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Bus tour brings fake RI 'Family Guy' town to life

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Sept. 23, 2010: Cartoon character Peter Griffin, from the "Family Guy" stands in the Rhode Island Visitor's Center, in Pawtucket, R.I. (AP)

Quahog, R.I., the fictional hometown of Peter Griffin and his dysfunctional "Family Guy" relatives, is coming to life.

The show will meld with reality this weekend when a local tourism council sponsors an all-day bus tour highlighting the Rhode Island institutions featured — for better or worse — on the Fox network's hit series.

Fans will get to visit the bar in Johnston known as The Drunken Clam, a "Family Guy" neighborhood haunt, and drive past a downtown Providence skyscraper off which the often clueless, almost always politically incorrect character jumps in one episode because he's "immortal."

The show, created by Seth MacFarlane, who attended the Rhode Island School of Design, pretty accurately depicts a slew of real-life Rhode Island places, including the iconic Van Wickle Gates at Brown University and the Breakers mansion in Newport. It takes generous liberties with others.

And that's part of the entertainment.

"Pretty much any time you see something local on 'Family Guy,' it's fun," said Christopher Martin, whose work cataloging the show's Rhode Island connections would eventually lead to the tour. The event Saturday is put on by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council — 30 people have signed up, shelling out $49 apiece — and is now in its second year.

Martin runs a website called Quahog.org about Rhode Island fact and folklore. Although his site had nothing to do with "Family Guy," he started getting a lot of inquiries about it because of the shared name. (A quahog is a clam.) So about seven years ago, he decided to start compiling all the references.

The 45-year-old from Johnston, who works as an analyst at a health care company, records all the episodes. He usually watches each one twice, the first time for fun and the second to take notes; he now has 88 typed pages.

His encyclopedia-like entries reveal that Happy-Go-Lucky Toys, where Peter Griffin works on an assembly line, is a satire of the toy maker Hasbro, located in Pawtucket, and that Wes' Rib House is a restaurant in the Olneyville section of Providence that has won awards for its ribs.

During last year's tour, one participant was convinced her husband was a real-world incarnation of Peter.

"He did look like Peter," said Kim Polson, head of an arts nonprofit in Providence who came up with the idea for the bus tour based on Martin's site and now oversees its logistics. "He did a little impersonation of Peter. He could do bits from the show."

She sees the show's Rhode Island roots as an homage to the nation's smallest state — and its quirks. One of Family Guy's writers, Danny Smith, grew up in Smithfield.

"We are the original quirky state of the union, Rhode Island is, ever since Roger Williams was booted out of Massachusetts," she said. "I think it's probably the biggest tourism booster to Rhode Island."

She's hoping to develop a "Family Guy" convention.

This year's tour stops include McCoy Stadium, the minor league baseball stadium in Pawtucket where Peter takes his Irish-Catholic father for a game; Narragansett Beer Company, a stand-in for the show's Pawtucket Patriot beer, in Providence; and Big Blue Bug Solutions, the pest control company with the giant blue bug on the roof, called Quahog Pest Control on "Family Guy."

It won't be possible to visit James Woods Regional High School, named for the real-life actor, who is from Warwick. Or Buddy Cianci Junior High, named for the larger-than-life former Providence mayor best known for resigning office — twice — after two separate felony convictions. Those places don't exist.

And one mainstay of the local food scene — a frankfurter topped with a special sauce and chopped onions, among other ingredients — hasn't made "Family Guy." Yet.

"I'm surprised they haven't done hot wieners," Martin said. "Unless I missed it."