Once upon a time we had a house guest who showed up for breakfast so haggard and forlorn that I took one look at the impressive bags under her eyes and handed her the biggest mug of coffee I could pour.
She took a big sip, thanked me, and said, “I tossed and turned all night. The traffic was just so noisy.”
“Traffic?” I asked. “What traffic? We don’t live anywhere near a highway.”
I took her by the hand, careful not to upset her coffee, and led her upstairs.
“That,” she said. “Hear that?”
“That, my dear Sally [not her real name], is not traffic. That is the ocean.”
Well. Earlier this season I was tidying that room in preparation for a batch of post-pandemic guests when I realized that I couldn’t hear the ocean anymore. The sound of the surf is now drowned out by — yes — traffic.
But the problem these days is not just the quantity of the traffic, it’s the quality.
Oh, we’ve always had our share of bad drivers out here in the Hamptons. There were two kinds: People who were nondriving New Yorkers during the week and drove only on the weekends. Or people who retired from their New York City lives, got cars to drive out here, and didn’t know what they were doing.
These are the kind of clueless drivers who make abrupt turns without signaling or, alternatively, leave their blinkers on for blocks after turning. They sometimes confuse the gas pedal with the brake. They do stop at those red signs that say “stop.” But often fail to check oncoming traffic before stepping on the gas. “But I stopped,” you can imagine them telling the driver of the car they just rammed into. Don’t get me started about their navigation of four-way intersections. Or (gasp) roundabouts.
No, the latest batch of bad Hamptons drivers are the ones who just got here and think they own the place.
I call these the Rage Rovers, after the cars many of them seem to favor.
Trust me, if you see a Range Rover — or a Cadillac Cayenne, or whatever those Mercedes S.U.V.s are called — you’ll want to give it a wide berth. The drivers of these cars will tailgate you and cut you off and honk angrily if you so much as slow for a yellow light. If you’re unfortunate enough to encounter one at night, they will not dim their high beams, even if you toggle yours as a gentle reminder.
My driveway exits onto a heavily traveled street that leads to a popular beach in Amagansett. Heaven forbid a Rage Rover lets me out. She (it is usually a woman driving one of these cars) will refuse to make eye contact, much less allow me to pull in front of her.
I either wait for a pickup truck or workman’s van (they always gesture me forward), or I perform my “It’s my turn” maneuver, which involves smiling and waving while simultaneously pulling out into the teensy gap in front of her car. It helps if you do this while driving a ’98 Toyota.
Once you’ve actually joined the flow of traffic, you are not home free. Not by any means.
I know locals out here who not only plan every route for the back roads but who plan routes using only right turns. Because if you try to turn left, no one — well, except for other locals — will ever let you in. As a recent article in The Star noted (citing a 2020 traffic study), “a driver seeking to make a left turn from Pantigo Place [onto Montauk Highway] has to wait an average of 97.6 seconds in the morning, 242.3 seconds in the afternoon, and 520 seconds on Saturdays.”
I love that they say “520 seconds” instead of 8.67 minutes. Whether seconds or minutes, it’s too long for me. Fortunately, I’m retired and can limit leaving my house by car to once per week, an outing I’ve dubbed “The Vector.” I fill up the car with garbage, drive to the dump (er, “recycling center”), where I unload it, then I make a beeline for the I.G.A./post office/liquor store, where I fill it up again and head on home. Done.
Then I spend the rest of the week sitting on my deck listening to the soothing roar of the traffic. If I concentrate hard enough, I can pretend it’s the ocean.
Alice Henry Whitmore was an advertising copywriter in New York City for many years. She writes a weekly humorous blog at lutheranliar.com and has noticed — thank goodness, she says — a slight lessening of traffic since Labor Day.