Relay: Close Encounters of the Word Kind

The craziest of the crazy out here

You know what they look like. You have passed through them countless times, mostly in the middle but sometimes side by side with another car, holding your breath and your car’s breath hoping you get through unscathed. 

They are the railroad underpasses.

What East Ender has not encountered that wacky underpass on Narrow Lane in Bridgehampton that basically makes a dogleg left turn while going under a low trestle? You know the one. Oh, you avoid it? As well you should. What engineer came up with that particular design? Maybe the same one that made the overpasses out here so steep and narrow that you take your life in your hands on Cranberry Hole Road or near the Wolffer Estate winery. 

But the craziest of the crazy out here are the more frequently used underpasses that I pass through pretty regularly to get from place to place — the ones that peel off the tops of trucks, the ones that are not set in a straight line on the road bed, the ones that often get puddles under them, those crazy low and crooked things that are lined with rough, pointy rocks that face the road and ruin cars.

Who ever thought it was a good idea to have car-killing pointy rocks in a tight underpass. 

Consider the Midtown Tunnel — clad in subway tile, bright, relatively well maintained. Now consider the underpass on Stephen Hand’s Path in East Hampton. It’s dark, it’s on an angle, and it has sharp rocks sticking out, ready to snag a car or truck that has the misfortune to have to share the road with an oncoming vehicle. Not everyone knows to drive in the center of an underpass, and not everyone who wants to actually can when another car enters at the same time. Sometime you get a scrape. But why?

I came to wonder about this after the whole length of the right side of my new (to me) car got scraped on some very hostile rocks projecting from the inside of the underpass on Stephen Hand’s Path. Yes, another car and mine were sharing the road bed, and yes we probably should have “after-you-ed,” but we didn’t, and my car got scraped to the bone. There is a rock, pointy like a shark fin, at exactly the spot where my ex-side mirror was.

All of the underpasses could be smooth. All of those rocks are full of car and truck paint from years of minor and major scrapes. Why not fix them? Why not smooth them down? Why not clad the sides of these trestles with some kind of heavy-duty rubber matting? Why not take a construction crew, community service gang, or maybe just some citizens with big hammers and chisels and knock off all the pointy bits that scrape unlucky cars? Why not rubber baby buggy bumpers?

I wonder if, when they raise the tracks on North Main Street in East Hampton, they will keep those rough and pointy rocks on the inside of the new underpass. Time will tell, but this is the time to rethink all of the underpasses and make them more user-friendly. Just soften the sides. Please. Pretty please. 

I call my experience — car versus pointy rocks — a close encounter of the word kind. When I came out from under the trestle, having heard the miserable sound of scrape and seeing what the pointy rocks had done, I actually swore so long and loud that had you been in the neighborhood you would have heard some pretty exotic combinations of cusswords. 

You may have had one of those scrapes, and if you haven’t, you probably know someone who has or has had a close call. All the body shops out here just ask which trestle, and commiserate about the pointy rocks that do the damage.