Special to The Windham Eagle
Travel tip: Mainers headed for destinations south of the state line who start their journey after 2 p.m. on a Friday should never be in a hurry, since they’re doomed to sit in traffic regardless of the season, the weather, or how fast their car is capable of going.
That thought occurred to me as I crawled toward Wakefield, Rhode Island on a recent Friday afternoon. It took four hours and 11 minutes to drive from where I started to my uncle’s house, a distance of (according to Mapquest) just 176 miles.
These days Rhode Islanders (or at least the license plates on their cars) refer to the place they reside as “The Ocean State.” But when I was growing up it was known by most people as “Little Rhody.”
Being referred to by that diminutive moniker all these years undoubtedly has negatively impacted the Ocean State’s collective self-esteem. But don’t blame the originators of that unfortunate nickname for having something of a Napoleon complex. Rhode Island’s not just the nation’s smallest state; it’s the smallest state by a lot.
According to Wikipedia, an often-accurate source of information, Aroostook County, Maine consists of 6,671 square miles, making it more than five times the size of 1,214-square-mile Rhode Island. But that’s only part of the story.
Seven other Maine counties are bigger than the Ocean State, too: Piscataquis (3,961 square miles), Somerset (3,924), Penobscot (3,397), Washington (2,563), Oxford (2,077), Franklin (1,697), and Hancock (1,587).
Rhode Island is only 61 percent as big as Delaware, America’s next-smallest state.
It’s just 55 percent the size of tiny Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province.
Someone with the ability to reshape land masses without altering their total area could cram 32 Rhode Islands into the state of Maine. Texas has room for 221 Little Rhodys, and 548 Ocean States could fit inside Alaska.
But what if Rhode Island were rebranded? Instead of focusing on all the ways in which the state is widely considered substandard, why not bring attention to the many areas in which it excels?
For example, there are 1,017 residents per square mile in Rhode Island. That ranks second nationally in that category, behind only far-less-scenic New Jersey (at 1,210 people PSM). But high population density should be enviable; it indicates that lots of people want to live in your state. If anyone should feel inadequate on this score it should be virtual ghost states like Montana, which contains only seven people per square mile, Wyoming (six PSM), and Alaska, which has only 1.3 more human residents per square mile than Mars does.
Rhode Island can boast of having more Ivy League schools within its borders than 48 other states. In fact, only New York has more.
America’s smallest state is geographically larger than 27 of the world’s sovereign nations, including Singapore, Micronesia, Luxembourg, and two dozen other countries (many of which have multi-word names) you’ve probably never heard of. Fun fact: using the same hypothetical landmass-shaping scenario cited earlier in this essay, you can get 17 Washington DCs inside Rhode Island. Or, if you prefer, 50 San Marinos, or 1,556 Monacos, or 7,141 Vatican Cities.
This allegedly small state has more coastline than Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Utah, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Tennessee, West Virginia, Vermont, Nevada, Iowa, and Kentucky combined.
In addition, this figuratively immense place is so deceptively large that it would take, (according to Mapquest) an incredible 59 minutes to drive southwest from Woonsocket to Westerly.
And probably even longer if you tried doing it on a Friday afternoon. <