I admit I couldn’t come up with a topic for this month’s blog post so I put it out to my Facebook friends/followers and one suggested I write about life on Long Island. See, that’s the first thing you have to know. Unlike people who live in Cincinnati or Wichita or even New York, we live on Long Island.
So, here are a few things I love about my home:
The food. You can’t get better pizza anywhere, and there is literally a pizzeria within walking distance of anywhere you live here. And I’m not talking about Domino’s or Pizza Hut or any of those other franchise chains. We’re all about the small business pizza owner here. I drive 2.5 miles to work every day, on one main road, and I pass three pizzerias on my way! I could probably give up everything else if I moved, but the pizza is a deal-breaker.
Transplanted Long Islanders tell me the must-have egg sandwiches are not available anywhere else. Luckily, I can make my own at home. Start with a seeded roll, layer on grilled ham or turkey or bacon or no meat, if that’s your preference (I usually go with the ham), two eggs prepared anyway you want (over easy, please – with the yolk still drippy), cheese if that’s your thing, and your favorite condiments (most people go with SPK: salt, pepper, ketchup. Ketchup on eggs is sacrilege, in my book.) Like pizza, you can find these delights at any bagel shop or delicatessen on your way to work. The good places will throw in a coffee and small orange juice for a great morning meal!
And don’t get me started on bagels. (Okay, fine.) Like our pizza, our bagels are the best and readily available. You want flavors? We got ‘em: egg, onion, sesame, everything, cinnamon raisin, French toast, blueberry, strawberry, even rainbow bagels, and the St. Patrick’s Day tradition of green bagels! Grab a dozen and some hand-whipped cream cheese for a feast that can’t be beat.
Location, location, location! If I drive west, I wind up in one of the most exciting cities in the world: New York. I’m an hour’s ride by train or car from Broadway plays, museums, zoos and aquariums, world-class shopping, or sightseeing. Driving east, I hit the Hamptons and Montauk (fun fact: Montauk is the inspiration for my fictional town of Snug Harbor in my Calendar Girls series) for five-star beaches,fishing, summer fun, vineyards, microbreweries, farm fresh fruits and veggies, and quiet but lovely off-season getaways. In my own sleepy little town, I’m a five-minute drive from stunning sunsets at our local beach.
We’re quirky. We have buildings shaped like a giant duck, like castles, and like a pirate ship. We’re the home of the world-famous Grucci Fireworks family and the Amityville Horror House.
We’re historical. The first English-speaking settlement in New York was founded in Southold in the 17th century. During the Revolutionary War, our residents were spies who aided Washington’s forces in New York. America’s first poet, Walt Whitman, was a born-and-bred Long Islander. The first golf course was built here. Sorry, Texas, but we had the first cattle ranch. First lighthouse? Montauk Point. The first supermarket was our very own King Kullen. And our ancestors drove to it on the first parkway. We probably suffered through the first traffic jams, too. Charles Lindburgh’s famous transatlantic flight began here. President Theodore Roosevelt had his summer home here, as did the Vanderbilts, the Gettys, and other wealthy families of the late 19th century. In 1965, 7-11 introduced the first coffee-to-go on Long Island (you’re welcome, caffeine-aficionados!). The Apollo lunar module was built here. The science of DNA was started at Cold Spring Harbor Labs. The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind had its start here (and is still located here. Go to the local mall early on any morning and you can see the trainer volunteers walking new recruits).
Long Island is not, in actuality, an island; it’s a peninsula. Shaped like a fish, it’s 23 miles from north to south at its widest point and 118 miles long. We’re the most populated island in the U.S., and if we were a state, we’d be the 13th largest in the country. It’s not cheap to live here. In fact, we have some of the highest real estate prices, property taxes, and utility bills nationwide. But it’s the place that I (along with about 8 million other people) call home.
Here’s how one of my characters in DUET IN SEPTEMBER, Book I of the Calendar Girls Series describes her hometown:
After dropping Nia off at her store, I considered my options. Going back to bed was out of the question. But if I planned to forgo my usual Saturday morning routine in favor of an early start to the day, I would need coffee. Stat.
