The teenagers had spent a wonderful day at Montauk. They'd surfed, sat in the sun, and looked good for the ladies. Tired but happy, they headed home.
Being teenagers, they didn't realize they could have taken a ferry. What's a quick drive from Westport, through New York, and out to the tip of Long Island. And then back?
All went well until they hit Connecticut. At 11 p.m., traffic on Interstate 95 was at a standstill. They moved, inch by agonizing inch, through Greenwich, Stamford and Darien. Lanes narrowed from three to two to, finally, one -- though of course not a construction vehicle or worker was in sight. Finally, in Norwalk, there was a burst of activity. Suddenly they were free. They zoomed home to Westport, having lost an hour and a half of their lives and quite a bit of their innocence.
"How come no one told us they work on the road at night?" they asked.
"How could you not know that?" I wondered.
Interstate 95 is perpetually under repair. Always at night. And always the highway will be shut down for miles before it needs to be, forcing thousands of people to waste incalculable time, day after week after month.
It's one of those things you just know, living here. Or, if you don't know it, you should.
There are other things you should know, if you plan to be here for any length of time. For example, you should know that Westport is very proud to call itself an "artists' colony." We point with pride to our Westport Arts Center, our fantastic illustrators' collection at the Westport Library and our frequent exhibits at the Westport Historical Society. We invoke the names of all the famous artists who lived here in the past, and the capitalized Famous Artists School that -- when headquartered here in the 1950s and '60s -- made piles of mail-order money by telling folks who could barely tell an oil brush from an oil tanker that they too could one day be Famous Artists.
We continue to call ourselves an "artists' colony," even though the number of actual artists making a living here has dwindled to about three. Proof, if you need it, is that Max's Art Supplies will close up shop here soon, after a 59-year-run, because there are too few artists left in town to support it. (The three artists remaining now buy all their supplies online.) But just as I know art when I see it, I know an artists' colony. And we are one.
If you plan on calling yourself a real Westporter, you should also know that my right to a parking space is far more important than your comfort, convenience, safety or -- let's be honest -- entire existence. (By "my" I mean "your," and by "your" I mean "everyone else's," of course.)
In practical terms, this means if I spy a parking spot on the opposite side of Main Street, I can immediately pull a U-turn to snag that space. Holding up traffic as I execute a nine-point turn in my SUV -- which (my bad) turns out to be too large for the spot anyway -- matters far less than the fact that, hey, I want to park.
I am also entitled to exit the parking lot in front of Robek's by simply driving over the curb onto the Post Road, rather than waiting for that pesky light. I am free too to treat the white lines designating "parking spaces" as suggestions, rather than commands. If I happen to take up an extra spot (or two) -- hey, stuff happens.
If you are going to live here for a while, you should know that you never, ever go to Stew Leonard's on a weekend afternoon. That is because everyone else in the tri-state region, including those with their very own Stew Leonards'ses, shops there then. However, you should also know that the reward for going to Stew's on a weekend afternoon is that you can have an entire meal -- chicken salad on crackers, salmon stuffed with crabmeat, a variety of cheeses, some veggies, cookies and ice cream, plus energy drinks and orange juice -- while blocking other people in the aisles with your cart. And that does not include all the food that is technically not for sampling, such as whole bagels, chicken wings and everything in the salad bar. But hey, a guy's gotta eat.
Which brings us back to something you need to know, if you're gonna be a real Westporter. You have to be very proud of the fact that we have a vibrant restaurant scene. New places open constantly. You love checking them out, enjoying the scene, telling friends you've been to the newest spot in town.
And then you never go back.