Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lawn Guy Land

Hi all. I’m just back from my first-ever trip to Long Island and the Hamptons. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “What’s a frugal girl like you doing in a place like that?” Well, it’s simple. It’s November. The off-season is a great time to travel to expensive vacation destinations.

I felt like an explorer to a foreign and strange land trying to find out everything I could about Lawn Guy Land in the 2 days I was there. This was my first-ever trip to eastern NY. I had been to western (or Upstate) New York before but the Finger Lakes is not exactly the area people think of when they think of New York. I did not go to New York City firstly because I was staying 60 miles away out on the Island and secondly, because the marathon was going on and I wasn’t running it.

Let’s start with the day of departure. I left Chicago via Midway airport. Security through MDW was fine on a Saturday morning. Chuckles’s awesome car seat did not fit through the x-ray and was subjected to advanced interrogation techniques. I almost wish they had waterboarded it because it is just that dirty. I brought my umbrella stroller to hold the two car seats plus diaper bag. It did a serviceable job.

Our flight was not full so we had the whole row to ourselves. Car seats are only installed in the window seat. The way the belts buckle on your lap means that the buckle is directly in the middle of the children’s backs when the seat belt is used to install a car seat. Bobo was quite enarmored with unlimited access to apple juice and tiny bags of cookies (and fruit snacks). The kids were awesome fliers.

It was a clear day and I could see the following things from the airplane: all of Chicago and its skyline, my work, where we take our wave runner on Lake Michigan, Michigan City, Kalamazoo, Detroit, Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, Ohio, Lake Erie, Ontario, Cleveland, Buffalo, Niagara Falls!!!, Lake Ontario (that’s 4 of the 5 Great Lakes…just HOME, no S), Albany, mountains, snow, Connecticut (which has lakes with some kind of odd shading in them like maybe depth changes or algae), Long Island sound, the car ferry, and finally the airport.

When we arrived at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport in Islip, we stopped to go to the bathroom and by the time we got to baggage claim, the whole thing had cleared out already and they were paging us to get our luggage. Very quick. Our rental car was an HHR. I ordered a full-sized car and this is what I got. I thought I would be getting an Impala or similar. The HHR was tiny with awkward to reach LATCH points for the car seats. Turns out, car didn’t have breaks either and my husband returned it the next day and got us a 4-door Ford Fusion, which was really nice and roomy (with good acceleration and satellite radio).

On Sunday, we drove out through the Pine Barrens to the Hamptons. I did not see anyone rich or famous. Actually, I may have seen rich people but they don’t wear signs indicating as such. I did not see anyone being trailed by a TV crew for a reality show. Everything seemed very old (or new but looks old). We saw churches that were founded in the 1600s. We saw a graveyard that I wanted to check out to see what the dates on the head stones were, but we were killing daylight what with the changed time and all so we needed to head. I saw BMW of the Hamptons, Lexus of the Hamptons, Audi of the Hamptons, Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar of the Hamptons, and then not a quarter mile down the road, I saw K-Mart (of the Hamptons). It was a very nice looking K-Mart and had (faux?) cedar shake shingles and a low roof line. We also saw a Crab Shack (not Clementes, link unavailable) on the side of the road. Based on the traffic right there (and the pedestrians crossing the highway), I would guess the food is pretty good. It looked like it was situated quite near a tide pool.

We went all the way to Montauk, which has a lighthouse that we climbed. We saw THE END (that’s what they call the easternmost tip of the state). Next stop: Lisbon, Portugal. The weather was glorious, especially for November. We spent a fair amount of time at the beach, which was rocky looking at shells and rocks and driftwood. It was high tide at about 4 pm, so there wasn’t much to the beach. We all touched the water (though I had touched the Atlantic Ocean before).

At this point, the sun was starting to set so we headed out to a local restaurant right on Lake Montauk where we watched the sun finish setting over the bay and I ordered my first-ever market price lobster. Turns out, I am not a fan of plain lobster. I like lobster bisque and lobster ravioli and lobster with pesto and pasta, but just a steamed lobster is not my thing. Pity.

On our trip back for the night, we needed the defogger for the rear window so both Mr. Long-Suffering and I were looking down at the stop light. When I looked up, the car in front of us was already through the intersection. Refreshingly, the car behind us had not beeped the second the light turned green.

The next day, we went to the zoo and then to Port Jefferson to watch the car ferry come and go from Connecticut while we ate lunch (crab cake on a bun and seafood bisque). Apparently, there are people who commute on the ferry every day. I hope there is a monthly pass.

We enjoyed the waterfront and Port Jefferson Harbor. It was low tide while we were there so there were a bunch of docks over land (and many of the other docks float as they might in a reservoir). I found it odd that on Sunday it was high tide at 4 pm and on Monday it was low tide at 2 pm, but then it was explained to me that Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean have vastly different tide times and levels. I found that disturbing. Aren’t they connected and not all that far apart?

Lastly, we headed to Cedar Beach at Mt. Sinai Harbor and hung out at the beach throwing rocks into Long Island Sound until the sun set. This time, it set over land, but it was still gorgeous. The weather had been wonderful (cloudless, cool but not cold).

