Montauk in the Time of the Coronavirus

Some Things Change, Others Do Not

By Cecil Hoge

My wife and I have often taken a summer vacation in Montauk. We did last summer and because of the Coronavirus and the fact that Montauk is nearby, we decided to do the same this summer. The drive out to Montauk was relatively easy. I took the most direct route from Setauket – Nicholls Road to 27 to Southampton. From there we wisely chose the back road through North Sea to Sag Harbor taking 114 through to Easthampton, and then Main Street through town to Amagansett and then on to Montauk. There was surprising little traffic on that summer day and the trip took less than two hours.

Once out in Montauk, we wisely headed to Gossman’s for lunch. This was doubly wise since our hotel room was not ready and we were getting hungry. My wife and I have not had much opportunity to eat out in the last several months, so we were looking forward to make up for lost ground.

This sign greets you as you enter the little village of Montauk

Coming through town, there was a large sign on the right warning people to wear a mask and stay at least 6’ apart. As we passed through Main Street it was obvious that most people, if not all, were observing this new edict. It was strange watching tourists and visitors and residents walking along the sidewalks, all with masks, but that was to be expected in this time of the Coronavirus.

Taking the circle in the center of town to left, we headed for Montauk Harbor. Soon, we were pulling into Gossman’s. This restaurant is fortunate to have a lot of open space and outside seating. And equally important, it was a bright and sunny and warm day. Walking into the restaurant the scene was much like the summer before, with tables and seats almost fully occupied. People sitting at the tables looked just like they did the summer before, smiling, joking, laughing and chatting, their faces free of masks. I did notice that the inside of the restaurant was empty, occupied only by a few waiters rushing back and forth, bringing trays of foods and drinks out and trays of empty plates and glasses back. There was a waiting line with people wearing masks and standing by a lady taking down names behind a small stand. 

After a 15 minute wait, we were comfortably seated overlooking the water. I have to say the food and the service were both great. Gossman’s, as perhaps is true of many an older restaurant, has gone through many changes and often the food and service were not, how shall I phrase it, the best you might expect. That said, the ambiance of sitting by the inlet and watching boats come and go makes up for a lot, even when the food is not the best. That turned out to not be a concern this time. Food and drink came promptly and actually seemed better than it ever has been.

One constant with Gossman’s has remained the same and that is, it was always pricey. So no matter whether the food was good or lackluster, you can depend on being impressed by the check.

At the outside tables, eating and drinking outside took on a familiar feel. I have to say I am in the camp that believes it is fairly safe to eat outside. My wife also agrees with that. So, our meal outside was really pleasant and carefree and, if one closed your eyes and forgot that everyone coming into the restaurant were wearing masks, all would seem normal, except of course, for the large unoccupied indoor part of the restaurant.

A pleasant surprise was just how good the food was. My wife and I shared oysters and they were truly excellent…fresh, clean, plump and naturally salty as they should be. Apparently, they are being farmed locally in Lake Montauk, so they were truly fresh and clean. My wife went on to have the salmon while I settled on lobster tails. My lobster tails were great and she lavishly praised the salmon. So, both meals were excellent and much appreciated after not dining out for many a day. I did notice that when the check came it seemed about 30% higher than the year before. Yes, $154 pre-tip seemed high, especially considering that the only drinks we had was two glasses of wine and a bottle of sparkling water.

But we did not mind, the meal was great, the ambiance was great and we could now head back and check in our motel by the sea.

I would interrupt here to say that the diet and lifestyle we had been living since the Coronavirus had taken hold left something to be desired. Take out dinners, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and even cooked in meals had all become stale and quite weird. And since I was still a working man, my life as both a remote worker and sometimes office worker had also been pretty weird. Wearing face masks and rubber gloves in my own office was truly strange, but then the times were truly strange.

I must say I did come to have a new appreciation of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…I think I began to channel my early life as young boy when I lived on those two joyful substances, day and night, winter, spring, summer and fall.

It is true, since the restrictions around the Coronavirus had been recently softened, my wife and I had taken the opportunity to have a few lunches out in our local area of Setauket and Port Jefferson. Still, the chance for a nice “normal” lunch out in Montauk while sitting overlooking Gardener’s Bay and Lake Montauk was a true pleasure.

