So Much To Say …

Remember that Dave Matthews song? I got to see him at a fancy concert at Ross School one time. I got to interview a host of celebrities. Met Jay-Z, P. Diddy, JLo, Christie Brinkley, Don McLean, Chuck Schumer, Andrew — and Mario — Cuomo, Hillary Clinton. None of those meetings excited or impressed me as much as learning about “regular” people in our community.

If a reporter turned in a story as long as the “Memory Lane” piece in this week’s Indy, I’d probably yell, and start cutting. But that piece doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the nearly quarter century (!) of memories I’ve got from life at The Independent.

This morning the notion “planes, trains, and automobiles,” crossed my mind as I considered how often covering our community meant hopping aboard some form of transportation piloted by a local worker or volunteer. I went up in a plane with Bud Jones, on a ride-along with Officer Cecil Blowe, out on patrol with the county’s marine division, on the backs of two motorcycles with the Red Knights, with a date doing surveillance of the use of town vehicles (and she wonders why she’s single?), and in the shotgun seat of a snow plow during a blizzard.

I went out during a lot of blizzards. A couple hurricanes. Put my camera in my shirt so it wouldn’t freeze at polar bear events and the first lighting of the Montauk Light. Citizens saved Shadmoor State Park and, suffering strep throat, I climbed up the bluff with them to rally.

With them, but not really with them. It was my job to observe and report. It’s a journalist’s job, supposedly, to stay apart, and just tell readers what happened. But we’re human and that detachment wasn’t always easy. And I felt it was okay to cry and laugh and rage and resist right alongside my East End neighbors. To feel the hometown pride of meeting our town cops coming back from Ground Zero at 2 AM one morning after 9/11. To celebrate years and years of our local students’ accomplishments. To mourn our losses.

I often joked that being a reporter was like being the genie in Aladdin: Infinite power . . . tiny, tiny paycheck. In some cases, I felt we wielded that power for the good of the Twin Forks. After Hurricane Katrina, upisland county executives held press conferences congratulating themselves for their disaster protocols.

I kept asking then CE Steve Levy, “What about the South Fork?” He’d just reneged on building an extra lane on County Road 39 in Southampton. I wrote about it a lot. A lot. Deputy County Executive Paul Sabatino gave me a nickname: “The Voice.” Levy’s flacks gave me another: “The Beast from the East.” I liked both monikers.

Two actions came from those arguments. The county figured out a way to add the extra lane, and the IT people in Hauppauge installed a censor that would bounce back any emails with “language.”

Levy called one Wednesday morning after reading something unflattering.

“I like you as a person,” he said.

“What else would you like me as?” I replied sweetly, or not.

Adversarial moments aside, Levy and his minions, like so, so many people helped me tell stories over the years. PR people and community members, elected officials, and town employees who bestowed the gift of their trust and tips. It could take me months to personally thank the scores of wonderful members of our community who taught, informed, offered guidance, and answered questions. I thank them, and, of course, the thousands of loyal readers of The Independent.

What’s next for me? That, I haven’t decided. One certainty, though. It will be a new life as a “regular” person.

Kitty Merrill