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An idiosyncratic take on the wide world of Rhode Island

Christopher Martin admits that Dan Hillman and he have obsessive tendencies. For these two, itís not enough to note on the Web site www.quahog.org that Rhode Island is often used as a unit of measurement ("The fires have consumed an area half the size of Rhode Island"), they must catalogue every such mention of Rhode Island, and then place these in categories (including anatomy, food, and icebergs). "Sure itís dorky," Hillman grants, "but itís not like copying Whitesnake lyrics for a fan page. Well not much."

The site is a testimony to its creatorsí love for Rhode Island, while serving as a record of their ongoing Ocean State road trip. Eschewing the tourist brochure sensibility, it constitutes an idiosyncratic and exhaustively researched site heavy on oddball attractions and Little Rhody cuisine. Six-year-old Quahog.org is a volunteer effort and has no sponsors or ads ó meaning that although contributors donít get paid, it is unburdened by what Martin calls "flashing crap trying to sell you something."

Given Martin and Hillmanís anal-retentive nature (their description), interference with their particular Quahog vision is anathema. Martin notes that Quahog.org (disclosure: I contributed a piece last year) isnít "Dumbed-down by committee or outside special interests. We write what we want and we get to include all the obscure, weird, or not-so-savory details that you probably wonít see in tourism literature." In other words, visit Quahog.org to research New York System weiner palaces, or to vicariously ascend the highest point in Rhode Island (Jerimoth Hill in Foster, 812 feet above sea level), not to book reservations at a Block Island bed and breakfast for Memorial Day.

Martin, 38, who lives in Johnston with his girlfriend, Kim, is the driving force behind the Quahog site. A native of Woodstock, New York, Martin has lived in Rhode Island since 1989 and works near Boston as an HMO data analyst. The Quahog.org staff includes the husband and wife duo of Web designer Hillman and editor Claudia Sorsby, and proofreader, vi (pronounced "six"), a 6í3" Delaware native who teaches English in Japan and runs one of that countryís only smoke-free bars. Martin, Hillman, and vi met as undergraduates at Bard College in upstate New York in the 1980s. Of the group, only Hillman is a Rhode Island native (Barrington), and Martin is the sole Rhode Island resident. Hillman and Sorsby currently reside in Boston.

Quahog.org has a particular affinity for the quirky, the kitschy and the obscure. The Big Blue Bug, of course, receives extensive treatment, but so does the now-defunct drive-thru Condom Hut in Cranston, and Pawtucketís Hollywood Walk of Fame. The latter is where the stars of the 1996 film American Buffalo (including Dustin Hoffman) placed their hand- and footprints in cement on Exchange Street.

Diners, clam shacks, and weiners loom large in the Quahog universe. In some cases editor-in-chief Martin squeezes more from these than one would think possible: the Wein-O-Rama, a Cranston hot dog stand, warrants a 1300-word article with plentiful photos (including one with weiners lining the proprietorís arm). And unlike some sites or guides which simply tell the reader that coffee milk, cabinets, and Delís lemonade are definitive Rhode Island delicacies, the Quahog folk actually get out and visit all of the places offering such fare.

Quahog.org does cover traditional attractions such as the State House, the First Baptist Church, and the Newport mansions. Yet even within these pieces, the trivial, the weird, and the macabre poke through ó an article on the church notes that in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, its basement was home to Providenceís hearse, and later served as storage for an undertaker who prepared bodies for shipping by placing them in barrels of rum.

Issue Date: January 14 - 20, 2005
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