Quality Time on Montauk Highway


Photo by Tracy Grathwohl


I have many feelings about Montauk Highway.

The second time I came to the Hamptons, nearly 30 years ago, I was surprised that I still recalled the little villages I had driven through on my first visit to Springs. The white buildings and pretty storefronts had made an immediate imprint on my brain.

The road has given me many memories. Mr. Hockey, my then-boyfriend and current husband, attempted to teach me to drive stick on Montauk Highway. When the hockey pucks came along, we took them to carnivals at the Elks Lodge or next to Carvel.

I have both laughed and cried on Montauk Highway.

Mostly, I’ve cried. I don’t understand why you can’t keep the clutch continuously engaged on a standard transmission. What’s the harm? And, while driving to a carnival is fun for everyone, driving home with slightly nauseous children is not.

So, yeah, I have a lot of feelings about Montauk Highway.

My foremost emotion is avoidance. Especially in the summer, but throughout the year, too. Efficiency is my objective. My time is precious, and Montauk Highway doesn’t respect me or my time.

Luckily, I know every back road and get from East Hampton to the west ide of Southampton without giving Route 27 a glance.

But what am I missing? In 30-odd years of visiting/living here, there are places on this main artery I’ve never been. Last week, I decided to head west and stop anywhere that caught my fancy. Efficiency be damned.

My first stop was Serena and Lily Design Shop in Wainscott, a houseware and furniture store. I wanted to see the tuk tuk parked outside. Sadly, the motorized rickshaw isn’t for sale. Not that I could have driven it; tuk tuks are standard, not automatic. Mr. Hockey gave up on teaching me stick years ago, saving his transmission and our marriage.

I was feeling puckish and stopped in Levain, the bakery in Wainscott, for a cookie. At 6 ounces each, you have to be hungry for a Levain cookie. One bite of the chocolate peanut butter chip was perfect.

I’ve never been to Wyeth, the mid-century furniture shop in Sagaponack. I’m not cool enough for mid-century furniture. They sell candlesticks similar to ones we had in my mid-century childhood home, which I may still have in my millennial basement. I guess that makes me 1 percent cool.

The cookie made me thirsty, so I popped into the Fairway Restaurant at Poxabogue Golf Course and got a milkshake. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” I think what he meant was, “It’s not the journey – it’s the food you eat along the way.” Fairway’s chocolate milkshakes taste good.

After a quick stop at The Exchange thrift shop in Bridgehampton (where I didn’t buy a $10 metal breadbasket), I pulled into the Milk Pail. I shamefully admit I’ve never been, even after years of hearing how good their apple cider donuts are. I bought a cinnamon sugar donut and washed it down with the remaining milkshake. This trip was becoming my body’s westward expansion.

Eating my way to Southampton wasn’t my plan, just a perk. My intended destination was the Behind the Fence Gallery, the stores with the statues of Superman and gorillas in front and a red dragon on the roof. It’s on the one part of Montauk Highway I cannot avoid when getting in and out of the Hamptons. I have driven by it ten thousand times. And every time I have asked myself, and anyone in my car, what is this place?

“Don’t buy Superman,” said Mr. Hockey when I mentioned I was heading to the “statue store.” I didn’t learn its name until I got there. Behind the Fence Gallery doesn’t have a sign – their statues speak for themselves.

Does Mr. Hockey think I don’t know him? Obviously, I would never buy him Superman. He is a Marvel guy, not a DC comic guy. If I was going to buy him anything, it would be Wolverine. Personally, I’d rather buy a brachiosaurus. Because Jurassic backyard.

I parallel-parked next to a fiberglass resin turkey and some farm animals. Superman was standing off to the side. There were some small dinosaurs lined up next to life-size polar bears and unicorns. I’m not sure how they determined the “real-life” size of a unicorn, but it seemed accurate.

Inside was as magical as the unicorn. It was teeming with statues of animals and people, both real and fictional. There were astronauts, Egyptian statues, sharks, gigantic crabs, a room full of Santas, Bruce Lee, Elvis, of course. I didn’t see Wolverine, but they had Deadpool, one of Mr. Hockey’s favorites. I preferred the full-size T-Rex head mounted on the wall. I imagined how it would look above my fireplace. Because Jurassic living room.

Behind the Fence is having a sale, by the way. Superman and my T-Rex head are $2,000 and $899, respectively. A little pricey for me. I didn’t see a brachiosaurus, but it’s on their website (15 feet tall and on sale for $7,299).

The website is convenient if I change my mind about the T-Rex head. I won’t have t schlep all the way there – but I might anyway.

I would rewrite Emerson’s quotation: “It’s the destination and the (tasty) journey, unless there’s traffic, then I’m taking the back roads.”

East Hampton Press, October 2, 2019

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