Awesome People: Simon Moore - College Visions


Originally appeared in The Phoenix

The story of Janelle Williams is an all-too familiar one: a bright, young woman perfectly capable of going to college, but like so many of her friends, she couldn't help but feel like the deck was stacked against her. She was shut-off-the-gas-poor, attending an underperforming high school ("it sure isn't Classical") and despite living in a crowded household, she had no one she could really turn to for advice.

And then she came to College Visions, the seven-year-old advising program founded by Simon Moore that helps low-income and first-generation college-bound students navigate the treacherous waters of the college application process, from selecting the right schools, to filling out the dreaded financial aid forms, to making the final decision.

Moore grew up in Providence (he went to Classical and played basketball for a year at Brown) and other than the couple of years he spent working in Harlem and the Bronx, "I haven't gone outside of a two-mile radius."

He started College Visions because he saw a clear void when it comes to college advising in Providence public schools. Most schools don't have someone focusing solely on those who need help applying and guidance counselors simply don't have the capacity to meet with students more than a handful of times during their junior and senior years.

That's where College Visions comes in. Funded through private sponsorships and the AmeriCorps VISTA program, the nonprofit's full-time staff of five recruits students for its College Access Program during their junior year. The program is completely free for the students, who meet one-on-one with their adviser every couple of weeks (often much more) to discuss taking the SAT or ACT, filling out applications, writing the essay, and understanding financial aid packages.

It's not all fluffy "you can be whatever you want" or "we'll find a way to pay for it" advising either. As one struggling statistics student found out, staffers have no problem giving it to you straight.

"You need to make a decision," an adviser told the student. "You need to pick a day every week to get extra help. Colleges don't like Ds."

It's that level of honesty and open dialogue that had a half-dozen or so students hanging out in the College Visions office in the Mercantile Block Building on Washington Street well after 6 pm on the Friday night before April vacation. They trust Moore. They trust the staff. They trust the process.

"I wasn't thinking about college at all," Janelle said as she sat in a room lined with school pennants sent in as gifts from College Visions alumni. "I didn't even want to apply. I didn't have any money. But then I started meeting with my adviser here. Now I'm going to show my little brothers they can do it too."

Now Janelle has a decision to make. She has to choose between Salem College and Guilford College, two North Carolina schools well-known for providing maximum financial aid packages, and the University of Rhode Island.

But the support won't end there. College Visions also offers a College Success Program, which helps alumni make the successful transition to college. College Visions advisors mentor students, serve as financial aid advocates, and make sure their charges are able to find work.

The goal of this program, according to Moore, is to help address the most underreported crisis in American education today: the college dropout rate. Research from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education suggests one in three low-income students will enroll in college; just 11 percent of those graduate within six years.

"There are huge consequences for starting college and not finishing," Moore said. "We want our alumni to graduate because it will expand their access to everything. We commit to ensuring they complete college."

They've been wildly successful compared with the national numbers. The first class of College Visions graduates completed the program in 2005. It had ten members. Seven have graduated from college. Two are still enrolled.

This year, Janelle is one of 70 students enrolled in the College Access Program. As a group, they've been accepted to dozens of schools including URI, Rhode Island College, St. John's, and Holy Cross. Another 140 alumni remain active in the College Success Program, which has students at Brown, Boston College, Clark, and George Washington University.

The future for College Visions is as bright as it is for its alumni. Moore said the demand to join the program continues to rise, but while he's open to expansion, he wants to make sure all of his students continue to receive the constant one-on-one advising they deserve.

It always goes back to the students. And for someone who has barely left Providence, Moore has opened doors for so many.

Just ask Janelle.


Awesome People: After 'Black Friday,' a local poker player's lament

Originally appeared in The Phoenix

If you think the only thing on television these days other than those silly P90X infomercials is poker, then you're probably on to something. But that all stands to change, now that the feds handed three popular online poker websites what effectively amounts to a death sentence in the United States.

An end to online poker means an end to all those sponsorships and commercials that make televised tournaments possible. And without those glitzy ads around to lure moms, dads, and the 35-year-old sons who still live with them, the game is likely to revert back to its pre-2003 days, when the only people playing cards regularly were wannabe cowboys and guys named Huck.

Which could mean the very premature end to a potentially lucrative career for one Rhode Islander.

Bill DelSanto doesn't call himself a professional poker player yet. He still wants to sleep with women and finish college and he even works a part-time job at Citizens Bank to stay active. But considering he won $31,087.50 sitting in his bedroom on a single Sunday last May, it's safe to say the 21-year-old is more than a recreational player at this point.

DelSanto estimates poker has provided 90 percent of his spending money since he was a 16-year-old Bishop Hendricken student, when he would sneak into Foxwoods to play cash games for hours at a time. It's rare (and illegal) for someone so young to get their start playing live games in a casino, but he says, "I never wanted to leave a high balance online just in case they picked up and left some day."

