Weekend Special: Escape From Thanksgiving
A few will admire me, but more will detest my behavior, either because they actually love the holiday, or are too chickenshit to do what I did.
This year, after decades of suffering dry-breasted turkeys, inane "catch-up" conversations with people I barely know, and hours of waiting for totally predictable and mainly mediocre food, I decided to remove myself from the Thanksgiving pool, and get as far away from the holiday as possible.
But where to go? Clearly, the most effective remedy was to leave the country entirely, but I didn't want to be gone for days, and I certainly didn't want to go near an airport around Thanksgiving time. I didn't want to pay inflated prices for a rental car, only to find myself trapped in an endless traffic jam. Accordingly, I whipped out my regional map and scanned it for remote but spectacular areas I could reach by public transportation.
My eye lit on Montauk, which I knew to be at the rocky, dune-y, and scrub-infested end of the earth. I'd never been there before, and this was the extreme off-season. I also knew lots of fish mongers from the farmers market lived in Montauk, which suggested it might not be as snobby and high-end as the stuffed-shirt Hamptons. In fact, I expected some slums.
Going to the end of the earth, at least metaphorically, would make my friend and I feel like 16th-century explorers, and I knew there was a spectacular lighthouse on a rocky promontory at New York's easternmost point.
TO THE HARBOR
So we deciphered the holiday LIRR schedules, and found that a train left for Montauk--changing at Jamaica--at 9:40, for what would be a three-hour ride.
The train was packed with holiday-goers, hoisting garment bags filled with fancy clothes and carrying boxes from bakeries filled with cakes and cookies. Despite the upcoming festivities, they were a rather glum lot, wedged into their train seats and talking endlessly on their cell phones, making sure their rides would pick them up at the precise time they detrained.
My friend and I had resolved to bring few things with us: a lump of cheese, a few crackers, and a couple of apples, in case there really was no place to dine or even get a sandwich. The final stretch of the ride was as remote as we'd hoped, arcing through a region of dunes and weeds and rose hips with red fruit, only occasionally glimpsing the ocean breakers through stands of small fir trees.
The station was nearly desolate, except for a few taxis. I copied their numbers into my cell phone. Right next to the station was a closed bar, and a sign that pointed in two directions along a deserted road. One was said "Harbour," with a quaint British spelling, and the other said "Village." We resolved to head for the harbor, and began a 45-minute hike that took us though brushlands, and past the occasional house.
Eventually, the harbor itself stove into view, arranged around an inland lagoon with a narrow entrance to the Long Island Sound. The streets were deserted and there were no smells of turkey blown on the stiff breeze. Excellent! There were pleasure boats in dry dock, many wrapped in white plastic as if about to be shipped to a distant galaxy. There were marinas galore, many given over to the professional fishing fleet. We hoped for fresh lobster, after seeing a few fishermen straggle into harbor in their sawed-off lobster boats.
Unfortunately, nothing was open, except a deli that was about to close up for the day. The grill was already closed down (it was about 2 p.m.), so we couldn't get an egg sandwich. We ordered a baloney with American cheese and a peanut butter sandwich, both on a roll. Was this to be our Thanksgiving repast, we wondered as the wind stiffened and the sun--having made a brief appearance--once again skulked off behind a gray cloud.
We hiked past the closed Gosman's complex, including docks, seafood piers, and a handful of outlet stores, to the grim beach on the north end of town, jammed with flotsam. The outlines of Connecticut could barely be discerned across the sound. A man arrived in a beat-up car, and let a few puppies out to cavort along the water, as an elderly couple sat smooching in a parked car. No other life could be seen. We ate half of our sandwiches.
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE
Resolved to see the famous Montauk lighthouse, I called one of the taxis whose numbers I'd captured at the station. Ten minutes later a carload of Mexicans arrived, and invited us into the taxi, which seemed like a rolling party. Two of the guys dutifully moved into the back, allowing us to occupy the customers' seats. They talked, in Spanish, about how to find beer on Thanksgiving.
We rode in the rollicking taxicab, radio blaring, through the scrub along Flamingo Road, past the railroad station and into the Village of Montauk, which proved to be a scatter of low buildings, a few trashy-looking apartment houses, a couple of fancy restaurants (closed), and a short main street. As we passed through town, a bar seemed to be open--or at least there was a throng of people smoking outside a barroom. I made a mental note.
The lighthouse turned out to be as spectacular as we'd hoped, though the lighthouse itself was closed for the holiday. A few lost-looking tourists, most of them apparently Japanese or Chinese, meandered around the grounds, which descended through thick underbrush to the shoreline. We'd asked the taxi guy to wait, and scampered back into the taxi after hiking around a few minutes and admiring the lighthouse.
We asked to be taken back to the bar in town, hopeful of getting some non-Thanksgiving vittles. After a twisting drive of five miles through desolate countryside, we re-attained the windblown village of Montauk, a strange mixture of working-class and upscale businesses. The bar turned out to be called Shagwong, and claimed to date to 1969--even though the place looked much older. The barroom was dim and sawdusty, and several patrons sat on stools at the bar, as others occupied raised tables across from the bar. A low passageway led to a dining room, where a special dinner was being offered. It proved easy to avoid the Thanksgiving staples of turkey, ham, yams, and dressing.
The set meal involved two courses and a free dessert, and cost $27.95, which didn't seem bad to a city dweller. As apps, we ordered a seafood risotto and iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing and bacon. As mains, we ordered the double-thick pork chop and a local duckling which was supposedly barbecued. The food was better than expected, and better than it needed to be. The servings were voluminous, especially the main courses, which came on giant platters. We washed the food down with pints of Stella Artois.
The sun was already setting, and we decided to walk back to the railroad station and catch the 5:33 back to Jamaica. The only other train left at 7:33, and it was getting windier and colder. A few other stragglers joined us at the platform, also looking like they'd had a strange day. No one carried bags of leftovers.
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