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13 Things 2008

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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Over the course of the past two months I have developed a weekly routine centered around the release of the latest issue of the "The Providence Phoenix". Even though the Phoenix is placed on newsstands on Thursday mornings, I often don't pick it up until Friday morning. On Fridays my first class is at 10:00 on the Pembroke campus, so I generally have time to grab a bagel and orange juice from the V-dub at 9:15 and walk over to Blue State Coffee to purchase a chai late and sneakily eat my meal-plan bagel. Before ordering my drink I walk over to the corner of the shop farthest from the cashiers and grab the "Phoenix" from the stand next to the public restrooms. By the second day of release the stand is usually in disarray, a few crisp, untouched copies blanketed by a pile of doggeared, folded, pre-read ones.

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Providence Phoenix stand (unread copies) next to recycled papers (used copies) and bulletin newsletters in Blue State Coffee.

The setup of Blue State Coffee is such that I have the option of sitting either at a larger conference style table in the center of the shop or at a smaller two-person table by the windows. If it is free I often grab the larger table, because it gives me enough room to spread out the paper. At the smaller table I must ballance bagel and cup on top of the paper, which is less condusive to reading and page flipping. If the weather is decent I sometimes sit outside at one of the round metal tables, but then I am dealing with wind, the glare of the sun, and all of the sounds and distractions that come with Thayer Street.

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Breakfast with Phoenix outside Blue State Coffee

The extent to which I absorb any content of the Phoenix depends on many factors: the volume of street noise or Blue State background music, the amount of time I have to read before class, the amount of stress I'm dealing with that week, and the amount of interest I have in the cover stories. I often look carefully over the cover stories and table of contents, then skip to the Arts and Entertainment pullout (flipping past the Adult pullout). If I've heard rumor of a particular concert comming to Lupos, I may just flip to the back cover and skim over the chronological listing of upcomming shows.

Yet there is still consistancy to my routine, and I take comfort in it. Between 9:45 and 9:50 I gather my books and fold the latest Phoenix in half. Rather than leave it on the table for the next customer to flip through, I place it in my backpack with my laptop and text books. There it will remain for atleast a week, rubbing it's ink off on my white macbook and becoming creased to the point that it will no longer lie flat on the table. After its stint in my backpack, serving as the occassional reference for my project research, it will be retired to the growing stack of Phoenix issues under my bed.

My relationship with the Phoenix as an outsider to Providence is on a very personal level. I relish in my weekly routine as much for the coffee and music and Blue State atmosphere as I do for the community news I might glean from the publication. So the question still remains: am I, as an outsider, gaining any real insite into the Providence community culture by reading this alternative newsweekly? See Conclusions for my answer to this question.

November 21, 2008: The Phoenix manages to drag me off of college hill

Spend a few weeks hanging around the campus of Brown University, and you're bound to hear at least a few references made to the "Brown Bubble." Whether uttered affectionately or with disdain, the words "Brown Bubble" refer to the tight radius surrounding the Brown campus from which students seldom stray. Many reason that it is pointless to ever leave the Bubble, because everything a college student could ask for is readily available on the hill: food, shelter, mental stimulation, social stimulation, etc. However, to remain permanently in the BB is to separate one's self entirely from Providence, the thriving urban community that radiates outward from the base of College Street.

As I walked down College Street this afternoon, crossing the river as long, wintery rays ignited the buildings of Downtown, I couldn't help but thank the Providence Phoenix for dragging me off campus. Situated at 150 Chestnut Street, the Providence Phoenix office takes up the second floor of an old red brick office building shared by several small companies. Having given myself ample time to find the office, I arrived half an hour early and decided to wander around the block. I soon found myself on the fringes of the Johnson and Wales University campus. It occurred to me that there was a whole other nucleus of college students just ten minutes from my own dorm about which I seldom thought. I ended up wandering into a quiet Starbucks and perusing the Johnson and Wales' student newspaper, the Herald, to kill time until my interview.

In the most basic sense, the Phoenix served in this instance as a motivator, forcing me to expand my view of the city I now live in. Further, in preparation for my interview with the editors, I did a close reading of that week's issue, November 21-27. This particular issue detailed the financial crisis now facing the nation. Reading the issue informed me about the particulars of the crisis, and forced me to comprehend the fact the Rhode Island, the state in which my bubble rests, is currently being hit hardest. Without the Phoenix I as an outsider would be considerably less informed about my surroundings.

December 5, 2008: I am introduced to Microfilm and the Rhode Island Historical Archive Library

In the Materiality section I detail my experience interacting with the Providence Phoenix on microfilm in its archived form. While archives of the Providence Journal are readily available to Brown University students at the Rockefeller Library, a glimpse at Phoenix archives requires a trip to the Rhode Island Historical Society Library. This library is only open Wednesday-Friday and on the second Saturday of every month from 10-5. It is located at 121 Hope Street in Providence, about a ten minute walk from my dorm. In order to gain access to the library I had to ring the doorbell and wait to be buzzed into the lobby. I then had to present my driver's license at the front desk, sign a waiver stating that I would not deface any of the archived materials, and, because I am not a resident of Rhode Island, pay a five dollar visitors fee. In short, archives of the Phoenix are held under lock and key in Rhode Island. To access them one must have a certain degree of motivation, as well as five dollars to spare.

As I went through the process of signing my name and handing over the entrance fee, of placing my backpack in a locker and showing the librarians that I was not carrying any pens or other permanent writing materials, I couldn't help but wonder who, other than myself (working on a school project and with a GPA hanging in the balance), would bother to go to all of this trouble. The experience enforced the fact that outdated issues of newspapers are quick to recede from their environments. An Ancient Greek perfume jar is likely to exist in some version of its original condition in the exact spot where it has been abandoned for thousands of years. However an issue of The Phoenix's NewPaper is not likely to survive for more than a few days without severe alteration to its materiality.

I left the Rhode Island Historical Society Library feeling slightly cross-eyed after 2.5 hours of browsing through microfilm. All I had to show for my trouble were five printed pages of old issues of the paper--the most I could afford to print at 75 cents a copy. To reproduce an entire archived issue of the Phoenix would have been unreasonable, both because printing is expensive and because degraded microfilm images do not always print clearly onto white paper (see The NewPaper).

This archive-browsing ordeal drove home for me Marshal McLuhan's point that "the more {insert object} there were, the fewer there are" (McLuhan, 172). Because the Providence Phoenix is such a prominent aspect of the Providence landscape, and because the latest issue of the paper is always on hand for no cost, its value is degraded in the eyes of the community. Little need is seen to preserve the paper in its original form. As a result, an issue of the newspaper that was clogging the streets 20 years ago is nearly impossible to get one's hands on today. Though it may exist in the form of slides on a reel of microfilm, it is most likely lost in its original paper form.

Side note: Just as my interview with Ian Donnis dragged me off of College Hill and over to the Phoenix offices on Chestnut Street, the prospect of getting my hands on Phoenix archives led me on a second adventure: to Hope Street on the East Side of the city. I found myself in a group of Providence residents among whom I was the only college student.

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