If you think the commute out to the Hamptons is hell now, imagine it in the days before there was a Southern State Parkway, Sunrise Highway, or Long Island Expressway.
As soon as school ended in June, my mom, us three kids, and our dog Susie would load up the family car and head out to Sag Harbor for the season. My dad would drive us and then take the train back to the city because he had to work all summer.
Needless to say, the car was stuffed with all sorts of crap.
Susie was an amazing dog but she had one major weakness — motion sickness.
The annual trip to Sag Harbor, then, was an unhappy and emotional time. The dog suffered like a married man who is trying to watch a football game on Sunday while his wife incessantly yaks about . . . well, strike that. But we felt her pain and tried everything to alleviate it over the years to no avail.
It began the day before the trip out. My dad would drag two trunks down from the attic that contained our summer clothes, beach towels, and so on.
The dog’s eyes would mist over, and she would lose her appetite. Slobber would seep from her curled lips. She developed a fever. It was textbook Pavlovian behavior. Over the years my mother tried every variation of motion sickness medication. None worked.
We used to put a tiny pill into one of my mother’s homemade meatballs. The dog would wolf it down in five seconds. Two hours later, we would see the pill slipping out of the corner of her pursed lips.
Meanwhile, the car would get a makeover for the journey. We’d put rubber mats on the back floor, followed by layers of newspapers, and then repeat the process. We would put her blankie back there, and her water, and her toys.
When the time came to leave we’d gently try to prod her into the back seat — and then ultimately have to drag her, the resistance so fierce the entire family would have to join forces.
We’d head out to the Island on Linden Boulevard. My evil older brother would set odds on when Susie would projectile hurl and it would always happen within 10 minutes. From there on out, it would be unyielding. In those days, the trip was basically Old Montauk Highway, all the way out down every Main Street from Islip through Sayville through Patchogue to Speonk and so on and so on. It took hours. There was a traffic light in the middle of every town and it seemed like it never turned from red to green.
Our big treat was dinner at the Hampton Bays Diner. My dad always celebrated the successful arrival in the Hamptons by getting his favorite: fried seafood platter. During the summer, we would repeat the theme — Mom would serve fish sticks and frozen scallops, etc.
This always troubled me: Here we are, in the epicenter of the nation’s fresh fish supply, and we are eating Mrs. Paul’s frozen crap. Why don’t we just go down the street and catch a nice fresh flounder or whatever?
This led me to my decades-old study of a disturbing subculture and my shocking conclusion: there is a cult of frozen clam strip fanatics in this country. They visit all the ports — Gloucester, Cape May Atlantic City, etc., and they order frozen clam strips. And then they debate mightily the merits of each, arguing which is the very best.
Surely, you get where I’m going with this. Packaged clam strips aren’t geographically correct: They are not distributed according to their origin, but even if they were, it’s a moot point because THERE ARE NO CLAMS IN CLAM STRIPS.
Clam strips are bread crumbs dosed in clam juice and lemon and dumped into a dirty deep fryer until they are golden brown, just like the scallops, flounder, and shrimp on the Fisherman’s Platter. They all taste the same!
So anyway, we would go in the diner and eat the fried seafood and my mom would attempt to walk Susie and clean up. You might ask why mom had to do the dirty chore and I can only reply hey, that’s what mothers are for.
When we would finally pull into the driveway of our house in Sag Harbor, Susie would perk up. After all, in the city she was confined to a little yard. In Sag Harbor, like most dogs in those days, she was free to roam.
We’d let her out the back door at the crack of dawn. She would make a beeline to the dumpster behind Baron’s Cove Inn, which was a restaurant specializing in — you guessed it — fresh local seafood. The entire dumpster smelled like clam strips. Susie would pull some of empty shells off the top and roll around in them until she reeked. She’d prance home, happy as a —wait for it — clam. A real clam.
Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.