Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Maybe dressing up a male bus driver as an elderly lady from a senior center isn't the best idea.
In early January, Sue Stenhouse, the executive director of the Cranston, Rhode Island Senior Enrichment Center, announced a new program for teens to shovel snow for seniors. It should have been as innocuous as city press events get. A service for the elderly! A teen-job generator!
But Stenhouse evidently wasn’t comfortable with the optics going unadjusted. So she called in the aid of a senior center bus driver named David Roberts—not to introduce her or talk about their work, but to appear as an elderly woman sitting prominently beside Stenhouse throughout the event.
To do so, Roberts donned a dress, a grey wig, full make-up, and a name-tag thoughtfully identifying him as “Cranston Senior Home Resident”—amounting to a middle-aged man looking extremely uncomfortable in drag, which, yeah, he probably was.
Stenhouse resigned last week in the wake of the bizarre civic scandal, which included this choice moment:
“I’ve been in a meeting all night being a great public servant for the city of Warwick,” Stenhouse said when confronted by a WJAR reporter at her home. “And now I get this bullshit.”
Sources told WJAR, which broke the story, that Stenhouse really was only trying to improve her public relations image by placing a fake old lady by her side. Why Stenhouse simply didn’t ask an actual senior for help is a mystery for our time. A former Cranston city staffer put forward this theory in a lengthy Facebook post in support of Stenhouse:
Knowing Sue, I’m sure she was also thinking of the possibility of putting a “real” senior in harm’s way should someone recognize that person and go to their home to take advantage of them.
Perhaps Roberts, the bus driver, also had senior safety in mind when he picked up the wig himself from a local salon. The salon’s owner, Elaine Mancuso, told the AP:
“He says to me, ‘Elaine, do you have a wig that I could borrow? I have to get dressed as a senior.’ I said, ‘Oh, my God. He wanted it for that.’ I probably would have given him a better wig if I had known.”