The hotel/motel we had selected was the WaveCrest. It is located about a mile and half west of town, directly on the beach. We had stayed at the WaveCrest many times before. To be sure, there are fancier, better heeled places, with more luxurious accommodations, but the WaveCrest offered pretty much everything we were interested in… a direct view of the ocean, a short walk to the beach and ocean and a hidden benefit, Steve’s WaveCrave food truck. That was to prove invaluable in the time of the Coronavirus.

Once in our room, sitting on the outside porch directly overlooking the beach, we could get a lay of the land. People were on the beach as ever…sitting under umbrellas, girls laying their back, their bikini top straps loose, their backs gleaming with lotion, boys and girls were out on the beach soaking up the sun. Families were gathered around on beach chairs shaded by umbrellas in a circle, coolers full of beer, drinks and sodas. Masks were nowhere to be seen. Overlooking the beach from our shaded porch, all seemed in order, as it ever was.

Off to the right, away from the lounge chairs, the umbrellas and the sunbathers, two fathers were throwing a small plastic football with their two sons, one father gathering weight around the waist, slowing, but still with the old football throw, the other father, more in shape, but also thickening around the waist, but still with a strong, hard throw, one of the kids diving for the plastic football which bounces off his small chest. That must have hurt, but the kid gets up, runs over to the ricocheted ball and throws it back. The throw goes high and short, the hit to the chest must have caused the kid a loss of timing and breath.

The two kids both have good throws, the two fathers also. I am guessing the fathers played team ball…high school or college. The heavier one is definitely the slower one. The toll of time beginning its relentless roll from youth to middle age. It is a normal beach scene, one you would have seen the summer before…one that you might see any year out in Montauk.

Me, my shadow, some foot prints and the beach just east of the WaveCrest.

That evening, I took a walk along the beach. The walk in the sand is somewhat arduous, somewhat surprising…the sand giving way with each step, making you feel that your progress is impeded by the soft sand. And it is surely true that it is easier to walk on a hard surface than a soft surface. Of course, I knew that and I expected that. After a few hundred yards of walking along the beach, my legs become more accustomed to the giving nature of sand. I walk on, passing beach front houses perched high in the sand dune hills that are features of the topography just east of Hither Hills.

I walk east about 3/4 of a mile with the declining sun at my back. I get to Gurney’s Inn Beach. At that time of the afternoon – 5:30 pm – the beach crowd at Gurney’s has thinned out, the cabanas are mostly empty, the life guards are no longer in their high chairs and there are only a few walkers or runners or anglers to be seen. That being enough of a walk, I turn back with sun slowly going down as I walk towards the WaveCrest.

When I come back to the room, my wife is reviewing movie choices on the TV which are limited at best. The WaveCrest has the same cable system we have at home, but with a trimmed down selection of programs. I grab a seltzer from the small refrigerator in the room and walk out on the small porch to watch the dimming light of the sun as it fades behind the sand dunes. The beach is now empty of walkers and runners. There is only the sound of breaking ocean waves, and the sight of the waves in the dimming light washing up on the beach and then receding. The endless commotion of the sea washes out any noise coming from the TV inside the room. I sit sipping my seltzer for a good 30 minutes, content to watch the ever dimmer light descend over the beach in front of me. Yes, some things change, but other things stay the same.

So the first day went just the way we liked it.

The next day we get up, have couple of cups of coffee on the porch – there is a small kitchenette in our room and my wife, knowing the importance of coffee, has used the included coffee pot to brew several cups. We watch the beach as the first people walk onto to it and go about whatever it is they wish to go about. Fishermen set up their rods and buckets, cast out their lines…walkers, some solo, some couples, walk the early morning beach, some walking in the direction of Hither Hills State Park to the west, some walking towards Gurney’s Inn to the east.

That morning we see a thick school of fish cruising along the shore 50 to a 100 yards out, a white line of commotion 25 feet wide, a couple of hundred feet long. A Montauk fisherman is on the beach casting out and pulling them in…they are some kind of large baitfish, 10” to 16” in length. I am not sure why the Montauk fisherman is making such an effort to catch and pull them in, considering their small size. Perhaps, he wants them for bait for larger fish. I know he is a Montauk fisherman because I have seen him driving up in the 4-wheel drive truck. On the truck it said “Blackwater Charter Expeditions”. I asked him about it.

“That’s my charter business.” From the tone of his voice and the lack of enthusiasm in it, I gather the charter business is not his main gig. 

Steve’s WaveCrave truck was a true asset in the time of the Coronavirus. Our room was in the building just beside the WaveCrave about 50 feet away. Talk about convenience.

