Dan Rattiner's Stories

Driving Illegally: Police Bust Montauk DWIs, but Miss One

Three weeks ago I published a series of selfies I took with my phone out in Montauk, pretending to be a hipster, very drunk. I, the drunk, am holding a bottle of beer while, off in the background, very small just over my shoulder, is one of Montauk’s treasured tourist attractions. Yup, I’m in Montauk. Here are the things to see. Burp.

Montauk, during the early part of this summer, was inundated with young people acting crazy, falling down, getting into auto accidents, peeing in the pond and so forth and so on. The Chamber of Commerce put out a brochure extolling Montauk’s tourist sites. THIS is why you should be here. I put the two together. Maybe it had an effect. The bad behavior seems to have melted away.

Except I got into an automobile accident. Doing these selfies.

Dan Rattiner selfie in front of the Montauk Lighthouse

Drunk? Not at all. That’s the same bottle of beer, and if you look closely you see the cap is still on. Impaired in some other way? Maybe so. I was just having so much fun driving around doing this, maybe I was high on euphoria. Except they don’t give tickets out for euphoria. Maybe they should. Anyway, I have waited until now, until the insurance check in four figures came in and I cashed it, for the damage caused. It was just to my own car. And nobody got hurt.

Dan Rattiner selfie in front of Ditch Plains and the Ditch Witch

So who’s the problem in Montauk? The drunken hipsters? Or me?

Here’s how it happened. I was driving, my wife in the passenger seat, and we had just finished up photographing the Ditch Witch at Ditch Plains (me howling in mock drunkenness) and now it was time for me to do the same with the lighthouse over my shoulder. There’s that loop at the lighthouse. It’s one way around to the right. A quarter-way around there is this splendid view of the lighthouse for the first time. It’s right before there is a turn that takes you to Camp Hero, my next stop where I was to take a photo of myself “drunk” with the radar tower over my shoulder.

Dan Rattiner selfie in front of the Camp Hero Radar Tower in Montauk

George Washington ordered that lighthouse built. So I pulled over, hard by the railing so cars could get around—there’s no shoulder here—and I got out of the car, held the beer bottle in one hand, the phone in the other, which I extended, made myself look drunk and pressed the button. Excellent photo. So happy I was, as Yoda would say. So I got back in the car, turned the wheel to the right to drive into the Camp Hero turnoff, and suddenly there was this sound of crumpling metal just outside the passenger door. It was the railing, mashing up the side of my car.

I backed up, or tried to. It wouldn’t budge. I tried forward. It crumpled more steel as I edged forward a foot or two. So then I put it in park and got out and looked. Entire side of the Tahoe, the running board and the front and back doors, mangled. Wife unhurt. Indeed, when I got back in the car, I found the door windows still went up and down and the locks still worked. Just a small crushing blow that damaged the exterior. Maybe what, $800? How about, as I found out later, $5,000. But it was covered by insurance except for the deductible.

This was the first auto accident I have been in in 25 years. At $5,000 it was something to make a claim for. I have delayed writing this story until the check from the insurance company cleared. They wouldn’t have paid it if it was DWI, I think.

This happened once before to me. And I was pulled over. It was 3 a.m., we had our newspaper office in Bridgehampton, and we had put the newspaper together and it was just so exactly as I wanted it, a wonderful article on the lead, cartoons and fun things, ads beautiful, nice layout, and we had sent it off to the printer and it was time to leave. There were about five of us doing this. We were all sweaty, all exhausted. We went out to the parking lot and got in our cars. I was so happy.

Most everybody back then, like today, lived west of the office. They couldn’t afford east. But I could. Not only because it was my paper and I made the big bucks, but because I had bought a house cheap 30 years earlier, when a house could be had for $50,000 or so. So now I turned right and headed home to East Hampton at 3 a.m.

I drove real slow. But I had music on real loud. I sang along. A police officer pulled me over.

“Have you been drinking? You are wandering all over the road.”

“No, officer.”

“Get out of the car. Okay. Now look at my pen. Hold your head steady as I move it left and right. Follow it with your eyes. Now walk toward me.”

“I’ve had nothing to drink.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Well, euphoria. I’m just so happy. We worked 12 hours straight to get the paper out. Now I’m going home. It’s wonderful.”

He shined a light in my eyes.

“Well, take it easy,” he said. “Want me to drive in front of you going home?”

We all knew each other back then. Those were the days.

“I’ll be all right,” I said.

And I was. Hit nothing. Got home. Slept like a baby till noon. Woke up to a euphoria hangover, a kind of withdrawal into feeling sorry for myself. Terrible. Shakes. Fever. Vertigo. Back to sleep another 10 hours. You all know what that’s like.

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