a true east end conundrum

A SNOW STORM! Some even say a “polar vortex.” Yes, it is cold out there, but people from colder climes with whom I am domiciled are laughing at you America, “You call it a vortex, we call it January!” There is panic, danger is afoot. In the Orient Post Office, the lady from Peconic informs, “I drove 20 miles per hour, all the way out here.” Heads shake. Disbelief! The causeway is cause for concern, with invisible sea on either side. There are many accidents, and even your tank-like Town and Country is no match for the slushy wushy. It trips up the breaks and you pull into the neighbor’s front yard all astonished.

In the evening, among the sheets white coming down, snowflakes so fine that you can only see them in the lantern lights, a call is received. “This is a message from Superintendent So-and-So,” says a voice over a crackly connection. “School for [RANDOM DATE INSERTED HERE] has been cancelled.” What the? I knew it was a bad storm, but can’t they just clean the roads? There aren’t many kids out here in this nape of the way, neck of the land, and there are only two school buses. But then I recalled that Superintendent So-and-So and Principal Who’s-it-What’s-it live on the SOUTH FORK. They ride the Shelter Island ferries to work. This must be the reason! The South Forkers can’t get to work, and no Southies equals no Schoolie.

It’s a true East End conundrum. Up island, the transit is between places on a map — the depot of home improvements, the authority of sports, but out here, down island, these places on the map are surrounded by water — Shelter Island, Robins Island, Gardiners Island. These are the American maritimes. To the east lies Plum Island and Fishers Island and Great Gull Island, and then there is Block Island and farther beyond you encounter those tasty Wampanoag names, Cuttyhunk, Penikese, Nashawena, and then even farther on, the gay bluffs of Aquinnah. Ferries matter out here among the trees and seasonal seafood restaurants. They matter.

But they never stopped running. The supermarket in Greenport is one of few stores open the following day, and the lady who talks all the time has made it to work. She lives on Shelter Island {“You know, not everybody on Shelter Island is rich” she said once while bagging my provisions} and today she is ever as blabberful, with the old-timey, “I remember the California oil spill back in ’64, remember that?”} “I’m surprised to see you here,” I said. “I thought they cancelled the  ferries.” “No, the ferries never stop running,” she says. “Only if you get a moon tide or something will they cancel the ferries, but not last night.” “But they cancelled school. I figured they cancelled the schools because the ferries weren’t running.” “Oh no,” a wise-old chortle. “They cancelled school because they are afraid of lawsuits. If someone gets in an accident on the way to school, then the district is liable.” “You can really sue district for that?” “Sure, because the district ‘made them’ come in in such awful conditions.” “In this state you really feel the law on your neck all the time, huh.” “It’s the land of lawyers, all right,” she belly laughs. “Credit or Debit?”

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