That morning we decide to take advantage of Steve’s WaveCrave food truck. Steve and his wife manage it. After a quick hello and ordering, I ask how the season has been.

”Very stressful, but it ended good” he says.

I gather that at the beginning of the year, it was hard for him to know if he could even open.

“We couldn’t open until June,” he says.

But now that he has opened and the season has gone surprisingly well and he tells me he is satisfied.

What is really surprising about Steve’s WaveCrave truck is how amazingly good it is. I order what known as a “Basic Joe” (2 eggs over medium with cheese and sausage on a roll) and for my wife, a “Nancy Atlas” (an egg wrap sandwich with avocado). After taking the sandwiches back to our room, we sit on the outside porch overlooking the beach and munch our breakfasts happily. After the WaveCrest breakfast is washed down with several cups of my wife’s coffee, we feel like the day has started with a solid foundation.

Normally, in pre Coronavirus times, we would have gone to John’s Pancake house, but when we passed it the day before we could not help but notice that it was totally packed both inside and out with a line people waiting to get a seat. If that was the situation in the afternoon we could only imagine what would be like when people eat pancakes.

After breakfast I hit the ocean. My wife stayed on the porch of our room…content to oversee my activities and read a book. The waves were not great, but they were large enough to dive and occasionally body surf. It was all good. I came back duly salted, refreshed and reborn. The ocean has a special place in my heart.

After taking an hour or so to sit on the porch and enjoy the beach scene before us, we notice the lunch hour creeping up fast. We decide to go for a ceremonial drive around Montauk checking out the various points of interest…the harbor, Montauk Point, The Lighthouse, America’s Oldest Ranch, East Lake, West Lake, Fort Pond, Duryeas…they were all still there. On our drive to East Lake, we stopped to have lunch at the Crabby Cowboy. It is not the finest fare, but it is located overlooking Lake Montauk and has a fine view of an adjoining marina and the lake. As an added bonus, my wife tries a can of some Long Island wine raised, picked, squished and fermented in Mattituck, Long Island, about 30 miles away as the crow or seagull flies. It is a little longer as the car drives since you have to navigate around Peconic Bay to get to Mattituck.

The cost was reasonable – about half of what a lunch would have cost at Gossman’s. We split some Buffalo Chicken wings, had a couple of hamburgers with French fries and Cole slaw – maybe not so good for our health, but still yummy in the tummy. They had a interesting Coronavirus ordering system – you are given a piece of paper to fill out your order as you walk in the entrance where a sign says, “No mask, No service”. You bring the filled out menu up to a window. You pay and they give you your drinks – a can of wine for my wife, a seltzer for me. Then you bring your drinks back to picnic table of your choice and settle in. It was a warm and breezy day. So we sat with the wind blowing and the sun shining. We had an excellent view of the lake and some floating oyster pods where oysters are being grown…the same oysters we had partaken of the day before.

My wife never heard of a wine being delivered in a can, but there it was and from the smile on her face, I concluded it was not half bad.

In a few minutes a waiter delivered our lunch in a shopping bag. Nice touch. It is up to us to pull it out. It was kind of like a picnic where we did not bring the food. All in all, it was surprising good.

On the way back, we stopped at what was the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Stand. I would note the Ben and Jerry’s name seems to have been deleted, indicating some change of management. No matter, they still serve some kind of ice cream. I am a vanilla ice cream guy. Just as Henry Ford said you can paint his cars with any color you want as long it is black, I will try any flavor of ice cream as long as it is vanilla. My wife, being more adventurous, opted for coffee ice cream. I cannot say if they were still using Ben and Jerry’s real ice cream, but I can say it was awful tasty.

We took our ice cream back to the WaveCrest, sat on our front porch and fattened ourselves as we watched the waves break on the shore in front of us and people laying about the beach and frolicking in the ocean. It was fine way to spend the fading hours of a sunny afternoon.

One of the things I was curious about was what effect the Coronavirus would have on Montauk and the people visiting Montauk in the summer? What would happen with the restaurants, the bars, the shops? I cannot say that after 2 days all seemed normal, but I can say that the town seemed to be adapting to the situation. I sensed a new somber reality to summer…on the main drag in town or on the beach, people seemed afraid to engage and talk, they kept their distance, if you wandered a little close to them on a sidewalk or the beach, they were liable to give you a wide birth. And just the sight of people wearing masks on the streets gave a different feeling.