As I cruised down Main Street, I sought out a quick spot for a caffeine infusion. My mistake. This was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, one of the peak times for tourists in Snug Harbor. I passed the block where Mama’s Hen House served breakfast and confirmed my worst fears. Crowds of tourists loitered outside the restaurant on the three park benches, window shopping at the realtor’s next door, or chatting with the others waiting for one of the two dozen tables inside. Their children zipped up and down the sidewalk or slouched beside their parents. Strollers, which were not allowed inside due to the cramped interior, sat parked in rows near the entrance. Strike one.
Two blocks later, the line at the local bakery snaked the length of a football field. Really? These people were willing to wait over an hour for a few Danish? Sorry, I didn’t have the kind of patience needed to infiltrate that mob scene. Strike two.
One last place to check. And I couldn’t even squeeze into the parking lot at our local convenience store, thanks to the multitude of beachgoers buying ice for their coolers, twelve packs of canned soda, a quick breakfast, or all of the above. So much for my getting coffee to go. I’d have to wait until I got home for my morning jolt. Which, when I took my sweatpants and giant t-shirt into account, was probably a very good idea.
I made a beeline for home and soon enough, sat at my kitchen table with a toasted English muffin and my longed-for coffee. Once I finished breakfast and washed my few dishes, I stared at the clock above my sink. Now what? It wasn’t ten o’clock yet, and I had an entire day stretched out in front of me with nothing to do. I couldn’t hit the beach for the same reason I had to come home for breakfast: the plethora of tourists. Ditto for the shops, which would be jam-packed with those seeking that last-minute souvenir of the summer they’d spent in Snug Harbor. I should probably throw some laundry into the washer, but I cringed at the idea of spending my day off doing housework. Besides, it was far too beautiful a day to stay cooped up indoors.
A bike ride might be nice. And…I sneaked a peek at my thighs in my shortie pajama bottoms…beneficial. Yes. A little fresh air and some cardiovascular exercise. This excursion would also serve as my “something different” today. Win/win/win.
I quickly dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, before my lazy side could convince me if God wanted us to exercise, He wouldn’t have invented the Lifetime Channel. In the garage, I found my bike penned in by my artificial Christmas tree, the snow blower, and my ski equipment. Okay, so it’d been a while since I’d opted for two-wheel transport rather than four. When I first came home from Albany, Daddy’s deteriorating health had kept Nia and me running back and forth to the hospital. After his death and the funeral, I’d invested all my time into becoming the new Wainwright at the helm of Wainwright Financial. Such a dismal time…
Enough. I shook off the memories and wrestled the poor bike free. Once I rolled it out, I checked the tires and noticed the front one was flat. I ventured back into the garage for my manual pump and filled the tire with air. Fifteen minutes later, I sailed down my driveway, aimed for the circular road that ran around the marina. A salty breeze kissed my cheeks as I rode leisurely through my neighborhood.
I waved to Mrs. Seifert as I pedaled by where she knelt, weeding the garden of red and white impatiens around her mailbox. “Good morning.”
“Morning, Paige,” she called after me. “Enjoy your ride.”
Snug Harbor earned its name because the town bordered large water on two sides. On the southern coast, the Atlantic Ocean offered miles of pristine beach with soft white sand, ideal for the tourist trade. The rocky northern coast sat at the edge of the Long Island Sound, creating a perfect waterway for fishermen. Whereas the south end of town prospered due to multi-million dollar properties, five star restaurants, and upscale boutiques, this side—the north crescent—catered to a very different clientele. No-frills motels, bars, delicatessens that opened at four in the morning to serve breakfast for early rising mariners, bait shops, and takeout restaurants ruled here.
The north side also had a wilder beauty than the south, thanks to less development and a more rural flavor. At least, that was my opinion. Buildings were erected farther apart, with lots of open space between. Bulrushes caught the breeze and rustled. Seagulls hovered, squawking as they sought leftover food to scavenge. Across the rocky inlet, the Coast Guard station stood sentry with its lighthouse and flapping flags.
