The Montauk March
You need a car to do Montauk. It’s nine in the morning and Andy’s train will arrive any second. I have no idea how to tell him that instead of three girls and four guys heading out east, it will be him and me with no car. He’s never been to Long Island and I promised to show him what it’s really like. Right now that seems to mean being stuck in Rockville Centre. Two dudes, no car and a cold cloudy day, maybe I should bring him to my house instead, at least there will be beer there.
Andy comes down the escalator with a wide smile. He only has a small backpack and notices my two large duffle bags.
“Are we going camping?”
“I over pack. Also it’s just you and me today. And there’s no car. Sorry.”
He takes a look around Front Street.
“There’s no lighthouse here. Can we take a train?”
“I mean sure, but we’re looking at a three hour ride.”
“We have nothing else to do.” He has me there. Besides, I already packed these two stupid duffle bags. We check the train schedule and there’s one leaving in twenty minutes with a short layover in Babylon.
The train ride at first is full of the usual small talk, catching up on work and girlfriends and reminiscing about the good times back in school together. By the time we arrive at Babylon the pleasantries are done, there will be no more cocktail conversation. That’s fine by me, I’ve always hated those kind of talks.
I remember how my mom once told me the train from Babylon to the east end is a locomotive. I tell Andy this, soon we are both hyped up to see these trains. We hear the horn signaling it’s close, but as it pulls into the station it is no locomotive. Oh well, a double decker is still pretty cool.
Another hour or so passes by and we find ourselves in Montauk. I realize that despite all my bragging about what a Long Islander I am that I’ve never actually experienced the non tourist side of this town.
“Andy, let’s find some local place for lunch.”
“Yeah, forget those tourist traps. Just some cheap, good seafood.”
I swear I meant that, but we walk into the first place we see on Main Street that has an outdoor cover band.
“At least they’re playing Billy Joel,” I say as I sip my overpriced beer.
“I think that means they’re even more of a tourist joint.” He’s probably right, though I’m not complaining.
We walk to the beach, bags in hand. For some reason I brought my wetsuit, which makes the load extra heavy. Neither of us say anything, we just start walking east. Every few minutes I readjust how I’m carrying my stuff, silently cursing myself. I have this sinking feeling inside of me, this beach doesn’t have fancy cars or overdone houses. It’s endless white sand, sea gulls and eroding cliffs.
Andy notices a small fish washed up on shore. He’s throws it back into the ocean. I spot another one stuck in some rocks in only an inch of water. I try pushing it in the right direction. We walk another twenty feet and we see hundreds of these fish washing up on shore.
“This can’t be a daily thing, right?” I ask.
“I don’t know.” He looks back west from where we started. “Shoot, we’re pretty far. We should probably head back if we want to get to the lighthouse before it closes.”
“Eight miles. The waitress back at the restaurant said we can’t walk there.”
“Sounds like we’re walking then.”
The sun begins to break out from the clouds. I don’t notice the weight of the bags anymore. Andy’s two years older than I am. We became friends in college by being the only two guys in the news department of the student television station. Andy does news full time now, I moved on to other pursuits.
“We’re still wearing our shoes,” I say nodding to our feet. “I’ve officially lost touch with the beach the day I’m wearing shoes in the summer on the sand.”
“It looks kind of rocky ahead, I think I’ll keep mine on.”
“Yeah okay,” I say as I take off my boat shoes. We reach the rocks, three steps in I cut my foot drawing blood. I hide this from Andy, I can’t backtrack after I established my beach cred.
There’s a sign that reads something like “Montauk Beach Club.” It’s an abandoned apartment strip that essentially looks like a trailer home extended a couple of hundred feet back away from shore. I seriously contemplate hopping the “Do Not Enter” tape and hiding my bags inside one of the empty apartments. We follow this path up to the street and wander around a small beachy neighborhood.
Every house has a surfboard, the few people we see are simply dressed wearing only a warm smile. We reach the highway and see a sign pointing in the direction of the lighthouse. We have at least four or five hilly miles to go.
“Cars are overrated.”
Andy smiles, “we need the exercise.”
“And you know what? If the other people came we would not be seeing all of this.” At the moment our surroundings consist of a highway, trees and the occasional car passing by.
I know I trashed small talk earlier, but the truth is I do feel awkward once in a while if there is complete silence for a long time. But there isn’t silence right now, not in that way.
The trees slowly spread out and we pass a ranch, or whatever the proper term is for a clearing with horses running around. I wonder what the ratio is for horse populations declining since cars were invented. Maybe they haven’t declined at all, maybe they’re all hanging out in Montauk. I need to get outside more.
“Ryan look at that.” Andy points to a sign that reads “Deep Hollow Ranch – Oldest Cattle Ranch in the U.S.A.” We stop, unsure what to do with this knowledge. After a few seconds of contemplating if this affects our journey, we continue forward.
The road incline increases, we don’t notice. We find an overlook with a map. One mile to the point. From here we start to have somewhat of a view of the Long Island Sound. We speed up our pace. Fifteen minutes later we can make out the lighthouse. Something seems off, there are no people.
The parking lot’s empty. We run, okay we speed walk, to the entrance of the lighthouse – it’s gated off. The sign says the lighthouse closes at 5pm. It can’t be that late, I pull out my watch from one of my bags and it reads 5:10pm. This will not be the reward for walking here.
“Let’s hop the fence.”
Andy points to another sign that warns of a guard dog. “Beware of the dog. I’m not messing with that.”
I brought my friend out to edge of the island, I’m not settling until we see the view we came here for. We notice a path further down the road that loops in front of the cliff the lighthouse sits on.
“This way, come on.” We follow the sand road onto some dunes adjacent to the lighthouse. Though it’s not the same, the view is pretty damn good. We have a complete view of Connecticut, Block Island and all the other places that make Montauk Lighthouse the Mecca of the east end.
A half hour later we are able to borrow a phone from a jogger and call a cab back to town.
“Take us to the place locals hang out. Cover bands not included.”
We’re dropped off at The Dock, a bar that is the personification of Montauk. The inside’s full of mounted animal heads and signs like “if you are caught taking a dump $25 will be added to your bar tab.” We have six hours to kill until our train leaves. Everyone else in the bar is either wearing fishing overalls or jeans. Andy and I are decked out in polo t-shirts and pastel shorts. It doesn’t matter, we quickly make friends with the people around us swapping stories and cheap beer. I lose track of my drinks and find myself with Andy waiting for our train home.
I don’t know what it means to be a true Long Islander, I certainly am not one. It doesn’t matter who I am or how well I know my friend, at this moment I am happy and that is enough.