There is always the wind, especially close to the coast. Whenever I hear the clang of a rope against a metallic flagpole, and the occasional cry of a gull mixed in with a swoosh of traffic, endless traffic, the dull hum of some large machine cooling or warming a 7-11 or other roadside establishment, I am reminded of the island of my youth, the place where I was born.
Each time I return to Long Island, I have the same adventure. I sit in traffic. I get coffee that is terrible. I speak to the same faces I saw last year or perhaps thirty years ago. This time, I arrived by rail. The train is a heap of yesteryear. Old assed-in seats each one as uncomfortable as the last. They are made of pleather(TM) and duct tape sporting colours from the 80s. The train more lurches forward that speeds and which seem to go slower each year to avoid all the drivers who will inevitably crash into it as they speed around the crossing barriers. I remembered I had moved myself from London to Paris in a matter of hours. Went to Cambridge from London in 40 minutes.
But to get out to the end of the Northern Branch of the L I Double R, one must endure a long slow ride and a transfer as we must decamp from the hull of the electric train and scramble to find seats in the rolling stock pulled by a diesel engine. The only other place I have had to make this change from electric to diesel engine was out in Russia some decades back, and even then we only left the electrical grid behind some several thousand miles from Moscow. Not some thirty-five or so miles from what many vehemently consider is the center of the world. Which it may be argued, however, it is simpler to state that Gotham is one of the most populated cities in the United States of America.
My head slumped into my book. Looking out the window is useless as we crawl through the backyards of so many developments. Broken picnic tables. Buckets. Sumps built to collect rainwater in order to divert it into the sandy ground that now are covered with a layer of plastic bottles. Long live progress, I thought, remembering when I first encountered people drinking water from plastic bottles and thought it was strange. That was a lifetime ago. It was an early train, so there were not the usual commuters returning from The City but a mixture of students, business types, and random people going about business only they knew. Many chattered on the phone of played with the noisemaking features of these devices.
When I got off the train at my station at the end of the line, I called for an Uber using my iDevicethingy. This did not work, so I scrambled about the parking lot looking for a taxi. The cabbies on the island are a mix of characters. Each community has its own set of winners and losers and on Long Island, these two types are often difficult to tell apart and hard to characterize which one may be driving your car at high speeds as they phone, text, and yell at other drivers. As most non-NYC cabbies, they are quick to conversation and ready to discuss anything or start narrating every driver and action taken – what the shitu thinking, when is he going to, come on, let me just take this turn and we’ll just, hi Loretta….
One particular cabbie named Tony or Fred or Al had uncovered an old photo of Yankee Steteum and was going into detail about when he picture was taken and how he had had it framed professionally. Another cabbie found out I lived in Gotham and felt he needed to let me know his deep thoughts on Raceclassgender in a most amusing accent but the content of which was rather shocking and not something I wanted to be caught engaging in and yet I was not in a position of control. He hopped out, I got to fill up, you don’t mind? Despite the terror of driving, going to Long Island bores me. Maybe it always has. I have nostalgia, since I was born on that carcinogenic sand trap and there are elements that I remember having loved, but those have been washed away by time and further development or beloved to the halcyon memories of youth and seen with more adult eyes were perhaps not the grandest places, faces, and ice cream shops.
I ventured out on assignment to Smithtown on business – that is, the type of business that takes me to very bland places, the sort of places you go only if you have to. I had been out here just a few months ago, then to Port Jefferson. I was driven there by a colleague who found that the ride was thick with traffic and the other drivers unyielding in their intense desire to swerve, cut him off, and generally apply few rules to the road as he knew them. That last time we finished early and then went to a brewery. A microbrewery in Port Jefferson in spitting distance to the docks and the old playground with the dangerous seesaw. We drank a flight or two of beer and piled back in the car with stacks of samples and cans of this fine selection of brews.
Long Island can be divided into parts the same way as those old charts we see of cattle and sheep showing the parts that can be eaten and the lesser areas we want to toss into sausage or feed to poor people. For those of you, Dear Readers, who don’t know Long Island, it is an island off the coast of New England that runs about a hundred miles long forking at the end as the tail of a fish and is about twenty or fifty miles wide. As a matter of fact, it looks like a fish. Fish have more uniform eatable areas marked “good” and “bad” so I will retain the cow/pig/sheep chart metaphor.
The head of Long Island like the tail is divided into two areas. Brooklyn to the south and Queens to the North. These two areas are both New York City but differ greatly since Brooklyn once was a city, and Queens is a city made up of a clusterfuck of little villages that failed and then were sewed together right at the dawn of the birth of the automobile and the Geography of Nowhere.
From that segment of official New York City, Long Island has another section, a fatty section we can think of as perhaps the neck of a large bovine sweeted on too much corn. This part of Long Island literally invented the suburb. The place may have invented the mall. Suburban villages are also more-or-less sewed together, and some still have a few historic homes and structures, but otherwise it is difficult to tell the ass-end of New York City with the start of the paradise of suburban sprawl. Saddle Rock, Great Neck, Port Washington, Huntington, North Harbor Bay Neck Port and such may as well have a gate at all the carnal entrances. These were the rich-e-rich areas. While it has been well degraded, slept upon, and swept up, the North is more well-appointed with remnant estates and has actual hills and creeks and woods. The South Shore (not including Fire Island) is a former beachhead that has been overpopulated by cheep and uniform settlements.
As one moves out to the next section there unfolds less of a distinction between North and South with the North Shore being more a thin veil of civilization and the south being the rest of the landmass in one large flabby belly and generally populated with such other than the CrossFit(TM) junkies. There is a strong culture on Long Island, and this is the alien queen’s next where that culture comes from, the place where the eggs are pooped out and hatch. I won’t speak of the culture for now, since it distracts at this moment of our eventual journey to the east.
The next section after the belly is a strange area still marked with farms, vinelands, and one area, the taint of the island called Riverhead. From this taint, the island splits in two, the northern and southern areas fittingly called the north and south forks. The south-ier fork is the more famous and basically that is what separates the two. The north is an area for rich people to have houses where no one knows they’re rich, and the south is the area where people need, yearn, pee themselves to sleep showing off how rich they are. Waltzing through this marathon of death, sex, and money, is a line of cars on their way to and from Montauk and of course, Ditch Plains whereupon the blue shades of shirt collars reassert themselves for one last drunken deep sea fishing excursion. The train goes out there too, but I had not been on that line for perhaps thirty years, still remembering when these girls got on at 1 AM in Mineola without the money for the ticket and thought they could hide from the conductor in the bathroom. Ah… good times.
I was again on the north shore of the belly of Long Island and after my romp with work, I returned by taxi to the station on what I can only call a wild tour of other people’s bumpers. I was sure that I was dead several times. My cabbie tossed me out at the station and then almost backed over me, and while safe on the platform I was hungry and walked across the road to grab a snack. The cars were an endless line and of course, there is no crossing for those on foot, since for generations, the foot walker (there is no word in Long Islandese for this mode of transportation), has to take their chances.
Returned with a horrible snack and a tall boy of some brew, I settled back in my assed seat to limp back to Gotham along the rails. I nodded off a little as my head bumped against the glass. I looked at the sandy dirt bike tracks… the oak trees… and wooded areas littered with various droppings of suburban life… the desperate yards and various pleasure crafts under tarps, and dreamed of those long-gone sunny days with sand in my shoes a slight sunburn on my forehead, and the mall parking lot seagulls swooped and scurried after a few uneaten bagels as somewhere distant, a cable rang out a hymn against a bitter and empty flagpole.