Montauk in the Time of Trump and Tariffs

Here it is – the Iconic Landmark of Montauk – the Lighthouse that was ordered to be built in 1792 by President George Washington himself. It was completed in 1797.

By Cecil Hoge

My wife and I planned a quiet escape to Montauk this summer. That is not really the world’s most distant vacation, considering the fact that Montauk is only about 72 miles from our home in Setauket, Long Island.

And even though Montauk is not very far away, it is a place far away. Literally at the end of Long Island on the South Shore, this summer resort affords life literally on the beach. For this vacation we had booked a motel called the WaveCrest. It is on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on old Montauk Highway about 5 miles before you get into the actual town of Montauk.

We had checked out other housing opportunities, but it seemed that Montauk had changed a wee bit since we had last visited four years ago. We looked at the possibility of renting a nice 2 bedroom cottage by the sea, but quickly gave up that project when we got some price estimates which seemed more like a down payment on a million dollar home.

We then checked Gurney’s Inn which we had stayed at some years before. We were informed rooms were about 12 times what we last paid, but the lady answering the phone was quick to say there was still time to commit to a nice little condominium. Prices “for the remaining residences”’ go from 3.9 million and to 7.9 million.

Since in past years, we have stayed at Gurney’s a few times, I considered this seriously, trying to understand their pricing system: perhaps, single rooms were 3.9 million and double rooms at 7.9 million? Of course, that would include a host of amenities…bathroom, microwave, shorty refrigerator, maybe even a minibar. And of course, I suppose all the other amenities of the hotel would be included…jacuzzi, spa, pool, health room, restaurants, room service, yoga classes and maybe even daily cleaning services.

I wondered if I negotiated like our President could I get a better price? I seriously considered the techniques he might employ. Perhaps, I could show up with a suitcase full of money and say I’ll take the 3.9 million mini suite if you accept the amount of money in my suitcase. When they ask how much money I have in my suitcase, I’ll say “that is for me to know and you to find out.”

When they say that they cannot accept an offer if they do not know how much money is in my suitcase, I will get up in huff and tell them that I am taking my suitcase to Denmark.

In thinking this strategy over, I am guessing it might work for our President, but it would not work for me. In any case, I did a little math. I figured that even given my limited bargaining skills, I could probably sweet talk them down 20%, then maybe I could get a room for $3,120,000. Then say, if I use the room every weekend for the next ten years. That is 520 weekends times 2 for the number of days in a weekend. And then divide by 1040, the nights I might use the room. That works out to $3,000 a night. I tried to add in consideration of all the great facilities that I would have access to, but any way I looked at it, it did not pencil out. Nope, Gurney’s was not to be the answer for this year’s vacation.

We then looked at booking a room in the town of Montauk itself. That would have been convenient since you could walk to any number of restaurants and stores within a few blocks. But, here again, inflation, which from all the business reports I see on Fox Business, CNBC and Bloomberg, is reported as dead as a doornail, seems strangely alive and well in Montauk.

The hotel room that we had booked four years ago for a little over $200 a night, was now over $800 a night. It would seem that downtown Montauk was also outside of the budget that I had in mind.

Hence we settled on the WaveCrest. I cannot divulge the actual price due to a promise I made my wife, but I can say it was North of $200 and South of $800. It seemed like a good and prudent choice because at the WaveCrest we would actually have a room right on the beach with the Atlantic Ocean within a 100 feet of our porch.

Now that we had settled on the location, we had proceed from Setauket to Montauk.

They say that getting there is half the battle, but in this new age I would say it was all the battle. I had chosen a well trodden route. North Shore to William Floyd to South Shore to LIE to 27 East to Southampton. From there onward through Watermill, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Wainscott and finally on the road to Montauk itself.

All of this seemed pretty simple and since we had started out pretty early (10:30am) on the road, I was guessing we would get to Montauk by 12:30. Then, if the room was ready we could settle in, and if not, we could have a leisurely lunch in town. That was the plan and both my wife and myself looked forward to implementing it.

The trouble began as we were coming into Southampton. The traffic really bulked up around 11:30 just as we were passing the Shinnecock Hills. Not only were there lots of cars, but there were also lots of trucks and vans. And then there was another thing that I noticed. And that was the way the cars, trucks and vans were behaving. It seemed it was every man, woman and child for themselves. Cars, trucks and vans were coming on to the road from all directions and every one them seemed to be in a game of chicken with all of the others.

It seemed to me in this time of Trump, not only was it America first, it was me first. Every car seemed to be imbued with a god-given grant to charge out in front of every other car. The thing that kept the accident and death count to minimum was the simple fact that the further we went the slower the traffic got. That did not seemed to discourage the Me First ethic that seemed to grip all the drivers on the road. No, that only served to encourage bolder Me First deciders. So, vans pushed in from the side of the roads, cars ran along the side of the road bumping over sand, gravel, grass and rocks, trucks decided to take abrupt U-turns (not easy if you are a 40’ truck), vans decided to go down driveways, through parking lots and back on to the highway, all in an effort to get another 50 feet ahead.

