As I see it life is just one big ride along. The vehicle we choose determines our destiny perhaps just as much as the direction. There is a seasoning of the soul that takes place in the simple act of getting around. Born from an innate, natural craving, I immediately hit the ground running upon arrival here on the east end of Long Island at the excruciating age of thirteen. A “rotten teenager” according to my Uncle Doug who was still living home in a state of self-imposed arrested development; it was a bad time to change locale but a great time to live in Wading River. It is a ‘spirited’ folk that dwell in this beachside hamlet from way back in the time of the bungalow. Beginning with a corner lot, along a row, at the back of the colony surrounded by friends and family and family of friends, I guess it was just easier to share a double occupancy outhouse with someone from your own clan. With so many familiar folks around, catching a ride was de rigueur.
Like this glacier surfing ‘terminal moraine’ of sand I too was dumped here. Transplanted. Let me say the trip in was not so smooth, either. There we were on the subway. I was around six or so. We were heading out “to visit Grandma” again. The train stopped and we started down the aisle, Mom talking to my sister the whole way. I was following close behind but as I watched them step onto the platform the doors slammed shut in my face. I felt a breeze and the rubber seal snapped at the tip of my nose. It was that quick and that close. I immediately began to cry. Probably shriek, more like. A bystander came to my aid prying at the doors but they wouldn’t budge. I don’t recall the ride to the next stop or the stranger waiting with me for the next train, a kindred spirit who reconnected me with my family. Now I go out of my way to avoid taking the subway. Go figure. What a wild ride!
Wading River is only the first of many ‘sandy spots’ along the north side of the island. The local farms send warm breezes down into our open windows in the evening and on to the rocky coastline, so close by you can smell it, which then filters sea salt and glistening light back into the hills of our little enclave. A mix of bungalows, ranch houses and McMansions, there truly is “no place like home” where the best way to get around that I’ve discovered is on foot with the only other desirable option being by horse, of course (a secret safe with me J.D.). Admitted on spec into this close-knit community due to lineage I was raised by local musicians and, much to my mother’s chagrin, they just happened to be her “hippie” brothers. Similar to being reared by wolves, they refer to me as “wash and wear,” a badge earned from a natural ability to “ride like a feather” (biker speak for knowing how and when to lean). When you’re living on the road with a bunch of musicians for any length of time, this is a very good thing. In this place, in the woods, by the beach, at one time they too had some growing up to do. One generation nurtures another.
All of my energy devoted to getting out the door and down to the beach worked like a charm, as I would sometimes “pick a fight” knowing it would deliver the desired result. And each excuse to get out was intricately tethered to the strand of silvery shoreline where my brethren have mined for sea glass over the past five decades and a new adventure is just a ride away. I recall what could have been one of many moments, off and walking again, the truck slowing to a crawl and the typical conversation,
“Where you goin’ little girl?”
“Want a ride?”
It was that brief. And no, I wasn’t abducted that day. My Uncle was headed home and I had been hoping he’d pass by. In a rush to meet my rendezvous, I took him up on his offer. On the narrow roadside there’s no room for pedestrians, so unless you’re “scooped up” off the shoulder-less street, the bats are the only company willing to brave the shadows. But for that pleasure they want their “taste.” Once on their radar, you become fair game and there’s nothing to do but duck and cover. Flying low to avoid the kudzu hanging from the lines overhead, mind they don’t make a home out of your hair! Of course there are paths; like wormholes dropping you out in another part of town. But be wary of the Hairy Spiders, who live in the trees that line the path, along the bluffs, deep in the woods of the park with the name of Wildwood. Stay off the slopes, stick to the trail! Catching a ride can be crucial, making the difference between telling the story afterward and hearing about it from literally everyone else. The beach is dark and you’ll have your work cut out trying to locate the correct campfire, though I’ve made more than a few new friends walking up on the wrong party. And therein lies the “mischief” of the place. It’s like a ‘Zen Zone’ where chance encounters create the best connections. It is enchanting and I am enchanted.
Deep in a trance waiting by the pay phone I once envisioned my Uncle Tim, who lived out of state, pull up the road in this little merlot ragtop and into the parking lot. He stepped out of the car and, poof, was gone and immediately replaced with the actual event. The car was identical. I had never seen it before and was surprised by the ‘experience’ of his unannounced visit, not having a prior clue. Who knows why the universe has its way with us sometimes. It simply doesn’t shock me any more. I’d decided to run away one time and my cousin, who happened to be visiting, refused to let me sleep outside alone. It was summer and we were safe and sound in the quiet, beachside community. We slept on a bed of moss, under a rock, inside a clearing, on an empty lot that night. But we would have had several other options including under a rowboat down by the water or in an empty boathouse at the base of the bluff. I wanted to be away from my house but not my home, which was quickly becoming the rocky beach and shady lane of this tiny town. We had been planning to hitch a ride and see Led Zeppelin but that’s the year Bonham died. We bonded over the loss, were thankful for the moss and grateful for each other that day.
The Zen ‘art’ of beachside maintenance requires that one be mindful of when to decline the ride as well as when to accept it. If your instincts are screaming, pay attention! 80 miles per hour in the back of an El Camino down a winding road is a great pastime for aspiring street pizza and an air born speedboat has no conscience. If you think you need to stick to terra firma rather than pile into the bed of a compact pickup truck with a “rookie” steward and an empty keg, by all bloody means, have the courage of those convictions! The children of the bluffs are calling to you, “be bold but take heed!” It’s a wild ride and Hastings was right. It’s about the journey. Have fun but, if you’re going to practice some East End Zen, you’d best be prepared to “turn your own wrenches.” There is an unspoken creed, which sets the tenor of a rural farm town. Speeding, littering? Not the locals. And we always say hello. Even if you’re “not from around here.” Hell, I must have given directions to the 2×4 at least a million times. Must be the soft, salty breezes and warm, tangy sunlight that lend to the hypnotic trance of this place. The slap of bare feet on hot pavement, the deep breath of a rhythmic pace, the late night shadows of undulating leaves; this is all a soul needs in the world. It puts one in a very amiable mood. Walk around in our private community on a Saturday night and the party practically finds you. Just follow the laughter, music and campfire glow. Some folks, out from the “boroughs” like my family once, we haven’t seen for an entire year. They air out their summer dwellings (and, sometimes their dirty laundry). Peppered with the spice of “city life” this rounds out the vernacular of a place made up of long time, well-seasoned transplants. Of whom, thankfully, I am one.