When he finally entered the Interzone in earnest, his game took off. With the ability to play in four tournaments at once, he quickly began to master a number of less popular poker games. On television, the game of choice is almost always no-limit Texas hold 'em, but DelSanto prefers H.O.R.S.E., a mixed version of poker that many veterans avoid because of the difficultly.

It was a major online H.O.R.S.E. tournament he was prepared to enter earlier this month when he found out PokerStars had had been shut down to American players.

Players refer to it as "Black Friday."

"The feeling on Black Friday literally felt so depressing that it was numbing," DelSanto says. "I was driving home from work and got a message on Facebook and Twitter about the shutdown and I literally almost crashed."

The founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker were among 11 people indicted on charges of bank fraud and money laundering. The federal government reportedly hopes to recover $3 billion from the companies, which until recently ran commercials alongside every poker tournament on television.

Without the low buy-in qualifying tournaments held online, many poker enthusiasts believe the World Series of Poker, which normally pays over $5 million to the Main Event winner, will suffer from a severe downturn in players. And if the game wanes in popularity, ESPN will likely be the first to pull its support.

But DelSanto remains upbeat about the game he eventually wants to make a career out of.

"I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing with a lot more traveling in the picture," he said. "I'm still going to work at the bank, work on my degree, and play poker. I have the World Series of Poker in June and I am looking forward to seeing the world while hopefully amassing a fortune in the process."

For now, though, there is some unintentional irony in the online screen name he used to play under: ItbDone.

Sooner than he ever thought.


Awesome People: The Beer Guy

Originally appeared in The Phoenix

The next time you're chugging that seemingly endless cup of stale Keystone Light following a losing game of beer pong, Patrick McGovern wants you to think of it as a liquid time capsule.

McGovern is one of "maybe 10" molecular archeologists in the world focusing primarily on ancient booze and chocolates, which makes him a hit with a wide variety of crowds, ranging from the Discovery Channel nerds to NPR loyalists to, of course, college students, who believe time isn't wasted when you're getting wasted.

The Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, McGovern was in town this week to present "Uncorking the Past," an hour-long lecture that basically confirmed something you probably already suspected: Greek mythology was likely created under the influence of substances even the Waterman co-op kids can't get their hands on.

McGovern, who has penned two books about his research, said he and his team first discovered a 2700-year-old beverage recipe when excavating the tomb of King Midas in present-day Turkey. The group recovered an Iron Age drinking set and analyzed the chemical fingerprints left on different vessels to identify the ingredients used in the cocktail.

What they learned was that if King Midas and his buddies went on a pub crawl today, they probably would be looking for beer garnished with a lot of fruit. Flavor overload was all the rage in the Persian Empire. The fingerprints contained compounds for tartaric acid (grape wine), beeswax (honey mead) and beer stone (barley, for beer), all in the same drink.

In other words, the Persians drank jungle juice too!

Furthermore, if you've ever poured out a little liquor for your homeboys and girls, you'll be happy to know it wasn't Ice Cube who came up with this novel idea. McGovern explained that when King Midas died, his supporters threw a party and also shared the booze with their fallen comrade. You know, so he wouldn't haunt them.

McGovern eventually brought his findings to a variety of brewers hoping someone might be able to take the recipe and concoct something even remotely enjoyable to drink. Ultimately, Delaware-based Dogfish Head prevailed, creating a 9% ABV beer appropriately named Midas Touch.

Dogfish Head, which recently announced its products would no longer be available in Rhode Island, sponsored a tasting of Midas Touch and two other McGovern discoveries at the Brown Graduate Center Bar following the lecture.

Although McGovern billed Midas Touch as recreated for a king, it tasted more like something you would offer to an undergrad who "doesn't like the taste of beer." Yet. It was sweeter and fruitier than the beer you're probably used to, but not as sugar-filled as a Smirnoff Ice, which only pussies drink anyway.

The other drinks offered were Chateau Jiahu, which tasted like a combination of sweet boxed wine and flat beer, and Theobroma, a delicious mixture of chilies and cocoa powder that appeared to be the most popular in the room.

The recipe for Chateau Jiahu, according to McGovern, was inspired by a drink found in China 9000 years ago, which explains why the bottle features a seductive looking Asian woman with a tramp stamp on the label. The Theobroma has its origins in Honduras, which is believed to be the birthplace of chocolate-based alcoholic drinks.

These ancient brews can be tough on the modern drinker's palate. Plenty of "bitter beer faces" proved that right away.

But hey, King Midas probably wouldn't have any love for Keystone Light.


