When the Long Island Railroad train finally dawdled into Montauk, three hours from Penn Station NYC, I leapt off the platform and charged up the hill with the big, interesting building at its peak. As I crested it and stood for a moment admiring the matronly grandeur of Montauk Manor, a fluffy red bird bounced through the brushes — doink, doink, doink — and like a damn fool I followed it, past the tennis courts and up to the cemetery gate, where it fluttered into the woods. So I ambled over to the road, recording the foreign chatter of birds on my camera. I had no plans for Montauk, really, just a half-assed idea on the train to pick up a flask of whiskey (guessing correctly that the peninsula would be cold) and go walking. I figured that if I followed the more frequently trafficked streets for a mile or two, I'd inevitably find someone willing to sell me some liquor and directions.
An hour and a half later, I had not even seen a house of commerce, much less one purveying grog. I was, in fact, pretty much lost. My stupid impetuousity and disdain for paper maps is to blame, but a few other factors compounded the problem: first, the residential streets of Montauk were laid out by a retarded child with an Etch-a-Sketch; second, Montaukers thought it would be fucking hilarious to name all their streets "South F_" (Fulton, Fairview, Fairmont, Forrest, Forbes...); and third, the day was so overcast that saying with any certainty where the sun sat in the sky was a mug's game.
Eventually a sign pointed to a golf course, and two or three miles later in the Pro Shop lobby I found a map. Of sorts. Captain Kidd's map to his undiscovered Montauk treasure was likely better. This was a cartoon map, drawn to a variable scale, where some parts were intentionally ten times bigger than other parts, and where really I'm being generous in using the word 'scale' at all. Rarely have reality and its cartographical representation so radically diverged. Still, it was enough to get me in to the E streets (Ellsworth, Essex, Edgemere, Edison, Embassy...), which if I'd followed south would theoretically have landed me in the Plaza, where I'm certain merchants were just lining up to sell me a drop of Scottish ambrosia.
But I was jack of Montauk. The penultimate train out of town left in twenty minutes, so I hooved north back to the station.
It wasn't a complete loss, though. The birdsong on those otherwise silent backstreets is worth hearing. I almost walked straight into a bevy of deer, grazing someone's front lawn. I saw hand-painted signs that read "Hippies, use back door" and "Freedom is not free", and a hundred million U.S. flags. Plus, the train ride is beautiful, in its idiosyncratic way, threading through skeletal woods with their thick orange carpets, punctuated by discarded Budweiser cans and fridges and car doors and water bikes — all the oddly harmonious detritus of pragmatic humans living on the fringe of beauty and the metropolis.
Joseph | 16 Mar 2008