They start arriving an hour or so after sunrise, to a place where fisherman gather well earlier still. But their interest lies not in boats and tackle. They are car people, drawn to this place by the love of fast, exotic, beautiful or otherwise interesting machines, and by the others who share their passion.
Some roll up in Porsches, others in Ferraris, many in vintage examples of American muscle. Some of their rides are fresh from a showroom, others lovingly restored. Some stock, some customized. Some old, others new. All reflect the pride of their owners as clearly as they do the bright morning light on this Sunday in April.
I've been to more than a few motor sports events, on both coasts. (I'm a car guy too.) While the spoken accents and event incidentals vary, it's a fact that car people are, well, car people.
At The Quail in Carmel Valley, the dress runs from California upscale casual to dead-on period costume, food is served by a half dozen area gourmet restaurants accompanied by champagne and martinis (before noon — very civilized). Vintage fighter planes do flyovers and music from a quartet of bands plays throughout the day.
Here, in the parking lot at Captree State Park, on Long Island's south shore, the dress tends toward leather jackets and wind-breakers, the bagels and bialeys from the facility's cafeteria style restaurant are washed down by coffee appreciated as much for its hand warming properties as its taste, and the side show is of late-starting fishing boats leaving to try their luck on today's catch.
But, whether holding flutes of bubbly or carrying their "cawfee," car folks at these meets do pretty much the same thing.
First, they arrange for a suitable spot to display their toy. In The Quail, that's all set in advance, and events personnel guide the way. Here, it's first come, first serve for the best spots (although one imagines that the regulars may have the benefit of an understanding on certain of those — and groups of friends will stake out adjacent slots for their later-to-arrive buddies.)
Then, folding chairs are deployed. Even those are the subject of mutual interest and individual pride. "Look, it comes with this attachment for your stuff, and folds into the size of a laptop," explained the fellow three slots to the west, upon erecting a particulary impressive model, just withdrawn from the front compartment of his maroon Ferrari 460.
Polishing comes next, always polishing. On this day I was a bit self-concious at this stage, since my friend Tim's suggestion to participate arrived too late the evening before, by txt, to allow for the washing away of the effects of last week's rain. Photoshop, in this record of events, serves as a handy alternative:
Strolling about, by participants and visitors grouping and re-grouping into small circles to talk cars and equipment, then commences and continues for the two hours of the event, a sort of unofficial duration here. A longer, more officially delimited period exists at the decidedly professionally produced event in California. Among the regulars, there's an easy camaraderie. Newcomers, like me, are accepted warmly.
On this particular day, a less welcome element was added to the routine. Presumably driven by a desire to do their regiment's bit in reducing New York State's impressive deficit, four or five state troopers, deployed in a phalanx near the entrance to the facility, busied themselves pulling over arriving participants who failed to have mounted the front license plate mandatory here. Easy pickings, since very few of us like to see the frontal aspect of our babies defaced with government signage.
"Want one? They're giving them away for free," explained another Ferrari owner, unfolding the white rectangular summons for examination.
"Hot car tax," commented a Porsche owner, another beneficiary of state attention.
The best social commentary award, actually said with a smile and genuine good humor in an accent fresh from Brooklyn, went to another, who added definitively, "They found the bodies of four young women buried in the sand a few miles up the road. Case still not solved…. and they're here, doing this?" (True story, sadly.)
It proved to be that comments on priorities were best kept to among friends. One unlucky fellow, apparently upon opining to "his" officer directly, found his prize vehicle being readied for flat-bed transport to a state lock-up shortly after.
But the best response of all, one in keeping with the "boys and their toys" spirit of the event, went to the owner of a brand new red Porsche Boxter Spyder, who proudly spent the morning showing off his remote-controlled front license place retractor. Driving around town or at the meet? Keep the plate tucked away out of sight, neatly folded in below the air dam. At risk of official attention? Press the button on your key fob, and the plate slides up into place. Nice, a bit reminiscent of Bond:
Since I wasn't 100% sure of the legal situation as would relate to my California-registered and rear-only plated car, I decided to take advantage of a peak in enforcement activity occupying the entire local contingent in upholding the laws of the land, to make my exit. The morning was getting late, and I had to get the car washed anyway…
Later that afternoon, at an upscale shopping area on Long Island's north shore, about to get into my car to retrieve Ellie from the other end of the complex, I was interrupted (pleasantly) by an older couple, who wanted to know about it, how I thought it handled compared to related models, and to let me know that there is a concours at the center in October. As I said, car people are car people…