Sunday, September 07, 2008

A tale of 1920s debauchery and modern-day hilarity

SURPRISE MYSTERY ADVENTURE--REVEALED! My heart was overflowing with excitement on Saturday morning, and then the announcement came: We were going on Great Gatsby-themed boat tour of the Long Island Sound! After a quick and easy train ride out to Port Washington, we were greeted on the dock by a woman named Eleanor, who was clad in period costume and holding a plastic Diet Pepsi bottle and a cigarette. Due to the incredibly menacing weather, most of the folks had canceled, but we'd stuck it out, as had two other people, who shortly joined us. We boarded the boat, named the Charles II, and headed out around the bay.

Eleanor produced a binder with her tour information in it, and a bright orange soft-sided cooler, which she sat on the table. From the table she extracted a blue disc man that held her CD of the music she wanted to play for the tour. She explained that she does not like music from the 1920s, so we would be listening to a selection of songs from the 1940s that are often wrongly-attributed to the 1920s. We were off to a great start. The tour went around between Great Neck and Manhasset Neck--apparently the inspirations for Fitzgerald's West Egg and East Egg. Eleanor told us all about the yacht clubs dotting the shore, and pointed out restored estates (once nestled in much larger parcels of land) and once inhabited by newspaper barons and men who got into the bicycle, automobile, and ship-building industries at just the right time.

The Charles II puttered parallel to the land, and Eleanor pointed out Frances Hodgson Burnett's old house, and to a gazebo on the property that she thought once might have belonged to Groucho Marx. Every once and awhile, she got lost in her thoughts and simply hummed along to the music. She told us about the Aphrodite II, a magnificent old yacht that permitted a 30 minute commute to Manhattan back in the 1920s, and pointed to a house that she said should have been the model for the Buchanan house in Fitzgerald's book.

She was filled with a perfect combination of facts, anecdotes, and legends. Not too serious at all. As we reached the end of the bay and began to circle around, she admitted that sometimes she likes to make up who lives in these houses now, and pass on that information to the tour guests. Going back along the other side of the bay, she took a break, telling us that she didn't know "a hell of a lot" about this side, but that the views were nice, and you could see where Fitzgerald got his inspiration, which was true.

By this time, Tropical Storm Hanna was nipping at our heels, and an already gloomy day was turning into a threatening one. The rain was coming down so hard that it obscured most of the views, though we did get a glimpse of Hart Island, New York City's potter's field, which is a really fascinating place and has quite a history. On the way back to the dock, we passed J Lo's charter yacht, which Eleanor admitted having been aboard, and we were each awarded with prizes (paper fans, a harmonica, a bookmark)--I was the lucky winner of the harmonica. She thanked us for being so nice compared to her last group, which she described as "hostile." The rain was severe and we had to walk back to the train station. She offered us a ride in her pick up truck, and, shoving piles of things over on the front seat to make room, she hiked up her 1920s-era skirt and climbed in.

What a fantastic adventure! Pictures here.

No comments: