Thursday, August 16, 2007

Before Halloween, This Witch Is Closed for the Season

By PETER APPLEBOME
Our Towns
The New York Times
August 16, 2007

MONTAUK, N.Y.

Chances are that Lili Adams’s food stand at the entrance to Ditch Plains Beach would have done just fine had she stuck with its original, blander-than-bland name, the Oasis.

But would it have become a subject of international surfer renown, something small children would fantasize about all winter until they made their annual summer pilgrimage to Montauk? Not likely.

“I go to Costa Rica and people say, ‘Oh, the Ditch Witch,” said Ms. Adams, who turns 55 today and cooked at restaurants in East Hampton and Montauk before opening the stand in 1994, hoping it would provide work with sane daytime hours. “The surfing community is spread out, but word gets around.”

Thirteen years since she started the Ditch Witch (the name came from a sandwich, the ditchwich, that was misspelled in the incorporation papers) as a haven for locals at what is perhaps Long Island’s most popular surfer beach, not much has gone by the book.

The hours aren’t remotely sane, the beach is no longer the province of locals, veteran surfers are agog about something called stand-up paddle surfing (just what it sounds like), and she’s famous in Costa Rica. Go figure. Which, surprisingly, is what many people do on a perfect summer day in what used to be the East End’s plain-folks un-Hamptons, but is now a place where you can’t avoid the primal South Fork question.: When do you appreciate prosperity and when do you say, “There goes the neighborhood”?

Not that Ditch Plains Beach strikes you as a place wrestling with anything much more vexing than what to order for lunch: veggie wrap or Big Fat Greek wrap? Cubano sandwich or Cobb salad? Lil’s lemonade or iced mocha?

She gets to the beach around 5:30 a.m. to begin setting up. The first fishermen or surfers arrive about when she does. If they are her friends, she’ll get them a preopening cup of coffee. By the time she officially opens at 8, the beach is at its most Montauk-centric, full of locals and their dogs (which have to leave by 10 a.m.), and many of the bipeds with surfboards, not to mention others on their way to work.

The Ditch Witch is a pretty great place, with an eclectic menu and lots of odds and ends — pretzel rods, cinnamon buns, Dove bars. Approved regulars and their children get to put purchases on their account, which means a piece of paper impaled on a spike with a Snow White figurine on top. When the stack gets to Snow White’s dress — maybe 100 charges — Ms. Adams enters them in a ledger and tells people what they owe. She runs the place with her 16-year-old surfer son, Grant Monahan, and two employees.

There are people waiting for her when she opens at 8. Between 11 and 2:30 the line never lets up, with the wait reaching 30 minutes on peak days. Most of the sales at the end of the day are ice cream. She closes at 4 p.m., spends about 45 minutes packing up and then is back at it the next day, seven days a week for about 100 days from May into September.

This week, the peak of the season, the beach is packed, Seurat-like. One regular customer and beach habitué is the “Margaritaville” singer Jimmy Buffett, a dedicated surfer, looking incongruously fit. Another is the painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. The scene is great for business but not always for civic amity. Many locals, or former ones, believe the beach has been taken over by arrivistes, neophyte surfers and the yuppie hordes from the occupied territory of the Hamptons. Some of the newcomers chafe at what they see as the exclusionary vibe they get from the locals. It’s the standard dialectic of East End life.

In truth, the people most imperiled by the increasing gravitational pull of the Hamptons on Montauk are working — they’re not at the beach. Others have made their peace with it. “I used to be an angry local, but I kind of outgrew it,” said Chris Carillo, who owns a marina and watering hole. Ms. Adams wonders how her son will be able to afford a place in Montauk but shrugs: “My husband says when there were 50 people on the beach, people thought that was too crowded, too.”

The real estate currents are moving faster than ever, but the long wave of island culture and development seems less pressing than the short ones of the surf — kind of lousy yesterday, it turned out — or the tides of family life.

Mom: “Yes. I can’t take it anymore. You can have the ice cream and the nachos. But how are you going to keep the ice cream from melting?”

Kid: “I’ll eat the ice cream first.”

Mom: “Oh.”

E-mail: peappl@nytimes.com

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Link

Web Site Hit Counters
High Speed Internet Services