Other than that, the restaurants we visited seemed relatively normal. The tables were mostly full and people at the tables took their masks off. The people sat eating and drinking as they always do…munching their meals leisurely, sipping their drinks, laughing, smiling, talking…couples holding hands, families gathered around at a table, kids running about, not quite sure what social distancing is.

That evening, I went for another walk on the beach. This is a normal pattern of my vacations in Montauk. I usually take a walk out the beach, usually in the direction Gurney’s. There and back is an easy walk, about a mile and half, not too long to be tiring, long enough to feel exercised and refreshed.

As I walk along the beach, waves, as usual, are washing up on the sand and spilling over small embankments near where I am walking. The water rushes over footprints, beach buggy tracks, bird prints, dog prints and truck tracks, erasing them and then almost instantly the salt water sinks into the now swept sand. A thick line of froth rides at the front of each advancing wave. The foamy froth lasts longer than the water when it comes to rest, settling on top of the sand, the bubbles of the froth being blown out gradually by the wind, some bubbles popping by themselves and collapsing. Only a salty, darker residue remains and that portion of sand now seems swept clean of human intervention.

Some stronger waves rush over the embankment ridge that I am walking along and threaten to get me wet. I alter my course occasionally and scuttling off to higher ground to avoid getting my sneakers wet. It is a cat and mouse game I play with the ocean, with the ocean being the cat and me being the mouse.

Strangers, other walkers or runners, some girls, some guys, some couples, some old, some young, walk or run along the same beach, we wave to each other, saying no words in this time of the Coronavirus, our hands making small gentle gestures of hello. Some are going in my direction slower or faster than me, always no words or conversations are passed, only the small hand gestures. And of course, social distancing is observed and nobody is going to stop and chit chat with a stranger. No, the times are too precarious for that.

One of the concerns I had about the Coronavirus and vacation in Montauk is what effects would I see as I wandered about. I cannot say that I saw obvious signs of great changes. There were a few restaurants that seemed not to re-open. There were a few stores that seemed to have been vacated. But other than the absence of some businesses, much seemed normal. The town seemed teeming with visitors and vacationers. Restaurants with outdoor seating seemed busy.

Breakfast places in town, like John’s Pancake House, seemed fully booked now with extra outdoor seating and people waiting on the sidewalk trying to get a table. The Main Street of Montauk seemed busy as usual. But I noticed not many people were entering the stores and if they were, it was selective. There was a crowd around John’s Pancake House, the bakery, the coffee shop, but gift shops seemed less occupied. An exception to that seemed to be the surf shop at the end of town. It seemed to have as many customers as John’s Pancake House.

I made a trip the next day to White’s, the local pharmacy in the center of town, to get some toothpaste and other necessities. Entry was not easy. The front door was locked and a sign advised that you had to walk through a side alley and around to get into the rear entrance. I am not quite sure what the reason was. Either they did not have enough people to man or woman the store or they did not trust customers, thinking they might run off with some of the store’s precious goods or they wanted to restrict the number customers. Or maybe there was some perfectly good health reason that I could not discern for their rear entrance and exit policy.

One thing was sure, you could not social distance very well if a customer was coming through the rear entrance as you were leaving. The store was unusually empty for summer day and there still was a line at the counter in spite of fact that there was only 4 people in the store. In any case, I was able to get my selected goods, pay and get out without bumping into anyone.

My wife was lucky enough to get this shot of a whale just off of our beach. You do not see that every day! Please excuse the grainy look…some resolution was lost in the process of cropping the picture.

After we got back to the room that morning, we saw a whale rising out of the ocean not far from the shore. It was the first of many whales that we saw during our stay.

That day, because it was rainy and windy, we had breakfast in the room. My wife, a believer in backup, had brought ample supplies to get us going that morning. Coffee, cereal, fruit, cold salmon, cheese and nuts…it was a healthy start to a dreary day and as we watched the rain come down in sheets outside.

Later, after watching some obligatory tube giving weather updates and other lackadaisical activity, we decided to take advantage of Steve’s WaveCrave for lunch. This time we went for Steve’s Famous Lobster Sandwich which well deserves its name. Steve has an unusual theory on how to make a lobster sandwich, deciding to make it with whole chunks of lobster lathered with butter, rather than cutting up bits and pieces of lobsters and adding mayonnaise and other filler ingredients. Steve then takes the whole chunks of buttered lobster and places them on a bun. The result is buttered lobster on a bun…quite yummy!

