Motorcycles and More: A View from My House on Three Mile Harbor

The sound of 400 motorcycles is hard to forget!
The sound of 400 motorcycles is hard to forget!
Philip Openshaw

Most people who buy a house in the Hamptons do so to obtain peace and quiet away from the crowds. Their homes cost tens of millions. The real estate brokers will tell you about them. You get your own tennis court, a swimming pool with a pool house, a gym, a dozen or more bedrooms, a broad lawn, a private theater, a line of hedgerows for privacy and a gate that only opens to visitors when they know what code to press. 

Welcome to the Hamptons. And this is what we have come to.

However, that was not what I was looking for when I bought my house. That was half a century ago. Every store in every town in the Hamptons closed on Sunday for church. Dogs would sleep on the white line in the middle of Main Street. The Hamptons then were small, peaceful towns. So I was looking for excitement.

For that reason, I bought (for $43,000), a house on a well-traveled country road overlooking a harbor. It sat just 90 feet from that road. But it was on a hillside, 17 feet up. So I could look down at the road and across it. Boats in the harbor sit in slips that back up to the road. Across the harbor, the sun sets. And lots of interesting stuff happens just outside my window.

One summer long ago, at 8 a.m., a lone man would swim slowly across the harbor and back to start his day. Another summer, every Friday evening, a seaplane would land in the harbor so a businessman with a briefcase could disembark to a waiting launch piloted by an employee who would motor him over to his 100-foot yacht. It was called “Serenity.”

Wishing to join the action, I bought a small cannon, set it up on our deck and exactly at sunset every Sunday evening, fired it out to sea. It would echo up and down the harbor. I loved it. The kids loved it. Somebody complained about it one day and a police officer came knocking, but when I told the officer it was just once a week on Sunday at sunset, he smiled and left. Some years later, the kids grew up and left. And I left off firing the cannon. 

Here’s something more recent. Three weeks ago, a black SUV came down the road and slowed to a halt at the curb on the far side of the road. A woman got out of the car, opened the back, and slid out a long wooden pole that had a big American flag on the end. Carrying it to the curb, she unfurled it and began waving it furiously in the air. 

I was puzzled by this for a bit, but then I heard a noise. A low growling, rumbling sound was coming from far up the street. It got louder and louder. And as this woman began jumping up and down frantically waving her flag, a man in black leather on a motorcycle came roaring by.

Vrooom!

A few seconds later a second person on a motorcycle roared by, and then a third and a fourth and a fifth. Vroom! Vroom! Vroom! They came by heading to town at one- or two-second intervals. 

After about 30 seconds, they were still coming one after another like this with the woman waving the flag excitedly at each one of them. I thought, “How many are there?” I looked at my watch, noted the time, and still they came.

“This is great!” I thought. By this time, my wife Chris was out to see what was going on. I kept looking at my watch. Five minutes went by. Six, seven minutes.

Vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom. 

The parade of motorcycles lasted a full nine minutes. As they were going by at the rate of about one every second and a half, the full shebang was about 400 motorcyclists passing loudly by our house. As I write about it, I remember it to this day. Wow!

When it ended, the woman walked her flag back to her SUV, shoved it in the back, got in the front and drove off. A job well done.

I write this on July 5. The Fourth of July parade and fireworks in various towns are over. But now we can look forward to the big one.

At 9:30 p.m. on July 16, the Gruccis of New York, the biggest and most famous fireworks manufacturer in America and much of the world, will be firing off a 40-minute barrage of fireworks high up into the night sky from a large rectangular barge towed out for the occasion to the center of Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton, within sight of my house. The Clamshell Foundation Fireworks is a celebration of Bastille Day, the French holiday similar to our Fourth of July. Actor-writer George Plimpton, a resident of Wainscott, started holding it there every year for charity sometime in the early 1970s.

Members of our immediate family, from as far away as San Francisco, will be in attendance at our house on the hillside to watch this. But there will be others of us who will motor out into the harbor in a boat and park just a few hundred yards from this barge using buoys, the town Marine Patrol makes a sort of line in the water so nobody gets too close (or any closer than we are) so we will enjoy it from there, with shouts, drinks raised and eyes on the dark sky where the gold, silver, red and yellow sparkling and neon showers thump and crackle over everyone. 

Grucci Fireworks, the firm that constructs these unique displays and is hired to do this, has its headquarters in Bellport, Long Island. It also had its testing facilities in Bellport on that property, but one day in 1983, the entire fireworks warehouse exploded, sending rockets everywhere for nearly an hour and a half. Some 100 nearby homes were damaged. Windows were blown out, roofs collapsed, chimneys were toppled and cars were overturned. Twenty-four people were injured and two people died as a result of what was likely the biggest fireworks display ever seen on Earth. Afterwards, the firm moved its testing facilities to a huge barren wasteland in Yaphank where it is now.

And since then it’s been OK.

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