'Tis the season to only turn right.
A few weeks ago, as I drove from Southampton to East Hampton, I started to notice the signs of the coming season. The sun was shining, the crocuses were sprouting, and the birds were chirping. I cracked open the window in my car and let in the warmer air. The news was on the radio, but Vivaldi’s Spring was bursting through my heart.
As I approached Bridgehampton, I had to slow down. The bright sunshine dimmed. The needle on my heart’s recording skipped, then scratched. Oh no! It was the first traffic jam of the season.
On Highway 27, the vernal equinox coincides with what I like to call the congestion equinox, where the volume of vehicles heading eastbound into the villages of Water Mill, Bridgehampton or East Hampton in the mornings is equal to the volume of vehicles heading westbound out of East Hampton, Bridgehampton and Water Mill in the afternoons. We’ve only got the one road here in the Hamptons.
This line of vehicles is our true indication of spring. Instead of robins and daffodils, we have cherry pickers and dump trucks full of mulch. They are heading to the mansions in Sagaponack and on Further Lane to begin the spring-up. The hedges need to be pruned and the burlapped bushes, which resembled Venus de Milo all winter, need to be unwrapped.
The congestion equinox starts in March and after the four long winter months of tranquil commutes, the typical local driver has to make a distressing decision: should she take the back roads?
It’s a difficult choice for our driver. She might be in a rush and can’t wait in the traffic. Yet her detour may not be faster than staying on the main drag. The back roads will take her out of her way, and she can’t drive as fast. But the slow-down might just be caused by a pokey parallel parker and it could be smooth sailing after she drives by. Our driver must balance and weigh all of these knowns and unknowns with the understanding that if she takes to the back roads, she might have to make the dreaded left turn.
During the high season, the left turn onto Highway 27 is the toughest thing we do in the Hamptons. It’s harder than getting a Saturday night reservation at Nick & Toni’s. When my children were learning to drive, my husband and I had to teach them a combination of patience and the requisite resolve to gun the engine when there was the slightest break in the cars. It was scary as hell for them, and for us. There may have been screaming and some tears might have been shed. I don’t want to name names, so I’ll simply say that my husband is not a pretty crier. Yet it is one of our proudest achievements as parents. Because if you can make a left in East Hampton in August, you can truly do anything.
A few weeks ago, right around that first day of spring, my car’s left turn signal wore out. My right turn signal is fine. It made me think that I must make more left turns than right ones. But how can that be? Don’t we make the same amount of turns each direction? My left indicator desperately pulsed, “Fix me! Fix me! Fix me!” And I realized that the reason it broke is because I wait to make lefts far longer than I do to make rights. Sometimes I wait so long, I just give up and turn right. Sometimes I drive to a street with a traffic light because I’ve lost my will to fight.
In the height of the summer, on cloudy days, a simple errand such as going to the hardware store is impossible. When it’s overcast, no one in the Hamptons can stay home and read a book. But even on sunny days a drive from Westhampton to Southampton is unbearable. I have friends in Hampton Bays, but only from October to May. In the summer, they are dead to me.
It’s been like this since the beginning. Southampton was founded in 1640 but East Hampton wasn’t founded until 1648. Why did it take eight years? Again, I don’t want to name names, but I’m guessing it was the slow traffic approaching Wainscott.
On that day in Bridgehampton, I was both elated and sad. The vernal equinox and all it brings: the warmth, the tulips, and the chickadees are wonderful. It means summer is coming. Yay! But the congestion equinox and all it brings: the pool cleaners, the Asplundh tree pruners, and the Soul Cycle BMWs, means summer is coming. Ugh.
Published in The East Hampton Press, April 17, 2019