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03/11/18 5:58am
03/11/2018 5:58 AM

For many years afterward, it would be one of my favorite gambits at cocktail parties and other venues of idle gossip.

Whenever the conversation drifted into the area of misspent youth or military service or rock ‘n’ roll or adventures in Europe, I would mention that while serving a two-year hitch in the U.S. Army, I was stationed with Elvis Presley. It was a boast that delivered real cachet and, as Henry Kissinger liked to say, had the further virtue of being the truth.  READ

09/01/13 8:00am
09/01/2013 8:00 AM

STEVE ROSSIN PHOTO | LIRR riders board an eastbound train out of Riverhead earlier this summer.

It’s a summer Friday afternoon and you’re stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway, headed from the city to the North Fork. If you’re traveling by bus for Orient, where I live, delays on the LIE could make the trip take as long as four hours.

Think this is bad? It could be a lot worse.

Suppose there were no Long Island Rail Road. Last year, the LIRR ran a great ad on its trains that imagined just such a disastrous turn of events. “Up to nine Long Island Expressway Lanes would be needed to handle the additional traffic,” declared the ad, which ended with the word “cough.”

In fact, more than 260,000 people ride the LIRR on the average weekday.

Statistics like that make me a strong supporter of the nation’s second-busiest commuter railroad, Long Island’s best hope for increasing personal mobility while decreasing congestion, consumption of fossil fuels and air pollution.

I know, I know. Frequency of service on the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma-Greenport line — the service that matters most to us — is woefully inadequate. But that could change.

As previously reported in these pages, funding is now available for the purchase of “scoot” trains on this route. While the railroad has yet to select the equipment it will buy, it’s shopping for trains that would be smaller and cheaper to operate than the current equipment on the Greenport line — a locomotive and two double-deck coaches.

A railroad spokesman recently told Times/Review reporter Tim Gannon, “As envisioned by the LIRR, scoot trains would allow for more frequent train service than currently provided.”

Hey, maybe that widely reviled payroll tax for public transit isn’t so bad after all.

Even without such improvements, there are ways right now to take advantage of the LIRR that many North Forkers may not realize.

For instance, savvy summertime travelers who’ve had it with the LIE can catch the Friday-only 3:55 p.m. train out of Penn Station, fairly confident that they’ll reach their North Fork destination on time. Arrival at Greenport is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Moreover, on the Ronkonkoma-Greenport leg of the trip, passengers can unwind with a glass of one of the local wines sold aboard the Friday-only train.

Unfortunately, that train operates only between the Memorial Day and Columbus Day weekends. But Saturday and Sunday service, once offered year-around but scaled back in 2010 to the same operating period as the Friday-only train, has been extended and will run between April and November.

Did I mention the Ronkonkoma solution to getting to Kennedy Airport?

If you hire someone to drive you from Orient to JFK, it can cost as much as $150 each way.

I’ve got a cheaper way: Drive to the Ronkonkoma station (LIE exit 60), park your car free (for an unlimited time) in the LIRR’s huge outdoor parking lot and board one of the trains operating nearly hourly to Jamaica. Upon arriving there, take the escalator to the station’s mezzanine and walk a few hundred feet to the platform where the Port Authority’s AirTrain departs every seven to 20 minutes for JFK’s terminals.

Train fare from Ronkonkoma to Jamaica is $13.50 at peak hours and $9.75 off-peak. Add $5 for the AirTrain, and you’ve saved well over $100. I know; I’ve done it.

Some folks who’ve used the Ronkonkoma station tell me they’re worried about missing the train because of the time consumed finding a parking spot in the often crowded free lot. That worried me, too, until I began using THE TIMETABLE.

By consulting the Ronkonkoma Branch timetable, you can determine when the next train from the city is supposed to reach the station. I schedule my arrival at the station around that time so that I can pull into one of the parking spaces just vacated by disembarking passengers. (On weekdays, there’s usually a 15- to 30-minute window between trains arriving from the city and leaving for it.)

