A few workers are boarding up the rooms over the Dune Deck Motel’s pool and a TV cameraman is setting up his rig to point south toward the darkest part of the deep grey sky that has washed in over the beach. The last few guests, the ones flirting with the ten o’clock evacuation deadline, are eating brunch and watching the morning news, which shows a different, if not discernably different, beach in North Carolina.
When I joke to the cameraman that a news truck is always a bad omen, he pauses to say, “You know it,” before resuming the apparently herculean task of wrestling his camera into its plastic covering.
Further east on West Hampton Dunes, the low slung barrier island sitting about 100 yards off the southern edge of Southampton, the beach is empty except for a tow-headed family and their nervous golden retriever, who barks angrily at the foam covered waves then gets bored and chases his boy.
At the end of the road, the parking lot of the Cuspoque Beach Park is full of sleeping gulls. A woman leaning against her road bike on the deck of the Park’s snack bar takes pictures of the dunes. She is wearing Lycra and an expression that fails to hide her contentment in the face of trouble. Surely there is a German word for such a feeling.
As the evacuation deadline passes, two couples –- one old, one young -– stand on the steps of their private club and watch a wave creep over the berm to deposit a bucketful of water in a fresh tidepool.
“There are rumors that there will be more evacuations, but we’re not planning on leaving,” says the young woman, who is wearing a turquoise cover up and large sunglasses.
When I ask if anyone has seen a forecast, the older man shakes his head. Nobody here owns a T.V.
One of the firemen evacuating a nearby portion of Dune Road crowded with shoulder-to-shoulder mansions says he’s heard that the storm’s been downgraded, that flooding is going to be the only issue. He hasn’t had any trouble convincing people to leave the island, not yet.
“It’s not like they have choice, the evacuation is mandatory,” he says. “These rich guys are just going to go back to Manhattan and stay in their condos with the big windows where the storm is going to be worse.”
He should know. He used to be NYPD.
Back on Long Island, in West Hampton Beach’s town center, a main street shopkeeper is struggling to board up his windows, straining to cover the top panes of his storefront. When I offer to help, he responds curtly: “I’ve gotten used to being short.”
A man with a Stonewall Jackson mustache, long silver hair and a few pieces of plywood under his arm notices my faux pas and asks if I’m visiting for the weekend. When I admit that I am, he tells me I’ve chosen the perfect weekend. He says people are out and about talking to each other.
“The lumberyard hasn’t sold this much stuff for five years,” he says. “Good for the economy.”
But not everyone is buying. The aging owner of an antique store just off the main drag is not boarding up her place for the storm, only marking down her merchandise 20 percent for a "Hurricane Special." She’s listening to Dr. John play “Let the Good Times Roll” on her boombox and I’m sorely tempted to purchase a large, metal lobster, a steal at $15.
“I’ve been here for over twenty years,” she says -– a profound non-sequitor.