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The Shipwreck Rose: Car Talk

Wed, 08/02/2023 - 14:04

Northwest Harbor is warm as a bath, warmer than the air when there’s a breeze, and for some reason I haven’t yet determined, a body such as mine — “plump” is the descriptor of choice, plump and white as Churchill’s “soft, white underbelly of Europe” — floats in Northwest Harbor with exceptional ease, face turned up to the far blue sky and silently scudding clouds. Perhaps this has to do with the salinity level of Northwest Harbor, shallow and still as it is; I don’t know, but no windshield-wipering of arms is required to float, just cast your head back in the water so it covers your ears. I float with my sunglasses on.

In the late afternoon on Saturday — or may have been Friday, I have been a bit vague on dates since my extended hospital stay earlier this summer, as my editor (who discovered with consternation that I’d forgotten it was Tuesday, deadline day, last week) can attest — I strolled down to the sandy patch that faces the inner harbor, in my flip-flops, carrying a copy of “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories” by Penelope Lively and two Turkish beach towels, one for sitting on and the other for drying off. That’s when I came upon the stranded Tesla.

Someone — an optimist, an automotive optimist — had navigated their black Tesla Model S off the asphalt of the Northwest Harbor County Park parking lot, turned its nose onto the unpaved path between the bayberry bushes and tall reeds, and driven along toward the beach, where — the tire tracks said — they had attempted to pull a U-turn on the soft, white sand between water’s edge and dunes. The driver was gone.

I stood and gazed contentedly at the Tesla for a moment. (It’s always gratifying to witness other people’s terrible parking, is it not? Admit it. I chuckled softly to myself.) The Tesla sat alone in a shallow pit dug out by its wheels, evidence of the driver’s misguided attempt to free it from the sand trap. I considered taking a snapshot of the Tesla on my iPhone and sending it to Kook Hampton — the Instagram page dedicated to shaming people, mainly tourists and city people, who do idiotic things in public, mainly in cars — but I thought better of it.

The older you get, the more you realize that bad drivers frequently have a reason for their seemingly inexplicable (terrible, shameful) maneuvers. We’ve all shouted insults through our own windscreen, in the general direction of someone going 25 in a 40 mile-per-hour zone, only to pass them in a fit of road irritation and realize they are in their 90s and doing the best they can. A person who drives a Tesla onto the powdery sand of the dunes is ignorant of the qualities of beach sand, yes, but that just makes them uninformed . . . a newcomer to beach driving . . . not necessarily a raging moron or a monster. They’re probably not from around here, but that’s not a crime.

So much of our time, especially in the summer, is taken up with running into (by happenstance or because we’re actively looking for it) proof positive that strangers are total idiots. Fools in very expensive cars make U-turns in the middle of Main Street, in front of the Stony Clover boutique. Imbeciles throw bags of household trash into public bins. Halfwits make lefts out of the Reutershan parking lot. No one (else) has any clue — no clue! whatsoever! — about the highway rules of right of way when you come to an intersection.

I’m no more virtuous, certainly, than any other local on the subject of how dumb everyone else is; I’m a monster of judgment. I’m just getting older, and therefore have had plenty of opportunities to learn how wrong I can be.

In the skewed context of “the Hamptons,” my own car, a Honda CR-V, is humble, indeed, although it’s actually the only new vehicle I’ve ever owned (that is, leased) in my life. It’s a definite upgrade from the horrible, used, dark-green Chevrolet minivan I drove for a couple of years, having piloted it home from Nova Scotia through the states of Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut with my two small, sweaty, and irritable children strapped into car seats in the back. That minivan did damage to my self-esteem.

If I won the Lotto, what I’d prefer would be an electric Bronco or Toyota 4Runner. Do they make e-Broncos?

Being, as I say, a monster of judgmentalism, however, I do look down my nose at people who invest too heavily in cars, monetarily or psychologically. A grown adult should not expect their automobile to speak for them in lieu of a personality. (These Lamborghini owners are the spiritual cousins of people who expect their choice of hat to define them. The cowboy hat and captain’s cap wearers, who are to be pitied.) A too-fancy car is such a blatant grab for status that it negates the accrual of any actual status, I.M.H.O. I’m such a snob — like, a real snob — that I tell my kids the real rich people, the real elite, are driving Subarus and perhaps Volvos, but never a Lamborghini or even a Porsche.

Ferraris and Bentleys and Maseratis are so commonplace around here that the kids know the model names and refer to them by snazzy shortened sobriquets: a 458 Italia, a Lambo, a Mazz. I have only just noticed this July how driving my Honda, out here, marks me as a member of, um, basically, an underclass. Having anything less than a Range Rover, Audi, or BMW places you visibly — these days in the Hamptons — among the toiling classes. I will admit I find this annoying. Didn’t everyone, even names in The Blue Book and the Social Register, drive American-built station wagons in the 1970s of my childhood? Maybe a Woodie station wagon? At most a Mercedes sedan?

Nettie and Teddy and I play a car game when we’re out driving. You have two minutes, during which you have to select a car from the oncoming traffic that will be your car, and if you don’t choose one within two minutes, you are stuck with the next to pass. I can never decide, from among the floodtide of Audis, BMWs, and Teslas — enviable cars, but so common now as to have lost any special appeal — and end up with the booby-prize car, usually a panel truck from a pool-cleaning service. Once I “won” a five-ton, self-unloading potato-harvest truck this way.

Yesterday, on Main Street, driving in the right-hand lane (the lane that’s next to the row of parked cars), I had to slow down to allow a snowy-haired octogenarian with a cane in one fist — and her car door open into the roadway — to ease herself back into her driver’s seat. I had to come to a stop as she shifted her hip into the seat then used her left hand to drag her left leg back into the car. There was a red light at the intersection of Main and Newtown, and the lane of traffic on my left was at a halt, bumper-to-bumper. That is the moment when a young man behind me began to honk and shout. The light turned green, and the young man screeched his way around my Honda to force his way into the left lane, which began moving again, and as he passed me — the octogenarian finally swinging her car door shut — he screamed “F- you!” and leaned over in his seat to make sure I saw his middle finger. Okay, HE was an idiot.

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