I've spent almost my entire life on this Earth living on the East End of Long Island. As I've mentioned in a previous article, I didn't see it as any different than any other farming-based area that turned into a social hotspot for three months a year. But despite the fact that I saw the Hamptons as "normal", I knew there was one distinct difference; the lack of mass transit.
Now mind you, this problem isn't completely isolated to the East End. Mass transit in Suffolk County in general isn't as strong as it could be; the trains pretty much go to Manhattan and back, same with the jitneys and their ilk, while the basic get-around-town buses...
...wait. Who rides the bus? I couldn't think of a single person I knew who actually rode the bus, not just on a regular basis, but ever.
Buses out on the East End are elusive. Many have seen the beasts, not quite powder blue, not quite aqua, trudging along Montauk Highway, on their way to Greenport or Orient or East Hampton, but who has really caught one? Someone must ride these buses, and I wanted to find out who.
I wanted to ride the bus.
To prepare for this daunting task, I went online to get a bus schedule, find out how much cash I would need, and figure out where the heck this form of transportation could take me. The S-92 seemed like the best bet. Starting in East Hampton, the S-92 travels down Rte. 114 to Sag Harbor, travels back up to Bridgehampton, then covers Southampton, Hampton Bays, and Riverhead. It then continues further east over the North Fork all the way to the Orient Point Ferry... all for a buck-fifty. One dollar and fifty cents, for what would amount to a 79 mile trip. I was going to take it the whole way. I would make Suffolk County Transit earn my dollar fifty, while at the same time, traveling 79 miles for less than the price of a gallon of gas.
The next day I headed to East Hampton for the 9:40 a.m. bus, when I encountered my first problem: parking. Apparently, not too many people drive to go pick up the bus. I looked for a parking spot that wasn't a 2 hour maximum (knowing full well I'd get a ticket in East Hampton), and upon finding one, I looked at my watch to see that the S-92 would be coming at any minute. I'd have to run.
Running, as it turns out, wasn't necessary, as I got to the bus stop before the S-92 even took the corner from Newtown Lane onto Main Street. Two older women sat on a bench at the bus stop, and I nodded with a smile to my riding companions as I sat down. They seemed indifferent. Very well then.
The S-92 finally took its turn down Main Street and I rose to signify the bus driver that I, Tom Edwards, would be riding this bus. There's a sense of power when you can make a bus change its path solely because of you. It was solely because of me, it turns out, because my riding companions weren't waiting for my bus. They were waiting for the Jitney or the Luxury Liner, both of whom, I believe, share the bus stop with the people's bus, the S-92. I stepped on the bus, deposited my six quarters in the money box ("DRIVER CANNOT HANDLE MONEY" I am warned both on the bus and on the bus schedule), and took my seat in the front of the bus. There were three people already on the bus (there is a stop on Newtown Lane before my stop) and as the bus trucked along, I realized that I was sitting where I shouldn't have been. A sign above the seats at the front of the bus warned that those seats were for senior citizens and the disabled. Being neither, I moved to the back of the bus at the next stop. I'm sure that my bus riding brethren were mocking me deep down inside, having been exposed as a bus newbie.
The bus rolled on, having made a few stops along the way. Those riding the bus didn't have to wait until a scheduled bus stop to get off the bus, instead they just pulled a cord to let the driver know (and the rest of the bus, it turns out, as a sign lights to let the riders know that a stop is coming). I've learned from various cartoons and "I Love Lucy" reruns that such a move on a train causes the train to stop immediately, throwing passengers forward and causing a huge mess otherwise. Not so on the bus.
Right by the "I'm getting off the bus" light, I notice a sign informing me of the "nots" of the bus. Through pictures, I learn that there is no food or beverages, no radios, and no smoking on the bus. The cigarette and boom box in the sign is clear enough, but I started to wonder when the universal symbol of all food became a hot dog. Was there a vote? Perhaps a government-funded committee got together five years of research and determined that the shape that reminded people of nourishment was a rounded rectangle with a rounded point coming out each end. All these years of thinking Hawaiians and surfers were telling me to "hang loose", and in fact they were just asking me for something to eat.
