The good people of Montauk have been worrying all winter about the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Parade in that town, the second largest in the State of New York, to be held on Sunday March 25.
What the town has noticed in recent years is that the annual parade, which started out as a parade for families and friends when most of the motels were boarded up, has for many paradegoers become a wild and raucous affair. Most of the roughly 25,000 people who attend are law abiding. But many are not. And they are already drunk when they arrive.
Montaukers think they know the cause of this. People who drive here by car are generally a genial group of people out on a family adventure with friends for the day. They’ve designated a driver. They’re here for fun. There’s a lot of them.
But as many as 3,800 have, in the past, arrived in Montauk by hopping on the Long Island Railroad train. Beginning about five years ago the railroad began to do a lot of advertising for the special “Parade Train” they’d add on that day, claiming it would travel the length of Long Island as the two regular Sunday morning trains do, but have as its focus getting out to Montauk ahead of time for the three and a half hour parade beginning at 12:30 p.m. and ending at 4 p.m. Since the total being transported by the railroad would be near to 4,000 people, at about $40 round trip, it was a good revenue source for them.
At first, the town was happy about this. It meant more business for the stores, more activity at the bars, maybe even at the motels if a few stayed open and the parade-goers stayed all night.
But soon it turned out that there was a whole other thing happening. “Mom, me and my friends are going out to Montauk on the train to watch the parade Sunday. We’ll be back around eight.”
What could be wrong with that? There were no safety issues-—they’re on the train. There’s no liquor allowed on the train. So the railroad will monitor that. Indeed, the line of the parade begins right at the railroad station in Montauk. So you get to see everybody saddle up. What could be better? Sure, kid.
But here is what was going on in the 16 year old kid’s brain. It’s party time. We’ll sneak booze in Coca Cola bottles onto the train. We’ll party, party, party. Then when we get there we’ll party some more. We’ll be strangers in a strange land. What a way to let loose!
And so, last fall, the Friends of Erin, a group that produces the Montauk parade, began to approach the problem. This group was formed in 1962 when the first parade in Montauk was six men, a shilaleah, a flag of Ireland, a flag of America, a guy with a green sash and gnarled walking stick and maybe 200 locals on hand to watch, to march smartly down Main Street through town.
In mid-October last year, some of the members of the Friends called the railroad to ask if the railroad would please not send the extra trains out to Montauk that Sunday. The regular trains bringing all those people arrive at the Montauk Station at 10:46 a.m. and 12:46 p.m. Last year, the “parade train” arrived at 11:42 a.m.
The railroad didn’t make up its mind right away. But eventually, it did. The answer was no. They’d have as many trains that Sunday morning as necessary to see that whoever wanted to go to the Montauk Parade by train got there to do so.
Having heard that, the Friends of Erin tried another tack. How about we have the parade begin at 10 am instead of at 12:30 pm as it has for the last 49 years? If it did that, the parade would be nearly over by the time the trains pulled in. We’ll have tricked them. Ha! The bigwigs who run the railroad will slap their foreheads and say—how could we have missed this? And so, these drunken teenagers hop off the train, and guess what! No parade! It’s too bad. Time to go back home. Nothing going on here. Let’s go home.
This is flawed logic. Have you ever been to a parade that is so grand and so long that it takes three and a half hours to pass one spot? If you have, you will probably recall being there when it starts and then leaving in the middle, or showing up when the parade is in the middle and staying to the end.
Will people care if they don’t make it for the start of the parade? They will have swamped the town as they always do. There will be fights, people arrested, people falling down drunk. And there will be the parade. They will see the parade. Half of it anyway. Perfect. Then, as it turns out, with the parade ending at 1 pm, these kids will be free to spend the rest of the day, many of them with their false ID’s going to bars and raising a ruckus until dark and even afterwards. The trains head back at 1:23 p.m., 3:33 p.m., 5:32 p.m. and 7:33 p.m.
I’m told that in prior years, there has been so little surveillance of the no drinking laws by the few MTA police on the train that as the trains begin to slow to approach the Montauk station, windows of the cars are opened and all manner of booze is hurled out into the woods. Why? Because you have to finish it. The Town Police are out at that station in huge numbers with other police in force, joined by many officers from adjacent towns looking to arrest people getting off the train drunk.
Better to have jettisoned all the stuff before the train gets in. We’ll buy some more. On Sundays, the saloons open at noon. (I’ve also been told that in prior years, some of the passengers actually leap off the moving train to follow their booze as the trains lumber through the woods.)
And so the days go by leading up to March 25. As for the railroad, having discovered the change in the start of the parade—ah ha! They’re trying to get this one by us— the powers that be have said that they will send out enough trains to accommodate all of the people who want to go to the parade via the LIRR.
In my opinion, there is only one good way of dealing with this. Organize the Montauk Vigilantes. On parade day, half an hour before that first train is scheduled to pull in, have the Vigilantes head out down the tracks on horseback into the woods toward Amagansett. Three miles in, up where the train passes through the thick Hither Woods, drop a heavy barrier of wood and steel across the tracks, then head up into the hills.
When that first train screeches to a halt before the barrier, everybody comes down with rifles drawn, surrounds the train and demands that everyone on board toss out all the booze and other valuables. Then all that has to happen is everybody just sits there for the next three and a half hours until everybody sobers up.
(Have the Montauk Fire Department Auxiliary ladies out there with donuts and coffee.)
After that, let them go. The people on that train and the two behind it can go on through to enjoy the rest of the day, sober, at least for awhile. They won’t soon forget this.