The summer people are finally gone and the year-rounders couldn’t be happier.
By Lois Smith Brady
Almost every major city has a beach resort where the glamorous and the wanna‑be glamorous congregate during the summer ‑Paris has the Riviera, Rome has Portofino, Boston has Cape Cod, and L.A. has, well, L.A.
For New York, it's the Hamptons, a handful of New England‑style hamlets on the eastern end of Long Island. From Memorial Day on, the social scene here epitomizes what gossip columnist William Norwich calls the '90s Mix: Wall Street moguls, movie stars, rock'n'roll legends, Kennedys, fashion models, and celebrity writers all converge here. On some summer nights, it can appear that the sky is filled with shooting stars; in fact, it's filled with private jets in descent.
In the summer, the local population quadruples‑as does the number of cellular phones, nannies, weighty gold earrings, traffic jams, and European cars. And none of these summer people knows or cares that among the locals summer is known as everything from Paradise Lost to the Hundred Horrible Days.
From Amagansett to Westhampton, the housing situation becomes tragicomic. In Southampton, the oceanfront mansions along Gin Lane, where the driveways are so long you need binoculars to see the front door, easily rent for $150,000 per summer.
On the other end of the rental spectrum are summer shares, groups of five to 20 friends from Manhattan who join together and share everything from the rent to the Häagen‑Dazs and Chardonnay bills. Getting into a group house sometimes requires a long interview process; being in one requires social stamina. A Manhattan banker was a member of two shares in the Hamptons this summer. "Everyone is there to see who they can meet," she says. "It's a real pickup scene. People want to have lists of parties, or else they feel really out of it. There's a lot of pressure‑you're considered weird if you sit at home on a Saturday night."
How does the arrival en masse of these party‑seeking, fashion‑conscious, Ferrari‑driving interlopers affect the year‑round community? "It's awful," says Laurie Lambrecht, who grew up in Bridgehampton. "It's like being in Madison Square Garden when a game lets out."
For many locals, summer is a form of culture shock, especially after the long, quiet winter. In January, cruising around in a car can be a dreamy experience, as if you have an Enya track running in your head. The mansions in Southampton are closed up like sanitariums after the tuberculosis cure. The beach is deserted. In Sagaponack, where pristine white farmhouses and potato fields extend to the ocean, sea gulls and pickup trucks are the only moving objects. In the supermarket lines, people are calm; there's a sense that everyone's been drinking herbal tea. Many consider this the truly glamorous season, even though the possibility of garnering five to 10 party invitations for one night is about as remote as catching bluefish in the ocean at this time of year.
The country clubs with annual dues of $100,000 close down, only to be replaced by gatherings out of a Sherwood Anderson short story. Walking down the sidewalk in January and February, you pass the same people so regularly, you begin to think of them as acquaintances without really knowing them. "People notice you in the winter," says Geralyn Russo, a painter and a waitress. "When I moved into Sag Harbor, people in town instantly knew me. It was like there was a new girl in town."
Brian Zeh, a carpenter, occasionally hangs out at the Roadhouse bar in Southampton, where the clientele rarely changes from the first snowfall until Memorial Day. "It's always the same crowd," he says. "I swear you can go three weekends in a row, and the same people will be sitting in the same seats."
There are other idyllic aspects to winter. For instance, from October through May it's possible to rent million‑dollar summer homes ‑ones with pools, tennis courts, and outdoor sculptures the size of dinosaurs‑ for a short period of time and very little money (you're basically house‑sitting). Caroline Doctorow, a country and bluegrass singer and the daughter of writer E. L. Doctorow, moved here 10 years ago in the middle of winter and rented a "big old house" within days. She recalls, "It was this 200‑year‑old house with old floorboards and five fireplaces. It was huge, huge."
Four short months later, the rent not only skyrockets but everyday things like going to the post office can suddenly become as unpleasant as sunburn. Jan Hanna, news director and morning show cohost at Beach 104.7 FM in Amagansett, says, "In the summer, if you go to the post office, you'll be standing in line for 20 minutes, and someone will rush in and say, 'Oh, please, can I go ahead? I'm in an enormous hurry.' I'm, like, what do you think we are, chopped liver? We're enormously busy, too. This is not Disneyland out here. We're real people."