That night, we were told we should try pizza. Now, I have lived most of my life in Chicago, where we know pizza. I loves me some Giordano’s or Edwardo’s, Lou Malnati’s or even Uno’s. So, I was skeptical. Once in a marketing seminar, I learned that the corridor from Chicago to Milwaukee is the only place in the country where frozen pizza sellers sell sausage pizza. In fact, many of the Chicago style deep dish pizzas have a sausage disk on the bottom, then a 6” layer of cheese (slight exaggeration), topped with sauce. So, we called and ordered 3 medium pizzas (cheese, “sausage”, and pepperoni). We were informed that their “pies” only come in one size. OK then, I guess we’ll take those. Also, a serving is called a “slice” not a “piece”. In Chicago, we say “peace-a-pizza” as all one word. I felt like an anthropologist in this strange and new world.

When the pizza pie arrived, we opened the box and were faced with these enormous triangles. You see, in Chicago, deep dish is served in wedges of the circle (then eaten with a fork and knife), but flat pizza (thin crust) is cut into squares (or as close to squares as one can cut a circle). So, here we were with these huge slices of pie that you do not eat with a fork. Apparently, you are to fold it so you can eat it. The sausage was not little pieces of cooked meat but more like an Italian sausage link cut into very thin slices a la pepperoni. It was different – salty - but not bad. I still prefer deep dish (and in fact, we are having that tonight because we have out-of-town guests for Bobo’s birthday party this weekend…he’s (sniff sniff) three).

On Tuesday, we headed back to the airport and did some mid-island (non-coastal) sightseeing in Patchogue (which I think I can finally pronounce thanks to repeated corrections from our host/tour guides). I’ve traveled in the US a bit, but this was only the second time I had ever seen day laborers standing around on the street waiting for work (the other time was in Vegas back during the housing boom…they would hang out at Home Depot and wait).  Chicago is union territory.  I think you could get your construction site firebombed for picking up day laborers. 

Long Island was much different than I expected. I had heard that it was densely populated and somewhat suburban. It did not feel either. It felt exurban-to-rural where we were. Maybe if we had been in Western Long Island (Nassau County) instead of Suffolk County. There were no sidewalks, everyone had septic instead of sewer, the water was unfluoridated, the speed limits on the roads (which were never straight or in a grid) were crazy-high, the mailboxes were down at the street and not on the houses, and hardly anyone had a garage let alone a two-car garage or an attached garage. Overall, I’d say we liked it. It just was not what I was expecting when I was thinking about suburbs of NYC. Maybe I was expecting Levittown.

Oh, the weather clouded up for the trip home so there wasn’t much to see from the plane but we did go closer to NYC and I saw bridges and probably the Statue of Liberty (which I had really wanted to see on this trip…I can’t say for sure I saw it, but probably). Once back in Chicago (where people are surly and rude…unlike on Long Island where everyone was nice and smiled), Bobo melted down in the airport, flung himself to the ground, and promptly got run over by some woman’s rolling suitcase. I’d say she was tailgating.

By the time we got to baggage claim, our luggage was the only luggage still on the carousel, but no one was paging us and helping us get our things together like they did at LIMA airport.

All-in-all the trip gets a thumbs-up from this would-be anthropologist (and apparent cultural historian/architect).

Now, you tell me:  How do you like your pizza?


  1. The great thing about Florida is that all the non-natives bring their food types with them. So it's not hard to find an approximation of chicago style pizza or the giant greasy new york style. Are there others? I'm unaware if so. Although my current favorite pizza place shapes the "pie" (I never call it that) oblongish and then cuts it into squares but it's not really a thin crust. A Florida hybrid? Perhaps it came from California? I love the giant greasy fold over kind. Not so much the deep dish. But maybe if I had it in Chicago?

  2. Sounds like a great trip. I lived in NJ for two years, but never made it out to the Hamptons. The drive always sounded like too much trouble! Now that I live on the other side of the country, I regret being so lazy during my time in NJ, but I did at least get into NYC and Philly quite a bit.

    Also, now you have made me nostalgic for Giordano's pizza. Sigh. Just when I thought I had finally embraced California-style... I had made peace with the thin crust New York style during my time in NJ. I guess now I'm a pizza pantheist.

    You could see day laborers out here, too. The guys hanging out at Home Depot are often hired by random home owners who need help for the day, not construction sites, but I'm sure some get hired by construction crews, too. Not that anyone is really building anything right now.

  3. What in the world were you doing in Patchogue? I live not too far from there, and it's not quite the destination that the Hamptons and Port Jeff are! I've only lived here about a year, though I've spent summers here before (which is MUCH less glamorous than it sounds, as we were grad students and my husband was doing research at a big Lab), and I find LI very isolated. Out where we live, it's pretty agricultural, with lots of strip malls thrown in. There's no easy way off the island, and I am not as enamored of it as the natives seem to be. Anyway, glad you had a nice visit!