Awesome People: Woman Donates Kidney on Valentine's Day

Originally appeared at GoLocalProv on 2/14/2011

Chocolate, flowers and jewelry all make for great gifts, but Elise Swearingen is going above and beyond this Valentine’s Day. The 27-year-old policy associate in Providence City Hall is spending the day at Rhode Island Hospital where she will donate a kidney to a colleague’s brother-in-law -someone she’s only known for a short time.

But the length of her relationship with Dr. Robert Robbio (the recipient of the kidney) means very little, the laid back Swearingen says. Simply put, she’s making the sacrifice because she believes it’s the right thing to do.

“It didn’t matter who it was,” Swearingen said. “There are a lot of people who need this and I wanted to help. It’s a personal decision, but I haven’t questioned it. I’m just like, I have two kidneys, I don’t understand why I can’t give one to him.”

We Barely Knew Each other

Swearingen isn’t the only person who wanted to step up to help the 59-year-old Robbio. He says there were eight others who went through the extended process that comes with donating a kidney. But for one reason or another, they were all unable to move forward.

Robbio learned that he was in urgent need of a transplant about a year ago after a routine doctor’s appointment. He said he’s had kidney problems for the last decade, but never thought it would get to a point where he would need to be hooked to a dialysis machine for five hours each day. But when his doctor called him one Saturday last February, he knew it could only be bad news.

That’s when he started searching for donors. He never thought of asking Swearingen.

“I had met Elise once or twice because she’s friends with my family,” Robbio said. “But if she were to walk in a room, I probably wouldn’t know who know who she was. Now she’s a member of the family.”

I Just Said I’ll Do It 

No one ever asked Swearingen to step up. Robbio’s sister-in-law, Sue, happens to be a colleague of Swearingen’s in City Hall. Sue approached her one day about setting up a Facebook group to generate awareness and possibly find Dr. Robbio a donor.

Almost immediately, Swearingen offered something better.

“I just said I’ll do it,’ Swearingen recalls.

Since then, she has constantly been on the go, from visiting doctors to making arrangements and Sue, who in a recent Facebook post she referred to as “my friend/sister/mother figure/sidekick,” has been there every step of the way.

“I’ve been at every doctor’s appointment and every blood test,” Sue Robbio said. “I can’t even begin to describe this. We had gone through our whole family and I just needed to make a Facebook page.”

A Second Chance

It was Swearingen’s altruistic spirit that put her in the position to meet Dr. Robbio in the first place. She grew up just outside of Kansas City and moved to Providence to volunteer with the City Year program. She expected to be in Rhode Island for a year. That was five years ago.

She took a job at City Hall and was quickly befriended by the Robbio family. Now she’s saving one of their lives.

“She’s giving a gift of life,” Dr. Robbio said. “It’s Valentine’s Day, but I look at it like it’s my birthday. I should have been dead and Elise has given me a second chance.“


A Guide to the Real Rhode Island, From A-Z

Originally Appeared in The Phoenix

Did you spend all of Christmas break bitching about how there's never anything to do in Rhode Island? Well, that's probably because your nerdy tour guide during freshman orientation raved about the Athenaeum like it was Club Hell and you spent most of your free time playing video games in your dorm instead of video poker at Twin River. Why don't you do yourself a favor and make a belated New Year's resolution to actually enjoy the quirky city you'll call home for the next four, five, six years? To help, we've put together an A-Z survival guide complete with everything you need to know (and plenty you don't) about Lil Rhody.

Where your parents should take you to dinner when they visit. Be sure to wear a suit, preferably shiny or pinstriped. Sweatsuits are also acceptable, but they must be velour, not the kind you wear to track and field meets. And for God's sake, make sure your cheapass father knows that even though the sign says "Free Valet Parking," he still has to tip.

See also:AS220 | A hipster's wet dream. Leading reason Providence has one of the best art scenes in the country. Also a great place to see guys with bangs play loud music.

AMTRAK | Around junior year, you'll realize Providence is a fantastic place and never want to leave. Until then, you'll probably think your only true friends are stuck at community colleges back home. So here's some advice: When buying train tickets, always say your destination is two stops before your actual destination (i.e., if you're going to New Haven, buy tickets to New London). Then play the stupid college kid act and the conductor will usually let you slide. And you'll have extra beer money.


The happiest students in the world who will protest anything as long as there's a pretty sign and an ounce of pot involved.

See also:BLACKSTONE BOULEVARD | The street is made of marble and the fire hydrants spray champagne. You'll always know when a person lives here because they'll tell you. Twice.

BENEFIT STREET | The most historic mile in history is located on the historic East Side. There's a 76 percent chance you'll throw up here by the time you graduate.

BURNSIDE PARK | Separates Brown and RISD students from the ice skating rink. Even the pigeons shoot heroin here!

Definitely an upgrade over the Ellio's your roommate has in the freezer.


The sole reason the "Freshman 15" becomes the "Freshman 50" in Rhode Island.

