EH Settled 1648: Now with Surveillance, Blinking Crosswalks & Laser Beam Trash Cans

East Hampton celebrates its 17th century heritage downtown by maintaining the look of that era as much as possible. The saltbox house known as “Home Sweet Home,” the childhood home of John Howard Payne, who wrote that song, is kept in perfect restoration. Mulford Farm next door dates to 1680. Other historic structures up and down Main Street include the three windmills, the Hook Mill, the Gardiner Mill and the Mulford Farm Mill. And of course there is the main town green anchoring Main Street on the east and Town Pond anchoring Main Street on the west.

In recent times, however, the Village has introduced 21st century electronics to the scene. Village police received computer cameras they can attach to the hoods of their cars linking them to the Motor Vehicle Bureau in Albany. If your car registration or inspection sticker is out of date by even one day, they can ticket you. Under certain circumstances, they can even tow your car away to an impound area.

One year ago, at the crossing at the corner of Newtown Lane and Main Street, they changed the WALK/DON’T WALK sign into a 17-second countdown sign. It’s the only one like it on the East End and it’s there for you, once you press the little button to request to be allowed to cross. When you press it, the button makes a little squeak, a sort of ping, some even say that it provides a mild electric shock (they are wrong). And then the WALK/DON’T WALK sign begins marking the moments when either the rocket to the moon takes off, or the likelihood of your not being run over by a car comes to an end. Five, four, three, two, one….zero!

Two weeks ago, I read that the powers that be are considering putting surveillance cameras in the parking lot behind Main Street so they can look for axe murderers amongst the tourists. And last month, the village electrified two of the three crosswalks on Main Street so that when you press the button to walk—PING!—a series of round spotlights embedded in the asphalt every four feet along each side of the crosswalk turn on and shine at the oncoming cars so as to better alert motorists they have to stop.

Since I live in The Springs and drive to the Dan’s Papers office in Southampton quite often, I have, each day during the last two weeks, tried to see the lights at work. Would they blink? I didn’t see them turn on when I passed during the day. And I also didn’t see them turn on when I passed them during the night. At each occasion, however, there was nobody wanting to cross the street and so that is why I was not seeing them. But you know, you drive fast, you’re not really sure. Two days ago, I called Village Hall and talked to the Village Administrator, Larry Cantwell, who told me yes, they were up and operational. So last night, I pulled over about 20 yards before the first of the crosswalks and waited to see them on. But again, nobody seemed to want to use the crosswalk, so it was in vain.

A few minutes later, as I was driving up Three Mile Harbor Road, it occurred to me that I could have simply gotten out of the car and pushed the button myself to see them operate. Silly me. But then I thought, oh no, since I wouldn’t actually be crossing, the surveillance cameras (are they there yet?) would see me do this and then the cops would come after me and pick me up for, uh, is that a crime? Just to see the lights flash and the cars stop? It’s probably not a crime if a mom allows her 6-year-old to do it. It probably is a crime if a teenager does it and then runs away.

This week, there was even more news from the Village. They announced they have gone into contract to try out a 21st century computerized garbage can called a BigBelly. This is something completely new. At the present time, I think, the village has about 40 green metal garbage cans on street corners and in other locations. It’s a lot of garbage cans. But they do the job. The citizenry, proud of our town, uses them religiously, and then every day at the end of the day, the men from the Parks Department empty them.

The new BigBelly garbage can is going into service out front of the Scoop du Jour Ice Cream Store on Newtown Lane, a place where ordinarily the trash in the regular garbage can there, which unlike the others, has to be emptied twice a day because of all the paper cups and napkins from the ice cream store get tossed in there.

Here’s what BigBelly can do. It is the same size as a regular garbage can. From the outside, it looks like a garbage can. Inside, however, it’s all fancy. There’s a garbage compactor. Then, when this compacted trash gets higher and higher, it breaks a laser beam, which immediately sends a message to the Parks Department computers that it’s time to empty it. The trash might have to be emptied only every four days.

What powers it? It’s solar powered! It has a 12-volt battery that accepts the heat from the panel. And this battery needs to be changed only once every four years.

Now I know what you are thinking—why didn’t I think of this? And the answer is, because you didn’t. What a great idea! It’s coming from D.E.C. Green in the Bronx. And there are already BigBellys in use in Port Jefferson, Philadelphia and Chicago.

But the Village remains cautious. They are only ordering one for now as a test. The cost of a BigBelly is $4,000, which is about 20 times the cost of a regular garbage can. But there are tremendous labor savings and there are other environmental benefits, such as trash reduced to a brick. The founder of D.E.C. Green, Franklin Cruz, is letting the village make this test.

I noticed in reading about this, that the BigBelly the Village is going to get is the “fourth generation,” meaning that three earlier incarnations were not quite so good.

I wondered what these earlier BigBellies did, and tried to find out but couldn’t. Was it true that the first generation would grunt, belch and shake when it was full? Was it true the second generation when full would—if not emptied within an hour—make little hops until it was off the curb and onto a sewer grating—where it would empty itself anyway (making terrible noises?) Was it true that the improved third generation machine did in fact, on one occasion, pull the arm out of the socket of a man who was trying to throw away the remains of a strawberry and cream ice cream cone? None of these things were true, I learned. But there it was.


One of these days, I expect to see, in beautiful, historic East Hampton, a BigBelly dancing around making beeping noises until the cops see what is happening on their surveillance screens, drive over, park across the street, laser the inspection sticker on BigBelly, press the button to turn on the Yellow Brick Road flashing lights, cross the street, give the BigBelly a ticket and then have the AAA Tow Truck come and haul it away to the police impound area.

Never happen. Right?

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