Dan Rattiner's Stories

Road Rally: Navigating from Bridgehampton to Montauk

Since Dan’s Papers and the Bridgehampton Museum presented the Bridgehampton Road Rally & Tour d’Hamptons this year, I decided I’d enter my 1959 Triumph TR-3 sports car. About 50 people enter. The rule for the Rally was that it had to be a car built before 1970 (Richard Nixon was in the White House then) and it had to run well enough to travel along on a prescribed route—this year, from the Bridgehampton Museum grounds out to the Montauk Lighthouse and back. You’d have a friend with a roadmap sitting in the seat next to you to act as navigator. Along the way there’d be a poker rally—every car would make predetermined stops and pick up five poker cards, and the one with the best poker hand at the end would win a prize. There was also a trivia contest, where entrants would need to answer specific questions at specific locations. The car that came in closest to the allotted time to go all the way out there and back—about 55 miles—would be the winner of the timed component of the Rally.

I felt guilty that, in the end, I chose not to enter my car. The reason was that there was foul weather and a forecast of rain. The top to the TR-3 is a flimsy canvas thing that you clip onto the windshield in front and the car’s rear deck behind you, and mine had buttonholes missing. I’d have to drive the whole way holding the top in place for the three-hour round trip.

So, instead, I drove from my home in East Hampton to the event in Bridgehampton in my Chevy Tahoe with the dashboard screen navigating my way. I planned to arrive at 1 p.m. So, I turned the key in the ignition at noon, and the GPS said ‘come straight down the highway.’ There were a few road stretches in red where there were delays along the way. Leaving at noon from my house—a pin dropped on my screen—I would arrive at 12:34 p.m.

This is just so different than how we drove around the Hamptons back in the day. We’d get lost and stop to ask strangers directions. The person in the passenger seat would read the map and suggest turn-offs here and there to avoid traffic that could be seen ahead.

One summer, I was accused of a crime. The court where my fate was decided was not a judicial court. It was a court of public opinion. And it was a big deal.

The year was 1982, and we were beginning to have traffic jams on the Montauk Highway for the first time. People from New York City would just sit behind their wheels and wait in line. But we local people knew the back roads, so we knew where to turn off for the shortcuts to get around the tie-ups.

Because of an article in Dan’s Papers that year, however, many felt I gave away the “secret” of all the back roads the New York summer people could use. It wasn’t true. But the accusations of my crime went on for years and years, and there was really no way of stopping it.

“That’s Dan Rattiner. He published all the secrets to the shortcuts out here in his magazine. So that was that.” That was the accusation.

Here is what I wrote. The headline was THE SECRET BACK ROAD SHORTCUTS IN THE HAMPTONS. I know that is a damning headline if that is all you read. But it was a parody.

SHORT CUT AROUND SOUTHAMPTON was my first paragraph. It described some completely made-up road names with some really idiotic directions. “When you come down the Montauk Highway, turn left at the yellow barn and go two miles to a big boulder on your right just after a fence with cows behind it…”

The last paragraph for this shortcut said “now turn right and head down toward the ocean. As you approach the dead end, push the gas pedal to the floor so that when you hit the sand dune at the back of the beach, you are going fast enough to fly up in the air and over the bathers before you splash into the ocean.”

I had shortcuts for Bridgehampton, Water Mill and East Hampton. In every case, the last paragraph was exactly the same, ending “…you are going fast enough to fly up in the air and over the bathers before you splash into the ocean.”

The problem was I overestimated my readers. They’d read the headline, but they didn’t read the article. They thought they knew the article. So, I was damned to hell.

The summer that followed my provocative account, the back-road shortcuts WERE revealed to the general public—though not by me. They were revealed in the first edition of an annual Hamptons guidebook called Jodi’s Shortcuts, where Jodi Della Femina, its editor, gave all sorts of advice and shortcuts about the best this and the best that in the Hamptons and then, yup, here’s a map and here’s a printed route to follow for each of the driving shortcuts. People told me she’d stolen the shortcuts from me. She did not. I wrote about some very different shortcuts.

Driving now to Bridgehampton for the Road Rally, suddenly, the route on my car’s video screen changed. I’d save four minutes if I turned right on Norris Lane, left on Sawasett Avenue, cross the Bridgehampton Sag Harbor Turnpike, take Narrow Lane, left on Lumber Lane, right on Maple Lane and left on Butter Lane then back onto the Montauk Highway. And the lady on my car speaker, who I have always encouraged to run for President, told me exactly when to do that exactly at the right time to do it. And so I did. And indeed, I arrived at 12:30 p.m. instead of 12:34 p.m.

By the way, you could never, ever publish today the crazy shortcuts that I published back then. There’d be lawsuits. I’d misled Mr. Smartypants. These were not bypasses. The plaintiff splashed his 2011 Mercedes E Class Sedan into the ocean. Total loss. He was in the hospital for weeks. He’s lucky to be alive. Dan must pay.

* * *

The classic cars at the Bridgehampton Road Rally were amazing. My favorite was an enormous, dazzlingly blue 1959 Cadillac Eldorado convertible with the largest tail fins ever built on the back of any car. It was a rocket to the moon. And when the green flag dropped, off it went, headed toward the Montauk Lighthouse, navigator at the ready.

Only the invention of the GPS made my damnation melt away, an unfortunate misstep best forgotten.

The winners of the 2016 Bridgehampton Poker Rally were Rick and Mariann Canter in their Jaguar, car number 8. Winners of the History Trivia Quest were Kevin Tierney and Gail Comes, car number 7. Winners of the Elapsed Time award were Christopher Gill and Edward Weiss, car number 4. The People’s Choice went to car number 24, a 1956 Mercedes 300SL with gullwings owned by Marc Lemchen. Car number 22, a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz owned by Alex Scarsini, won Best in Show.

See more photos from the event here

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