This Side Up

A vacation right here in Rhode Island


“It’s on my bucket list.”

“Bucket list” wasn’t what I had expected to hear from the oldest of three Asian women I was sharing a bench with. I guessed they were Cambodian. They were ready for a tour. They carried hats to protect them from the sun, cameras and colorful bags, which I imagined contained extra clothes and maybe even a bathing suit. They were giddy with anticipation, chatting in low voices and looking around.

But bucket list? That just didn’t fit with an immigrant no matter how long they have been in this country.

She must have seen my confused expression, maybe even figured I hadn’t understood her English or the term bucket list.

“Bucket list,” she said again only louder.

A day on Block Island somehow doesn’t rate the bucket list, at least not for me. But then, for someone who grew up in Cambodia, I suppose it could. Had they traveled far to catch the 8 a.m. ferry from Point Judith?

“Oh, we’re in Rhode Island. Where you from?”

“Warwick,” I replied. She laughed.

I offered to take a picture of the three of them. They were delighted and handed over a camera, flashing wide smiles. I snapped a couple of shots with the Galilee fishing boats in the background. They huddled around the camera after I handed it back, laughing some more as they viewed their photographs.

They set the mood.

This was not just a day-trip to Block Island. This was a major outing for the three of them. This was one more long-imagined adventure to be crossed off the bucket list.

My daughter, Diana, suggested the Block Island trip months ago. She and her daughter, Natalie, who live in Jackson, Wyo., would be here for about a week. They planned to see a Red Sox game at Fenway, go blueberry picking on Warwick Neck and join up with my son, Ted, and his family for a day at Block Island. They even knew where they would be going – the beach at the foot of the bluffs not far from Southeast Light.

Ted’s wife, Erica, had it planned almost to the minute. We left their house in Saunderstown at 7, which gave us plenty of time to stop for gas, park the car and find top deck seats on the ferry. Finding seats on the 8 a.m. boat isn’t exactly challenging; just be prepared to wipe them down with a towel, sit on a plastic bag or end up with a wet bum.

“We’ll get a cab and we’ll be on the beach before 10,” Erica said, whose timing was spot on.

But there was no way of predicting who we would encounter.

The three Asians, who we saw again at Finn’s Harborside, were just the start. There was the cabbie, Mark; the waitress from Serbia who wants to be a landscape architect; the kid who dreamed of being a pirate; and then, of course, the guy on the beach wearing a bra.

Mark came to the island 37 years ago from New Jersey and never returned. He filled us in on the local doings and, naturally, it wasn’t long before we were trading names and agreeing that everybody in Rhode Island – even in New Shoreham – knows somebody we know. On our second ride with Mark, he told us of the most unusual fare of his cab-driving career, when he gave a ride to a blind man and provided him with a complete description of scenes he was missing. Mark said he was even seeing things he hadn’t seen before.

The waitress from Serbia was one of several young Serbians working on the island this summer, which was later confirmed at the store where I met the 4-year-old pirate. The cashier turned out to be Serbian. Both girls were looking forward to visiting New York City, and maybe Chicago, before returning at the summer’s end.

As for the pirate, he was a delight. The boy was enthralled with the package his parents bought him, including plastic cutlass, eye patch, hook hand and mini chest of gold coins.

“Looks like he could be a terror,” I said. His mother agreed.

And the guy on the beach was a show. Using the gray clay from the bluff, his girlfriend had colored in the top half of a bikini plus a few tattoos. They were having fun.

As soon as we spread towels, Natalie and the twins raced to the water and soon were collecting “favorite” rocks to bring home. Then there was swimming, futile attempts to body surf in the short waves, walking the beach, searching a patch of clover for a sign of good luck and a Del’s after lunch at Finn’s. Diana made sure to get cell phone photos with the girls holding their Del’s.

Mainland Rhode Island was a world away. The kids were into it. They were excited and not asking for their parents’ smart phones or iPads to play games. The iPads stayed home. It was a day and it was a vacation.

Put Block Island on your list, even if you have been there countless times. Bring along some kids or grandkids. And if you don’t have them, don’t worry. You’ll find plenty of happy people the moment you step on the boat.


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