I’ve lost all my friends. Again.
It’s as if nobody knows me anymore. Guys I’ve palled around with for decades, had breakfast with after an early morning surf session, and passed by their houses to swap coolers or share bait supplies. Now they don’t even acknowledge me.
The last time this happened was 2005. Over the 14 years prior, I’d built up a legion of fairly good friends and acquaintances on the beaches of Southampton and the rocky shores of Montauk. When I’d pull up at False Bar or the Shinny jetty in my 1991 Ford Bronco, with its distinctive blue-and-white pattern available only in that model year, my friends would wave, walk over and lean on the window to chat, or give a nod and a smile when I sidled up to them in the lineup. When I passed another truck I recognized, there was always a mutual wave or thumbs-up, sometimes a honk when the fishing was good.
Then in the fall of 2005, with 168,000 miles, failed power-steering, no air-conditioning or heat and two of three windows inoperable, my beloved Bronco that had been my office, my bedroom and shelter from innumerable storms, was finally put out to pasture.
It was a painful loss. And then I lost all my friends, too.
The first day I had my new/used gray 2004 Toyota Tundra, I pulled up to the rocky point at Jones Reef where the sharpies were all gathered, beaming the proud smile of a new car owner and expecting looks of happy surprise and exclamations of congratulations from my longtime “friends.”
Nobody smiled. Nobody waved or gave a thumbs-up. Most of the guys standing around gabbing about the morning’s fishing didn’t even look up, and those that did gave a furtive glance and turned back to the water, the way they did when one of the legion of hated out-of-towners, the pilgrims who flock to the Mecca of surfcasting in the fall, arrived.
Nobody recognized me. In a world where faces are often obscured behind jacket hoods and wool caps pulled low against the elements, my truck had become the context in which people—even those that I had known only casually but for a long time—recognized me.
When I got out of the truck that day in 2005 and started walking toward one knot of guys leaning against Joe Marco’s truck, they all hushed and lowered their heads, the way the locals instinctively do when some goog fresh off the highway approaches, certain to ask, “How are they running?” It wasn’t until I paused in their midst and didn’t say anything that they looked up with an apprehensive acknowledgment of my presence and mild shock that I hadn’t asked a stupid question, and finally came to the foggy realization that they recognized me.
“New truck,” the Plumber grumbled in his usual gruff, still clearly not exactly certain which of his acquaintances I was. Rich Michelson, whose late father had taught me most of what I knew about fishing in Montauk when I was in high school and college, made a comment about the quality of Toyotas. Neither of those guys has basically ever recognized me since that day.
Having been a waiter for many years, I was familiar with the contextual recognition issue, since I often saw regular customers who knew my first and last names and many intimate details about my life, but never recognized me in the grocery store. But on the beach it was an odd feeling to get over since the regulars so often ignore or have disdain for those they’re not familiar with. Not being much of a chatter, I generally shrugged it off and went about my business, but there was that slight twang of disappointment in the back of the mind at not being “known.”
That gray Tundra never got the same recognition that my old Bronco had, especially in Montauk (partly because my job at this newspaper meant I wasn’t on the beach in Montauk every single morning from September to Christmas, the way I was for the first 10 years I owned that Bronco). But, slowly, some guys started to recognize me again when I’d pull up and, in the last four or five years, I started getting a wave when passing on the roadway from most.
Then the Tundra died on the field of battle, felled by an over-tired mother not paying attention on a snowy early morning in January.
I have seen my friends on the road every morning since, though they never see me. My new used Tundra arrived this week after a long scouring of used car listings, and the process of earning back all my old friends begins anew. This truck is bigger and a bolder color, so maybe the recognition factor will be higher.
I’ll wave either way.
Happy birthday, Fiddler. Catch ’em up.
Waterfowl Hunters’ Party
Ducks Unlimited’s Eastern Suffolk Chapter will put on its annual springtime barbecue and raffle on Wednesday, May 15, at the Water Mill Community Club in Water Mill. Tickets are $35 for the all-you-can-drink, all-you-can-eat festivities.
Raffle packages are available and the Water Mill boys always rustle up a big selection of working waterfowl gear and guns for this event. Word is six guns will be raffled off. The great food is produced by Randy Riess of 320 Elm and Mark Borucke and Don Grodski.