Some people also worry that their cars could be vandalized in the parking lot. Never in the 16 years we’ve left our car there (once for as long as seven weeks) has it been damaged. Our luck did run out last year, however, when two exterior accessories — a rooftop kayak rack and a rear-end bike rack — were stolen. Foolishly, neither had been locked to the car.

It seemed like a small price to pay for a service that has worked so well.

Orient resident John Henry has been commuting to Manhattan for 16 years, usually using the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma-New York City service.

07/22/12 7:00am
07/22/2012 7:00 AM

If ignorance is bliss, then Americans must be blissful indeed these days.

Because so many of us display an appalling (and alarming) ignorance — just confirmed by a respected nonpartisan polling organization — about last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling upholding President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Health care accounts for nearly a fifth of our gross national product and though voters say that health care remains a top issue for them, behind only the economy and jobs, a Pew Research Center survey found that 45 percent of respondents either were unaware of the court’s ruling (30 percent) or thought most of the law’s provisions had been struck down (15 percent).

“That is staggering stuff,” as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza noted last week.

“Let’s just make sure we are all clear,” he wrote. “Forty-five percent of people didn’t know about or were misinformed about the most highly publicized Supreme Court case since — at least — Bush v. Gore in 2000 …” And it gets worse.

Among 18- to 29-year-olds — a wellspring of our future leaders — the proportion of respondents who were unaware of the court’s decision was a depressing 43 percent, even though Pew found it was the news story that Americans followed most closely in June. Imagine how much, or little, folks in that age bracket know about less closely followed news stories. Or perhaps you’d rather not.

Ignorance on a scale this breathtaking can be immensely useful to politicians. Indeed, it’s often one of their best friends.

Many believe President George W. Bush’s job of selling the disastrous Iraq War was made easier by the fact that a large majority of Americans believed at the time that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, although none of the plane hijackers involved came from his country and no link between him and the attacks was ever proven.

A Washington Post poll conducted two years after 9/11 found that seven in 10 Americans continued to think that Saddam was connected to the attacks.

To be fair, the Bush administration never said it had evidence of a link. But, as the newspaper noted in its 2003 story about its poll, the president in making the case for an invasion of Iraq frequently juxtaposed Iraq and al Qaeda in ways that hinted at a link.

If the public had been paying closer attention, an unnecessary war that eventually cost more than 4,000 American lives and led to the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians in Iraq would have been a tougher sell.

This year, as the country braces for what promises to be one of the most consequential presidential elections of all time — one that could set the nation’s direction for years to come — we owe it to ourselves and the country to do our homework on the issues, especially health care, which all of us will use at some time in our lives.

So let’s educate ourselves, for instance, about the difference between requiring people to get health insurance and requiring them to buy broccoli. Understand that and you understand why the insurance mandate is the linchpin of the Affordable Care Act, just as it was for the health care reform Mitt Romney achieved as governor of Massachusetts.

Sure, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on with so many demands on our time. But keeping well-informed is one of the prices we pay for a living in a democracy.

What you don’t know can hurt you. Put another way, ignorance isn’t bliss.

Mr. Henry is a resident of Orient.

07/14/12 7:00am
07/14/2012 7:00 AM

As occurs every time I head back to my North Fork home, Tim Kelly’s column on Boothbay Harbor brings back a flood of emotions not unlike those James Joyce expresses in his short stories found in “Dubliners.”

Like the Irish author, I feel conflicting emotions of the land I’ve left behind. Unlike most teenage youths, I reveled in our North Fork in the 1990s, before it became what it is today.

I ran between rows of potato farms, climbed the dunes on the sound in Mattituck without a soul in sight, scuba dove at rocky neck in East Marion and, most importantly, sailed all the waters surrounding the forks with my father from the day I was born.

I always wanted to come back. And I did, for a time, after college, working as a dockbuilder and teacher, but the economic divide began to stare me down. I could not picture my child’s future the same as mine on the North Fork, struggling to pay rent in Jamesport in my early 20s.

A big part of going to medical school was the dream of coming back to the North Fork to live the same quality of life I grew up with. In 2004, just before he died, my father said, “Well, when you become a doctor, you can afford to come back here.” I suspected even then how wrong he was.

