that reliable place to clear one’s head. I like to begin where Hope meets Blackstone, near Lippitt Memorial Park. People run, jog, push strollers, but I prefer to walk at a good pace, taking in the unspoiled beauty. The lane is dappled with leafy trees and flanked by stone walls and stately houses. To traverse the entire loop is 4.64 miles, so it’s a nice workout even if you’re taking it slow. The route is a visual scavenger hunt of flowering shrubs, scattered acorns, crab apples, twigs and leaves. The path itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and you’ll pass significant landmarks, like the statue of a young girl, Constance Witherby, or the fieldstone shelter that used to serve as a trolley stop. A new-to-me feature was a cobbled lost and found box, which seemed poetic for such a timeless spot.