Long Island lives up to its name. The peninsula that juts from New York City and takes off for the Atlantic Ocean is freakishly long and narrow, something that leaps at you when you decide to drive to ‘The End’ that is Montauk, at the easternmost tip of the island. The drive appears to spans several eras and that is not a piffling matter if you happen to take a few detours. Such as a Costco with a fuel station in the Long Island town of Amityville. And since your ears perked up at the sound of Amityville, like a dog at the patter of his human’s feet outside the door, you threw in a mile-long diversion to the iconic haunted house in the same town. At the end of it, you found a house that looked awfully different, an alter-ego you had not been prepared for. You left it behind, feeling foolish about this deviation from the original plan especially because it was chased by a flat tire on the highway.
Self-pity being a worthy cultivated art, you would tend to feel sorry for yourself, till you overheard two mustachioed bikers who had parked their superbikes upon the same highway as you. One of them had lost his phone somewhere on the highway.
What are the chances of someone being worse off than you? Misery loves company.
It took us around five hours, including this hairy turn of events, and another diversion to the Long Island airport to exchange the car at the rental agency there.
We had greyed before reaching Montauk.
The day that had started on a liquid sunny, and indeed hot note, suddenly turned upon us. The skies were sullen by the time we chanced upon a quiet beach tucked into a surprisingly unpretentious hamlet called Amangansett. A surprise because the rest of Long Island, for the most part, is sprinkled with these pish-posh towns. Amangansett means ‘the place of good water’, as it was deemed by the Montaukett Indian tribes who founded it. A pair of Dutch brothers and the descendants of English settlers bought the land from the Montauketts in the late 1600s and developed the genteel place that we saw that day.
The ocean breeze was frigid as Adi, his sister, and I, walked past pale teenage boys just returned to their cars with their surfboards. The white sands of Amangansett were pristine and powdery. Sinking my feet into the luxuriously soft sands felt therapeutic as the cold breeze teased the hair into a glorious abandon. Only a handful of people sat around lounging on beach chairs. And a Bernedoodle who sat on his haunches, with his bum to the sea. Rows of low lying houses looked down upon the beach.
The landscape beyond the beach threw up sand dunes, some out-of-place modern estates tucked into wooded quarters, and farmland. We soon left behind this old whaling town where in 1942 four German spies had been dropped off by a submarine to stage a Nazi attack on the US.
We were back on the Old Montauk Highway that is supposed to be a scenic route. Naturally, we expected to cruise along the coast, but that way lay disappointment. Sure we passed through photogenic towns such as Southampton, Bridgehampton and Water Mill but most properties were tucked in behind tall hedgerows and all you got was an eyeful of the buzzing little town centres with their line-up of all the chic bars and restaurants you could be noshing at.
Right at the end of it all was Montauk. Finally. The former home of the Montauketts, and later, the settlers who drove sheep and cattle along the bluffs that crawl into the Atlantic. Then the fishermen. And now, the folks from Manhattan who like to spend their evenings drinking local brews at the intensely alive Gig Shack in town. While the town centre is rife with places to eat, drink, and shop, with some fine boutiques selling quality souvenirs and clothing, the real feel of it was to be had at the tip of the land. An isolated place with its 18th century white and red lighthouse standing guard over the hump of a cliff that sweeps into the ocean – seemingly far from the trample of fashionable people who have adopted the rest of the island for their own.
You could almost find yourself whisked to another time, walking along the edge of that 200-year-old lighthouse, to a Walt Whitman-esque time when according to the native Long Islander, the eastern end of Long Island was a “relief from the trammels of fashion”. It was here at Montauk Point where Whitman had daydreamed and been consumed by the wildness of his surroundings that later spilled into a short poem.
“I stand as on some mighty eagle’s beak,
Eastward the sea absorbing, viewing, (nothing
but sea and sky)
The tossing waves, the foam, the ships in the
The wild unrest, the snowy, curling caps—that
inbound urge and urge of waves,
Seeking the shores forever.”