On Friday morning at 6, three hours before East Hampton Village opened in-person sales of its nonresident beach parking permits to town residents, 20 people in lawn chairs were already waiting at the Emergency Services Building for their chance at one of the coveted $500 passes.
The one-day sale offered town residents living outside village boundaries the opportunity to purchase the passes at last year's rate. If they missed it, they have to wait until Wednesday, Feb. 1, to attempt to purchase a pass online for $750.
The village had 1,500 passes to sell in person on Friday and by 6 p.m., they were sold out. It offered another 1,600 online starting at 9 a.m.; by 11 a.m. Wednesday, there were only 300 left.
In 2022, the entire sale was held online, starting at midnight on Feb. 1. The 3,100 passes sold out in only 11 hours. Afterward, the village heard complaints from senior citizens, who had difficulty navigating the online platform, and others who were miffed at the speed the passes had disappeared.
Village officials hoped this year's one-day sale would be an improvement. And it was, though, at times, it felt a bit like the Buddhist parable of the blind man and the elephant.
In the parable, a group of blind men who don't have any prior experience of an elephant, learn about it by touching different parts. One blind man touches the tusk. Another, it's leathery side. They then describe their varied experiences and have difficulty believing each other.
If you were one of the 20 people in lawn chairs at the Emergency Services Building at 6 a.m. who were let inside to wait in the warm hallway, your experience was wildly different than that of the elderly woman who showed up at 8:30 a.m., had difficulty parking, and then got behind 500 other people already waiting in line.
A larger contrast was felt by the person who rolled up at 11:30 a.m. to find no line at all, plenty of parking, and 300 passes remaining.
Not everyone was angry, and many were pleased; everyone had questions.
"What changed in recent years to make the demand go up?" asked Sara El-Sawy, who stood in line with two friends. "I remember that we used to mail something in and it wasn't stressful. Then they changed it to online during Covid, and now there's this."
"The last few years it's been an online, process," said Jessica Goldstern, down the line. "I just don't understand. It's 2023. There's hundreds of people here."
Bradford Billet, the head of the East Hampton Village Foundation walked the line, "Does anyone need an application?" he asked. Five people within earshot raised their hands. Sarah Amaden, a village trustee, collected car registrations so that the village could photocopy them -- some people had misunderstood the instructions and taken only their original registration and not a photocopy. Those who wanted the reduced rate on a permit needed documentation to prove they were town residents.
It didn't take long for dark humor and information, some incorrect, to flow up and down the line, like in a big game of telephone.
"It's like a dinner across the street, without alcohol," said one man of the price increase. Others wondered where they could find a bathroom.
Some were upset they couldn't purchase two passes at once. They could buy one but would then have to get back in line for the other.
"I have two kids and we take separate cars to the beach," said one woman. "I have to get back on this line?" she asked, incredulously.
Everyone was trying to figure out how long it would all take.
One woman was on crutches. Another elderly man waited patiently, balancing on his cane. Another man drove his black Range Rover into the side of the East Hampton Grill as he attempted to park, a momentary source of amusement for onlookers.
More seriously, an ambulance was called when an elderly woman experienced chest pains.
Police officers controlled traffic at the intersection by the I.G.A. Others helped corral people and keep the integrity of the line, which at one point snaked from the back of the building all the way to North Main Street, wrapping around itself like an Italian sausage.
A man wondered if the lines crossed, a la Ghostbusters, what would happen? "Let's see how the social contract holds when these lines intermingle," he said.
"You know where the beach passes are?" a man yelled across Cedar Street from the East Hampton Historical Farm Museum, where he had parked.
Closer to the Emergency Services Building, Patty Stegman wasn't upset, but wondered about the fairness of the operation. "Maybe it's unfair for the people who can't get here," she said. "We're here because we're crazy. It's the hunt. The joy of saving."
A woman working for the village stepped out of the building near Ms. Stegman and, holding a car registration, called a man's name. She was met with silence. "No?" she said and retreated back inside.
"I'm here over 50 years," said Pat Wilson. "They do nothing for seniors. Why should seniors have to stand on a line, like this? It's absurd. And they should give a discount to seniors. Main Beach is the only beach that has the pavilion where seniors that are on canes can walk up, sit, and watch the ocean."
Indeed, the most common gripe was about the increase in price.
Terry Kidder was not impressed by the one-day discount. "The residents of the Town of East Hampton should have always received a discount on village passes. Part of my tax money goes to the village. I don't understand why they're only doing this now. Aside from the fact that they just jacked up the price 50 percent for nonresidents," he said.
"A $250 hike seems egregious in one year, especially after Covid and whatnot," said Karen Teller. "We've been going to these beaches for 22 years. We love the beach, so here we are. This is what you have to do. It's sort of like a Dead show," she said.
A relative latecomer, Steve Ludsin, strode up to the building, wondering if passes remained.
"They call me the Mayor of Georgica Beach," he said. "I drove all the way in from New York last night. Believe it or not, I'm 74 years old. As a tribute to Georgica Beach, I have to say, I wouldn't look this good were it not for that beach. But $500 to $750? A 50-percent increase?" he questioned.
At 9 a.m., inside, invisible to the hundreds outside, the village had six people begin processing applications. They moved quickly.
By 11:40 a.m. the line was gone, and 300 beach passes were still available.
"I think it went very well," said Mayor Jerry Larsen. "We had a couple of complainers, but for the most part it was compliments and thank yous."
"Obviously we're going to tweak it for next year," he said.