At about 9:20 a.m. on Friday, the driver of a black SUV plowed into a utility pole on the shoulder of the road in East Hampton at Stephen Hands Path and the Montauk Highway. The pole shivered, broke about halfway up and sent an electrical wire crashing down, along with a streetlight.
Friday is the day visitors come out for the weekend by the tens of thousands from New York City. Not this day.
The police barricaded the highway from either direction, and they had men in yellow vests sending traffic off into the hinterlands, onto streets with names like Huckleberry Lane, Towhee Trail, Palomino Court, Hayseed Way and Georgica Woods Lane, a sort of spaghetti tangle GPS nightmare.
This is the only choke point on the 50 miles of Montauk Highway through the Hamptons. On the south, it is bordered by the Ron Perelman estate. On the north it is bordered by the woods and Daniel’s Hole Road winding off to the airport. On both the east and the west, 200 yards apart, tributaries of Georgica Pond cross the road. There is no way for anyone inside this 200–yard choke point, to find a shortcut to get around it.
It was 9 a.m. when my wife and I left our house in Springs, East Hampton intending to drive to the Poxabogue café in Wainscott. My wife and I had a breakfast date there with artist Leif Hope. We would be discussing this summer’s Artists & Writers Celebrity Softball Game and other things. I headed through downtown East Hampton, turned right at the pond, and, two miles further up, ran into the blockade—not at Stephen Hands Path but at the Red Horse Market a mile before it.
Without explanation, traffic was being detoured onto Cove Hollow Road, an invitation to return back into East Hampton. I had to take it. There was no other way. Of course, I immediately turned off onto a side street to seek another way around whatever was blocking the highway here. I have lived here and driven the roads for over half a century. It was hopeless. I was into the tangle of tiny switchback roads.
“Wouldn’t you know it,” I said, “every gasoline truck on the Montauk Highway turned onto its side all at the same time.”
It was meant as a joke. But this was no joke. We phoned Leif. We’d be late. Half an hour and five miles later, we got in line heading south on Stephen Hands Path toward the highway, presumably on the other side of the accident. Through the trees, we could see the flashing lights of dozens of vehicles. We were coming in to catastrophe central.
We got to see it—the sports car sideways to the highway, the downed pole, an ambulance, the men waving us into a single lane westbound. Those going eastbound, from New York City to East Hampton, were stopped for as far as the eye could see. Three miles later, arriving at Poxabogue, it was still at a standstill. Folks dreaming of their weekend in the Hamptons. Arriving to a surprise.
We spent the whole rest of the day west of the catastrophe. We headed home at 5 p.m. and thought it was probably safe to go straight down through where the accident had been.
Nope. They were still at it. This was eight hours later. I took pictures of the catastrophe from the car as we got to the front and went off into the hinterlands.
I learned later that it was another two hours before the new pole got delivered, the streetlight was back up and the wires relocated.
Now everything is fine.
The authorities have been urging East Enders to know what to do if everybody has to get out of town. For a while they had signs up along the Montauk Highway. EVACUATION ROUTE.
Well, it is an evacuation route, except for this single choke point. And a car hit a pole there last Friday morning and our weekenders heading east dispersed to Shelter Island, Calverton, the North Pole and Maine.