Having moved to Massachusetts three years ago (after moving six times within four states in the past 12 years), I'm pretty much the expert on people-types residing along the eastern seaboard. Whoever said that folks everywhere are "more alike than not" has never lived in New York City.

First, a few words on Rhode Island (the smallest state in the New England Bay Colony), where I once lived for a year. Except for historic towns along the ocean and Providence, this entire state consists of nonstop strips of shopping malls, used-car lots, fast-food feeders and CVS drug stores, all surrounded by and connected with more interstates and exits than Texas and Arizona combined.

Nowhere else in New England can you get endless blacktop vistas lined with Jiffy Lubes, psychic reader's shacks, and decrepit storefronts wrapped in neon proclaiming "Liquors & Beer" (this ain't the place for fine wines), all within a stone's throw from million-dollar mansions in Newport (where I once sat next to Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward while eating dinner.) Here you'll find shops like World Of Clocks, Glamour Cleaners, and a café called Tuck's (as in the fabled friar, not the hemorrhoid pads), whose sign sports its rotund namesake with a frisky grin.

Because this is such a small state, houses do not have land, so everyone is parked on top of each other and along the road.


Backyard swimming pools vie with the neighbor's driveway, and pairs of cars are parked like they're waiting to board the ark. Mailboxes are crumpled heaps, lying by the roadside where they have been decapitated by errant senior drivers or overly enthusiastic mail carriers.

In this crowded state, the roads are always jammed. This condition is worsened by the fact that more than half of all drivers are over the age of 70. They cruise along at a full 30 miles per hour. There are more 1980 Cadillacs here than in all of Boca.

Restaurants here are all 1960s vintage. Oh, I don't mean retro-styled, I mean they are the same as they were in the '60s -- not just the decor and menu, but the prices. I guess with the senior clientele they need to keep prices deflated. In Rhode Island, newspaper restaurant advertising consists of price-war announcements ("Dinner for 2 for $12.95!"). The biggest innovation here is the push to finally go "smoke free," the most revolutionary thing seen around these parts since, well, the Revolution. Like most time-warped locales, it's not unusual to see gals in hair-rollers in the local supermarket. (I haven't seen rollers for 25 years!)

People in Rhode Island are friendly. They are more than willing to engage in conversations with strangers. Folks here actually get out of their car and walk over to your car window when you ask for directions. (Unfortunately, the first guy that did that scared the living daylights out of me and I quickly rolled up my window, locked all the doors and sat there with a horrified look on my face.) When you pull out of a parking lot, people immediately stop in mid traffic and wave (with a smile) to let you ease into the flow. One old man actually motioned for me to follow his car as he led me to the street where I'd find the address I was looking for.

Folks here smile when they say thanks; they smile when you say thanks. When they ask you where you're from, they don't ask so they can make fun of you when you leave the store, they ask because they're curious as to why you left the place you were to come to where they live.

Kids here are different, too. They don't have that oh-oh don't-talk-to-strangers look of fear in their eyes, and they actually laugh as they walk down their street after school. Helping their mom grocery shop, out of the blue they chirp to you about their new shoes, the three candy bars in their fist, or the fact that their brother just got grounded for leaving his room like a dump. Kids here, refreshingly, are kids.

Rhode Island should be called "The Sunshine State." I'd take friendly over oranges any day of the week!