North Fork Turnpike By Dante Morelli

The North Fork Turnpike

By Dante E. Morelli             To all of the citizens of the North Fork, I owe you my most sincere apologies. I am that guy who goes a little too fast through your quaint communities but not as fast as some. I look at your vineyards, small businesses, and farm stands and simply pass. I have raised my carbon footprint quite extensively driving the North Fork in the past seven years. I hope, in trying to gain your absolution, that you will at least understand why I behave in such a terrible manner.

Up until the Thanksgiving of 2005, I never drove the North Fork. I was at the time a newly christened Long Island citizen. Yes, I moved to Long Island from another state – a narrative that is almost unheard of on the Island. I was a year and three months into a new job and depressingly single. After attending an academic conference in Boston of November 2005, I met the man who would become my partner. The conference I attended had more than 5,000 participants and I met “the one” man I am still crazy about to this day. Jeff could have been from Colorado, the South, or a distance that might have been too far to negotiate for a relationship. As luck and fate would have it, he was living in Connecticut working on a Ph.D. Immediately, I thought, “yes Connecticut is farther than I would like” but that did not matter as I blinded by romance. We made plans after Thanksgiving for me to come and visit. I took, for the first time, what I call the North Fork Turnpike (NFT) – 25a, to Sound Avenue, all the way east to the Orient Point ferry. The NFT became, and still is, the coronary artery in our relationship – the link that allows us to see one another every weekend for the last seven years.

Other than the NFT being simply a passageway to a long-distance relationship, it also became a cultural experience. In logging more than 360 roundtrips on the NFT, I know the patterns, the roads, and the overall expectations of the drive. I must leave at least an hour and half before my scheduled ferry and there were some times where I cut it close to an hour. I have missed ferries and I have barely made them. Good luck tends to run in my favor most of the time while pressing the accelerator with a little too much force at times.

Most of my trips on Fridays include NPR and then the ipod on the Sunday return trips. The difference between the two drives go far beyond simply what is pumping out of my stereo speakers. On Fridays, I tend to throw a bag together of the essentials for the weekend trip, I am usually rushed or behind schedule, and the stress of the work week has me begging for a drink that I will have once I aboard the ferry (booze cannot be served until the ferry exits the New York dock). The Friday drive is a slow ease into the weekend and it is the windy roads, the farm stands, and the wineries that tell me that I am really not on Long Island. Unfortunately, I treat the environment on the NFT as if it were my own LIE with my mid-Island driving habits. Luckily, for me, I can leave my car in the parking lot and when I gather my belongings and hit the lock button of my car the stress of life disappears as I turn around and see the ocean and for the entire weekend I get to leave my Long Island life and become another person – a partner, a lover, a weekend Connecticut citizen.

The Sunday drive back is typically more stressful which usually includes rapid thoughts of the workweek, leaving Jeff, and putting up with gambling traffic – especially on the Sea Jet. If “hurry up and wait” is a mantra in Hollywood, then it is second nature to Long Island gamblers. They will stand in line for a half hour to get a “good” seat for a ferry ride that only takes 45 minutes. Some of them have obvious, and sometimes severe health problems – oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, and walkers. I doubt many keep their doctors appointments but they would never miss an opportunity for $40 of free slot play. The line to exit the ferry in Orient Point is long and chaotically organized. People cut one another off  while exiting the boat (which I am guilty of) and the parking lot is a free-for-all. It is stressful but so worth the relationship I have with my partner. The drive west is a slow realization that I am back on Long Island and sometimes it does feel great to be “home.”

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