My wife didn’t bat an eyelash at 11:30 p.m. one night when I told her I was going to the beach at 6:30 the next morning, which just happened to be a Sunday. She understood. I had just received a text from a friend that simply read “Beach: 6:30?” and I had responded with an equally cryptic “Who’s driving?”
Most rational people would be asleep at 6:30 on a Sunday morning, especially, if like me, they dislike the beach. But those afflicted with an affinity for classic cars are not rational, and they can often be found early Sunday morning at some formal or informal version of “cars and coffee” as they chat with others so afflicted. That was where we were headed the next morning.
To “The OBI.”
The OBI, short for Oak Beach Inn, closed in 1999 and was torn down in 2003, leaving behind a large empty parking lot right in the middle of nowhere, just yards from the Atlantic Ocean. I doubt that there is a parking lot with a more picturesque setting anywhere on the face of the planet. Even the ride there is beautiful. Originally opened in 1969 the OBI grew to be one of the most popular nightclubs on Long Island. It was also one of the most controversial because of constant disputes with neighbors over the noise, parking, and traffic in this otherwise secluded and quiet section of Jones Beach on Long Island’s south shore. This is the same stretch of beach that has become infamous as of late since the bodies of ten women were found, presumably victims of the “Long Island Serial Killer.”
Nowadays, as in years past, as soon as the weather gets warm, classic car minions begin gathering on Sunday morning at sunrise. The parking lot is usually full by 7:30 a.m. By 8:00 a.m. those who arrived early begin to leave, making room for the latecomers, if 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning can be considered late. By 9:00 a.m. all that’s left are a few stragglers. Beachgoers and travelers driving by a scant half-hour later have no idea that just a short time before, this parking lot was so packed full of cars that the state police were on the scene, as usual, to ensure peace and quiet for the few neighbors who live in homes nestled in the nearby dunes.
By and large it is a peaceful gathering, with attendees respectful of both the local laws and homeowners, but there are always enough wise guys disregarding the law that it makes it financially viable for the police to be present on this otherwise deserted stretch of beach early on a Sunday morning. Those of us who prefer to go home with our wallets intact come to enjoy the cars, camaraderie, and conversation over a coffee and an egg sandwich from the local food truck. For those who don’t mind going home with a scheduled court date…loud exhaust systems, missing front license plates and burnouts are the order of the day.
It doesn’t really matter which group you’re in. Either way, by the time you leave you will have accomplished what you came for, be it a peaceful quiet gathering or an opportunity to show off how loud and fast your car is. Interestingly, you often see the same groups of people week after week walking around sipping their coffee, or just outside the lot on Ocean Parkway, getting their summonses. Traditions die hard. And tradition it is.
The location of this impromptu gathering is beautiful but far from ideal. Space is very limited, so perfectly innocent attendees will often return to their cars to find summonses on their windshield for parking on the grass. There are no restrooms, and a few select neighbors complain about the noise—even when there is none. To be fair, the police go out of their way not only to make their presence known, but to make announcements when they will be ticketing so that people have an opportunity to move their cars if they are parked illegally.
Interestingly, there are alternative locations that are better suited to a gathering of this type. Just a few miles west on the same stretch of road is the Cedar Beach parking lot. Admission is free before 8:00 a.m., there are bathrooms, and any local residents live farther away. Heading east there is another spot only one mile away called the Captree Boat Basin, part of Captree State Park. Parking is virtually unlimited, there are bathrooms, there is a concession that serves really good food, and there are no neighbors, But admission is $8 per carload after 7:00 a.m. And who wants to pay that amount for the privilege of plenty of parking, bathrooms, good food, and no neighbors?
But the thought of moving the gathering is inconceivable. As I said, traditions die hard. Maybe that’s a good thing.