At Steve’s food truck, I met a ConEd employee from the city while standing in line waiting for my lobster sandwiches. Of course, we were social distancing appropriately, both wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart. In the short time there, I was able to get a conversation in and so I learned some interesting information from the ConEd guy. It turns out that he worked in Queens and was very busy running around the city installing WiFi connections for all the people trying to work remotely. 

“It’s really weird,” he said, “I got a brunch of buddies who were laid off and I am out all over the city working my ass off.”

”The demand for the stuff I do is through the roof,” he said, “I love the work and am glad I have a job, but I am so happy to get out to Montauk and get a break.”

And then he turned a little bit pensive:

”I’m from Queens. We don’t see the stuff we see here…the open space, the clean air. We don’t get to see the ocean, we don’t see whales and dolphins running just offshore. It is just unbelievable, I love it.”

I would have launched further into the conversation, but my lobster sandwiches were ready. So, I said nice to talk to you, grabbed my sandwiches and headed back to the room. My wife and I enjoyed those sitting out on the covered porch watching the rain come down…just back from the wet action, but still outside and dry.

That afternoon, I took the opportunity to dig further into a book I brought along for the occasion. It was about why reconstruction failed after the Civil War. It recounted the story of how the emancipation of slaves and the installation of Carpetbagger/Scalawag politicians from the North and former black slaves turned elected Republican officials got reversed by the white Democrats in the State of Louisiana. Things were complicated back then. Maybe just as complicated as they are today…although instead of sorting out the winners and losers, North and South, from the Civil War, we are sorting out a badly damaged economy, widespread protests and civil unrest, record unemployment, a raging worldwide Pandemic and an upcoming Presidential election.

No matter to all of that, back in Montauk, it was a quiet day off…no swimming, no outdoor meals…just reading, some tube time and lots of rest. In short, it was just what the doctor ordered.

The next day the sun came back as it often does after rain and the sand on the beach slowly changed from a darker shade of color to a lighter shade as the sun warmed and dried the sands. We had breakfast in the room and by and by, when I deemed the sand had warmed enough, I went for a swim in the ocean while my wife settled in to our porch for some more reading.

The wind was from the northwest, smoothing out and throwing up the waves, giving them perfect formation and me an opportunity for some really enjoyable body-surfing. After 5 or 6 pretty good rides, I came in, feeling new and refreshed.

Later that day we decided to go to an old haunt of ours for lunch. That would be Duryeas. When we first went out to Montauk it used to be a simple place with some basic picnic tables and a small counter to place an order for fresh seafood. After ordering, you came back to your picnic table, made of 2 x 4s painted white…very sturdy, but not particularly comfortable. A few minutes after you were called up and then you went over to the counter and picked up your order. After that, it was only necessary to walk back and spread your feast over the wooden picnic table.

It was simple fare and a great place to have fresh lobster. At the time, Duryeas was a lobster and shellfish harvesting company, so you could always depend on the lobsters or the clams or the oysters being fresh. The restaurant was just a side offering of the shellfish gathering business. But times change and so has Duryeas. This summer it has gone uptown, with fancier layout, nicer tables, fancier fare and even fancier prices.

Presently, it seems more celeb oriented, with lots of handsome folks who might be actors or movie directors or hedge fund folks or just plain well-healed rich people. There was a line even though it was a Tuesday. Two young ladies stood behind a wooden gateway stand trying make sure everyone was seated in the order that they thought they should be seated.

From the crowded tables ahead of us and the even more crowded line directly in front of us, it was quite obvious that the place was prospering. After a suitable wait, we found ourselves seated out on a dock with brisk wind and a grand view of Gardener’s Bay. The ordering system was interesting and still relatively simple. They brought you your choice of flat water or sparkling water and menu list to mark. After marking that, you had to make your way to two counters with two young ladies behind plexiglass taking orders. You hand in your order sheet, she happily inputs your scribbles into the computer and then asks you what kind of tip you want to apply.

I usually like to add tips at the end of the meal after I know something about the meal I had, but this system assumed you would prefer to tip before your meal. And so I did. Because I could see I was now in an uptown place, I went with 20%. I did restrain myself from taking the 25% tip opportunity.

