Tourism 2015: Uber, Montauk & I Came, I Saw Myself, I Got Drunk, I Took a Selfie

Uber and the drunks of Montauk cartoon by Dan Rattiner
Uber and the drunks of Montauk, Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

Something very disturbing is happening to tourism. For many young people, it’s no longer a matter of going someplace to see the sights and how the natives live. It’s about sending out tweets, selfies, videos and Instagrams of yourself in the foreground, drunk, with maybe a lighthouse in the far-off distance behind. I was THERE. And I was DRUNK. And here’s one of me and my buddies naked. Or having SEX.

In Malaysia, four tourists from Canada and England were put in jail after taking photographs of themselves naked on top of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia. In Rome two California women were arrested for taking a selfie of themselves next to their initials they’d scratched on the wall of the Colosseum. In China tourists were arrested after other tourists photographed them throwing noodles at passersby. In Florence police arrested tourists enjoying themselves by peeing in the dome of that city’s cathedral.

It’s really bad. And it’s all about “Me.” I have little doubt that after photographing themselves peeing into a fountain, they frantically tried to post that picture while being hauled off by the police, meanwhile yelling to friends to be sure to post their trying to make the post while being hauled off.

In court, by the way, it is really a no-brainer about their innocence or guilt. It’s all in the photographs. And as vandalism has escalated—two tourists who climbed an 18th century sculpture of the Two Hercules in Cremona, Italy knocked off the crown—so have the fines. On an island in the Mediterranean, Menorca, officials charge $800 for public drinking and $3,000 for “balconing,” which is the act of diving off a hotel balcony into a swimming pool. The Mayor of Florence, Italy is seeking legislation to hand out jail sentences for vandalizing ancient artifacts, accidentally or not.

All of this is by way of an introduction to what has been happening in Montauk on weekends this summer. As I am sure you know, Montauk during the last decade has been partially transformed from a family vacation and fishing resort to a high-end party town for young summer people living in the Hamptons. Early on in the transformation, people cheered this development. The resort had been getting a little down-at-the-heel. This would be a big shot in the arm for the economy of that community. Wealthy kids in Mercedes and Jaguars partying into the wee hours on a Saturday night at a few former fishing bars turned party bars. It seemed like a good thing. But now, practically all of the dozen or so fishing resorts have become party bars and the crowds consist more and more of unruly youth just looking for a good time and getting out of control—and getting a good photo to post.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, there came a time on Saturday night when the pedestrians on Main Street simply took over the road and converted virtually the whole downtown—half a mile of it—into a public walkway while the police looked on. There was no way into or out of town. A fire department truck, responding to a call about a fire, had to make a detour along a back road to get to it. Later that night, an ambulance on Edgemere Road going to a call got motioned over to the side by club bouncers and other young people so a caravan of taxicabs could get through. Police got nearly 500 calls over the weekend, double almost any other weekend, and made arrests for drunken driving, loud music in the middle of the night and even, in one case, for peeing in Fort Pond. There were nearly 200 summonses issued and 16 people arrested here over the weekend—five in Montauk.

In some ways, this past Fourth of July reminded people of St. Patrick’s Day parades of years ago when thousands of young people came out on special railroad trains, getting themselves drunk on the long train ride so they were smashed even before they got here. Police from different towns had to be called in. But eventually there came a year when things subsided. Officials scheduled the parade in the morning rather than the afternoon. The railroad reduced the number of trains. Also ending the problem was the influx of hundreds of police officers from neighboring police departments posted out here for the day.

What went on in Montauk this last July Fourth weekend also reminded people of the old spring break problem that used to beset Fort Lauderdale, Florida. People then, and this was before selfies, didn’t go down there to see Fort Lauderdale. They went down there to get drunk, have sex and watch wet T-shirt contests. Somehow—it would be interesting to know how—this got brought to an end.

It also reminded some people of a time in the 1990s when Westhampton Beach and Hampton Bays were full of bars and group houses, a situation brought to an end by heavy law enforcement, new laws about how many people could occupy a house, high fines, and, in the end, a violent racial assault outside of a bar called Club Marrakesh in the center of town that sent one young man to the hospital with very serious injuries after being beaten with a club.

At the present time, there is a beautiful old waterfront fishing village called Magalluf, on the island of Majorca in the Mediterranean, which has become the center of the world for this generation’s selfie wet-T-shirt crowd. The whole town has been taken over. One gets a selfie with people having sex naked in the background. One gets a selfie with someone blind drunk on Main Street who doesn’t even know where he is or who’s taking his picture. Or one gets a picture taken “balconing,” diving into the pool from a balcony. (Some have been injured, some have died.)

