How the White Dodge Dart became Orange
©Mary Engels, July 2012
About thirty years ago, plus a couple more, I would spend July 4th out in Hampton Bays with my grandparents. Years earlier they had found a small 1700‘s cottage along Red Creek Road in Hampton Bays. The story was often told that the home was originally made from a Schooner that had been sailed into the bay, was dismantled and pieced back together as a house on this land. After first being lived in for generations as a family home, it was purchased by prohibitioners who used the same hidden bay as a way to transport and store liquor. Decades later, my grandparent’s purchased the cottage and pieced it back together as their summer retreat where they would drive from Queens in their off-white Dodge Dart.
The house had kept it’s original character. It was basically an upstairs with its small, wainscotted walled rooms and their low ceilings upstairs, then the more unplanned meandering layout downstairs. Even in summertime, Adirondack chairs draped in thick wool blankets faced the fireplace. Intricacies included a large oil portrait of my grandmother with her blue eyes on a camel. You’d sink into the sofas, with one of the beagles at your feet, and look through stacks of books and newspapers. Books were an addition to almost every surface. Any other unused space would have a pack of Parliaments.
The early Hamptons didn’t have cars backed up along the Long Island Expressway. There wasn’t a Jitney or Hampton’s Luxury Liner with bottled water. There was a train with cars that creaked and groaned along on its tracks once in the morning, and one later in the day, its doors open at each end for ventilation because air conditioning was not a common practice. You could try to meld your schedule into the Long Island Railroad’s, otherwise you had to drive. Since Hampton Bays was one of the first towns off the expressway towards to the East End, people would stop there for groceries and whatever else they needed.
It was on one of these busy weekends that Grandpa went into town with his off-white Dodge Dart. He had intended on a quick trip but instead walked around a usually empty parking lot looking for the car amidst similar cars. This had happened the week before and probably another time as well. So his usual town trip that day not only included extra time spent from an increasing summer population, but also from an unscheduled stop to the hardware store. He had spontaneously purchased several cans of orange spray paint.
When he got home, he unloaded the groceries, parked the Dart on the lawn and away from the trees whose leaves continuously fell to the ground. Then, focused on his design, he proceeded to cover up the tires with newspaper and duct tape. Next the bumpers, antennae and finally every window had either a newspaper headline or some such thing was taped across it. He took the paint cans out of a bag, removed their caps and after a quick shake, started spraying. “Don’t touch the car until it dries,” he said. From the hood to the tailfins, the off-white Dodge Dart slowly turned a sunny shade of bright orange. He peeled off the paper and tape later that day and looked satisfied with his project complete with some drips and touch-ups. Perfect for summer, perfect for him and never again to be missed in a sea of other cars in a busy Hampton’s parking lot!
Over time, the orange paint left behind on the lawn naturally disappeared. The spray paint coating on the car itself turned a more burnt orange with the sunshine. He was good company, so we all still drove with him in the spray painted car past Canoe Place Inn to meet his friends for dinner. Or watched him leave the driveway to his “Good Groundwater” or Rotary Club meetings.
In hindsight though, there was something missing. We should have been just as creative and made him a hood ornament from two large lobster claws. Actually, he would have liked that.