Having given in our order, I went back to my wife who was diligently trying to hold down our napkins in the quite brisk breeze. At the end of the dock were a couple of really fancy motor craft. While we’re waiting for our meal (oysters, French fries and blackened Branzino) to arrive, a parade of beautiful young ladies marched by…young models that seemed to have been selected by Jeffrey Epstein himself. The young beauties walked by, their hands playing with their hair as it went this way and that in the wind, trendy sunglasses shielding their sensitive eyes. They walked down the dock and then onto one of the million dollar motor crafts.

Now this vehicle was no doubt just a tender boat for some larger dream yacht, but the tender was a good 50 feet itself and it seemed to have no problems accommodating the 14 young ladies. They immediately stationed themselves on various prominent parts of the motor craft, looking good, their hair fluttering in the brisk wind, the trendy sunglasses protecting their peepers. They were dressed appropriately in brief summer wear…with midriffs and long legs showing.

Shortly thereafter, we heard the purr of 1200 horse power or more warming up, lines were disengaged and off the ladies went out into Gardener’s Bay, no doubt to meet some new mogul trying emulate the life and times of Jeffrey Epstein. You know what our President said about Jeffrey:

”He’s a great guy and really likes the ladies like I do, but I hear he likes them on the young side.”

And so it goes in Montauk.

In short order our oysters and French fries arrived. They served as a delicious bridge to the main course. I do not know what you have to do to make the French fries as good as they were, but the new management had obviously applied their secret sauce. We had good time keeping our napkins from flying into the bay below as we downloaded the oysters and fries. By and by, the main course arrived – it was beauty – the whole Branzino, head and all, was served with some truly delicious vegetables along the side. My wife was so excited she sent me off to retrieve another glass of white wine. This precipitated a second trip to the ordering counter.

Inside, around the corner from the 2 order counters, I saw there was an inside room with a large selection of fresh oysters, shellfish and other kinds of fish on display, laid out beautifully on chopped ice under glass. It was very impressive. Wow, I thought, you get to see what can order before adding the tip. Also, on display, was an impressive display of wine bottles, aperitifs and after dinner liqueurs. It was all very uptown. Back at the counter, the girl took another swipe on my credit card and 24 dollars later I was on my way back to the table. By some magic, the glass of wine arrived before me.

Anyway, it was all good, even if the total bill for 2 was cruising well over $200. And after such a fine meal, there was only one other thing to do. Swing by the ice cream stand and collect some before going to bring back to the room. That didn’t work out too well, since it turned out the ice cream stand was having some kind of management issue. Apparently, one or two of the employees failed to show up and there was only one poor girl trying to take orders at the order window and make ice cream cones behind the service counter with a line of 5 or 6 families angrily waiting for their ordered goods. That was not easy to do since the order window was a good 20 feet from the service counter. The situation, in short, was hopeless.

I decided to move on to John’s Drive-in. That was on the way back to the motel just as you head out of Montauk Village. John’s Drive-in (not to be confused with John’s Pancake House, although the ownership may be related) had people waiting for ice cream, but fortunately they also had people to serve the orders almost as fast people came in. Within a few minutes, my wife and I were ice cream enabled and we headed back to enjoy our desert for the day while we overlooked the ocean from our porch.

Later that day, just about the time we were finishing up respective servings of ice cream, a small plane flew by dragging a large banner, maybe 10 feet high by 30 feet long. Because the wind was still pretty brisk and the plane was fairly high up, it was difficult to read the banner. What I could see clearly were the words: “Feel Even Calmer”. Next to the words was an image of a can that also had a name on it, but unfortunately, the plane and the banner were a little too high to read. I presumed it was the name of whatever was in the can. Alas, on that day, I was not learn what would make me “Feel Even Calmer”. Talk about stress.

Just to shake off the stress, I went for another swim in the surf and later, as the sun fell behind the dunes, I also went for walk on the beach.

It was not until 2 days later when another plane came by dragging the same banner. This time the banner was closer and I got to read the name on the can – it said “Recess”. So, I guess the point of this marketing effort was to promote a new product called “Recess” that would make you “Feel Even Calmer”. That was good information to know as I pondered the changing systems of marketing in this new age. 

These natural wooden protrusions were seemingly put in place for some reason just to the right of our room. The fog provided an other worldly look and the sign advised that Hither Hill State Park was just beyond.

We spent most days of our vacation with an almost identical routine. We would have breakfast at the WaveCrave. I would alternate between “Basic Joe” egg and cheese sandwiches with sausage and “Basic Joe” egg sandwiches with bacon. My wife, being more adventurous than me, would choose “Nancy Atlas Egg Wraps” and “Australian Egg Wraps”.

