A Ride Out East
By Jerry Giammatteo
During the summer of 2008, I was laid up after surgery on a torn left Achilles tendon. There was no prospect for getting the boot off my foot and being able to resume walking by Labor Day, so it promised to be a wasted summer. As that reality became more evident, I was becoming grouchier by the day,
I was working remotely from our home. My wife told me to take a day off. “We’re going to take a ride out east,” she said. “We need to get you out of this house for a day so that we can all continue to live with you.”
So the next morning, we got up early and decided to head for Montauk. It was my wife, me and my two sons, ages ten and fifteen. It dawned a gorgeous Long Island summer day, but I was still bummed out by my enforced helplessness. But as I sat back and relaxed, I started to enjoy the journey.
To me, the East End of Long Island begins when you get past Riverhead. I have nothing against Riverhead Village and Main Street. I love the Atlantis Aquarium, the downtown area alongside the Peconic River and the fact that Briermere Farm on Sound Avenue has been serving those delicious pies to generations of Long Islanders. But Route 58 is littered with strip malls and auto dealerships and one needs to get past that to experience the Long Island that too many of us (me included) take for granted.
We took the South Fork toward the Hamptons and I sat back and enjoyed the scenery as farms and small hamlets whisked by. We drove through Southampton and East Hampton, where my wife and I spent many happy hours browsing in the boutiques. Southampton is one of the great places in the world to window shop. It’s a bit pricey, but there is no law against looking.
The hordes of people that come from the City to the Hamptons don’t get Long Island. They treat it like a way station on their way to bars and beaches. They know the LIE and exit numbers and very little else. Sometimes I will be asked where I live. When I reply, “Sayville,” I will sometimes get a blank stare and the inevitable question, “What exit is that?”
“Exit 51 on Sunrise Highway,” I would respond and they will look at me like I made it up or was lying. Unfortunately, they only know how to travel in a straight line.
As we passed Amagansett, I started thinking about how long it had been since we visited Montauk. My wife and I had spent part of our honeymoon and several early anniversaries there, staying at Ronjo or the Stingray. Montauk is different from the Hamptons. It is an unpretentious old village that is not fancy but has unmistakable character. Although not quiet during the summer by any means, it has less of a touristy feel and more tranquility about it. There are nice places to eat along Main Street. As we drove by I pointed out to my wife that Shagwong was still there, a place that we initially dined at during our honeymoon in 1984. The place looked exactly the same as I had remembered it and I’m sure that the food was just as good as well.
We stopped for lunch at Pizza Village on Montauk Highway which has been there for about 50 years. We then ventured to Gosman’s and walked around in the little shops and by the water with me hobbling on my crutches and trying not to fall in. Despite that, it was just what I needed; quiet, peaceful and relaxing.
The boys wanted to climb the Lighthouse, so our next stop was Montauk Point. The Montauk Lighthouse is an iconic Long Island landmark. It is located on Turtle Hill which is the easternmost part of the island. Erosion poses an ever present threat to the Lighthouse; it was once 300 feet from the cliff and is presently only about 100 feet, but erosion control has forestalled any further issues for the time being. There has even been talk of moving it further inland, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that. It is a local treasure and the faces of children much younger than our own gawking up at the structure brought a smile to our faces.
My wife and I waited while the boys climbed up the steps of the Lighthouse. They had visited the Fire Island Lighthouse several times before, but this was their first trip up the Montauk, so they were there for awhile inspecting all the nooks and crannies. It was fine with me as I breathed in the salty fresh air and thought that my wife really had a good idea today.
When the boys descended, we went to the concession stand next door to get a cold drink. While the boys explored, my wife and I sat on the patio overlooking the ocean. As I nursed a beer and looked out over the vast expanse of water, I once again understood why Montauk was called “The End.” The rugged bluffs all around us added to the beauty of the landscape.
Though in no hurry, the boys were hungry and it was time to eat. We had packed food for a barbecue and crossed over the road to the picnic tables. The late afternoon sun warmed my face and we cooked as the kids played Frisbee. ”You look content for the first time all summer,” my wife said.
After we ate and cleaned up, it was about 7:30 and time for the trip back to Sayville. It’s funny, I thought, that it took a torn Achilles tendon to visit Montauk again after such a long while. It always seems to be that way. We sometimes forget to enjoy the treasures that we have right in our own backyard on Long Island, and that is a shame.
I felt that my batteries were recharged, and perhaps for a few days, at least, I wouldn’t be such a grouch.