Some Folks Like To Get Away, Take A Holiday From The Neighborhood
I am not sure how the decision was made as to which restaurant we would dine one Saturday evening, whether we would venture wayward or stay local in Sag Harbor. The decision would become daunting as time moved against us.
Perhaps I labored under the misapprehension that the scarcity of unreserved tables on a Saturday evening is fixed without contingency. Perhaps it was the frenzy of the workweek extolling its tiresome vice, five days of relentless scrutiny, morning commutes and drill sergeant meetings. Perhaps I needed to subdue the anxiety of summer approaching its final weeks and the apprehension of an overburdened week that lay ahead.
Somewhere in the summer 2004, that evening distinguished itself by the decision to dine at The American Hotel, remaining close to our surroundings. That indelible decision held a deeper meaning than I could have foretold. The fate of the evening lay ahead.
Overcome with haste we headed up Main Street toward The Hotel. A deep and abiding handshake with the establishment always greeted us. The porch welcomed us.
As we swept through the wooden framed doors, inaugurating the evening, the serendipitous moment was about to reveal itself. In broad view, charming and willing to expose his legacy at the drop of a hat, Billy Joel sat seated in the front room, dining and laughing with neighboring patrons.
Our hearts opened to him, and effervesced to the room of onlookers, intrigued and giddy. Assuredly the most coveted restaurant experience in all the Hamptons that evening, if it were by design, the masses would have poured in beyond capacity.
Billy looks entirely at home in the warmth of the parlor, the familiar fireplace, the framed oil paintings of historic ships, the tiffany lamps that shadow the chintz wallpaper and even amongst the moose. Who could forget the moose?
The American Hotel dons a unique culture, lavish with staid ambassadors of the local town and predators of pleasure, perennials and transients alike frequenting in droves. High profile celebrities, celebrity couples, media personalities, wealth moguls and athletes are spotted often in the restaurant and about the town, but possibly none so divine as an impromptu Billy performing at the hotel’s piano. Billy had laid roots in Sag Harbor long before, a boating aficionado and a native of Long Island.
In colossal arenas where Billy performs the stratospheric bustle will change as quickly as he makes his entrance. But here Billy is attempting to appear unceremonious. In this living room decorated in federalist attire, amongst dining tables and happenstance chairs, uniformed waiters and bus captains, sits a baby grand. Improvising, Billy moves to the piano stool as his fingers find familiarity amongst the keys, his foot to the pedal.
Overcome by now with intrigue and anticipation we move closer. He opens to his classics, but unveils some unexpected rhythmic changes.
We witness Billy playing from beyond the piano, so effortlessly from his spirit. Collectively Billy’s songs form a lifeline, a playlist of memories, Piano Man, Big Shot, She’s Always A Woman To Me, An Innocent Man, A New York State of Mind.
We melt to his talent; we are a meditative audience before our sage, gratitude folding back on him with the intention of repaying the compliment, a reciprocity of endearment.
Lyrics in crescendo and fingers pumping in jaunting expression of lively tunes, brings this mecca of beach glory to a heightened sense of community spirit. The familiar verses spell out metaphors for life, a microcosm of stories so familiar they are able to recite on their own; we joined in the lyrics.
Such an impromptu showing is sufficient to mark any performer as his own best public relations prowess, but I know this does not drive his motive. Billy is truly at home in Sag Harbor amongst his neighbors in this quaint room. His offering is pure of heart.
And why not grant an endowment to the patrons who adore him? His crown has long been paid for. Why not favor us with moments of his legacy? A modest imposition, he is Billy Joel after all, shy of grandstanding.
As I watch Billy stroke the keys of the piano and consider his gesture, I am reminded of a saying by Kahlil Gibran, ”work is love made visible,” a sudden shift in my own consciousness transpires, of my work morale and the weeks ahead. The week will now likely unfold with visible ease, at the hand of grace.
Far beyond the indulgence and epicurean reach of the restaurant itself, that indelible memory stays alive. As I write this I can hear Billy playing and the patrons singling along, I get carried into the moment.
And yes, we’re all in the mood for a melody, a convenient endnote for the evening. We are at home in the Hamptons with The Piano Man.