You can take the guy off of Long Island, but you can never take Long Island out of the guy. Some kid shared this philosophy with me in the late 1990s, right around the time I decided to flee the New York metropolitan area for good. Even though I’d spent the vast majority of my life to that point on Long Island, I remember thinking the statement was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. (“Shit’s lame, brah,” as we Long Islanders might say over Coors Lights at an Irish bar.)
Fast forward to nowadays, however, and the motto couldn’t be more correct. Yes, I live in California. But I still get coffee from 7-Eleven and bagels from a local deli and expensive necklaces and bracelets for my wife from a tiny little jewelry store in a nondescript strip mall. Oh, and when I’m drunk I sound like Ramona Singer from RHONYC.
Long Island is still the suburbs, but because it comprises the original suburbia (see: Levittown), it offers something more circumspect, too. With this in mind, naturally, there are a number of things that would piss off a native Long Islander. Here are (just) a few.
It’s no secret that we Lawn Guylanders just tawk different. We overuse catchphrases such as, “Ohmygawd!” and, “Get outta hee-ah!” But we totally own our funny little accents. Growing up, I had this theory that the Long Island accent actually was correlated directly to all of the hand-talking we did — that something about speaking while simultaneously moving our arms around furiously triggered a whine response and resulted in one of the most recognizable dialects on Earth. Some of us have worked hard to soften the accent, or even mask it altogether. After a few Crown and sodas, though, the accent emerges as an unstoppable force.
Everyone from New York claims to come from the part of the metro area with the best bagels. Long Island bagels are more doughy than cakey with crusts that are tough but not chewy — so clearly they’re ideal. The bagels also bring serious value; most LI bagel shops sell 13 or 18 for the price of a New York City dozen, a deal you’d never get anywhere else in the tri-state. Shops like A&S and Bagel Boss serve up crazy flavors such as sun-dried tomato, cranberry, French toast, and, my personal favorite, pesto, with outrageous cream-cheese combos like olive, maple walnut, and even Funfetti.
Two of the most famous Long Islanders from the last three decades are singer Debbie Gibson, who scored with hits such as “Shake Your Love” and “Out of the Blue,” and Amy Fisher, a Lolita who had an affair with a married man then shot the dude’s lady. I know this duo well; every Long Islander does. And you don’t. So just don’t go there, kid.
Sports affiliation is serious business on Long Island. I always got teased by my childhood friends for rooting on the Yankees (who play in the Bronx) instead of the Mets (who play in Queens, which, technically, is on the Island). The stakes are even higher with the three other professional sports. Generally speaking, we Island folk root for the Islanders in hockey over the Rangers (duh), the Jets in football over the Giants, and the Nets (who play in Brooklyn, also technically on the Island) over the Knicks (who play in Manhattan). If you don’t want to get beered, make sure you’re always on the right side of this geographical breakdown.
Yeah, we have traffic on the biggest freeway in town. So what? Go to every major city in the country and they got traffic, too. In fact, New York was number six behind cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu on a recent list from TomTom for worst traffic in the country. There’s nothing about the Long Island Expressway, or the Southern State Parkway, that makes it any worse than any of the other roads in the New York area — or the Northeast, for that matter. In fact, if you know how to navigate the service roads, the LIE actually isn’t that bad.
There was a time in history when the Hamptons had beaches where you went to get tan and play in the surf. Today, though, especially in summer, the towns’ beaches are nothing more than meat markets at which to see and be seen. Praising the Hamptons’ beaches to a native Long Islander is like championing pulled pork from Subway to someone from Memphis. The best overall beaches on Long Island are on the North Shore, near Greenport and Orient Point. If you want ocean, head to Robert Moses Field 5, where, because nudity’s encouraged, there’s always plenty of room.
Strip malls on Long Island are a paradigm of efficiency — self-contained, easy to navigate, and EVERYWHERE. My first job in high school was at a local tuxedo-rental place in a strip mall. I reached second base for the first time in the parking lot of a strip mall. And, yes, I bought my engagement and wedding rings from a jeweler in a strip mall. On Long Island, commerce happens in strip malls. It’s where most of our small-business and mom-and-pop venues can successfully exist. You diss them, you diss our entire economy.
I always chuckle when I hear (usually upper-middle-class) people wax poetic about the wonders of Long Island’s public transportation. Clearly they’ve never relied on the Long Island Rail Road. For ANYTHING. Anyone who commutes even 30 minutes from New Hyde Park to Midtown Manhattan can tell you it sucks. I spent many days and nights of my youth on the train from my hometown to New York City, and the truth is that the LIRR is neither reliable nor affordable, and you’re almost always better off taking a car. Don’t even get me started on the 2:30am “drunk train.”
New York City doesn’t have a monopoly on culture; Long Island has its fair share too. Live music at the Jones Beach amphitheater, art openings at galleries on the North Shore, celebrity book readings at the Book Revue in Huntington, world-class musical theater at the Tilles Center — you name it, we’re putting it on somewhere, and we’re probably charging audiences half of what the mucky-mucks in New York want. Some of the best shows of my life took place in a (now-defunct) Huntington music venue named The Roxy. Just because we’re the suburbs doesn’t mean we can’t hang.