Dan Rattiner's Stories

Twenty Dollars Please: Adventures of a Car Parker at BH Polo Matches

This past Saturday afternoon, with the temperature nudging 100°, I went up to Two Trees Farm in Bridgehampton to stand out in the blazing sun to join six other volunteers collecting the $20 parking fees from everybody driving into the Bridgehampton Polo event that day.

It seemed like a crazy thing to be doing in that heat. But Bridgehampton Polo had graciously offered to donate the proceeds of the parking fees this year to the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center, whose board of directors I am on, and to get this donation we would need a minimum of six volunteers at each of the six Saturdays that this event takes place between 2:30 and 5:30 pm.

Six times six times three hours is almost 100 hours of work. There was no way I could not volunteer. And members of the staff and the advisory board and the board of directors all did. We would be on a dusty driveway, stopping cars, telling them it was $20 for the parking, and collecting the cash. There would be about 1,000 cars. You can see this was very much worth doing.

Early in the day, after the previous day’s temperature topped 100 (and felt like 112), setting all sorts of records, I did think they might cancel polo. But they did not. We all got an e-mail about 11 a.m. from Bonnie Cannon, the director of the Child Care Center, that the matches would begin at 5 instead of 2:30 so as to be more bearable for all, particularly the horses. However, it would still be necessary for us to show up at 2:30 because many people would not have gotten this message and would have come anyway at that time. We’d tell them to turn around and come back later or, alternatively, come on in and pay the $20, since that’s what they planned to do and since the polo itself was only sort of secondary to the see-and-be-seen quality of the day under the giant tent farther up the dirt road. The party could begin at 2:30 anyway, the polo would just be later. [expand]

When my wife and I arrived, wearing hats and shorts and with bottles of drinking water and lots of suntan lotion, we found there were not six volunteers there, there were eight. They included myself, my wife Chris who is on the advisory board, Kayce Freed Jennings who is also on the advisory board, our director Bonnie Cannon, her mother Gloria, Bonnie’s grown son Spencer, Spencer’s friend Kendall Edwards, Robin Gianis, a schoolteacher at Bridgehampton High School who has a child at the Child Care Center and Robin’s friend Jennie.

For those not familiar with where the polo takes place, it is at Two Trees Farm on Hayground Road, and there is a dirt road that goes a quarter of a mile behind the farmhouse to where we were set up in the middle of a field, and then further on, another quarter mile, it leads to the polo field, spectator tents and the VIP tents. It is there that the afternoon festivities take place every Saturday during the heart of the summer.

For this reason, from where we stood midway along, we could see the cars coming from far off. There were sometimes long lines of them, and when there were, all of us would snap to attention when they arrived and go to the windows of all the cars all at the same time, some of us walking down the road a bit to the cars in the back while waving other cars to the rest of our group farther along. In every case, we would hand stuff out to those arriving—info about the Child Care Center and several magazines and newspapers—and we would welcome the drivers and their passengers to the event and ask for the parking fee, good all day, just $20 for everybody in the car.

I have to say that this was so much fun that all of us forgot about the sun and the blazing heat once the cars started coming. I wouldn’t say that if my job were a day-to-day car parker—but for one day? We were a team, we worked together and we all kind of bonded. And if one of us, at 5 p.m., did get a little sunstroke and had to quit, it was all still pretty amazing, because we got to see and interrelate with all who were coming to the event, whether we knew them or not, and whether they wanted to meekly hand over the 20 bucks or wanted to give us a hard time about it.

What a challenge that was. I think we have all done this at one time or another—it’s a variation on the phrase “I’m with the band” to get out of paying an admission fee of some kind—and we all rather forgave them and I would say about half of them were willing and about half weren’t. And when we got done with them, very politely, about three quarters of them paid and about a quarter didn’t.

It is necessary to point out that from the drivers’ point of view, although it was clear in the program that there was a $20 parking charge, there was no sign where we were standing halfway up the dirt road that this was the place to pay it. So we’d wave and ask them to pull over, and it was a kind of friendly hijack from their perspective and a kind of big smile and “here’s the story” from ours.

“I would have to go to my ATM,” one woman said as she emptied her bag. “I could go out and come back or I could go later and give it to you after the event.”

“Just bring it to me later.” I waved her through. Don’t want to slow things down. And of course I knew she was not coming back after the event.

“I’m a guest of a sponsor.”

“Well, it’s still 20 dollars to park your car,” I said. She paid.

One dusty old car pulled up, there was a middle-aged man in it, and when I said “Welcome to Bridgehampton Polo and it’s $20 for parking for the day,” he reached over to the passenger’s seat and lifted up a shirt with alternating black and white stripes on it. That was enough for me. An umpire.