See also:DOWNCITY | What locals call downtown Providence. No, those underdressed girls you see probably aren't hookers (we outlawed that shit two years ago). They're probably heading to one of the many clubs in the area to drink, dance, and scream in horror when someone inevitably gets stabbed.

DANCING COP | Cornered the make-an-ass-out-of-yourself-in-public market by arresting all the mimes.

Think Beacon Hill meets Dupont Circle. Living here allows you to tell law and med schools that you know all about the inner city without the hassle of ever actually having to see the inner city.


See "A", "O," and maybe a little bit of "C." The old money here is a little different than the old money on the East Side or in Newport.

See also:FARMERS' MARKETS | To be clear, you will never meet a farmer in Providence. But at these trendy little markets, aspiring novelists and painters will sell you a tomato, their latest creation, and the shirts off their backs for next to nothing.

Okay, it's not San Francisco or London, but Providence isn't Hicksville, Alabama either. The city is filled with great gay bars (Alley Cat, Dark Lady, Stable) and the Gay Pride Parade is by far the best parade of the year. And if you're lucky, the state might actually legalize same-sex marriage by the time you graduate.

See also:GASPEE DAY PARADE | Similar to the Gay Pride Parade in that everyone likes to play dress-up and get drunk. Commemorates the time we torched a British ship and lit off fireworks in celebration. As it often does, Boston would later copy us with some Tea Party no one can stop raving about.

Greasy spoon conveniently located next to City Hall and about 50 feet from the city's only cab stand. Perfect snack after a long night of drinking cheap beer downcity. Suggestion: Get the burger.

Rhode Island was the first colony to declare its independence from Britain. But because all the men who helped lead the charge were short, pale, and probably starving, we decided to build a statue of a tall, tan, and muscular man to overlook the State House. And we gave him a spear because spears are badass.

See also:IGGY'S | The reason most of us don't look good when we're on the beach.

INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME | Be on the lookout for Andre Agassi's wig.

Used to start the conversation, now just recaps it three days later. The only time you'll buy this is if someone takes a picture of you protesting whatever it is you'll protest in the next four years.

See also:JWU | Overeducating restaurant workers for nearly a century!

JEWELRY DISTRICT | What you'll know as the Knowledge District, Rhode Islanders know as the Jewelry District.

JOHNSTON | Where Jersey Shore gets better ratings than the Super Bowl.

Contrary to what Brown and RISD students will tell you, the buses and trolleys don't just disappear when they let you off at the Starbucks on Thayer Street. They end up here.

See also:KICKBALL | Our real sports teams suck. But if you're competitive and more importantly, like drinking, you can play kickball, bocce, dodge ball and ultimate Frisbee in various parts of the city.


One of the best places in the state to see a concert. Something for everybody. In the same week, you might get Wu-Tang, a Pink Floyd cover band, and an overnight sensation pop group welcoming teenagers into the wonderful world of clubland.

If you can't afford to catch a Sox game in Boston, definitely head to Pawtucket to see their AAA affiliate. It's cheap and there isn't a bad seat in the house.

See also:THE MET CAFE | A hot new hipster hangout located just outside of Providence. Live music, cheap beer, lots of open space.

MISQUAMICUT BEACH | Total tourist trap where kids from Connecticut go to skip school and pretend like they're in Seaside Heights. Most Rhode Islanders have never been. It's too far from everything.

Probably where your parents thought you were going when you told them you were going to school in Rhode Island. Home to all the mansions and a lot of people with names normal people give to dogs. If you can find 15 friends, you might be able to afford a tiny beach house down here for a week in the summer. Just don't fall off the Cliff Walk.

See also:NEW YORK SYSTEM WIENERS | Best. Hot dogs. Ever.


You've seen the movies, you know the deal. If you see a short Italian guy that kind of looks like Joe Pesci, it would probably be wise to turn the other way or at least not criticize his mother.

Where kids from Long Island and Connecticut go when they can't get into Boston College and don't want to go to Fairfield. Has many proud alumni who still pray Rick Pitino might come back and help the basketball team be relevant again.

See also:POLITICIANS | Fact: There are more General Assembly members than residents in the state of Rhode Island.

PAULY D | We know, we're sorry.

PPAC | Best way to catch a Broadway show without ever having to leave the state. When you factor in drinks, dinner, two tickets, and parking, you'll only be stuck about $300.

| So big you could live here without ever getting caught. It's been done. Seriously.


Before everybody teamed up to beat the shit out of the British, Bostonians decided Quakers shouldn't be allowed to practice their own religion. But Rhode Island accepted them with open arms and our population doubled to 28.

Remember that girl who wore a dress made out of newspaper cartoons to your senior prom? She goes to RISD.

