Dan Rattiner's Stories

Phase Three: The Hamptons Shifts Into a Brand New Gear

The Hamptons is entering an entirely new phase this year. It feels, smells and tastes different this year. I call it Phase Three. I’ll explain.

Phase One was when everybody out here knew everybody. You went to the beach wherever you wanted to, the place was beautiful and fishing and farming dominated with a modest surge in the summer when the summer people came. Other than in the “summer colony” areas, the beauty was natural and indigenous. Roads were narrow and sometimes dusty. One saw great vistas everywhere. There was little landscaping other than bushes around the house. Mowing was done with a push lawnmower.

In those years, stores were open Monday to Saturday. Sunday was a day of rest. At night, the cops went door to door, checking to see if stores were locked. When they weren’t, they’d call the owners at home, who would come down and lock up. There was nothing inside to steal of any value, anyway. The best way to get out here was a long multi-stop train ride. And once people got here, there were no traffic jams. Finally, about food—eating out meant Italian, Chinese or French.

Phase Two began about 1980. You got a beach sticker for your beach, there was sufficient help to handle the summer jobs, lots of wealthy people came to join in for the summer. The place was beautiful, though now the “summer colony” area was much expanded, swimming pools popped up and some landscaping occurred. Private screening rooms appeared in some homes. Lawns were often mowed by gas-powered lawnmowers. Stores were open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and, when closed, were locked up tight.

Hampton Jitney, an excellent way to go in comfort from NYC to the Hamptons and back, two hours from Southampton, began to thrive. Private planes brought the super-wealthy to the Hamptons. Crowds of cars brought people out Friday night on the new expressways, and there was more traffic heading back Sunday night. The “trade parade” began during the week on County Road 39 and Sunrise Highway: workmen, mostly pool maintenance and landscaping crews, came in at 8 a.m. and left at 5 p.m. to get to their homes far to the west of here. About food: Japanese food became an option, also Mexican and bagels and lox.

You have to see the pieces that fit together this summer to see the now unfolding Phase Three. Here are some recent news items.

With the emphasis on rounding up illegal immigrants, fewer Hispanics are out and about. Those that think there might be trouble are staying home. Many Hispanics live near me. People are frightened and nobody knows what will happen next.

There is an alarming shortage of workers to handle the crowds this summer. Stores and restaurants and party planners are advertising mightily for dishwashers, clerks, delivery drivers, waiters. It appears there might be a decline in the service because of this. Tempers could flare.

The Sag Harbor Express this past week published an article on the lengths that local merchants are going to keep help. Some have resorted to buying entire houses for them. It makes for a happier, safer employee if they do that, one of the merchants said. The newspaper named names.

To a very great degree, the workers in Phase Three serve the rich. In Phases One and Two, the locals and the rich needed workers. Now the overwhelming need is for chauffeurs, gardeners, private chefs, swimming pool attendants, limo drivers, party planners, security people and car parkers. Landscaping is everywhere, all clipped and snipped, and the new plantings, via pollen, have overgrown many areas where there used to be vistas. Stores are open at 10 a.m. and not before. All are open seven days a week unless there is a reason, other than “day of rest,” for them not to be. Food at restaurants is now from one of as many as 150 foreign countries and is often photographed before being eaten so it can appear in glossy magazines before people dig in. Many of the Bonackers have moved to North Carolina.

I received emails these past few weeks that I have never gotten before. In Phases One and Two, the big mansions had been occupied by the wealthy and, sometimes, illegally, as share houses among young people who couldn’t afford to come out here otherwise. This past week, I got an email inviting me to a seven-bedroom mansion in Water Mill where the renters want me to try their new vodka, now in national distribution. They make all sorts of special drinks. I think they are doing this for free to get the word out.

Another email was an offer to come by a different mansion where the renters were offering up designer clothes to buy. And there was a news item last week about a summer house—actually the old Grey Gardens in East Hampton—announcing a designer jewelry sale and getting a cease-and-desist notice. You can’t sell retail out of your home.

The number of people who can afford to come out here by helicopter is surging. Noise at the airport is way up as a result. The number of stores that cater to the superrich is surging. A Tesla “store” has opened in downtown East Hampton. In Phase One and Two, many stores sold items the locals needed. Now we have pop-ups for the well-to-do and there’s shopping for the locals in some stores located in shopping malls. There are also empty stores. Amazon and online shopping are ascendant. And the beaches are jammed.

The authorities are hard pressed to keep up with Phase Three. In East Hampton, the town board welcomed Uber after refusing to come to terms with them for two years. But there are still local rules. No sleeping in cars, no parking on roads in Montauk for more than 15 minutes or using town-owned lots unless dropping off or picking up. Ubers have to be summoned by the online app. No hailing an Uber. And no cash is to change hands. Also, you can’t be both a taxi driver and an Uber driver.

And now Skedaddle comes to town. They have an app. They connect riders with “user-generated routes.” I read that once a minimum of 10 people have joined a route, they send a luxury vehicle “to provide a seamless and fun travel experience.” They offered their service free for the Fourth of July weekend.

There’s an upscale service to take you home from clubs if you’re drunk—they send out two drivers, one for you and one for your car—even if your car isn’t drunk. There is also a shuttle bus in Montauk called the Hopper that goes around town on weekends.

Welcome to Phase Three. The place is still beautiful. But, because real estate prices are so high, it’s now much more exclusively for the rich, all clipped and snipped by landscapers. Hedgerows dominate and people have their plot of paradise. Nobody knocks on anybody’s door unasked. And almost all doors and houses have alarm systems. It’s time to re-think this place. New times require new rules.

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