I still love coming back home and I don’t rule out returning at some point, but this is not the place it was.

The focus is on wineries, expensive restaurants, summer-only recreation and folks claiming to be part of a community they don’t care about for nine months of the year, and who seem to carry an elitist attitude for the three months they are present. The North Fork I grew up on was full of working-class people who appreciated where they lived year-round.

Nowhere in the U.S. that I’ve traveled is the economic divide between rich and poor more evident than the East End of Long Island. Children of the  hardworking middle-class pushed out to western towns, their children to never experience an idyllic country North Fork. It has become a seasonal playground for the rich, it’s true soul replaced by materialism as the South Fork became decades ago.

I read with particular disgust about the Soundfront homeowner in Mattituck who brought that man to court for having the audacity to sit on the beach in front of her house. As I remember, one online commenter mentioned, “They think they own the sunset.”

Now a Mainer, I do not see that same level of superficiality and elitism. It’s where I’ve come to give my child an opportunity to live as closely to the land and sea as I did. Maybe a lakefront home, or one near the shore where I can moor a sailboat.

No matter what, I’m way behind on that dream compared to the simpler time of my parents’ generation in the ’70s and early ’80s and now I’m the outsider up here. My Joycean conflict constantly brews: Should I have given up on my home land? Should I struggle to buy a home in Riverhead and pay the “nonresident” pass to the beaches I lived and worked on as a child?

I have run or biked every public road on the North Fork. I have swum at every public beach, and paddled and sailed every inch of its shoreline — but like many in my generation, it’s no longer mine.

Mr. Claire is a former Mattituck resident who now lives in Ellsworth, Maine.

07/08/12 7:00am
07/08/2012 7:00 AM

A friend of ours recently mentioned that he expected old friends to visit Long Island this summer and wondered if we had any suggestions for things to do or places to eat on the East End. It didn’t take long for me and my wife to come up with a dozen really good restaurants. Then we began to think about what else they could do. That is when I realized how fortunate we are to be living on Long Island’s North Shore, North Fork or East End, whichever name you choose to call it. In a world obsessed with violence, upheaval and economic turmoil, life out here from Riverhead Town to Orient Point is good, very good.

We, the good folks who live here, should take some credit for this; after all, life here is a reflection of those who toil and make it what it is. Of course, we can’t take all the credit since the beaches, climate and land were here before we arrived. But someone in our families did have the sense to move here because they recognized a good thing when they found it.

As far as places to go and things to do, there are many. Let’s start with our farms that provide fantastic views as we drive eastward. These hard-working folks plow the land, provide us with great strawberries, corn, numerous varieties of tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, beans and many other locally grown good things to eat.

Then there are the fruit farms that provide us with peaches, plums, apples and berries — not to mention the bakeries, where a lot of this fruit winds up in delicious pies, cakes, muffins and pastries. Agriculture doesn’t stop there. There are vineyards that provide us with champagne and fine wines. These magnificent places are also beautiful to look at, visit and enjoy paired with music, art and other activities.

It doesn’t end with grapes, as far as the new arrivals. The micro breweries are brewing some pretty awesome beers and ales. We even make our own vodka and scotch! The camaraderie at these places helps connect one to those less fortunate folks who are the day trippers and can’t stick around between Monday and Friday to enjoy un-crowded beaches, free concerts, art shows and other special local events.

While eating and drinking along the path eastward, there is also plenty of art to see at galleries and the events hosted by East End Arts. These places speak well of the local folks who produce such creative things for us to enjoy. Shopping, the All-American pastime, is also in abundance, with the bargains at Tanger Outlets and the many great little shops that dot each picturesque hamlet.

I can’t forget homemade ice cream, chocolate, candy, cheese, picking out flowers and one of our favorites, buying lunch at a Jamesport deli and driving to Peconic Bay and enjoying the water view while eating Aidan’s special sandwich.