“Just head right in, sir.”

He headed off, his car, as with every car, raising dust. (A tank truck with a water sprinkler on the back came through several times during the day to keep the dust down, and it did help.)

We did have our problems, though, particularly when we’d spread out down the road to take care of a whole herd of cars coming in. For example, when the herd would start through, we’d point to one of our volunteers farther on, and they’d drive farther on, but the volunteer farther on would wave them on through because they thought the pointing meant they were “okay.” We changed some hand signals to fix that.

Each of us, one at a time, learned another lesson when we stopped a taxicab coming up. Taxicabs drop off and pick up, they don’t park. Oh.

Bonnie organized us into a sort of factory assembly line. There were two of us working at any one time as “assemblers,” sitting on stacks of magazines under a small shade tent—there was a tent—putting together the magazines and brochures from the Child Care Center into bundles to be handed to the front line. The front line consisted of two people, Kayce on one side of the street for the entire time without a break, and Bonnie on the other side. They collected the cash, then calling up the reinforcements behind them when more collectors were needed for the herds of cars.

The cars tended to be in three different categories. There were the families, usually in old minivans—the parents in the front, the kids strapped in the back—and they rarely gave us an argument, opening their wallets to give us the $20 without complaint.

A second group was those connected with the putting on of the event. These were the workers in the farm trucks, drivers in horse trailers, polo players with friends in fancy cars, members of the press, sponsors of the event with blue VIP passes on the dashboards. We would wave them through.

The third category was where it got complicated. These were the great many people, wealthy people, driving convertibles and other expensive cars with the cars all detailed and shined up for the occasion. Those inside were fashionably dressed—the older men in whites, the women, old and young, dressed to kill in low-cut dresses and jewels, the young men all slender and handsome with those three-day beards. And yet, with frighteningly large regularity, many of them having no legitimate reason not to pay the $20—declared they didn’t have to pay nevertheless.

“I’m a guest of one of the sponsors,” one told me.

“It’s $20 to park your car,” said I, carrying my brochures and looking in at all the mahogany and leather. “And it all goes to the Bridgehampton Child Care Center.” The car, a Maserati, its top down, remained idling. That was not the end of the conversation. “It’s all for charity, all to the Bridgehampton Child Care Center,” I would try. “One hundred cents on the dollar of the profits.”

They just stared at me. I gave up. “Go ahead,” I said, waving them on.

It seemed to me, the more expensive the car the prettier the girl, and the harder it was to get the money from the driver.

“I don’t pay. Give a call to what’s-her-name, Sheila I think her name is, from Palm Beach, who runs the place.”

I was giving up.

“Go on through.”

Bonnie, I thought, being Director of the Child Care Center, was a much better salesman than I was. She was really raking it in.

“You need to be tougher,” she told me. “But keep smiling.”

The worst was a guy who stopped when I asked him to, pointed to the car in front of him when I looked in, and said, “I’m with him,” and roared off.

A well-to-do husband and wife team who are friends of mine drove up in a bright red convertible sports car. They were all dressed up for the day, and I approached the wife on the passenger’s side and told her I’d take care of the $20 because they were friends and sometime donors to the Child Care Center, while my wife approached the driver and asked for the $20, which the husband gave her.

“How did you get that?” I asked as she waved it in the air.

“She’s prettier than you,” the driver shouted.

About a quarter to five, some farmhands led groups of polo ponies past us and up toward the playing field. The horses, trotting along, were just so beautiful, and seemed so alert and excited about what would soon transpire. At ten after five, we began to hear cheering and things being said over a loudspeaker. The match, apparently, was about to begin.

At around six, there were almost no more cars coming in. We packed up and left. My wife and I then went home, jumped in the pool, showered, changed and went out to a dinner party. It was a very good day’s work.

The Bridgehampton Child Care Center sits on six acres of land on the Sag Harbor Turnpike. It offers day care, after-school activities, lectures, a sandbox play area, basketball courts, computer classes, field trips, college scholarships, Black History Night, Dia de Los Ninos, yoga, play periods and, at this time of year, a summer camp.

Next Saturday, some of us will be there again and there will be others from the community, the Center and the board and advisory council too. Bonnie and Co. will be there again, no doubt. She’s quite a woman. If you want to donate a check to the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center, the address is at the end of this article. Otherwise, when you come to polo, we’re gonna get you.

The Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center, 551 Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton, NY 11932, 631-537-0616, www.bhccrc.com. Mailing address: P.O. Box 1197, Bridgehampton, NY 11932. [/expand]

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