Escape from New York
This incident brings to mind a lesser-known fact about the Hamptons: it's a place where conservative Wall Street tycoons have long co-existed with artists, many of whom love the delicate, ever-changing light that results from the region being almost entirely surrounded by sea. Jackson Pollock, the abstract expressionist - who presumably didn't have an interest in his stockbroker neighbours - resided in the hamlet of Springs until he died there in a car crash. Today, his disciples can take painting classes at The Art Barge in Amagansett, founded by Victor D'Amico, the first director of education at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Likewise, Truman Capote and Kurt Vonnegut summered close to Wainscott Beach, fetching supplies every day from the doll's-house-sized Sagaponack General Store. It's still there to this day - a place to buy a coffee, a copy of The New York Times and an egg sandwich, before resting on the wooden bench outside to plot a new bestseller.
The reason for the Hamptons' enduring popularity is pretty simple. It has a breeze. This is vital for Manhattanites in August, when the city becomes a steaming, belching, flesh-roasting hellpit. And while the East End of Long Island may seem unwelcoming for those without a banking dynasty, the young and the broke simply join forces and share rental properties, of which there are plenty, and travel back and forth from the city via train or the Hampton Jitney bus service. Meanwhile, the older and richer buy estates and buzz over the traffic in their helicopters, a sore point for those along the route, who've recently started to complain about the noise. Tales about bankers racing each other from Wall Street to the beach - with one enterprising weekender beating a helicopter-owning colleague by flying overhead in his Gulfstream business jet and parachuting out at the right moment - are thought to be mostly apocryphal.
As with any ritual, of course, the summer exodus to the Hamptons has its own set of rules. Hotels should be avoided - they're either very expensive or dives; and one of the best, Sag Harbor's American Hotel, has only eight guest rooms. Also, it is highly desirable to be south of the highway - the highway being Route 27, aka the Montauk Highway, because it means fewer insects and an easy walk or cycle to the beach. This rule is of such importance there's even a nail-polish colour by Essie named South of the Highway in its honour. And, finally, the summer begins on Memorial Day, a US public holiday which falls on the last Monday in May (after which it is socially acceptable to wear white), and ends on Labor Day, the first Monday in September.
The basic geography of the Hamptons can be mastered with relative ease, because all the towns are on the same eastbound road (Route 27). Having a car is ideal, although cycling is sometimes necessary because of parking restrictions. Also, each Hampton has its own reputation: Southampton for new money; East Hampton for old money; and Montauk for hippies who don't care either way, mainly because they're more concerned about catching the large-scale surf at nearby Ditch Plains. By and large, there's some accuracy to all this.
If anything, the sickly economy has made the Hamptons more accessible than ever, especially when it comes to renting a property for, say, a couple of weeks instead of having to commit to an entire season. The end of the boom days also means that locals' favourite spots, such as Duryea's Lobster Deck, at the edge of a rotting, abandoned pier in Montauk - the New England Clam Chowder and Lobster Roll are essential summer pleasures - are now relatively peaceful on weekdays. The same goes for Amagansett Farmers Market, with its vat of freshly-made bread pudding (eaten for breakfast) and its outdoor seating area, which is also home to free-range chickens. Likewise, ordering The Godfather, a monstrous sandwich with four different meats, mozzarella, roasted peppers, pepperoncini and extra virgin olive oil, from Villa, a classic deli near East Hampton train station, is a ten-minute operation, as opposed to an hour.