After breakfast my wife would settle in with a good book or her trusty iPad Pro while I would go for a swim in the surf. On a couple of days we took out my trusty inflatable kayak on Fort Pond and paddled for an hour or so. Then to lunch, which ranged from reasonable (Salvadore’s, Crabby Cowboy or Navy Beach) and not so great or unreasonable (Gossman’s or Duryeas) and quite good. We did hit Duryeas one more time and they outdid themselves by charging more than $250. Go Duryeas!

After lunching, we might check out a few shops, careful to wear masks and social distance. Then, on to pick up some ice cream and back to the room. Usually, about an hour after digesting my ice cream, I would go on a walk on the beach to Gurney’s Inn and back.

It was all very unexciting and boring and restful and wonderful and healthy. And soon, as all things do, our vacation was drawing to a close.

There was always the sound of the surf.

And in the background and in front of our room, there was always the continual sound of the ocean waves breaking upon the beach…first rising, then crashing, then rushing forward and then receding…a continual commotion of rising and falling sounds, a kind of roar, as the sands of the beach were picked up by the incoming water and then pulled back…sounding like a drummer with a soft and subtle brush.

I could not help but wonder as I would have seltzers on the porch and sit overlooking the ocean: What was going to happen to Montauk as fall and winter closed in? No doubt restaurants and bars and shops would close as many do at the end of the season, but some who normally dared to stay open all year would have to make decision: Was it worth it to stay open all year around this year? No doubt most summer folks would head back to the cities and towns they normally live in. That would leave fishermen and Montauk residents and perhaps a few city refugees facing a winter of cold quiet. For, as we were getting ready to leave Montauk, the Coronavirus was in evidence everywhere and it seemed certain it would not go quietly into that good night.

While we were on vacation, the stock markets of the United States reached and stayed at or close to all time highs, seemingly unaware that 20 million Americans were still out of work. I had long given up trying to understand why stock markets could be so buoyant in times of economic difficulties. Of course, it must be admitted that the present economic difficulties did not come from economic policies, but rather from a strange virus that rose up out of nowhere like some beast of monstrous size in a SciFi movie. But we were not living in a SciFi movie, we were living in real life.

As our vacation came to end and we drove back to Setauket, I also wondered what the Fall and Winter would bring. As I am finishing up this blog story, Coronavirus cases are once again advancing with over 50,000 cases averaging daily this week. While long predicted, it seems as the weather gets colder and winter approaches, a 3rd wave of the Coronavirus is coming. How strong that will be and what effects it causes are still unknown, but it seems sure this is a period of doubt and dismay.

While we were in Montauk we saw a lot of whales, some close to shore, some further out. We also saw schools of bluefish and baitfish and striped bass swimming by in streams. We also saw dolphins sporting and jumping offshore and once, I saw a seal raise its head from the sea, look around and then disappear. It was nice to see that other life still resides in the sea. And it was nice to see families and couples and singles, old and young, all out on the beach, sunning and running and walking themselves, throwing frisbees and footballs, hitting shuttleclocks and volleyballs over nets, sitting under umbrellas or out in open warming themselves or lathering up with sunscreen, sipping sodas or wine or beer, laughing and smiling as they huddled to together by themselves or in groups on the beach.

On most nights while we were in Montauk, some of the WaveCrest guest would go out on the beach with flashlights and radios and light fires and sit around in groups. That was legal at the WaveCrest, although from the frown on my wife’s face, she thought it must be breaking some law somewhere. No matter, the WaveCrest guests gathered in groups in the evenings and sat on the beach around fires, their voices raised higher with the benefit of adult beverages, laughing and shouting and listening to music, no longer aware of the Coronavirus and what further discomforts it might bring this Fall and Winter. I can only wish them well.

I have long thought that there are two worlds. The world we live in…the indoor world of houses, air-conditioning and heating, in offices or restaurants or theaters. And then there is the other world…the outdoor world with flowers and grasses and beaches, with hills and mountains and valleys and dunes and bays and lakes and rivers and ponds and oceans, with other life teaming throughout, some of that life unaware of us humans, other parts of that life all too aware, some thriving along with us, others striving just to survive. Of the two worlds…the indoor and the outdoor world…I have always felt the outdoor world was the more real, the more beautiful and the more permanent.

An ominous cloud and sea view from our room one morning.

About Cecil Hoge

Paddler/Scribbler
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