As my adult daughter, Megan, and I were killing time before an appointment in Southampton Village recently, she suggested we grab a cup of coffee. I had another idea. “Let’s do the Loop”, I suggested.
“The Loop?”, she questioned. “What’s that?”
I was stunned. I had never told her about the Loop? How could that be? It was practically a rite of passage for Southampton teens in the 60’s. I had regaled my daughters with many stories (hmm…not all) of growing up in Southampton and I would have bet that the Loop had been one of them. I proceeded to explain and demonstrate as I drove my not very exciting Jeep Cherokee. In high school, what car your drove was an integral part of the Loop because it was all about seeing and being seen.
Unless you were a kid who lived within walking distance of the high school, which in the 60’s was the current middle school on Leland Lane, you had to either take a bus, get a ride to school, or drive yourself, which was the best case scenario! Living just over a mile in Water Mill, I rode the bus on the days when I didn’t get picked up by friends as I never had a car of my own in my teens. But after school or on weekends, my parents would loan me theirs. They were loyal Dodge customers in those days. When I took my driver’s license test at 16, I drove my mother’s 1964 Dodge Dart. It had a push button transmission! I recall that when I was told me to pull away from the curb, I was so nervous that I stepped on the gas and forgot to push the “D” button for Drive!
I had friends with cars – usually big old bombs, sometimes newer ones with standard transmissions (never to be borrowed by me!) like my best girlfriend’s ’64 Chevy Biscayne. Another gal friend had a VW bug, with a stick, that I did manage to drive a few feet under her tutelage. Some of the guys had tanks from the 1940’s and a couple had really cool muscle cars – a baby blue Oldsmobile 442, a bright yellow ’66 Mustang, and one guy, who eventually became my brother-in-law, had a cherry red 1966 Pontiac GTO convertible. You couldn’t get cooler than that!
Whenever a kid with a car left school, or on the weekends with nothing to do, that’s when the Loop came in. When going “into town”, either alone or with a pile of kids in the car, you turned up the radio, made the left from Leland Lane onto Hampton Road, driving slowly. The Loop was a well thought out driving route, one with no real destination or purpose, except for scouting out who was around.
First glance would be to the left, at the corner of Old Town, checking out Art’s Market, which is currently Ted’s. It’s still in the same family, but it will always be to Art’s to me. Everybody went there for premade heroes – an innovative idea still in operation today. The next corner on the left was Little Plains Road. That’s where Ernie Wilson’s garage was– a place to look for the boys because a lot of them hung out there.
Passing the junior high and elementary schools, the real Loop began. Cruising past official teen hot spot, Sip ‘n Soda, was key. The iconic luncheonette was the place to be in those days, especially before Healy’s drive-in was built on the highway and way before McDonalds came to town. Kids could be seen at Sip all hours of the day and evening. There was Ann’s coffee shop across the street in those days, but that wasn’t so popular. Everyone my age has fond memories of hanging out at Sip – piling into the booths, sharing platters of French fries and debating whether to slather them with ketchup or serve it on the side for dipping. If no one had any money, which was often the case, we’d pool our funds to buy one small bag of Wise potato chips, using up all the Heinz, much to the chagrin of co-owner Jim Parrash. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the soda shop, as waitressing there at 14 years old was my first official job, and later it was the backdrop for my romance with my then boyfriend, Tom, who is now my husband of nearly 40 years.
And so the Loop continued – a choice had to be made at the corner of Main and Nugent Streets. Do you go straight up Nugent, turning left onto Windmill, or left onto Main, then right at Jobs Lane to the monument and on to Hill Street? Ah, one of the crossroads of life, just like that old board game of the same name.
Since Nugent was a boring street back then, my preference was to slowly go south down Main, seeing the sights and spotting friends walking along the way, then turning right onto Jobs, at the old Rogers Memorial Library. Before getting to the corner, places to catch the eye for friend sightings were Margaret’s luncheonette on the left, the Anchorage restaurant on the right and a bit farther down was Schulman’s five-and dime. What a favorite store that was!
In those days, we thought of Job’s Lane as the ritzy street where we local kids rarely shopped in the sister stores of New York City’s fashion houses. There were a couple of exceptions – a rambling toy store that rivaled New York’s famous FAO Schwartz – Lillywhite’s. It was every kid’s dream, no matter what your age. And then there was Rick’s Records, where 50 cents could buy you the latest 45 vinyl record! As soon as there was a new release, Rick’s was bombarded by us teens.
The next course was past the cannonballs in the triangle at the end of Job’s, up the start of Hill Street, past the movie theatre on the right. It has the same marquee today, but back then there was only one big theatre with red velvet curtains, a huge crystal chandelier and a balcony. I refrained from going into details with my daughter about any balcony experiences!
Next was a left turn onto First Neck Lane. When I was in high school, on the right was a magnificent hotel called The Irving, which met its demise in the 1970’s. Heading south, I would drive past all the summer “cottages”, down to Gin or Meadow Lanes, depending on the turn. In those days, it was a straight run, with no stop signs to impede your speed, should you be so inclined. Around the corner by the Meadow Club, we were almost to the apex of the Loop – the overlook at Coopers Beach. Coopers was the place of legends in the summers, but during the school year, it was usually a quick drive to the top, checking out the waves and back down, to complete the first leg of the Loop.
For the return trip, to change it up, the driving route could be past the Beach Club, left onto South Main and back onto Main, but I usually preferred the ride back down First Neck, onto Jobs and left onto Main. For me, the Loop was usually a solo ride but when the car contained a bunch of kids, the course was expanded to include what we called Dune Road, down to the end and back. In addition to omitting the scoop about the theatre balcony, I failed to mention to my daughter about any of the legendary beach parties or parking at the dead end roads. Heading east down Gin Lane to Old Town sometimes was included but it was pretty much guaranteed you wouldn’t see anyone of note down there, unless it was in the winter when kids would be ice skating on the pond.
While sharing the Loop saga with my daughter, and now upon writing this, I realize how silly and inconsequential it all sounds. I am sure my contemporaries had different paths, perhaps some never drove the Loop at all. Aimless wanderings to be sure, but for me, the Loop represented the freedom only a car can bring in a small town, looking for friends to add to the fun, being seen driving whatever car was at your disposal, the comfort of familiar places and people. The Loop was one small leg of the journey to being a grown up. Of course, the irony is that now I am a senior citizen and I am still driving the same routes. Although I barely recognize the landmarks and people along the way, the memories of that carefree time are precious and it doesn’t seem so long ago.