See also:ROGER WILLIAMS | History doesn't give the man who founded Providence the credit he deserves. In fact, he doesn't even make Wikipedia's list of the 17th century's most significant people. Something Johnny Milton and Frankie Bacon probably tease him about every day.

Most popular majors: 1) Spending daddy's money 2) Debt accumulation 3) Sailing.

See also:SWAN POINT CEMETERY | Where kids who wear too much makeup go to play Ouija board on H.P. Lovecraft's grave.

A huge selling point for Brown and RISD, but the truth is you'll rarely spend much time here as the years go on. There's just too many high school students puffing their first cigarettes and trying to feel each other up to enjoy yourself.

Great place to party, but beware of the many frat guys who think Keystone Light is the shit, call everything gay, and say "bro" too much.

Rocky with a Rhode Island accent. On the Mount Rushmore of local athletes, he would be the one with the swollen eye.

Our quirky way of embracing the fact that our water is too polluted for anything to be living in it. Every other weekend each summer, we light the river on fire, play creepy music, and old people make out.

See also:WEST BROADWAY | What you get when a few pretentious East Siders decide they've had enough of the college kids and want to live somewhere else in Providence. Close to Atwells Avenue and a bunch of trendy bars.

WILD COLONIAL | Where you'll probably have your first legal beer.

Providence hosted the very first Summer X Games back in 1995 (you were like, way young). Unfortunately, Dodging Potholes wasn't as exciting as ESPN hoped it would be and the Games haven't returned since '96.


Why would you pay to go snow tubing here when you could slide down College Hill on cafeteria trays?

One of the coolest places most college students never seem to make it to in Providence. It's in Roger Williams Park. Be sure to check out the Pauly D Jersey Shore exhibit coming next summer.


Awesome People: The Renegade Wrestling Alliance goes Raw

Originally Appeared in The Phoenix

For most boys growing up, professional wrestling, with its salacious storylines and otherworldly characters (who could forget the Ugandan Giant, Kamala?) serves as a rite of passage into adulthood. But at some point, boobs tend to replace bodyslams, Sasha Grey becomes your favorite entertainer and just like that, Monday is no longer the most important night of the week.

That wasn’t the case for Anthony DiIorio. The 29 year old says he fell in love with the sport after watching WrestleMania VII (in 1991) and has wanted to be a wrestler ever since. He can vividly recall an epic match between his hero Shawn Michaels and Bret “the hitman” Hart from 1996 and admits to spending hours browsing the internet for rumors regarding upcoming WWE storylines.

If that doesn’t qualify him as a hardcore wrestling fan, you ought to meet his two boys. Austin and Adam are named after -you guessed it- two of DiIorio’s favorite in-ring performers: Stone Cold Steve Austin and Adam Copeland, who goes by Edge in the squared circle.

DiIorio, his children and over 20 friends and family members were out in full force at The Dunk Monday night for WWE Raw, which bills itself as the longest running episodic television show in history. But unlike the majority of the other wrestling enthusiasts in the building, the group wasn’t there simply to be entertained. Many are members of the Renegade Wrestling Alliance (RWA), DiIorio’s backyard wrestling league, and were in attendance to pick up new moves and critique what they view as the big leagues.

The RWA was founded in 2007, about a decade after DiIorio and his wrestling-obsessed buddies started rolling around on mattresses set up in his Pawtucket backyard. From the very beginning, they videotaped their matches and before long, with encouragement from DiIorio’s mother, purchased a custom-designed ring for $2,600.

“We wanted to become legitimate and make a serious go of it,” DiIorio, who wrestles under the name T-Phoenix, said. “We didn’t have any real goals going in; it was just a bunch of us who loved wrestling. Now we’re a team and a family and we want to put on the best show possible.”

DiIorio said the RWA is split between guys who treat wrestling as their version of pick-up basketball and ones who really hope to make it big one day. He mentioned Stan Styles, a wrestler who drives in from Philadelphia on weekends, Jason Devine and JP Hansen as three performers who have the potential to become professionals.

The league gets together a couple of Sundays each month and rents out an old building just off the Nate Whipple Highway in Cumberland. The free shows are taped and aired on Public Access Tuesdays at 11:00 p.m. and Fridays at midnight. DiIorio has no clue how many people tune in (it’s gotta do better than the Joe Trillo Show, right?) but said he was surprised by the league’s growing internet following. Since starting a YouTube channel last July, the RWA has 123 subscribers and over 22,000 video views. Its Facebook page has 650 fans.

It’s not quite the same as the WWE’s rabid following, but DiIorio noted that a few RWA wrestlers do get spotted by random Rhode Islanders from time to time. For Raw he admitted to wearing the same Pittsburgh Pirates coat he often wears during RWA tapings just in case anyone recognized him.

So what did the backyard amateurs think of Monday night’s show?

