Another Taste Of Espresso
In the spring of 2015 I stood in front of my public speaking class and proudly announced, “The Last Drop of Espresso.” Our assignment had been to prepare a speech on a cultural artifact. Other students had brought in objects that represented their cultures and where they came from, but my hands were empty. I couldn’t show them my artifact. The item that most accurately symbolized my culture no longer existed, and that was part of the reason I chose it.
I introduced the class to my hometown, Sag Harbor. I spoke about the excitement local kids feel about entering Pierson, as moving from the elementary school to middle school gives kids a greater sense of freedom. One of the best ways to exercise this freedom was to walk after school from Pierson to Espresso, the locally owned Italian market. I gave detailed descriptions of favorite meals, but devoted the bulk of my speech to the holy sandwich sauce. “This sauce was creamy, but salty with a vinegar-like taste,” I said. Because the sauce is incomparable, I struggled to accurately portray it. I broke the sad news that the sauce was gone because Espresso closed down and has since been replaced by an expensive health food restaurant. “I plan to talk about the sauce and how it not only represented Sag Harbor, but also how the absence of it marks the first steps toward the unfortunate future that awaits my town,” I solemnly declared.
It comes as no surprise to any local that the Hamptons have changed and will continue to change. With each passing summer, it feels as though the lines at the stores are longer, the traffic is worse, and the atmosphere of what is supposed to be the ideal relaxation spot is increasingly hectic. This summer alone, I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been tailgated, have circled Main Street desperately searching for parking, or have left the IGA empty handed, disappointed to find that they are again out of Hampton Dairy iced tea. But what strikes me the most is some tourists’ ability to be rude with such ease.
“Man, I should really set my watch back five minutes so it’s synched with the clock in the studio,” a guest at work said—her way of alerting me the clock was slow.
I work at an upscale gym, so it’s expected to get wealthy customers who speak rudely to those “below” them. What frustrates me is when I’m outside of the studio, and the harassment continues.
“You’re just an immigrant! I don’t know where you’re from, but you should go back to whatever country you immigrated from,” a man screamed at my mom in the parking lot of Home Goods. We were sitting in our car talking, when all of a sudden this man rammed the car door of his Mercedes into our car. Insulted by the frightened stares that my mom and I both gave him, he proceeded to scream at us. Even though my mom laughed it off, informing the man that she’s from the country that manufactures his car, it’s a weird feeling to be constantly attacked in an area that you’ve only ever known to be loving and beautiful.
The image of the Hamptons has altered over the years both literally and figuratively. Not only are we chopping down more trees to build houses and condos to make room for more people, but reputations of certain areas have changed. Montauk was known to be rustic and laid back but has now become a rowdy hotspot. The growing crowds of people have caused the locals to become resentful, as sometimes we cannot go to our beaches because the parking lot is full or enjoy our favorite restaurants because there’s no seating available. When I hear the phrase “I cannot wait for the fall” thrown around by locals, I worry about the future of the Hamptons.
But there’s an essence that is unique to the Hamptons that even the crazy summers cannot diminish, a quality both locals and visitors find difficult to forget. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when my public speaking professor, who also teaches the incarcerated as part of the Bard Prison Initiative, shared a story with me a few weeks after I presented my speech.
“So I’m teaching this class at the prison, and we just got to the cultural artifact section. I used your artifact as an example—I talked to them about your town and the sauce, and this one prisoner goes ‘Wait—where is your student from?’ and I go ‘I’m not sure, I think Sag Harbor?’ and he goes ‘Oh my God, I’ve been out to the East End before and I know exactly what sauce you’re talking about. It’s amazing!’”
Just as the changes do not come as a surprise to us, we’re also not shocked by the effect that the Hamptons have on those who experience this place long-term, or just in passing. I don’t know of many towns that celebrate the grand reopening of a library by forming a human chain to pass the final book from the temporary library to the newly renovated one. Nor do I know of many towns that could attract the kind of people who would joyously participate in a human book-passing chain. I don’t know many school administrators who allow their seniors to throw a tarp over the grass and turn the school’s front lawn into a slip n’ slide, to commemorate their last day of high school.
It’s those moments that make this place special. When a stranger chases you down on Main Street after noticing you dropped $100 from your back pocket, or when you get to swim with your friends at the beach for your elementary school’s annual “Beach Day,” or when the owner of the pizza shop that you’ve gone to since you were born happens to see you out on your twenty-first birthday, astonished to learn that you’ve just turned twenty-one— and, remembering the days when he’d see you as a child, gives you fifty dollars to spend on birthday shots for you and your friends (thanks Frankie). It’s those moments that make this an extraordinary place to live.
I ended my cultural artifact speech by talking about how some of the unique businesses that make Sag Harbor, Sag Harbor, have disappeared over the years. I’d be heartless if I said it didn’t pain me to see the ice cream shop that I’ve gone to since I was a kid turn into a gourmet take-out place. I’d be in denial if I said that I don’t miss the mac n’ cheese that was served at the German Deli before it was turned into one of three Golden Pears in the Hamptons. I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t annoy me that too many stores out here are only open in the summer (even though they rent the space all year) to accommodate the wealthy tourists, basically implying that us locals don’t matter. But I’d also be an idiot to full-heartedly believe the thesis statement that I presented in my cultural artifact speech.
I don’t truly believe that an unfortunate future awaits Sag Harbor. Sure, it’s frustrating to have your space invaded every year by more and more people, but just because people move in and out, and new stores come and go, doesn’t mean that the beautiful spirit of the Hamptons must die in the midst of the changes. The powerful community is what makes the Hamptons a great place—not the flashy sites that attract tourists. It’s a magical place, full of so many possibilities. It’s a place that breeds kids that end up getting drafted to the MLB or get discovered performing at the Talkhouse. And I think it’s probably one of the only towns strong enough to bring back a business that was believed to be gone forever, which is exactly what happened in the winter of 2016.
Espresso da Asporto, the renaissance of Espresso Italian Market, opened without any promotion at all; they pulled a Beyoncé because they knew that they could. Instead of waiting until Memorial Day Weekend, they opened in the middle of winter.
“Hey Giulia! What can I get for you?” a familiar face asked. My mom and I were probably some of the first customers they served, but in no time the market was crowded with people. Both the customers and the employees had smiles on their faces.
Espresso is no longer a short walk away from Pierson. It is, however, located on Main Street, where most students from Pierson will find themselves eventually working during the summers and where they can enjoy Espresso’s for lunch. There isn’t seating inside, but, unlike before, now they have tables outside. The sauce lives on and all my favorite meals are still on the menu, with even a few new additions. It’s different, for sure, but some might say it’s better.