Southampton was tough, but the real challenges occurred when I decided to forego the back road through North Sea. That proved to be a true mistake. Instead we plodded on at 3 to 5 mph, occasionally breaking 7 mph and then turned left toward Watermill. That was agony, with more and more vehicles desperately coming in from side roads in a vain attempt to get on the main road. The main road was not acting like a main road. In about 40 minutes we made it to Watermill. It should have taken less than 10 minutes.

Highways, which I remember zipping back and forth at 50 to 60 miles an hour, were now having a tough time getting up to 5 or 10 mph. And so on and on we crawled.

In the meantime, I periodically dropped into music or business news on Sirius XM or FM radio. The news on Bloomberg was pretty somber – the stock market was tanking that day, but as my wife only allows me 3 minutes on Bloomberg before forcing me back to music, I could only get bits and pieces of the action. But as I understood it, China had just announced that it was instituting tariffs on American goods – soybeans, corn and automobiles. It seemed that two weeks ago, when our President got peeved at the little progress of his trade delegation, he decided to go forward with 10% tariffs on 300 billion dollars of Chinese goods starting September 1. As a gesture of peace and kindness, our President decided to postpone some of the tariffs until December 15th.

Apparently, the Chinese did not think too highly of that and surprise, surprise… they announced more tariffs on 75 billion dollars of American goods being imported into China. Who knew? And, then, surprise, surprise, surprise, it was announced that President Trump was totally blind-sided by that and was going to announce more tariffs later that afternoon. The stock market did not like the sound of that and plunged steadily downward as we were making our ways through the Hamptons and onward.

It could be the state of the stock market was having some influence on the state of the traffic in the Hamptons. It was a little hard to do a survey on how many of the folks driving that Friday were affected by the market, but judging from the way the cars, trucks and vans were darting in and out, pushing ahead into ongoing traffic, making sudden U-turns, I am guessing 79% of all drivers on the road were directly affected by the tanking stock market.

Onward we plowed. It was stop and go, sometime 3 mph, sometimes 5 mph. If it was not for the glimpse of occasional vegetable stands, wineries and restaurants, I would have guessed I was trying cross Seoul city on a weekday, or maybe Shanghai or Dongguan. But no, we were not going through the worst traffic in Asia, we were in the Hamptons.

Bit by bit, slowly we went, always on the lookout for cars, vans or truck suddenly trying jut in and out in. Progress was in the words of WB Yeats, “Satisfactory”. We were proceeding, we passed through Watermill, we approached Bridgehampton, we passed through Bridgehampton, we came, by and by, to Amagansett. We proceeded onward to East Hampton. I would like to say that at some point there was a break in the tariff, but there was not.

It was only after we got through East Hampton that the traffic began to move first to 10 mph, then to 20, then to 30. By the time, we passed Lunch, the restaurant, it was way passed lunch. That did not matter because cars were lined up a good half a mile before and half a mile after, the parking lot for Lunch was fully booked, with people still walking East and West to get to Lunch. It always was a popular place, but it’s popularity had apparently reached new heights.

From Lunch onward, it was a piece of cake. We forked off to the right when we came to Old Montauk highway and continued past Hither Hills State Park. Even that was fully booked, with large trailers waiting outside the entrance of the park waiting to get in as large trailers pealed out of the park.

WaveCrest was right up the road. We pulled in to find that our room was still not ready. Surprise, surprise!

No matter, we moseyed down the road and over the hills and curves of Old Montauk Highway. Soon we came into the little village of Montauk, which like other parts of the Hamptons seemed to be on steroids. Once again, cars, vans and trucks were vying to go forward, sneak in or make a graceful U-turn in the middle of town. Considering that town is only about a half a mile long and is composed of about 4 blocks, the congestion was impressive. No matter, we came through town and were able miraculously able to get a parking space right in front of the Shagwong Restaurant.

My wife and I were familiar with the Shagwong restaurant from many other visits to Montauk. At one time, it had really good food, but the quality had descended over the years. In years past they served really good fresh fish and some pretty good steaks. We knew that the gradual descent of quality meant that maybe the food might not be as good as our last visit and we were right. It seemed that the food had gotten even worse.

No matter, my wife and I were there to pass some time, get acclimated to the fact that we had made the 72 miles out to Montauk in just under 4 hours. As mentioned, in days of yore, this trip was closer to 2 hours, but the fact remained that we had achieved our goal.

The decor at the Shagwong was much the same

The food was not truly awful, but it was not good. I will say some kudos from the clam chowder which was pretty tasty after a long and hectic ride. The front room of the restaurant, better known as the bar, was fully occupied as the 3 o’clock hour approached. The dining room, where we sat in a booth, was spartan and somewhat depressing. The same old pictures of fishing and fish caught on boats were on display. The same old Marlin was hanging on the wall, but all the artifacts seemed more tired, with some of the old pictures and the Marlin now in need of a cleaning and dusting.

No matter, we munched on our simple fare and were satisfied enough. With bellies full, we headed back to the WaveCrest, where our room was indeed ready.

