Everybody has been wondering what these large caves workmen have been digging at the beach in Southampton could be. You can see them from a distance. They are halfway up the dune facing the ocean at the back of Cooper’s Beach.
This dune has been fenced off since the work began last month. Only hardhat workmen are allowed in and out. So it has been a mystery. But then, this past Thursday, all that changed. Around midday, bunting and balloons were put up surrounding the cave opening. The fencing was removed, and there was this big grand opening. Mystery solved.
This cave, along with another that has just been completed at Main Beach in East Hampton, are the end of the line for the two new underground Hampton Subway spurs, one connecting Main Street, Southampton and Cooper’s Beach and the other connecting East Hampton with East Hampton Main Beach.
Dignitaries, officials and other invited guests attended the grand opening of the spur to Cooper’s Beach last Saturday. (The opening of East Hampton Main Beach line will be next Saturday, to allow the press to write about one and then the other thus making maximum use of media ink, according to Subway Public Relations man Amos Crackenbush.)
At 9:30 a.m., the guests stood out on the sidewalk in front of the subway entrance at the corner of Hampton Road and Main Street in Southampton and they clapped as the speeches were delivered and the red ribbon was cut, after which they all went down the stairs to the platform there to take the first rides to the beach.
Speaking at this grand opening by the entrance to kick things off were Southampton Mayor Mark Eply, Subway Commissioner Bill Aspinall, Supermodel Christie Brinkley, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, County Supervisor Steve Levy, U. S. Congressman Tim Bishop and Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Throne-Holst. After they all spoke, the Southampton High School Marching Band struck up “Hail to the Chief,” and the band, headed up by baton twirler Tiffany Fishco of Water Mill, went down the stairs to the platform and everybody followed.
“The beach is just a swipe of your card away,” said Congressman Bishop of Southampton up on the street during the opening ceremonies.
“This is a grand day for Southampton,” said Mayor Epley. He pointed out that more than 90% of the cost of the work was paid for by the Federal government.
The Subway Commissioner went to great lengths to describe the unique “platform” experience at the beach end of this 12-minute run.
“Due to restrictions by the EPA,” Commissioner Aspinall said, “we were not allowed to build a platform on the ocean side of the dunes from which riders could disembark,” he said. “But we made lemonade out of lemons!”
At the end of the ride, the Commissioner said, the train arrives on its tracks inside the mouth of the sand dune, (which explains the “cave”) and its arrival trips a switch.
“Automatically,” the Commissioner continued, holding out his right arm, “the tracks with this three-car train on them slowly extends out 60 feet into the sunshine toward the ocean. After it clangs into place and locks, a metal panel slides out sideways to form a platform along one side of the train and a metal stair lowers down to the beach 20 feet below. The passengers then disembark and go down the stairs, then the new passengers are allowed to climb up the stairs and board. After that, the doors close and the shuttle goes back the other way to Main Street.”
The shuttle train consists of three brand new subway cars, the two end ones in their turn becoming either an engine or a caboose, with the center one featuring a hot dog wagon and benches for the elderly and disabled. As it’s only a 12-minute trip, the beachgoers are happy to stand, hanging onto their beach gear and the overhead straps.
This reporter was honored to be among those who attended the inaugural 12-minute trip down to Cooper’s Beach, to the party held for us under the tent at the beach there and then the 12-minute trip back up to Main Street.
It is easy to find the entrance to the shuttle underground in the dark inside the Southampton station. The regular trains run east to west, with the arrows pointing to Water Mill one way and to Shinnecock the other. But then, at the back of the platform, there is an entrance that is 90 degrees to the south. You just walk down there 80 feet, and there you are on an entirely new platform. Tunes by the Beach Boys waft from an overhead speaker. You swipe your card a second time-the first time gets you to the regular platform-and for just an additional $2, half of which goes to a charity that helps keep the planet green-there you are.
The exterior of the three new shuttle cars are shiny white with gay scenes of the beach painted by artist Mickey Paraskevas to include beach balls, surfers, umbrellas, seals, millionaires, kids with ice cream cones, girls in bikinis and surfcasters. The sun painted on the outside shines (even in the darkness of the Southampton platform) with some sort of sparkly lights that are embedded into the exterior of the spur train. They accent the Paraskavas paintings or vice versa. In any case, the train, like some sort of rocket ship, awaits.
