The Monday after our trip to Orient, Alistair and I had dinner with friends at Pongal. Like most of our party conversation in the last two weeks, we spent most of it selfishly answering the question: "So what are you going to see in Switzerland?"
Alistair was born in Geneva and almost all of his immediate family still lives there. I had met most of his relatives at a wedding in Whistler last year except Alistair's mom, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to travel to Switzerland in the summer, meet his mom, and make a vacation out of it. Alistair had planned a full tour of his favorite places (which on the trip we would call “The Grand Tour” and much later start calling it “The Lake Tour”). At dinner we excitedly described every stop, and I almost forgot that I'd be spending Wednesday morning seeing an old friend, and later in the week going to Montauk.
On Wednesday, August 8 my alarm clock went off an hour early. I rolled out of bed, threw on clothes, made it to the subway at 7:30 am. I had very important plans.
Some backstory: In high school I decided to join an online pen pal finder website. I started emailing with a girl named Noelle in Sydney. Every morning I excitedly powered up the PC to read an email from her. In college and adulthood we connected on social media but stopped our weekly emails. Early in summer my iPhone buzzed with a message from her: "She's coming to New York and she wants to meet up!" Alistair listened to me chirp about it for weeks.
Our schedules were both busy and she would only be in the city two days. An early morning coffee at Grand Central Station was the best option. I took my favorite walk through Times Square nervously tapping my fingers against my legs at the crosswalks on the way, starting to sweat. Meeting people in real life confirms the great fear that our online selves and our real selves are different. Knowing this, I worried that she would be disappointed in the real me.
When I approached our meeting place I spotted her instantly. She and her boyfriend were two of the tallest people on the block. She had light brown hair and tan skin with delicate freckles, looking like the photos I had of her from back-when. We greeted each other with a hug. Her boyfriend had a generous beard and shook my hand, saying: "When she told me about you I thought 'you have to meet her, this is so cool!'"
We walked to the underground food hall at Grand Central where we got iced coffees and found a table. We had so many questions for each other that the conversation flowed easily. I learned that she and her boyfriend had been traveling for almost a year by car through the US, making stops for two days before moving to the next place. They both worked for the Australian government in Canberra (with very nice vacation packages, obviously). She was surprised I remembered so much from her letters like her daily trips through the drive-in coffee shop, Gloria Jeans, or her fear of spiders.
“You remember that!” She exclaimed.
“Oh yes, you used to spray them with hairspray and run away.” We both laughed. After chatting for thirty minutes I glanced at my watch. it was almost 9 am and I would need to head to the office. I pouted, it was a shame that our meeting was so short.
"Skip work and come to the METs game with us!" joked her boyfriend. Oh, how I wished I could.
"We should get a photo!" Noelle said. We went upstairs to the main hall. It was rush hour, big crowds of people passed over us like waves, and in a clearing we took a photo. Then I walked them to their train uptown, they planned to see Central Park and take in a METs game. We said goodbye in the most New York waymy unlimited Metrocard swipped me through but her's needed a refill. We would have to hug over the turnstiles.
On Friday afternoon I left work and caught the LIRR to Montauk. I would be the last person to arrive among my group of friends, who were already at the beach drinking rosé and on their way to dinner. I felt like I was missing out on our typical routine: check in, Gossman’s Deck for lunch (sitting outside, even when it’s overcast), swimming at the hotel pool or Ditch Plains, dinner at Crowe’s Nest.
I got to the station near 10 pm. It was the first time I’d ever arrived alone, I got a cab driver (actually a duo of drivers, a husband drove while his wife yelled directions from the front seat). This time Kennedy booked us at a downtown hotel, “it’s close to everything!” she said. Part of me missed my usual hotel, The Montauk Manor, and feared what this new hotel might bring to a very regimented trip.
The girls left me a key at the front desk so I dropped my bags and lounged in the room. Around 11 everyone returned from dinner and we sat in the motel courtyard catching up. The main topic of conversation was the weather. On our last two trips it rained nonstop and a cold front blew in, we had to cancel our boat charter (the horror!) and relegate all fun to the indoor pool and rental DVDs.
There was some rain on Saturday. We had brunch and came back soaked from a downpour. Everyone began researching rainy-day options. We made a few phone calls but everything was booked. I made an uncharacteristic, executive decision: “we just need to start drinking,” I said and walked with Kennedy to the wine store to buy two bottles of Hamptons Gatorade, aka, rosé .
I realize that everything I’ve just written makes me sound like an asshole. But living an ethical, moral life all of the year can get tiring. Always worrying if you’re supporting the right causes and businesses and tipping well, and calling your legislators, and making the right decisions 24/7 feels like fucking work. Sometimes I want to forget the man and be the man. That’s why I go to Montauk. To forget the disparity and live like the ignorant.
We drank rose until 5 pm, when we dressed and headed by car to the Crowe's Nest. As always, it was beautiful, decadent. I wait all year long for that one moment where we pass the dining room and jog down the steep, grass-covered hill behind the restaurant down to the water and the sand. I wait forever for the sunset, that sunset. I always wish I could take my family there so they can see it. It's really a special place.
We had a drink by the waters edge followed by a long meal in the dining room. The plan was to return to the hotel, then go out for drinks.
"If we go home then we're never going out," I said. "I know this from past relevant experience."
And of course, we were in bed by 11 pm. We never made it to location number two.
The next day the sun came out. We all went to the pool for a few hours and then walked to the beach. I burned myself in the sun but generally enjoyed the feeling of heat on my hair and shoulders. We shared another bottle of rosé .
We walked to Sloppy Tuna for lunch, a local staple that turns into a raging nightclub in the evenings. We always avoided it on past trips because the local, year-round Montauker's told us it was gauche. Let's be honest, we all wanted nothing more than the favor of the local, year-round Montauker's. Kennedy had gone earlier in the month and liked it and convinced us to try it. I had a margarita and fish and chips on the upstairs patio. Near five o'clock we gathered our things and took a quiet ride to the train station.
After a three hour ride home I went straight to Alistair's apartment. We had dinner and nailed down the last few details before our Switzerland departure. He already had a suitcase open and ready on his bedroom floor. I could hardly believe it was time.