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Guestwords: Paradise Found and Lost

Wed, 05/22/2024 - 12:12

I have been visiting Montauk since the early 1960s, and over the years I have seen many changes. I am no writer, and my message here is to convey my perspective on how Montauk has changed into something that is bigger than all of us.

When I was a small child, my family would vacation in Montauk and take weekend trips to fish in this unspoiled, quaint little place. I was fortunate in business during the early 1980s and wanted to live there full time. My objective was to sportfish and jump in my boat anytime I wanted. I rented a few locations for the summer, never finding that perfect one.

Everything changed for me in 2007, when I found the right spot. I was in heaven. It was a year-round apartment with dockage for my boat on premises and a service marina a few steps away. Near my apartment was a great restaurant and entertainment, too.

The housing was old, as was the dock, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to fish and enjoy the peace and quiet. The family I rented from let me do anything I wanted with no restriction. They were very good to me. Whenever the weather kept my boat at the dock, I would spend time fixing things around the building and property. I am a very tidy person.

I loved the location and didn’t let the little things bother me, even when others questioned why I was living there. Since my housing was full time, I considered myself a local, even though I didn’t get involved with town politics because fishing was the real reason for my being there. I befriended many people, the very rich as well as the transient, all with fishing in mind. Montauk is one of the top locations to fish in the world, and probably will remain that way with proper conservation.

Knowing what I know now, I could have and should have bought the entire block to make a dead-end street just for fishermen, as big changes would start to invade my little slice of heaven, beginning in the summer of 2013.

Over the years, families would rent apartments near me, either for the week or for the summer. They would ask about Montauk’s history, fishing, and things to do there. These families sometimes had children or grandchildren, just looking to get away from it all. I would go fishing and often get back between 1 and 6 a.m., so I was considerate, staying quiet as people were sleeping in both apartments next to me.

Slowly the change began, with young couples or friends renting for the weekend on the pretense of double occupancy. A few hours after check-in, their friends would arrive with air mattresses, and before you knew it, 10 to 12 people would be staying in that apartment with no regard to whatever they said or did to offend others. When the owner of this place wasn’t around, the evenings could be a free-for-all. Sometimes the owner would catch on and promptly send these people packing, but that did not happen often, and the money was much more important.

Gradually sleepy little Montauk became invaded by what I will refer to as the Gen Z people. This age group was not interested in anything the place had to offer, as the families before had been, and were the rudest, crudest, drunk zombies the likes of which I didn’t imagine existed.

The bulk of the Gen Zs live with family and have little to no ambition, as they stand back to wait for the windfall inheritance of $68 trillion from their baby boomer parents and family. The Gen Zs know nothing about crossing over age-gap lines and giving respect to someone older. There are some things a smartphone just can’t teach you. Somehow these people were raised to be culturally different from my generation, and should have constant supervision. For the Gen Zs, the party starts at 11 p.m., ending mostly when the sun starts to come up.

As the years went by, slowly there seemed to be more and more Gen Zs taking over Montauk, including every apartment around me, until I was the “odd guy.” These people were making it as uncomfortable as they could for me so they could have my apartment for their friends, telling me that right to my face.

One afternoon, several of these people walked up to me as I was sitting on my patio and asked what I was doing there, as I was old enough to be their grandfather. I hesitated for a short moment and chuckled as if to say, “You’re a funny guy!” With that they laughed and walked away.

I was never rude or hostile to these people because I wasn’t going to be able to teach them anything. I got up each day and prepared the things I needed to engage in the fun of sportfishing. It is sad that the art of fishing is becoming lost, as the next generation has no interest in learning it.

As the baby boomers leave and die off, leaving the town with this problem, the future is uncertain, but I think the future is now. For Montauk to be desired again a solution must be found that will produce the most money and harmony for everyone. The idea for the locals is to add money to the revenue stream, but I think they don’t fully understand it. The transients who visit bring in money for temporary housing, food, and drinking. A full-time summer fisherman will bring money for long-term housing, food, dockage, marina maintenance, and thousands of dollars in fuel.

In the late summer of 2020, my wife and children came to visit me, and we entered into a long discussion about my future in Montauk. My family stressed to me that it was time for me to admit my relationship with Montauk was over and it was time for me to move on. A couple of weeks later I arranged for dockage of my boat far away from Montauk. I knew for a long time that this day was coming, but it was difficult to leave the place I loved so much. I found it painful to pack away some of the treasures I collected over the years, but I knew it was for the best.

The final walk to my dock and untying my boat for the last time were not easy. I slowly exited the harbor and put my boat into the wind at the Montauk Lighthouse, knowing I would probably never return.

John Suydam lives in Patchogue.


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