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Back to the Future

Updated: Jun 11, 2018

Count your blessings. I could have written a very, very long story about my experiences on November 9th and 10th. I will spare you all of the weird, sad, and discombobulating details. At the very least, I could have added to the title of this blog, “Time Machines, Wise Guys, and the Nocturnal Movements of Airport Guests.” Count your blessings, indeed.

When I left my hotel outside of Providence, Rhode Island, that morning I had some idea of how my day would go. I would go to the last day of the conference I was attending, go to lunch in Federal Hill, have dinner with my father and his wife, go to Logan Airport in Boston as late as possible and wait out my early morning flight back home. All of that happened, and more.

Nothing extraordinary happened at the conference – a few paragraphs you won’t get to read. You are welcome.

As I left the convention center for lunch, there were some displays being set up for the next convention, “Rhode Island ComiCon.” If you aren’t familiar with “comicons,” suffice it to say they are a universe of their own, designed for fans of TV shows, movies and comic books. Lots of people in costume.

One of the displays being setup was one of the five DeLorean cars used in the 1985 movie “Back to the Future.” That movie is easily one of my favorites, particularly for the music. I stopped and got my picture taken with the car and talked to the owner for a while. We talked a bit about Michael J. Fox, the star of the movie, who has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for many years. The owner of the car had worked with Michael J. Fox and his foundation several times and he shared with me something Michael J. Fox shared with him, “Think of your worst day. That’s my best day.” Despite the struggles of his best and worst days, Michael J. Fox keeps a positive attitude and does so with great dignity. Little did I know I’d see and hear about some other “best” and “worst” days that day.

I wanted to have lunch in Federal Hill that day because of a podcast I had finished a few weeks before called “Crimetown.” The podcast is about the City of Providence and its history as the center of the New England mob in the late 1970’s through early 2000’s. Federal Hill was the base of operations of the Patriarcha crime family. There is, as you might surmise, a very heavy Italian cultural influence. I hoped I might be able to play my Italian card while I was there.

But on my walk to Federal Hill, I unknowingly put myself in harm’s way. I walked near an “active shooter” incident. The highway ran alongside the street I was walking on and there were what seemed like thirty police cars parked on the side of the highway and on the on-ramp. While I was curious to know what was going on, my hunger and my desire to spend some time in Federal Hill were greater. A news reporter jogged by me, slow enough that I could catch the logo on his shirt and find his Twitter feed. From there I got the story (at least the story at the time) about how someone had stolen a state police vehicle and that the police were engaged in an active shooter incident in around the convention center I had just left.

Nothing gets in the way of lunch, however.

I found a wonderful grocery store that had a great selection of cheeses, olives and breads. With some Locatelli cheese, a mix of olives and some bread in hand, I walked down the street and ran into the New England mob. I speak the truth. There was a collection of seven men in their late fifties and early sixties hanging out at the busiest corner in Federal Hill. How did I know these guys were former “wise guys?” It wasn’t hard to figure out. (Ask me for the visual proof and I’ll show you.) Well, I just had to get near these guys and listen in. These guys had to be the stars of the podcast. I stood at a table just a few feet away from them and put on my sociologist hat (which is probably a beat-up baseball cap) and began my observation. After a few minutes, one of the wise guys approached me with his hands in the pockets of his jacket. If I had to guess, he was the most senior of the group, and he was smooth – sharply dressed and gray hair perfectly slicked back just above his sunglasses.

Getting a bit nervous, I thought “How quickly can I get to my wallet and my ID and show him my last name, explaining that, like the cheese I had in my hand, I am Italian, too. I mean, the cheese and I share a history.” Maybe I could distract him with a probing question like “Was I named after the cheese or vice versa?!” Or maybe I could find a time machine? The gentleman lifted his chin to me and said, “You know, you could sit down and enjoy your lunch.” So, I did. It would have been rude and possibly hazardous to do otherwise.

The conversations between the wise guys that followed were terribly rewarding and confirmed my every suspicion that these guys were former (still active?) mob. Tales of past break-ins, thefts, and assaults were both intriguing and a bit chilling. It was probably time to get my car and head to my father’s house.

Before I left my precarious lunch spot, I checked my Twitter feed to see if there was an update on the active shooter incident. A suspect had been shot and killed. I shared that news with another wise guy who had sidled up next to me with a friend of his. He said, “Yeah, I know” and added some additional flavor to his comments. How did he know?!! It was definitely time to leave.

It took me about 15 minutes to get back to my car and get on the highway, which was now relatively clear. As I pulled onto the highway and into the far right line, I looked over to the mass of police cars and ambulances to my right. The body of the suspect who had just been shot was no more than 50 feet away from me, in full view, having just been covered with a white sheet.

Get me out of here. Let’s jump in that time machine and fast forward.

I had a great dinner with my father and his wife, but it wrapped up too soon and I got to the airport much earlier than I had hoped to. So, I spent more time in the airport than anticipated. The short of that experience is this: everything in the airport shuts down except the Dunkin Donuts (Hallelujah!), sleep is hard to come by and if you ever want to study one of the more diverse and entertaining populations, go to an airport late at night through early morning.

I was so glad to get home. I was tired. Those were not normal days. And I am so thankful for that.

Only a bit later that same Friday night I was able to sit down to a filling dinner with some of my wonderful Ginter Park family to talk about our Capital and Annual Stewardship campaigns. We did talk about the campaigns, but more importantly we enjoyed some hearty soup and stew, great fellowship, and some very welcome normalcy.

In the days following, we completed the pledge phase of our campaigns with great success. But, I think we did something greater than raise much needed funding.

I think we confirmed who we are and who we want to be while remembering and respecting those that have come before us. We physically embody “widening our welcome.”

Our future is about welcoming the stranger, the sick, and the broken.

Our future is about welcoming ALL with unconditional love.

That’s the future I was glad to get back to.

Andy Lacatell serves on Session and as the Co-Chair of the Capital Campaign and the annual Stewardship campaign. Andy’s wife is a music educator in Chesterfield. Their children, Sophia and Noah, are juniors at Atlee High School and George Mason University, respectively. When not on the job as the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Director for The Nature Conservancy, you might find Andy kayaking, running, playing ukulele in the Midnight Ukulele Society, or watching one of his favorite New England sports teams.

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