Then there are several lighthouses, each one distinct, plus boating, kayaking, swimming, fishing or just walking along the beach. If you have not kayaked some of the rivers, little creeks and estuaries that make up our coastline, you are missing something wonderful.

Not to mention sunrises and sunsets that are spectacular, too.

State parks and county parks offer terrific places to picnic and take in the outdoors. Ferries provide water escapes to islands and points north.

When you stop and think about it, we are pretty fortunate to have all of this close by; all you have to do is link up with friends or loved ones and enjoy it. Like I said, life is very good on our East End!

John Hauser is a Brookhaven National Lab employee and Queens native who moved to Wading River with his wife, Pat, in 1973.

05/12/12 7:00am
05/12/2012 7:00 AM

A few weeks ago, my dad apologized for all the smoking he did in the house back when I was a kid.

“We just didn’t realize,” he said as we watched the little girl on the anti-smoking commercial cough into a room thick with secondhand smoke.

I’ve heard that refrain many times through the years. From my parents. From my aunts. From a ton of reformed smokers. That excuse — the lack of awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke — has always rung hollow with me. As if my bloodshot eyes and hacking cough weren’t strong enough hints that breathing that stuff in was detrimental.

These days, I am beginning to seriously ponder if I will someday make a similar mea culpa to my son. Dan is 12 and has already played eight seasons of tackle football. He was an aggressive little guy, loved roughhousing, jumping around and knocking into stuff, so as he was heading into kindergarten — and a few months shy of turning 5 — I signed him up for peewee football.

In terms of catching, running and throwing, Danny has done some amazing things playing football. But he is particularly noted for his “pancake” blocks and bone-crushing tackles, the type of hitting that led to such scary nicknames as “Terminator” and “Assassin” from his coaches. My son’s ego feeds off the attention he receives for his warrior mentality.

I imagine Junior Seau experienced the same motivation while growing up menacing whoever crossed his path on the football field. Seau was the warrior’s warrior. The fire in his eyes alone was enough to lead his teammates into battle. In a game dependent on violence for fan interest, Seau was as fierce as they come. He hit — and was hit — for 20 seasons as an NFL linebacker.

Seau’s suicide last week should be a wake-up call for any father who pressures his son to play football and for any coach who pressures his players to play with a head injury. Seau shot himself in the heart. Like fellow NFL great Dave Duerson, who similarly killed himself in 2011, Seau — who suffered multiple concussions playing football — clearly wanted researchers to study his brain for trauma. It’s been documented that Seau had been suffering from depression in recent years. It would be irresponsible not to suggest that his depression was influenced by repeated blows to the head.

Among the institutions in line to study Seau’s brain is Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, the research center that found Duerson, a longtime Chicago Bears safety, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — brain damage — due to repeated hits to his head. CTE is not exclusive to NFL players. Boston University researchers found CTE in the brain of an 18-year-old athlete who had sustained multiple concussions.

Pain tolerance is among the core values of football. It’s a game where you’re rewarded for how much you can tolerate. Players — not just those getting paid or on scholarship — will go through anything to stay on the field.

I am certain that I played the last game of my junior season of college football with a concussion I had suffered days earlier during practice. My motivation: I wasn’t going to jeopardize my starting position by letting a headache and some dizziness keep me out of the game.

Awareness of the dangers of head injuries has increased on the youth football level. But there is still precious little medical oversight at practices and games.

Youth leagues need a trainer on-site to evaluate head and other injuries — to determine if it’s safe for a child to continue playing. It is worth the increase in registration fees.

Furthermore, leagues, coaches and parents should limit the amount of full-contact football a child plays during the year. Too many kids on Long Island play tackle football eight months a year.

Ridiculously, coaches begin full equipment practices for the fall season in July. Then, when the fall season ends in November, the indoor football season begins in December with teams registering to compete in for-profit youth leagues that schedule playoff games deep into February.

Hundreds of retired players — including Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett — are suing the NFL for negligence, accusing the league of deception and denial in failing to properly inform players of the link between head injuries and long-term cognitive brain damage.

If players have a solid case against the NFL, then how strong of a case would former youth and high school players have against their leagues, or worse, their dads?