Like many others, Laurie Lambrecht avoids the supermarkets on summer Saturdays, preferring to diet or starve rather than run into the hordes of people out for the weekend who can be as nasty as sand flies. Laurie, an art photographer, says, "I heard a story about a local who was in line at the supermarket, and this woman from New York turned to her and said, 'Why don't you people shop during the week?'"
No matter where you live, there is always the feeling after winter that you're coming out of hibernation. In the Hamptons, the feeling is more akin to Rip Van Winkle's: Things ‑especially prices‑ change so much after Memorial Day that you feel you've been asleep for 20 years of inflation. Gourmet stores suddenly open up everywhere, selling products that combine the inedible with the unaffordable, such as $7 pints of pear and cinnamon‑basil sorbet. Even more startling, there are masses of people everywhere who are crazy about the stuff.
Last year, Amy Turner worked at Barefoot Contessa, a shop in which you can find $11 packets of linguini and seafood salad for $20 a pound. It is mobbed from Memorial Day onward. No wonder the aforementioned William Norwich refers to this end of Long Island as the Cashamptons.
The cyclical nature of living in the Hamptons year‑round can sometimes feel like a form of madness. For instance, in the wintertime, no one dresses up. The sound of high heels on the sidewalk is the sound of strangers in town. From October to April, it seems perfectly natural to walk down the street in corduroys and thundercloud‑gray tennis sneakers.
However, come Memorial Day, wearing that same outfit can feel like a major faux pas ‑as if you've walked into a debutante ball in cutoff jeans. Amy Turner describes the summer Hamptons style as "the whole show‑your‑wealth thing." "It's almost like there's a uniform," she says. "The beachy, chic, Ralph Lauren look."
Athletic wear changes from winter to summer as well. In the winter, joggers along the back roads usually wear old‑fashioned, loose cotton sweats, à la John F. Kennedy, circa 1960. Describing the scene inside Barefoot Contessa last summer, Turner says, "We have a sign in the store that says NO PETS, and I thought we should come up with a sign that said NO MEN IN TIGHT LYCRA BICYCLE SHORTS."
To avoid the traffic jams, inflationary prices, and the Lycra set and their obnoxious conversations, most people who live here year‑round never go into town. They become like a ghost population, spiriting along the back roads, sunbathing in their backyard rather than on the beach, talking on the telephone to friends until fall, when they can get together in peace again. "I go to town so rarely this time of year," says Christie Hagerman. "Only in the case of a bomb threat." Jim Pike, a young farmer in Sagaponack, says, "I know people who live here who will not go into town ever in the summer. It puts you in a bad mood. It colors your view of the sunflowers."
Sometimes, just walking out your front door in August can be like opening the wrong door on Let's Make a Deal. John Gebhardt, a resident of Southampton, says, "Our road is a disaster by the end of summer. We walk out and find trash on the side of the road, sometimes even in our front yard. I've found diapers, chicken bones, fast‑food wrappers, beer cans ‑the whole nine yards."
If you live here all the time, the sudden and constant exposure to over‑the‑top spending and people riding around in $100,000 convertibles can make summer not only irritating but as depressing as New Year's Eve. For a cleaning woman who asked to remain anonymous, the warm months are always tinged with sadness. "I clean a house in East Hampton," she says. "They have a master bedroom to die for, with lots of antique lace. There are more clothes in the closets than I've had in my entire life. That's what I hate about summer. I go into all these houses, and I realize how much I don't have."
If you've ever been to the Hamptons, you know about the Hampton Jitney, the bus service from New York to Southampton that is as much a part of this place as the honeysuckle-yellow light, the driftwood‑gray barns, and the beach. In the winter, you're likely to find poet‑carpenters, aerobics instructors, local teachers, or masseuses aboard; in the summer, Kurt Vonnegut, Donna Karan, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Iman suddenly appear. As Debbi Kins, an on‑board hostess on the Jitney, likes to say, "This is not Greyhound, babe."