All of this, and many of the other incidents mentioned above, were in an article a few weeks ago in The New York Times. In one bar, free drinks were reportedly offered to any girl who would give all willing men in the place oral sex. An Irish girl took them up on it. She didn’t seem to have any problem with this afterwards, and gave her name to members of the press who asked. The English tabloids contacted her parents in Belfast, who said they forgave her for dropping her morals that one time. The Sun, one of the worst tabloids in England, described the scene, which, it said, portrayed all these limp penises, many of them looking very frightened, lining up for three seconds of bliss—for that is all the time Miss So-and-So reportedly gave each one to get it all done in the time allowed.

As I am sure you know, Uber late this spring gave the Hamptons the bum’s rush. It wanted to serve the folks in the Hamptons both day and night and particularly on late summer nights when potential customers can’t drive home because they are sitting stone drunk at one of the bars in Montauk.

Uber did not seem to try to hire local residents to be Uber drivers. Local people can get taxicab licenses, non-residents cannot. Instead, Uber took ads on the backs of New York City buses that urged NYC Uber drivers to head out to the Hamptons for the weekend and DOUBLE YOUR MONEY. I saw these ads myself in Manhattan. Amazing. Uber sent these drivers out—they already knew they couldn’t get permits to offer taxi service in East Hampton because of the residency law, and they reportedly told their out-of-town drivers that if they got fined, just send Uber the ticket and they’d take care of it.

Because of this, on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, 16 plainclothes police officers went out to Montauk and late at night called an Uber car to take them home to East Hampton. As a result, 23 Uber drivers were issued summonses, including one who appeared to police to be driving while intoxicated and who subsequently could not pass the sobriety test. They also discovered other Uber drivers sleeping in their cars. Almost all told the same story. Give us the ticket, Uber would take care of it. But these were not just fines—the punishment for not having a taxi license could be a year in jail.

After this catastrophe, Uber did not give up. They had a meeting with East Hampton Town officials and told them they were not a taxi company, they were a “facilitator” company, so they didn’t need taxi company licenses. But that got them nowhere. The meeting ended with the Uber officials getting up and walking out of the meeting, and after that Uber turned it all upside down by saying they were essentially “thrown out” of the town to whoever asked. They also sent emails around the country urging customers and employees and drivers to flood East Hampton Town offices with e-mails of protest. In another email, they wrote what was essentially a slap in the face to every one of the local taxi drivers.

It read, as reported by The East Hampton Star, “riders will be unable to get reliable, safe rides in any part of East Hampton out to Montauk—effective immediately.”

And this resulted in The New York Business Journal writing, “a small town in the Hamptons today succeeded [in beating Uber] where the entire yellow cab industry has failed.”

Also suffering were the Uber drivers who got the summonses. They had to take a day out from work to come out on June 22 to plead guilty or not guilty. And when they came they learned the hearing was postponed to July 20. In the end, a deal was struck with their lawyers. The Town would drop the criminal charges and in exchange the drivers would pay up to $400 fines.

Well, maybe Uber sensed something we did not this past spring, which was that Montauk might be becoming the new hot spot for wild selfies, crazy parties, drunkenness and sex, ending with a great need to get back home by taxi, a job which Uber predicted, in their email, could not safely be handled by the current taxi companies.

I made some calls around to the taxi companies. Yes, they can handle things. And no, they don’t need any help. Also, I learned that some cab companies now have telephone apps. Go online and order the cab. Progress.

My opinion is we have a very serious situation on our hands. I think the Town Supervisor should do what works to calm things down and get all the Sexy Selfie Folk off to somewhere else. This is not a unique problem. It’s been solved elsewhere before.

I am thinking new laws, higher fines, neighboring police on weekends and police drunk-driving checkpoints. Also perhaps a meeting of all the club owners to see what they think could be done—they surely see that current trends are bad in the long run.

I also think the Town, or maybe the County, should put into place a website for taxicabs similar to the ones online where customers rate movies, hotels and restaurants. Joining such a website should be a requirement of anyone wanting a taxi license. With that done, we will have in a single stroke upped the level of service the old-fashioned way—by letting the marketplace take care of its own. Or, if the comments are just awful for one taxi company, deny that company a taxi license the following year.

And stop focusing on poor Cyril’s Fish House on the Napeague Strip. The Town tried to shut it down last year, but failed. Cyril’s is a problem, but a minor one. Yes, it’s crowded. But it closes at 9 p.m., after dinner. That’s when everything gets underway and the real problem begins, and that’s my opinion.

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