Local Know-it-Alls by Paul E. Kandarian.

The founders of Quahog.org take you on the definitive road trip. Since we're Rhode Islanders, it's a good thing their road trips don't require us to drive anywhere.

Buddy Cianci's father was a proctologist? Brown University's John Hay Library has a book bound in human skin among its collections? They float 20,000 rubber ducks down the Pawcatuck River every year in the name of charity?

I didn't know any of that, even assuming one of the multiple-choice rubber-ducky answers—"the carcasses of ritually slaughtered goats"—might be a trick. But Chris Martin knows. He sits in his basement office of the Johnston home he shares with girlfriend Kim Calcagno, dog Nina, and cats Mishima and Futt, and seems to know all. At least about Rhode Island.

Martin is a self-admitted history geek, balding, bespectacled, bearded, bearing a resemblance to comedian Chris Elliot. With Dan Hillman, Barrington native, Martin is half the brains behind quahog.org, an entertainingly quirky website billing itself as "The Definitive Rhode Island Road Trip" and proclaimed by this very magazine as Rhode Island's best. The site, part of which is a quiz from which the above-mentioned items were culled, sounds non-profitably noble with 'org' designation, but in fact 'com' had been taken when it launched in 2001. But they make no money; no ads grace its pages, and they intend to keep it that way.

Martin, forty-one, an insurance company data analyst, is a Woodstock, New York, native, who befriended Hillman at Bard College. Martin moved here in 1989 seeking change, liked what he saw and soon grew eager to see more. A lot more.

"I was in the smallest state in the country and hadn't seen a tenth of it," says Martin in his office where he lovingly lords over quahog.org, stacks of Rhode Island printed stuff on one wall, a bulletin board on another bearing a Salty Brine postcard and Rhode Island banner. "I've always liked road trips. If there's a giant ball of string somewhere, I'll go. Dan and I made a list of places, figuring we'd take a weekend to see them all."

Three weekends later, they were still at it.

"First we figured, how much could there be?" says Hillman by phone from New York City, where he is a computer programmer and the technical side of quahog.org. "Turns out, a lot. Then it became 'OK, what now?'"

What now became quahog.org, a no-frills, easy-to-follow site with more information about Rhode Island than you can shake a clam at, with five components: Facts and Folklore, Attractions, Cuisine, Lodging, and my fave, Quiz, which tests test-takers' knowledge of all-things Rhode Island and keeps score for you. My moniker there is "Writer Dude," and I mostly bat around five hundred, somewhere between "AwfulAwfulLovers" and "wickedpissah."

The site is a delight. You'll find info on the infamous, such as the seventeenth-century drawing and quartering of Joshua Tefft, and get advice in "Cultural Brouhaha" which boasts an "Ask Stuffie" column declaring "Curiosity killed the cat, mail-order coffee syrup brought her back."

There's a place for ruminations on things that used to be there because, face it, that's how Rhode Islanders give directions; reminiscences or "the memories of real people unfiltered by stodgy historians"; and "Quahogenstein," a "compendium of odd facts and audacious anecdotes."

"Like a toilet paper tube for a hamster, these are the shelters of our lives," subheads a section about Architecture and buildings. "Cuisine" carries on ad gastronomic about Awful Awfuls, cabinets, clam cakes, stuffies, dynamites, gaggas, johnnycakes, et al. "Lodging" carries a tongue-and-cheek disclaimer, "Quahog.org does not discriminate against hot-sheet joints and no-tell motels. Please call ahead to confirm whether your selection would be a good place for children, animals or whatever shenanigans in which you plan to engage."

How popular is it? Very. Since 2004, when they started keeping tabs, there have been over three million pages viewed. In July of 2007, there were 145,642, a new quahog.org monthly record. Praise the clam!

The writing is funny and edgy, mostly Martin's with the occasional snarky comment tossed in by Hillman. Copyediting are Claudia Sorsby, Hillman's wife, and another friend from Bard now residing in Japan who goes by "vi"—really—or as he's more commonly known to friends, "Six."

Martin puts in twenty hours a week at the site, and to make his spare time even more so, he's the Johnston Historical Society corresponding secretary and writes for Edible Rhody. If those twenty hours were 200, it wouldn't be enough: His office is jammed with stuff ready to post, but being the accuracy fiend he is, Martin researches all before sharing it with the world, or at least those interested in Rhode Island's place in it.

Martin and Hillman find the cultural divide of such a small place interesting—and not unusual. For a time, Hillman worked at a Dublin homeless shelter where he'd referee arguments between men over which of their native counties were better.

"And those places were five miles apart, which made me think 'Wait, I'm from a place even smaller, and we have big differences, too,'" Hillman says. "If you grew up in the East Bay like I did, you really didn't know what happened on the East Side. And Block Island, forget about it; who knows what goes on there?"

What happens in Rhode Island doesn't stay in Rhode Island, thanks to the worldwide web reach of quahog.org. And stay tuned, it's growing. The quiz has some 530 questions currently, but there are 2,000 more ready to go.

I'm studying up now. Look over your shoulder, AwfulAwfulLovers, I'm gaining on ya.

Reprinted with permission of the author

Editor's Note

Paul is entitled to his hopelessly out-of-date celebrity references, but most people these days seem to think that Christopher looks more like Paul Giamatti than Chris Elliott. Chris Elliott is so '90s.

This article last edited March 12, 2008

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