DiIorio said his group can be pretty critical of the WWE and admitted to despising his kids’ favorite superstar, John Cena, who is the closest thing to what Hulk Hogan was 20 years ago. But for the most part, they all enjoyed themselves.

As for Austin and Adam?

“They loved it,” DiIorio said.

Of course they did. It’s in the blood.


Life: A Room Of Your Own

Originally Appeared in The Phoenix

It's junior year and the thought of ever having to deal with another RA telling you to stop using your George Foreman grill in your room makes you want to vomit. You're independent. After all, you have an Idaho state ID that says you're 32. It's about time you move into your own place, where you don't have to hide the bong and friends can visit whenever they want. But first, you probably need some advice. So we've compiled a list of everything you need to know when looking for that first apartment.

There are a lot of landlords who want to rent to students, which makes complete sense given the amount of colleges in the area. But make sure you don't enter into a lease with anyone who might try to take advantage of you. Here's a good rule of thumb: Never rent from the guy who sells himself as the "cool" landlord. Usually he'll still attach a "y" to the end of his name (Joey!) and talk about ripping shots with you and your bros or tell stories about all the "hot broads" he rents to.

You don't want to deal with that shit. Allowing one of these douchebags to be your landlord will result in unannounced visits (you're supposed to get 48 hours notice) and a contentious relationship when you stop letting him drink your beer or refuse to sleep with him. Always remember that just because you're a student and this might be your first apartment, your rights are no different from the 45-year-old hippy who lives in the basement.


Craigslist can be an awfully deceiving place. All the women appear to be extra horny, everyone has something to sell, and the sheer volume of available jobs will leave you wondering how unemployment is at a record high. So if you think you found a wicked good deal for an apartment, make sure you turn on that thinking cap that got you into college in the first place.

If it's an East Side apartment that features a Jacuzzi, pool, and utilities included for $225 a month, you're probably going to get mugged when you check it out. If the alleged landlord asks you to Western Union $1000 to East Bumblefuck, Nigeria, don't. If you ask who to make out the check to and the e-mailer responds by saying, "straight cash homie," it would be wise to look elsewhere.

There are people who will tell you it is illegal for landlords to require first and last month's rent in addition to a security deposit when you move in. But according the Residential Landlord Tenant Act of 1987, he or she can do just that. If your parents are paying, this doesn't matter and you should just move along. But if you're working or using student loan money to pay rent, find a place that won't cost you so much up front and save that money for important things like booze and Gushers.

Even if you mistakenly take that apartment with Joey the Landlord, he can't just raise the rent because you didn't offer the last Bud Light in your refrigerator or refused to sleep with him because he's 40 and still collects baseball cards. In fact, you must receive a written notice 30 days prior to any increase in monthly costs.

This is crucial. If you're into staying up all night, smoking pot, and sleeping with everything on legs, don't live with the Christian kid who spends his free time at Bible study and has never been alone in the same room with a woman that wasn't his mother. He'll always resent you and he'll tell his friends you smell like a skunk. Also, you can bet horrible, HORRIBLE things will happen to your toothbrush throughout the year.

While Providence is a great place to live, you should probably know the city is dead broke. Which means it will constantly attempt to scrape every penny it can off of you while you live here. Last year, the Mayor tried to tax you simply for being a student in the city. So don't expect the 1–7 am parking ban to be lifted any time soon. If you have a car, make sure you're guaranteed a parking spot or be prepared to pay a lot in fines.

If you live in a first floor or basement level apartment, don't shit yourself when you see a tiny mouse run across the kitchen floor. Yes, they're disgusting, but you're the one who threw a rager and didn't bother to wash the floor afterward. Rats are a different story. If you see those guys anywhere near your house, feign the plague and contact your landlord immediately.

Even if you've got a roommate you hope dies in his sleep, have started naming the rats, and have less water pressure than most South American huts, you can't just stop paying rent. It doesn't work like that and anyone who tells you it does probably still lives with his mother. If you have a complaint, you must notify your landlord and give him 20 days to fix the problem. If the problem persists, you must give two weeks' notice that you plan to terminate the rental agreement. Keep your documents!

If you happen to be late with rent, it's not the end of the world. Many landlords will allow you to work it out as long as the problem doesn't become habitual. And even if you do have someone less than accommodating to deal with, there is still a process (it usually takes over a month) they have to go through to evict you. So don't worry that you're going to come home one day to find your lava lamp on the pavement and the locks changed on the doors.

In addition to finding the right roommates and paying your rent on time, make sure you're always aware of your surroundings. Much as you'd like to think otherwise, this isn't your city. You go home to mom every other month. So before you decide to terrorize the neighborhood with crappy music and garbage fires, remember the people trying to raise families here. You can still have a great experience without being a douchebag.


