“Night Drive in Winter” (Chapter One of “From The Edges of My Memory” — A Medium Serialized Book)
Sometime in the year 1972. Winter. Long Island. My friend Mike and I, in search of something to do on a cold, very cold Long Island Winter night, ducking in and out of a few nightspots perhaps in Bellmore or Wantagh we hope for live music and at least some shelter from likely the coldest night of the year, as snow teases and lingers in the air. We find creepy bars with tired old men.
We inquire at the movie theater finding the show has already begun and the next show too late to stay out on such a terrible night. the snow continues to fall more rapidly now from the February Sky. Mike ponders each of us just going home. From somewhere a new idea emerges: one that immediately connects Mike and I with something deep and old and dark in my soul. An idea birthed in a “bottomless” lake in the late 1950's. In the perfect home I visit in dreams. In the Woods.
“Haven’t you ever wanted to go to the beach in the winter, at night”? I see Mike startled and tantalized by the idea. I think he always liked my occasionally out of the box ideas. We had previously journeyed on several photographic missions one of which had resulted in Photos I have to this day.
In its day, I fully believed that my 1972 Chevrolet Vega front-wheel-drive with snow tires on in winter could handle anything. I suppose I had inherited the driving skills from my father, whom my Uncle Red once told me was the “best driver he ever knew”. And although crippled since her early 30s my mother still possessed a wild Irish heart and somehow Had passed it along to her somewhat timid and shy young son.
Mike’s smile told me I had hit upon it. As the snow continued to fall we drove towards The Southern State parkway and exited at Meadowbrook Parkway, going south … Which meant going further south than any rational person would go this night. For South meant the ocean, black and cold and devouring…a deserted road awash with blowing snow and sand. I could hear it’s call. And that meant Jones Beach.
Perhaps it was the dampness of the nearby ocean or just the intensity of the night itself but as we exited onto the Meadowbrook Parkway South, snow began falling more rapidly. As this was a road used exclusively on temperate days, and Never in winter, we immediately found ourselves to be the only car going in that direction.
With conditions deteriorating rapidly this was of course becoming a dangerous idea. The road would not be plowed and with no other passengers on it, in the day before cell phones a breakdown meant isolation and a long cold night ahead with no one knowing where to look for us.
With the barren arrogance only the teenage days can bring, we traversed back and forth across the lanes as the lone vehicle on the three lane road. No snow plows, no lights even, as this was a night which directed resources and others elsewhere. Yet ahead a lone dim light grew closer and as we passed the toll sign, the ridiculous became apparently true: the toll booth, complete with toll collector, was fully operational, gate down and obligingly waiting for the operator to signify that we had paid for our passage. I must have said something to him, but unsure now. Perhaps I just registered my surprise and he countered by saying, oh no, his shift was til morning and he expected to see at least a couple of cars pass through. We handed over the quarter (yes, just a quarter) and took off once again, heading down the Meadowbrook toward Ocean Parkway and the sandstone colored obelisk that marked the official center of Jones Beach.
We passed the wetland areas, and bridge, and then followed east onto Ocean Parkway, a narrow strip of a causeway parallel to the ocean shore. On cue it seemed, Gordon Lightfoot came on the radio singing about a ghost from a wishing well…or was it in a castle dark or a fortress strong with chains upon his feet? Atmosphere complete, we choose a parking lot, all available to us of course, and proceeded as far to its end as it went, and exited the car.
The darkness was complete and absolute with no moon or stars to guide our steps. The falling snow had by now has been reduced to a wet salty mush and continued down upon us as we stepped from pavement to sand…a sand frozen from the winter temperatures. I could still hear Mr. Lightfoot’s droning dark voice as we walked further, we believed, towards the ocean waves. We had only one point of reference…the sound of the waves crashing somewhere off in the distance. Waves of 1 foot…3 feet…10 feet…gargantuan. Devouring clutching waves ready to bury our secret journey in their greedy depths. The truly bottomless the truly fathomless the endless dark, the deep. The oldest fear born in the depths of the bottomless lake, and asleep through the years in my Ronkonkoma bones.
I reflected on the roadway, Ocean Parkway, which if the tale was true — the tale of my old soul, should have been covered deep in sand and swallowed by the ocean once the winter season had descended, houses, lights and all. It remained in place, empty but safe.
We continued to walk in silence, Mike and I each glancing at the other occasionally for company for belief that another human soul walked with us for fear that turning we would see no other. Still even as our eyes adjusted no vision no focus was available except our own feet pressing into the sand a world and inches away. With thoughts of villains intent on absconding with our car villains both never present and omnipresent I clutched at the car keys in my winter pockets for fear they too might be grabbed and swallowed by evil creatures of the sand.
The waves in the distance seemed never closer always farther until at once the dry sand gave way to a small piece of ice and then a small splash upon our boots. Forward, slowly forward and then in the crashing noise and intensity and the sheer terror the night revealed the secret monster. The waves, the waves, oh, the waves. The lost lovers of The Lake, the curse, the desperate voices of a hundred thousand shipwrecked men and the forbidden rooms in the mansions of my dreams all became as one. We ran.