As for this new platform, unlike the regular dingy main Southampton platform, it sparkles too. There is lots of artificial light, there are palm trees at the corners, peacocks running around free all over.
From the new platform, we were all crowded into the three cars, but it was great fun. Among those I mingled with were Alec Baldwin, Billy Joel, Chuck Scarborough, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Ambassador Carl Spielvogel, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ina Garten, Sarabeth Levine, Christie Brinkley, Mercedes Reuhl, Matt Lauer and Elie Tahari. Everyone was all dressed in the obligatory costume for the grand opening, described in the invitations, which was bathing attire and white changing robes.
And so, the subway train lurched off. It’s an amazing experience heading down through the darkness, the smell of the hot dogs mixing with the oils and tanning lotions of the attendees and the chatter about Alec Baldwin’s latest play, Billy Joel’s new book and Christie Brinkley in that new Broadway Show.
I of course hobnobbed easily with everyone.
The really amazing thing came as we approached the end of this short trip. The train slowed. The sunshine appeared as a dot in front of us-something like what they say is an end of life experience- then expanded into a light and then a full-blown beautiful day. After we came to a halt, this amazing thing happened. The entire three-car subway train, with some odd but not really scary rocking, seemed to silently extend itself out from the sand dune and into the sky. It moved out slowly. It was like an erection. There were some squeaks and groans, the whooga-whooga sound of “keep clear” horns, the clanging of warning bells and the flashing of red lights, then a second snapping of something into place. Then this tinny woman’s voice overhead said “please hold on to the straps.” Finally, a platform miraculously appeared alongside the subway cars in the sky and the doors opened to-Cooper’s Beach!! You just have to climb down this metal stairway. But first, of course, you have to stand up there outside the subway high up and look!!
And what an experience THAT was. I have never seen the ocean from this perspective, suspended in the air 20 feet up with a bunch of celebrities and dignitaries. The seagulls and terns swoop around. The chefs and bartenders below in their white uniforms waiting for us look up from their tents. And there we are!!
We can smell the good things to eat below, mixing with the salty smell of the sea and its decaying sea life. What a treat!
During the next hour and a half, we enjoyed ourselves down there on the beach listening to the Jim Turner Band and Vivian and the Merry Makers while the shuttle-now seen from below doing its thing sticking out and retracting over and over-brought down five trainloads of people including the entire third grade of PS 842 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, members of a surfing class in Hampton Bays, a group of tourists from Chinatown and a gaggle of hang gliders from Bay Shore-and with that, our stomachs filled with treats from nine local restaurants and our senses dazzled, we climbed back up to the next shuttle-”the retractable rocket” it has already been dubbed- and made our way home back to town.
I should mention before I forget this interview I had with a “guard” who stands the whole time at the bottom of the metal ladder leading up to where the train sticks out of the dune. He was dressed in bathing garb from the 1930s, black undershirt, black shorts etc., and he was there, he said, to make sure nobody climbed up the dune and into the cave between the times the trains come and go. He carried a rowboat oar as a weapon.
“You have to stand here all day?”
“Yes. There’s no door at the opening. Can’t have a door up there, they say. So I have to watch. Somebody could get killed if they climb up there at the wrong time.”
“Do you have to wear this uniform all the time? Or is this just for the grand opening?”
“It’s for all the time.”
Next Saturday, there will be the grand opening of the East Hampton Main Beach shuttle spur, presided over once again by Subway Commissioner Bill Aspinall, this time joined by Chevy Chase, Mort Zuckerman, actress Lori Singer, East Hampton Town Mayor Paul Rickenbach, Steven Spielberg, Rick Moranis, Barry Sonnenfeld, Paul Simon, East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and East Hampton Environmental Chief Larry Penny.
One failure should be mentioned. It had originally been planned for their to be a third beach subway shuttle, going from Westhampton Beach Main Street to Comsequogue County Beach on Dune Road, but something went wrong in the tunnel halfway there and it had to be abandoned. Had it succeeded, there would have been a third ribbon cutting, one week after this next one in East Hampton. But it didn’t.
Well, two out of three ain’t bad!!
See you in East Hampton Saturday at 9:30 a.m.-at the subway entrance at the crossroads in the center of town, Main Street and Newtown Lane for the shuttle launch there.