Thus began our real time in Montauk and I must say our stay was delightful. It was high-lighted by a glorious lack of activities. We sat each day several hours on our porch with the beach directly in front of us as the sun first shone on us and then fell behind the porch overhang. In the mornings, the beach was generally empty except for a few fishermen or runners or walkers. Occasionally, a group of surfers would be out early. In the afternoon, more beach goers. walkers, runners and anglers wandered out, some going off to do their chosen activities, others sitting under umbrellas until long after sun waned.

We had some unusual views of passers by on the ocean…porpoises, whales, sharks, striped bass. Some came in schools. The whales were quite impressive, jumping high out of the water and creating giant splashes several hundred yards from the beach. Yes, the fish were out in the ocean, clearly visible from our easy, go nowhere front porch.

The little wabbit that visited us each morning.

Our view also included a view of a lonely rabbit. He or she came each day to munch on the dune grass…happy and content as all wabbits should be.

In the mornings, I took advantage of the new enhancement to the WaveCrest. I speak of the WaveCrave…a food truck permanently parked about 50 feet from our motel room door. Strangely, the food was remarkable good. Freshly cooked egg sandwiches, donuts, good strong coffee…it was just too easy to get what we wanted. Freshly made lobster sandwiches and other goodies were on tap for lunch and the fare was really quite good.

Occasionally, we wandered off the ranch and took my SUV to John’s Pancake House or to Anthony’s, both located on Main Street Montauk, about 2 miles from the WaveCrest. I also augmented our donut supplies with an occasional visit to the local bakery just off of the Montauk Circle directly in town. John’s Pancake House still had killer pancakes and if I begged long enough I could actually get real Vermont maple syrup, for an additional fee, of course. I am not fan corn syrup.  My wife stuck to other verities like eggs, English muffins and avocado on the side – all probably a little too healthy for me.

And as Mr. Dylan says, “It is (or was) all good!”

Each day, I would wander out of the room, go for a swim in the surf, ride waves if the conditions were good and go for walk in the late afternoon or early evening down from the WaveCrest, past houses up on the sand cliffs and past Gurney’s Inn, which in early years used to be several motel/hotels – Panoramic and some other names I forget – and now all these former independent motels seemed to be merged in to one large sprawling collection of hotel/motel rooms all under the egis of Gurney’s Inn. I suppose if you are selling condominiums from 1.9 million up, you need some inventory of rooms to sell.

Anyway, each evening I would walk up and by the new great conglomerate that is now Gurneys and after a mile or two turn around and walk back to the lowly WaveCrest. It was very pleasant, especially when walking barefoot, with my feet getting regularly doused by the incoming and receding waves, the sun setting and darkness approaching. Most evenings there was either a Southwest or a Northwest breeze. The Southwest breeze would create chop and sloppiness on the part of the waves, the Northwest breeze, would tend to give the waves formation and make one think one was wandering along the Pacific, not the Atlantic.

This is Gurneys, but they also seem now to own buildings to both the left and right

The scenery walking past Gurney’s included some privately owned houses perched up on the cliffs and dunes…some elaborate, others not. Several of the houses seemed to be under construction, either be revamped to address the higher needs of new wealthier owners or repair damage from the previous storms that afflict Montauk from time to time. The good news is that there seems to be plenty of sand and beach stretching out in front of the WaveCrest, Gurney’s and the assorted homes perched on the high hills of Montauk.

During the afternoon or evening we would venture out to different Montauk restaurants…Salvadors, Gosman’s, The Dock, The Muse, Lunch, etc. Generally, we would finish up with a trip to Ben and Jerry’s to satisfy my ice cream cravings. My wife is not an avid eater of ice cream, but once nearby a place for dessert she finds that where there is a way there is a will. And so, after acquiring our just desserts, we would either sit outside by Ben & Jerry’s or take our ice cream back to the room to enjoy on the beach.

So, aside from getting to Montauk and having to drive through the ultra busy Hamptons, I can say that the ocean, the beaches, the waterways in and around Montauk are all still there and they still offer the visitor a lot. There are not many places that you can reserve a motel or hotel directly on the Atlantic Ocean and Montauk is certainly one of those places.

In the afternoons if I happened to be on a driving mission without my wife, I would listen to the financial news, which in the first days, went from bad to worse and then in the next abruptly reversed course and the stock market headed on to high after high. I had the impression the stock was making love to itself. As the days passed, I lost interest and felt my more absorbed by ocean swims, afternoon paddles, long walks on the beach.

And whether a vacationer is sitting on the beach and drinking beer or swimming four times a day or walking miles in either direction along the beach or driving to a scenic restaurant overlooking the water or paddling on an inland bay or lake…there are still many laid back wonders for the vacationer to enjoy.

Unlike the Hamptons, Montauk does not have a too full of it attitude. Yes, the Hamptons are beautiful, yes, the high green hedges are impressive, yes, there are fancier and tastier restaurants in the Hamptons, yes, there are plenty of hopping nightspots to go to, and yes, the Hamptons also offers beautiful beaches and the wondrous cleansing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. That said, Montauk has it own charms which despite ever growing traffic and the new “Me First” ethic, those charms are still intact and there for all to enjoy.

About Cecil Hoge

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