The 4:24 on the Ronkonkoma Line

...kicks ass if you live in Bethpage, or need to get there in a hurry. No Jamaica, not even Hicksville, let alone Mineola, Carle Place or any of that other bullshit. First stop Bethpage. Pre-electrification, trains were slow and chuggy and houses were cheap; changing at Jamaica was mandatory to get to my hometown. Now, you can whiz right in practically directly. We've even got a 7-11 in the parking lot where the gas station used to be, another place for loser youth to congregate (used to have to truck into Farmingdale for a damn Slurpee); it hasn't driven the Dairy Barn (drive up beer and smokes and chips and Twinkies and a carton of milk convenience store) out of business.

The Dairy Barn was the second-most mystifying concept to people about Long Island when I described it to people at college; the first was my actual accent. Fuck 'em if they can't take my cawfee tawk.

The funnyish thing was, yesterday I was coming from a VH1 audition where I had to be a "long island housewife" type, basically, although the accent was never specifically requested. I bigged up my hair and wore sweats plus East Hampton tee, did up my eyebrows nicely. My friend and colleague Becky appeared with a terrific matchy running suit and a wicked top ponytail; found out she was from East Meadow, just up Hempstead Turnpike, prime senior-year cruising road in my friend Lisa's '71 Beamer. (Lisa's family was divorced but slightly mysterious; how did they afford that? No matter, it was awesome, and capable of seating six and blasting Huey Lewis and the News at top volume).

My accent gets thickish as soon as I board the train, standing-room only, behind a large (in number and density) family just come from Police Academy graduation. I try to discern relationships - who's the parent, stepparent, parent of the smallish children, parent of the graduate, girlfriend? sister? brother or babyfather? Family friend or new partner? I smiled at the matriarch, with drawn-on eyebrows, three-inch wedge espadrilles, capris and a pack of Marlboro Lights 100s tucked smartly into her bra. We chatted about the lack of air and movement. Seriously. I wanted to congratulate, tell them my dad was retired on the job, but found it far more interesting to observe than to intrude. I counted the tattoos of the newly minted officer as he tentatively flashed his shield (free train ride) and inspected the baseline of his incredibly fresh haircut.

It takes almost exactly 7 minutes and 36 seconds to get express from Westbury to Bethpage, because that's when I snapped on Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." I used to be able to play it on the piano; probably still could. I certainly know all the words; my brother and I have been to the restaurant (he pulled the name and location off a bootleg live concert tape. Yeah, it's like that. It's a pretty good red-sauce place if you know what I mean. (As opposed to the Olive Garden where I was going with my family once I arrived. Sigh. Family friendly chains...it's the pasta Red Lobster. Stick to breadsticks. But I digress.)

The Hicksville-Bethpage passage is something I know quite well. I was slightly dismayed to see the weird old coffee shop by the Hicksville station replaced by a Dunkin Donuts. I was slightly bemused to see that light industry marches on, and there's a Kozy Shack pudding factory in Bethpage (Do they have a thrift shop like the bread and Hostess bakeries, I wonder? Ick.) Much remained the same, on the train ride and the drive to the restaurant - the odd stand alone tavern/grill, the weird churches (the kind with Vacation bible schools), the regular churches (the kind with Catholic schools and Bingo), the satellite malls that orbit the big ones, the little bridal shops and lumber yards.

I just made the 10:44 back to town.

For shits and giggles, here's a photo of a photo of me in front of my childhood Bethpage home, circa 1985 (dieted way down by Dexatrim, stress, and Andy Capp's Hot Fries. As well as a fair amount of Lycra.) Yum! Happy prom girl! My gay best friend was likely in the bathroom, hiding from my dad who'd just flashed his .38. Good times! I am flanked by my aunt and mom who dashed over for photo opps.

Love the hat and sleeves! (Invisible are the 3" red pumps and purse with Lord knows what in it. Fortunately my prom date was roughly 6-2.)


Anonymous (as if you can't tell anyway) said...

Now this piece makes a good argument for writing essays! I was swept off my seat into the throws of the LIRR, wishing I could have had half that speed when I flew into Islip but needed to change at Jamaica to an eastbound train.

Michelle said...

You need a better alias, Yak Boy, if I am correct.

Please also note that my mom was roughly the age that I (we) are now. Jeez.

"Anonymous" said...

Wow. What a difference a generation makes, huh. Sorry to hear about homeboy.