The one exception to this pristine homage to Mother Nature was Coffield’s Wharf, a miniature version of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Our replica boasted a popular clam bar where tourists and locals could grab fresh-caught seafood and pitchers of frosty beer while dining outdoors at picnic tables. For higher end clientele, there was also one five-star restaurant with spectacular water views. The various outbuildings housed a few souvenir shops, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, an expensive toy store, and of course, a Coffield’s Bluff wine store that offered free tastings on weekends. When Nia and I were kids, our parents often took us to the wharf in the evenings for ice cream or fried clams, or just to walk over to the docks next door to see the party boats sailing back with the day’s catch. At ten on a Saturday morning, I figured most of the crowds would be elsewhere: the beach, breakfast (obviously), aboard party boats, or wherever else tourists went on beautiful sunny days.
The simple joys of childhood echoed around me as I cycled toward the wharf. I passed the old elementary school Nia and I had attended. Behind the school sat the playground where I’d had my first kiss from a boy. Darren Simmons had been eight and I was seven. His family moved to Texas a few weeks later and for a while, I thought my scandalous behavior was the cause of their abrupt departure from Snug Harbor. When I’d finally confessed my deep dark sin to my mother, she’d laughed and explained Darren’s father had been offered a transfer from his company. The peck on the lips I’d shared with Darren was probably his way of saying goodbye. Of course, only a year later, my mother became the poster child for “scandalous behavior,” but at the time, her comments made perfect sense.
On the next block, I rode past the public library, a frequent hangout in my school years—before the existence of the Internet.
Everywhere I looked along my route sparked a memory to make me smile.
Why hadn’t I done this before now? My legs pumped for an uphill climb, then relaxed my feet on the pedals as I coasted down the other side. I felt exhilarated, powerful, and a little bit sexy. No wonder people raved about the endorphin rush that came from exercising. This was amazing!
A higher hill came into view, and I shifted gears to prepare. I had to pedal a bit harder than I’d anticipated, but I pushed myself, knowing I could coast down the other side. Once I reached the other side. Funny how I never noticed how steep this road was when I drove it every day in my SUV. My thigh muscles ached, and I actually rose off the seat to get more power into my pedaling. Sweat broke out on my forehead. Still, the bike and I climbed. My pace slowed with my exertion, making every motion harder to complete. At last, I crested the hill, but only found a plateau. No downhill break to catch my breath. I had to push on.
A few yards ahead of me, a man walked a large, lean dog near the curb that ran along the shoreline. The man had a great build with broad shoulders packed into a tight t-shirt and long, muscular legs in khaki shorts. Nice buns, I contemplated as I drew closer. A good handful, but no excess.
Beeeeeeep! A car horn blared from behind me, and I swerved to keep the front tire straight. The bike veered onto the road’s shoulder and slid on a patch of sand, nearly upending me.
The expensive convertible roared past me at a speed I surmised was double the town’s limit. The blond driver, her long hair whipping with the wind, flipped me the bird as she sped on down the road.
“Nice,” I shouted after her. “I hope you get arrested!” Where was a cop when I needed one?
“Paige, is that you?”
Oh, good God. Mr. Yummybuns looked at me over his tasty shoulder, and I groaned. Why had I wished for a cop right now?
“Hey, Sam.” I tried to play nonchalant as I braked my bike next to him. “Did you see that moron?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but I’m off-duty right now. If it makes you feel any better, though, Tonya’s at the top of the next ridge with a radar gun.”
Imagining the blonde’s upcoming surprise, I laughed. “No lie?”
“Nope.” Sam’s grin sparked fireworks in my belly.
In the dim hallway last night, I’d found his smile dazzling, but in the light of day, I could easily understand Nia’s attraction to the rest of him. He looked like a sun-bronzed god, all sinew and golden skin with eyes the color of honey and the lushest lashes I’d ever seen on a man.
If only he were mute…
As if to introduce itself, the fawn-colored dog suddenly lurched forward to sniff at my sneakers.
“Daisy, get down.” Sam yanked on the leash.
