Eavesdropping: Watching a Hampton Jitney Passenger Read Dan’s Papers

I was sitting in an aisle seat on the Hampton Jitney, headed from Southampton to New York, when I got a rare opportunity to see if people are still reading my stuff after all these years. In the row ahead of me, but across the aisle, there was an attractive middle-aged woman with long blond hair about to read a copy of Dan’s Papers. I could look over her shoulder. She looked thoughtfully at the oil painting on the front page for a few moments, taking in Doug Zider’s beautiful romantic scene of sunlight streaming sideways through the autumn foliage by a pond in Bridgehampton, then turned the page to get inside. A two-hour, quiet bus trip lay in front of us.

Would she read the three stories I had in the issue when she got to them? This would be a test.

One at a time, she looked at the half a dozen full-page ads in the front of the paper. Then she got to the contents page. She glanced at it briefly. She moved on.

Next came the South O’ the Highway column, which has short items about the famous and infamous who make this place home. She read one item, then another and another. She was now halfway down the page, but then that was it. She turned the page.

This next page was where we have the Hamptons Subway Newsletter, a half page about the goings on down in the subway system that sits under the Hamptons. Of course, we don’t have a subway system. But if we did, this would be its newsletter. I have written this column for the paper every week for four years. She didn’t read it. Not interested.

I tightened up briefly when I saw her do that. But then, she didn’t read what was on the next page either, which was the Police Blotter.

Now she came to another page of South O’ the Highway items, about six of them, and she glanced long enough to read one item, but that was it.

What’s the rush, lady? We work so hard. I tried to get a better look at this woman. It was hard to do, though, looking over her shoulder. I saw nail polish. Some metal bracelets.

At this point, she arrived at the grand first page of the lead story in the book, a long, heavily researched account of an English colonist in East Hampton in the 17th century who took the long journey to London to appear before Parliament protesting the King’s draconian Whale Oil Tax. It was a full 50 years before the outbreak of the American Revolution. Samuel “Fish Hook” Mulford was perhaps eastern Long Island’s greatest patriot. Would she read it? Nope.

This really got me going. I had worked for DAYS on this piece. I’d spent time in the library. What was the matter? Too long? In this day and age, people don’t often read 2,000-word stories. Maybe she was one of those people. Well, I can’t help it if people are just rush, rush, rush.

Next she was looking at the headline of my next article. The headline read VIAGRA. This was the story about the price of this drug, how it had gone up five-fold in the last five years, a testament to the rising cost of medical care. There would be other outcomes, too. It could, I’d said, affect the growth of the American population, for example. That thought was in the subhead just below the headline.

SHE DIDN’T READ IT. SHE TURNED THE PAGE.

What WAS this woman going to read in Dan’s Papers? Why had she picked it up, anyway, if she wasn’t going to read it. Just to flip through it? Just to get a snippet of a gossip item about a celebrity? She could get that in The New York Post, which is often available on the bus. She was not reading The New York Post.

She came upon a very thoughtful story Brendan J. O’Reilly had written about the upcoming election contest for County Legislator, and she turned the page.

She came upon Kelly Laffey’s story, a really good story, about the things you can do if your high school son or daughter is a remarkable athlete and you want to help him or her get into a good college, and she turned the page.

She turned the page on a layout full of photographs of good-looking Hamptons partygoers. She turned the page on Sally Flynn’s account of a ghostly Halloween Shelter Island ferryboat that’s here today and gone tomorrow. Come on, this was the Halloween Issue.

And she turned the page on a review written by Dan Koontz of his experience at The Cuddy restaurant in Sag Harbor. She even turned the page on the next piece, a scathing article I wrote, dashed off in anger, actually, saying that I thought the President of the United State should hold accountable the legislators who held our country hostage for 16 days in October. Doesn’t this woman care about…

And then she stopped. She’d found it. She spent the next five minutes reading a two-page feature about cooking with fennel, written by Silvia Lehrer, spent five minutes reading Jeanelle Myer’s article about leaf blowers and Stacy Dermont’s article on picking apples for applesauce, apple butter and hard cider. And then she put the paper down, put her seat back, and with the bus rocking rhythmically and gently as it moved along, fell asleep.

I didn’t see her again until she got up to get off at 59th Street. She was very fashionably dressed, wore high-heeled shoes, had all sorts of colorful shopping bags from Hamptons boutiques in the overhead bin, and she put on big, gloppy dark sunglasses.

The hell with her.

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