Debbi Kins started working for the Jitney in 1985, the year she moved from Manhattan to the Hamptons with an eye on change and a pregnant cat. For her, summer is the season when she confronts busload after busload of high‑powered, fast‑talking New Yorkers, much like the sort of person she used to be when she lived on the Upper East Side.
"One passenger invited me to a Halloween party," she recalls. "Her boyfriend owned an art gallery in New York and was one of the foremost collectors of Man Ray photographs.
I felt like a combination of E.T. and Cinderella. When I walked in, everyone said, 'Oh, isn't it funny? You work as a conductor on the bus!' " She adds, "They were fascinated about why I would want to do something off the beaten track, why I wouldn't opt for a power job in the city."
When the Jitney unloads in Southampton on a hot August day, the passengers almost always hit the ground running, as if they've just arrived for a blowout sale at Bendel's. You can see their determination to find the 10 best parties that night, to do what you're supposed to do in the Hamptons, which is sip dry white wine on a seaside lawn with high‑profile people, a wait staff and sea gulls all around you.
Christie Hagerman, a tall strawberry blonde who has the looks of a model mixed with the rowdy personality of a cowgirl, works as a chef‑waitress at many parties like this. Recalling a recent dinner at a movie producer's house in Sag Harbor, she says, "The guests were talking about their favorite hotels, places in Venice that cost $1700 a night. And I was, like, “Well, I like the Holiday Inn in Colorado!"
When it comes down to it, most year‑rounders spend summer looking not for multiple dinner parties or famous people to schmooze with, but for their own version of the Holy Grail: moments that remind them of the dead of winter.
They are hard to find. Mary Adams Hedges, 85, has lived in Sagaponack for 26 years, in a charming farmhouse filled with Victorian furniture and oil paintings, one of which depicts a woman standing on her head at the beach. Sitting in her spare, Hopperesque kitchen, Hedges says, "I used to know a woman who went to the Laundromat late at night in summer because that was the only quiet place in town."
The Laundromat is utopian in more than a few ways; besides being quiet, it is also one of the easiest places to get a seat in town between 6:00 and 10:00 P.M. What summer really brings to the Hamptons, besides noise, cellular phones, traffic jams, and supermodels, is a star system. For nine months out of the year you can get seated in the chicest restaurants anytime. During the summer, getting into one of them suddenly requires name‑dropping and giving a few hints about the new movie you're working on. Most year‑round people don't bother, but, nevertheless, all summer long you get the feeling you're a contestant in a status pageant.
Some people get so tired of what Debbi Kins calls "the whole glitzy maddening summer scene" that they become almost militant about identifying themselves, in everything from their clothes to their conversation, as locals, winter people, celebrities, perhaps, but not obnoxious celebrities. Billy Joel lives in Amagansett year‑round and is stridently local‑he is spotted about town far more often with clam men than with the rock 'n' roll legends in the Hamptons for July.
Amy Turner has seen the Hamptons both ways. When she first visited, it was as a summer person. She was a film student at the time and came out for weekends to cocktail-party hop, schmooze if possible with scriptwriters, movie directors, or stars, then rush back to the city on Sunday night.
Now she lives permanently in Sag Harbor and works at a farm stand in Sagaponack; it has been a long time since she's worn high fashion or scanned a cocktail party for famous faces or honked at a slow‑moving tractor on the road. (In fact, she loyally wears "local" clothes such as blue jeans that are dirty from planting leeks, baggy T‑shirts, and a dandelion tied around her wrist as jewelry, sartorially associating herself with the year‑round population almost as a political statement.) "As a summer person, you're part of the invasion of the bodysnatchers," she says. "You come for three months to this planet and leave your trash and your pets behind. There are summer people who actually get a dog for three months and then leave it at ARF [Animal Rescue Fund].
"Now I am on the other side," she continues. "I get a thrill from walking through chichi East Hampton with dirt on me and my boots. To me, the ultimate insult would be if someone called me a summer person. I would just be crushed."