As we cut through Sag Harbor, craving for hot dogs planted firmly in my brain, we pass the old Custom House, where I (and countless other East End schoolchildren) have been dumped off on various field trips for a little "history". The Custom House, for those who didn't go to grade school out here, was a home owned originally by the United States' first Custom Master back in the late 18th century. The house has been preserved in such a way to recreate how the house would have looked (inside and out) when the Custom Master and his family lived there. Sure enough, as we passed, there was a group of school children lining up to go inside. Old traditions live on, in more ways than one.
In Bridgehampton, we pick up a woman who immediately recognizes another woman on the bus, and begins talking to her. Up to that point, the bus has been completely silent. I then realize that not only are they the only ones talking, but they're the only ones doing much of anything. I'm the only other one looking out the window, seeing where we are and what we're passing. Everyone else looks forward or down. It's a far cry from the school bus, where everyone's talking to everyone else, turned around in their seats. I suddenly feel like I'm on a prison bus.
We hit a good percentage of pickups and drop-offs in Riverhead. There's a few rugged looking worker-types who get off at a building where construction is taking place, and there's a lot of activity at both the County Center and at the Riverhead train station (the only train station which is directly serviced by the S-92). In fact, the Riverhead stops seem to be the most "useful" that the bus takes, including stops at King Kullen
, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Central Suffolk Hospital in addition to the train station and the County Center. Most of the passengers that we picked up on the South Fork are gone by the time the Riverhead stops are done.
The trip on the North Fork is rather uneventful. It's not a bad trip, but long enough to make me sleepy. Greenport is the major destination for the S-92, as it's the only time that the bus leaves Route 25 the entire time it's on the North Fork. It's around Greenport that I realize that I may be the only one continuing on to Orient Point. There's only one person left on the bus outside of me as we get into Orient, and she seems to know the bus driver pretty well. By the time we hit Orient Point and I get out of the bus, she doesn't move, so I'm assuming she's around to keep the bus driver company, which isn't a bad thing.
We get to the ferry dock at about 12:15, which is a bit behind schedule. The 9:40 bus is supposed to arrive at the ferry dock at 11:55, and with ferries leaving on the hour, if you had noon ferry reservations, you were out of luck. Then again, if you honestly trust mass transportation of any kind out here without giving yourself at least a 45 minute window, you're pretty naÔve. I finally get off the bus and try to figure out what I'm going to do with my time until I make my return trip. Unlike the community of Orient, which is an actual hamlet, Orient Point is a boat, a shed to buy tickets in, and a road that falls into the water. My only hopes for killing time was a tuna salad sandwich at a small snack bar for those who were waiting for the ferry.
Then it hit me. The bus wasn't leaving. I figured that since there was a 45 minute break between when the bus was supposed to arrive at Orient Point to the time it was supposed to leave, that there would be a different bus coming to Orient Point to start the journey anew. It parked nearby, however, and after a few minutes of remembering why I don't eat tuna salad outside of homemade (good tuna salad needs onion), I realized that the same bus that took me to Orient Point for my faux ferry ride was also going to take me back to East Hampton. Instead of just jumping back on the bus and pretending like I was fresh off the ferry, I would have to slink back onto the same bus, where I would immediately be labeled "the weird guy who rides the bus all day."
As if this article wasn't enough to give me that title.
I figured there had to be more of us, though. I mean, let's face it. I'm paying three dollars to go 158 miles. People like to take rides. Hell, people like to be chauffeured. I proudly walked up to the bus (hiding my soda which I fully intended to drink despite what the hot dog on the sign told me), deposited my six quarters and walked to the back, prepared to ignore the strange looks from the bus driver (and sidekick who had stayed on the bus) as I headed to the back.
The bus driver was indifferent. He got paid if I rode the bus or not. He likely wouldn't have noticed if I weren't wearing pants. (I was, for the record.)
The ride back was much like the ride there, and when we finally arrived in East Hampton, there was an odd sense of accomplishment. Not only had I ridden the bus, but I had taken it for its full value, a hearty 158 mile ride for three bucks. Drive that in a SUV (18 MPG) and it would have cost me a little over $20 in gas. And, in the process, I had that feeling one gets at the end of a school field trip, a bit exhausted despite not really doing anything.
It was pretty cool.