Awesome People: Corsets, Goggles, and Game Geeks in Warwick

Originally Appeared in The Phoenix

Are you an aspiring warlord, dragon slayer or munchkin? Do you find Queen Victoria strangely sexy? Well TempleCon 2011 might be right up your alley.

The sixth annual convention of gaming and retro-futurism — think geeks getting off on old-timey visions of the future — returns to the Crowne Plaza in Warwick February 4-6 and is expected to bring in as many as 1500 attendees from all over the world.

The event attracts both hardcore and casual gamers, fans of science fiction and fans of fantasy. TempleCon will offer dozens of competitive tournaments (three Flames of War national qualifiers!), alongside panel discussions, presentations, fashion shows, and a retro-futurist ball.

The idea, according to TempleCon co-founder "Madame" Ximon Dundaine, is to provide a little something for everybody, whether you're the intense gamer or the poor significant other who gets dragged along for the ride. She said her event has become known as a couple's destination in the retro-futurist community.

"When we started this, we wanted to have the kind of event to go to that we desired," Madame Ximon says. "After going to a lot of other conventions, we hadn't yet found that. Let's say you hate gaming, we still have a lot going on."

Retro-futurism has become an entire subculture complete with games, novels, and paintings. Among the genre's most popular forms is Steampunk, which is often set in Victorian England and fetishizes steam power.

It is, among other things, a good excuse to wear corsets, petticoats, and goggles.

There are more in Rhode Island who take to this sort of thing than you might imagine. Madame Ximon, co-owner of the Temple, a retail hobby game store in Pawtucket, says the Ocean State has among the most game stores per capita in the country.

Gaming enthusiasts who have not yet registered for the conference may be disappointed — most of the tournaments are already filled. But you can still dress up like Dickens and grab an autographed copy of C.J. Henderson's Steam Powered Love: Tales of the Pelgimbly Institute for the Advanced Sciences And the Chaos It Caused.

Sounds romantic.


Politics: The 2nd Most Powerful Man in Providence

Originally Appeared at GoLocalProv in February, 2011

On the first Monday of the new year, Providence City Hall was filled to capacity with everyone from Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee to the family and friends who came out to support the soon-to-be-sworn-in City Council. It was inauguration day and the energy in the building was obvious.

But lost in the overwhelming amount of attention paid to Mayor Angel Taveras, who had just delivered an inspiring speech to hundreds on the steps of City Hall, was the gentleman about to become the most important man in Providence: Michael Solomon.

After a narrow primary victory over incumbent Patrick Butler in 2006, Solomon, the Ward 5 Councilman, did not face a challenger in the most recent election. So rather than fighting for votes in his own neighborhood, he launched a campaign in which he would only need the support of eight of his fellow members of the City Council. Just after the September primary, he issued a press release confirming that he had acquired the necessary votes to become Council President.

Solomon is unlike many recent Council Presidents in that he has only just started his second term. In comparison, the two previous Presidents, Peter Mancini and John Lombardi, were veterans by the time they ascended to the top role. But while he’s short on experience as an elected official, Solomon, who briefly considered running for General Treasurer, is considered a talented politician who knows Providence as well as anyone.

“He’s been around for a long time,” Lombardi said. “His father was General Treasurer and he was on the Ward Committee. He grew up in Providence, knows the city and he’s clearly a politically savvy guy.”

While his father, Anthony, served six terms as the state’s General Treasurer, Solomon developed a reputation as a tireless worker and continued to work his way up the political ladder. Former Mayor Joe Paolino said he will make an excellent Council President.

“I appointed him to the Providence Redevelopment Agency,” Paolino said. “He had a very good tenure on the PRA. He got a lot of exposure to neighborhood concerns and he has represented the Mount Pleasant and Elmhurst well.”

Solomon made headlines in 2009 as a Councilman when he proposed an ordinance that would prohibit youths under 18 to work in adult entertainment venues around the city. The legislation was met with almost universal support and passed in October of that year. He also sponsored the Worker Retention Ordinance, which requires employers to retain employees for at least six months following a change in management.

Both Lombardi and Paolino said Solomon was able to seize the Presidency thanks to the large turnover on this year’s Council. Seven new members were elected, leaving very few veterans to stand in his way.

“It’s not like one of the new Councilmen were going to be President,” Paolino said. “I like Michael Solomon a lot. He’s hard working. He’ll work 24/7 in that role.”

The new Council President has mostly stayed out of the public light in his first month at the helm. Although he supported Steven Costantino during the Mayoral race, Mayor Taveras’ spokesperson Melissa Withers said the two new leaders have “met and spoken many times over the last three weeks.”

But Solomon’s influence has already been felt internally on the Council. Last week, GoLocalProv reported that he his leadership team had left four Councilmen completely off any of the six Standing Committees and this week, Chief of Staff Thomas Glavin stepped down.

