Photo: Andrew Losowsky
Ava is walking to Kennedy Plaza, to get the number 42 bus home. She’s a Junior at Classical High and describes herself as “caught between being really good at math and really into art.” After school, she often spends time at New Urban Arts, a nonprofit organization that supports young artists. It’s also on Westminster Street, though on the other side of I-95. Ava mostly does screen printing there. “I like focusing on printing very abstract shapes onto detailed pieces of work. I recently found a picture of grains of rice, and I did this weird triangle design over the top. It was really cool.”
When she was a little girl, Sylvia lived near North Main Street, and would travel to Westminster Street with her mom on the streetcars. One day, she had a little accident. “I had to go to the bathroom, so I went all the way to the back, and I peed. They had slats in the floor, but my pee ran along the top of the slats. My mother was sat in the front, she happened to look down, saw this pee, then she turned very slowly, and there I was sitting at the back, looking like a cat with a mouse in its mouth.”
Westminster Street got its first streetcar in 1865. It was pulled along rails by horses, though by the 1890s, the system had turned electric. The streetcars remained until May 14, 1948, when the last streetcar in the city took its final journey along the street behind you. Some of the rails on Westminster Street were pulled up, but others remain underneath the pavement. Last week, RIPTA announced a proposal to bring streetcars back to the city. It would cost an estimated $76 million, and could be installed within five years.
When Thomas was a kid, he’d come downtown in the front seat of his aunt Dee’s taxi cab. “She’d be sent to drop off packages with lawyers, doctors. It was cool. We’d go inside and they’d be hollering on the telephones.” Sometimes they’d give him a dollar as a tip. “I used that to buy candy.”
Behind the third-floor windows is Becky’s desk at Manpower, where she helps people get permanent jobs in insurance, sales, and customer service. She moved to Massachusetts from Florida, where “the economy crashed a couple of years earlier than the rest of the country.” She drives into Providence every day. “Parking is a nightmare. Also, the traffic patterns have changed here as the interstates and the intersections changed. But it’s like any area — you just have to learn to navigate your way through.”
Rich lives in the Conrad Building at 385 Westminster Street, a few blocks to your left, and works at City Hall. His wife works in the Shepard Building, just up the street. “She has a three-block walk to work, and I have a five-block walk.” He’s the Director of Administration for the city, and is responsible for financial matters, personnel, purchasing, and labor relations. He and his dog Cody go for regular walks on this street — right now, they’re taking a break because Cody wants to dance.
Dan rides his bike down Westminster Street to and from the Boston Sports Club around the corner. He lives over by Rhode Island Hospital. “It’s a four-minute bike ride here, and six minutes home, because it’s uphill.” He works in Rhode Island as a carpenter and scuba diver. “I was a quahogger for ten years, then I started repairing bridges, building docks, stuff like that. There are sharks out there, but you don’t see too many. I’m not scared of them.” In 2002, he was hit by a car while working on a bridge, and was laid up for almost five years. Now he works out at the gym for two to three hours, six days a week. “I hope to enter a bodybuilding competition some day. I’m 43. Most people who do that are in their 20s or 30s, but I think I can beat them all.”
Erick has been working at Mama Teresa’s for two years. “Está bien. Los patrones son buenas personas. Siempre si necesito algo, me apoyan.” (It’s good. The owners are good people. Whenever I need anything, they help me out.) He gets the bus in every morning from Atwell’s Avenue, to start work at 7am. Originally from the state of Morelos in Mexico — “la ciudad de la eterna primavera,” or the city of eternal springtime — he’s lived in Providence for ten years. “Ya me acostumbre del frio y lluvia y todo. ¡Y me gusta!” (Now I’m accustomed to the cold and the rain and everything. And I like it!)