I recall hearing about the first case of ailing smokers suing Big Tobacco in the 1990s and thinking that the smokers had no case, that they should hold themselves accountable for willingly embracing the risks of smoking cigarettes. How completely wrong I was.

Is it so far-fetched to imagine non-NFL players suing the league for selling a product that influenced them to make poor health decisions on the playing field?

Brian Harmon is public relations director at LIU Brooklyn and a former managing editor at Times/Review Newsgroup. 

04/07/12 7:00am
04/07/2012 7:00 AM

The electrician and the sleepy attorney have commuted home on the train to the same station — probably for years — but I’m guessing they had hardly acknowledged one another’s existence before last Wednesday.

That’s when the burly contractor gave the napping litigator a gentle nudge on the arm and said in a soft but assertive tone, “Hey, pal, we’re in Bay Shore.”

I ride the Long Island Rail Road every day to work and back, three hours a day. Riders have a lot to whine about — what with the delays, the shutdowns and the rising ticket prices.

But for those of us who pick our heads up from our smart phones now and then, there are plenty of feel-good moments to be seen and heard.

I recently watched two riders team up to map out the quickest way to reach Jamaica via subway from Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, after word spread that railroad service west of Jamaica was shut down “indefinitely.” Believe me, I’ve tried this and it’s no picnic.

The two men analyzed the giant subway grid on the wall, then weighed the friendly and a bit too ample advice of a disheveled passerby. Finally, they walked to the Lafayette Avenue subway station.

There, they chatted about work and commuting before catching an A train to Broadway Junction, where they ambled up the steps to the elevated platform and soon boarded a J train bound for Jamaica. The two never left each other’s side until they boarded their LIRR train in Jamaica.

Romance — depending on its form — is nice to witness on the train. One rainy Tuesday evening commute home, I caught a glance of a smartly dressed middle-aged man standing under an umbrella on the Islip station platform.

My train crept to a stop and I got a little choked up as the train door slid open right in front of where the man was standing and a woman stepped out into a quick embrace with the man before the two began walking together, holding hands. As the train pulled away, I watched the couple ease down the platform steps. The man guided the woman to the passenger door of his car. In a flash, they were out of sight.

What made this so heartwarming was that it was clearly a daily routine. How else would the man know just where to stand on the platform to greet his lady friend?

On a Friday commute home, it was sure nice to find a $20 bill on the floor of the train, even though I pounced on it a little too fast. Out of guilt, I asked the nearest person, “Does this belong to you?”

He said, “No.” That was good. Good to find the 20 bucks, good to keep it and good that the man was honest.

The train is always good for those chance encounters with old friends. For me, it’s bumping into a former Daily News colleague, a high school football teammate working as a conductor or a fellow parent from my time living in Bethpage.

It’s always a pleasure bumping into the coach of my daughter’s soccer club on the ride into work. Bob and I board in Patchogue, but Bob jumps off for work in Babylon.

Commutes with Coach Bob represent the best of both worlds for me. I get just enough stimulating conversation before Bob’s stop. Then, when he’s off, I’m able to kick back, read the paper, play Words With Friends on my iPhone, answer texts and do whatever.

It’s nice to watch old friends meet and hug. It’s nice to see a young family board the train together, embarking on an exciting trip to The City. They worry about things most commuters don’t: Should we sit in a seat facing the direction we’re traveling in? Do we change in Jamaica? What time do we arrive at Penn Station?

I frequently see regular riders switch their seats on the train, making room for a couple or a family to sit together.

It was a pleasure to see a regular rider who speaks fluent Spanish step in to serve as translator between a conductor and an elderly Hispanic man who didn’t have a ticket. The Hispanic man clearly did not understand the conductor’s English, even when the conductor spoke very loud and very, very slow.

From what I could tell, the amateur interpreter asked the man in Spanish, “What station are you getting off at?” I was able to make out “qué estación.”

The man replied, “Jamaica.” Then she informed him — in Spanish of course — that if he didn’t have money for a ticket, the conductor needed to see “identificación.”