There has been no indication as to who will replace Glavin, but a source close to the Council President said it will likely be someone close to Solomon.

“He knows what he’s doing,” the source said. “He’s making his mark on the Council.”

Note: Council President Solomon did not return multiple phone calls asking for comment.


Business: A Mixed Bag For Rhode Island's Downtowns

Originally Appeared at GoLocalProv in January, 2011

President Obama made Main Street a major theme of his 2008 campaign, but how are Rhode Island’s downtown areas faring today? The answers, it appears, are mixed. Along the urban corridor, cities have clearly shifted from survival mode to rebuilding mode while the more affluent areas are coping with the reality that it may take a long time to return those pre-recession profits they enjoyed.

Business leaders in Providence and Pawtucket are spending a lot of time talking about potential these days. They’re pointing to new businesses entering the downcity area in Providence and the creative campaign launched to rejuvenate downtown Pawtucket.

In Newport and West Greenwich, where the hospitality industry is so vital, the opinions are mixed. Some business owners fear 2011 could be another slow year while others believe the slight uptick in sales that occurred in 2010 is a sign of better times to come.

Sense Of Clarity Helps Providence
During election season, the candidates for Mayor of Providence couldn’t go a day without answering questions about the capital city’s depleted downtown area. But now that the city –and the state for that matter- has all of its elected officials in place, Alden Anderson, Senior Vice President at CB Richard Ellis, says businesses could be more comfortable sitting down for a conversation.

“Knowing the people making the decisions helps,” Anderson said. “It was a funny market in 2010. Some buildings had a lot of occupants and others struggled. I think we’ll see an uptick as the economy swings. On a macro level, I’m more optimistic than I was last year.”

According to a report released by CB Richard Ellis, Providence’s downtown office vacancy rate increased from 17.21 percent at the end of 2009 to the current 18.90 percent. Anderson said he is hopeful that number will shrink this year and pointed to Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios gaming company as one of the businesses that will be moving in.

Last week, Mayor Angel Taveras announced a national search was being conducted for an Economic Development Director, which the city hopes will be completed within 100 days.

Potential In Pawtucket?
For as long as anyone can remember, leaders in Pawtucket have referred glowingly to all that their city’s downtown area could be. Unfortunately, the reality has been that the conversation has usually ended there.

Now, with a newly elected Mayor and a concrete vision for the future, it appears Pawtucket might finally be on the right track to realizing its dream. Thomas Mann, Executive Director of the Pawtucket Foundation, says the city should be able to attract business based on its proximity to Providence and multiple transit options.

“We have a unique opportunity here,” Mann said. “The I95 bridge will be completed in three years and we’ll have direct access from downtown to the highway, a commuter rail stop, rapid bussing and a beautiful bike path.”

The infrastructure is one of the key factors that will help Pawtucket see resurgence according to Maia Small, a partner at Thurlow Small, who is leading a downtown design plan for the city and has launched a website at

“Pawtucket has this very vocal, very active community,” Small said. “It’s a creative community with real entrepreneurs and while this isn’t going to happen overnight, I think [the city] will be in a good position when the economy comes back.

The Federal Hill Of South County
Steve Cinquegrana has been a business owner as long as anyone in West Greenwich and says he’s still waiting to see the economy return to its old self. The owner of Main Street Coffee, Cinquegrana says he is cautiously optimistic about what the future will bring.

“We’ve noticed increases, but only around two percent,” he said. “Growth would be three-to-five percent. Obviously around this time, it’s very slow, but from St. Patrick’s Day on, we’re good. [Downtown East Greenwich] is the Federal Hill of South County, so I’m optimistic things will improve.”

According to Stephen Lombardi, Executive Director of the West Greenwich Chamber of Commerce, businesses are becoming more attracted to the area.

“We have a lot offer because of our Main Street and the waterfront,” Lombardi said. “Memberships at the Chamber have increased and were looking to bring more new businesses in. Considering the economy, I think we’re doing very well.”

Up Is The New Flat
As people start to feel more safe with their jobs, Newport County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jody Sullivan says they’re starting to become more comfortable with spending money and going on vacation. And while she admitted to being concerned that Newport could price itself of out the market compared with the Cape or Boston, she said 2010 was a good year.

“We’re slowly getting it back,” Sullivan said. “We’re definitely seeing a trend, many temp agencies are hiring again and the numbers give us a reason to think that will continue. Last year things were actually up, but as everyone is saying, up is the new flat.”

Newport got bad news last month when San Francisco was chosen to host the America’s Cup, but the world’s most famous regatta may still host preliminary events in the Ocean State. If that comes to fruition, Sullivan said it could be a huge boon to the downtown economy.

“It would definitely help retail,” she said. “We believe there’s a very good chance we’ll get to host some of those events. I’m extremely optimistic.”


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