“Hi there, sweetheart. Aren’t you a love?” I bent to rub the pooch between its folded ears, then looked up at Sam again. “I didn’t know you had a dog.”
“Daisy won’t hurt you. She’s big but loveable.”
“Daisy?” I quirked my eyebrows. “You named this huge beast Daisy?”
“Not my choice. She’s a rescue from the Greyhound Liberation. Her full name is Daisy Chain of Love.”
“Wow.” I slipped my hand under Daisy’s angular jaw, and she snuffled. “I’m impressed.”
“Don’t be,” he replied. “All the racers get goofy names.”
Actually, I was referring to the fact that he had a softness for any living thing. But I wisely bit back the insult. “How long have you had her?” I asked instead.
“Two years.” Daisy licked his hand, and he patted her fondly. “If you’re thinking about a pet, I could probably hook you up with the rescue group. They’re always looking to place retired greyhounds.”
Me with a dog? I shook my head. I couldn’t even keep a houseplant thriving. “I don’t think I’d have the energy for a former racing star.”
“The keyword there is ‘former.’ They’re retired so they actually don’t do much running. And you’ve got a decent-sized yard for a dog to get out his ya-yas. Besides, you look like you could handle anything.” He glanced at my bike, then the road ahead, as if he didn’t want me to see the smirk on his face from his attempt to compliment me.
Yeah, sure. Suddenly he’s worried about hurting my feelings. Get a grip, Paige.
“Where you headed?” he asked, gaze still fixed on the horizon.
“The wharf, then home again.”
He whistled through his teeth. “Oh, right. But you don’t have the energy to keep up with a greyhound. That’s like…what? Eight miles round trip?”
Eight miles?! I swallowed a gasp and forced a casual smile. No way did I want him to know I had no idea how long a trek I’d planned for myself. “Yeah, something like that.”
“You training for some kind of marathon?”
“Sort of,” I lied. “The 10K Twin Fork Ride is next month. I figured I might as well start getting ready.” Wow. Could I get any more ridiculous? No way I had the slightest intention of participating in that torturefest.
“Where’s your water?” He gestured to my bike frame, then looked up at the sun and shielded his eyes with the flat of his hand.
Water? My gaze followed his to the empty wire rack where a water bottle should rest beneath my seat. Oops. I forgot about bringing something to drink on my morning trek. I wasn’t about to let him get the better of me, though. “I’ll pick up a bottle when I get to the wharf,” I replied with a dismissive air.
His brows rose in twin arcs. “The wharf is still two miles from here. You’ll dehydrate long before you get there.” He jerked his head in the direction of the side street. “Come back to the house with Daisy and me, and I’ll grab you a coupla cold ones to go.”
If this were a movie, the creepy music would start building right now. What should the naïve heroine do? Go home with the monster so as not to hurt his feelings?
Lucky for me, this wasn’t a movie. I had no qualms about turning him down. “No, that’s okay. I’ll be fine.”
“Do I scare you, Paige?”
I snorted to hide my surprise. “Puh-leez.” He thought I was afraid of him? Or was he actually daring me to come to his house?
“Good. Then you’ve got no good reason to decline. And the break will give you time to reapply your sunscreen, too, since it looks like your face is starting to burn.”
“My…” Sunscreen. Of course. Something else I forgot. Jeez, I was a moron. But I’d committed to this stupidity and wouldn’t give Sam Dillon the satisfaction of catching me in my lies.
“Forgot that as well, huh?”
“I didn’t forget,” I retorted. “I just ran out and decided to pick up more when I got my water.”
“Uh-huh.” His knowing grin raised hackles on my nape. Note to self: don’t try to lie to a cop. “Come on. Let’s get you properly outfitted for your ‘training.’”
“It’s really not necessary,” I said lamely.
“Yeah, it is. Your sister would never forgive me if you wound up in the hospital and I could have prevented it.”
Nia. Again. I sighed my defeat and pushed my bike forward. “Then I guess I’ll take you up on your hospitality. Thanks, Sam.”
As I followed him and his dog, I had the uneasy feeling I’d just agreed to visit the devil in his private circle of hell.