The man quickly dug up his I.D. and the last I saw of him, he was on the platform filling out paperwork.

It’s especially good to see common sense prevail on the train, like when a regular rider realizes it’s a new month, but is already on an evening train back to Long Island and hasn’t purchased his monthly ticket. When the conductor comes around to check tickets, the rider barely gets out the syllable “for-” in the word “forgetting,” before the conductor recognizes him and quietly agrees to give the guy a pass for the ride home.

What makes the LIRR good — even great — on many days are the riders. Sure, they can be cranky and gruff and want their quiet and their space, but given the opportunity to reveal their goodness, they rise to the occasion again and again.

Mr. Harmon is a former Times/Review editor. He is now public relations director at LIU Brooklyn.

03/08/12 6:00pm
03/08/2012 6:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A heavy traffic day on Route 25A in Wading River.

Aeschylus said, “In war, the first casualty is truth.” In the battle about overdevelopment in Wading River, more than a thousand residents have turned out at community meetings; sent emails, postcards or letters; or come to the Riverhead Town Board in person. There are legions behind them.

So, before I express my opinion, let’s stop debating the facts and accept them.

• First, this conflict is not about developers’ private property rights. Nobody disputes them and they’re protected by law. The developers are going to build; there’s no dispute. But residents have rights, too. The right to peacefully enjoy their property and to be spared from nightmare traffic, zoning that won’t work and diminished property values.

• Second, zoning authority is conferred on towns by the state. It’s intended to protect the citizenry and not to guarantee developers’ investments. Government has no obligation to assure the success of real estate investments any more than they do stock market investments, bonds, precious metals or pork bellies. And there is no legal prohibition against towns’ changing zoning for the benefit of the many, even at the cost of a few. Towns may legally upzone or downzone for any legitimate purpose.

• Third, courts do not substitute their judgment for that of municipalities. When land-use decisions are overturned by the judiciary, it is always because local government failed to provide a rational basis for its decision or broke laws governing the project review process. It is a false claim that if government doesn’t give developers everything they want, the courts will.

• Fourth, Riverhead decided to exclude from the corridor study the development dubbed Knightland proposed for a parcel on Route 25A. The reason cited by BFJ Planning, which conducted the study, is that a lawsuit has been brought by citizens against their government. Ironically, the suit was brought because the town, in approving the Knightland shopping center plans, failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the Knightland property in combination with the other properties in the corridor. Go figure.

• Fifth, as part of the town’s planning consultants’ study of Route 25A on the Brookhaven side of the town line in Wading River, economic experts determined that Wading River could absorb only about 23,000 square feet of additional retail space. The current BFJ plan calls for 123,000.

• Sixth, the most recent version of the constantly changing plan calls for more commercial development — over 200,000 additional square feet — and a reduction in the amount of open space sought by local residents. Is the plan getting better or worse on the basis of community input?

• Seventh, at its March 1 work session, instead of discussing what development Wading River needs and what it doesn’t, the Town Board went parcel by parcel, discussing what zoning it would grant for development of each property. Then, it set the March 6 Town Board Meeting as the time to decide the date for a public hearing on the flawed plan. How’s that for proper planning?

• Eighth, developers’ attorney Peter Danowski says that absent changes to the Wading River plan, developers are likely to sue. So are citizens. While some say that the people of Wading River will accept anything they can get from town government, the fact is that if an adopted plan doesn’t protect the hamlet, the town will be sued again – this time not by developers who want to earn big bucks in a recession but by citizens who care about their community. Count on it.

Now, in my opinion. BFJ Planning failed to recommend a plan that reflected local input or one that would work for the citizens or the developers. If too much retail development is proposed, not only will existing businesses be hurt but the new developers will be cannibalizing each other. Wading River needs a mix of retail, housing, professional offices and community services. The Town Board should put every interested planner in a room and charge them not with accommodating a few developers but rather with producing a plan that works economically and in terms of quality of life for everyone. That must happen before a public hearing is held on a faulty plan that serves nobody.

Mr. Amper is the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, an environmental nonprofit group based in Riverhead.