The NFT also has an obvious dichotomy when it comes to class and race. It is clear that there is a sense of wealth on the North Fork and that affluence appears to be privileged to whites. Then there are groups of men – who appear to be of Hispanic or Latino descent that often drive farming equipment, they pick grapes, they wait at bus stops, they ride bicycles, and they travel together in packed vehicles. Unfortunately, this is one of the realities that is evident throughout the entire Island. I was naïve when I moved to the Island. I thought I was moving to a liberal, progressive part of the country due to its proximity to New York City and I of course was wrong in having that impression. Long Island is a place of unspeakable, yet largely noticeable, segregation and racism. I did not know places, especially in the northern part of the U.S., would still have railroad tracks that divided racial and socioeconomic lines. On the NFT, it is clear that the Hispanic and Latino men who work the farms and vineyards do not fit into the culture of the North Fork but their place and labor is needed and no one will discuss this social problem. As a community, as an Island, and as a country, we are still trying to figure out what this means to us. Whether it is the immigration debate, mandatory learning of English, or not paying taxes for earned income, the complexities of race and class are an ever-present reminder on our Island, especially on the NFT.
I have met a few people while travelling the NFT and riding the ferry. I picked up one young man who was carrying a backpack in the rain on a Friday as evening was approaching. He was walking across the U.S. to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s – a disease that consumed and took the life of his grandmother. One man needed a ride from the ferry to a boating dock as he was the captain of a boat for a wealthy family. Another man needed a ride to Riverhead and told me that sad story of how his 6-month old grandchild was clinging to life. Then I meet the other ferry passengers – the girl who won $50,000 on the slots, people going to and from Connecticut for their respective romantic relationships, Plum Island employees, and the ferry bartenders. John is the bartender I look forward to seeing the most because he seems like the guy Billy Joel sings about in “Piano Man.” He is retired from years of work in the restaurant industry and treats all customers like they are at his house having cocktails. We have had many of great conversations and he knows what I like to drink which could be good or bad – I like to think it is just being personable.
The NFT is more than a roadway or an avenue to a semi-long distance relationship. It is a geographical space full of narrative, exploration, and questions. The NFT and the Cross Sound Ferry are the transportation sources that dictate my life and I am thankful they are available to me and my partner. I know I should stop and pick up a pie or a good bottle of wine from that “really good winery” I heard about from a friend. I know I should drive slower and appreciate the beauty of the North Fork and all it has to offer instead of timing the speed of my car for the next Southold patrol officer. I know I should do this and more, with respect to driving the NFT, and I know this with every drive. I always think to myself, on these trips, “perhaps next weekend, on the North Fork Turnpike?”
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