I have seen a Jitney bus parked in a narrow street in Portland, Maine. I didn’t know what it was doing there. From that trip to Portland I only remember a bar close to the port, the lighthouse, an ice cream store, the story of a blue lobster told by a tour guide on a tour bus, the front of the house of Longfellow and that Jitney bus parked on one of its streets.
Why? Because the Jitney is one of the symbols of my first wanderings at The End of Long Island. It is the magical word that connected me to a land I barely knew when I first came here, in the winter of 2007.
While I was a student in Manhattan I read a lot about New York. I lived in Brooklyn and did not have a car, but somehow, perhaps through the newspapers I understood that the word “Hampton” represented a certain mix of the words summer, comfort and high class. Once I asked my roommate in Brooklyn about the way to get to East Hampton and she told me that there was a bus that would charge me a lot of money for a trip that could last up to 3 hours. She touched her forehead in a gesture that summarized the craziness of even thinking about paying so much, in order to go to a beach so far away.
Every area in New York State worthy to be known, I visited for the first time with my wife, who showed me places where she did her own wanderings when she was a kid or a teenager.
For example: Cold Spring, the town by the river where we traveled together on a weekend, by train from the Bronx, was a place where she has been before on a hiking trip. The FDR Home and the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, another short getaway, were places where she had been before, as a kid. We went to New Paltz and the Ashokan Reservoir, and she had vague memories of a trip she made with her parents when she was a little brat.
To me, the rivers, lakes, castles and farms on our way to those places were a revelation: an unknown world of views I never imagined were so close to the city where I had been living for almost 6 years.
Of course, the biggest discovery was on Long Island, the towns all the way to the east. I had read some stories about East Hampton and Montauk: New Yorkers had been visiting the area for many decades, and have transformed the region in their favorite spot for the Summer.
There is a lot of money in the Hamptons (Bridgehampton, Southampton, Amagansett, East Hampton). More than anything a stupid Peruvian with no real knowledge of money –like me– could have imagined. However, the area is much more than big houses. Its beaches are surrounded by vegetation and dunes, and the local communities have fought hard to keep the area free of the big hotels and huge resorts, protecting their wildlife and a certain vibe of primitive beauty.
This region was –it is not anymore– a collection of fishermen villas and a farmer’s region. Most of the farms became mansions and gardens, and the fisherman left because of the high cost of living. However, a bunch of anglers still leave Montauk every day to get lobster, fish and sea food. And between those big mansions, the beaches and the golf courses you will find farmers selling their produce at the side of the street, in a kiosk next to their farm.
There is wildlife everywhere. The deer can show up at any road around the town, the rabbits will stand still, their ears up while the cars pass next to the lawns where they rest; the wild turkeys will run to hide behind trees and bushes, and once in a while there will be a line of cars on Three Mile Harbor, waiting to let a turtle get to the other side of the road.
During the summer, the fishermen standing on the rocks next to the inlets, by the piers and hills, next to the water, are part of the landscape. There are also the tourists, everywhere, the campers, the surfers and the local people who do their best to smile and not be bothered.
Also, once in a while, roaming through these streets, there are people like me: strangers who belong to a different world, taken by their daydreaming to the first morning they stepped on a corner in Manhattan, to take a Jitney bus, all the way to The End.