Relay: The Great Outdoors

A camping adventure

Many may not take me for the type of gal who enjoys camping. After all, I was raised in Manhattan. Growing up, the closest I ever got to camping was visiting my cousins at Hither Hills during their extended stays there, but I always left long before dusk. Fast forward all these years later and I look forward to going to sleep under the stars, sitting by a campfire, and, yes, even as a decade-long vegetarian, waking up to the smell of bacon cooking at the neighboring campsite.

All of that faced several interruptions, including leaks and police activity, a few weekends ago.

First, the hot water heater in our camper broke. (Did you think this city girl slept in a tent?) It was already after dark on a nonelectric site at Indian Island in Riverhead, so we roughed it the first night. In the morning, we tinkered with pipes and valves, which promptly blew the faucet off the kitchenette sink. Then we realized the fridge and freezer, which can operate off propane, weren’t getting as cold as they should, a rather big problem for my MorningStar Farms veggie bacon strips.

My fiancé was ready to admit defeat, but a friend in East Hampton, far more experienced in the world of camping, had a number for a repairman who exclusively fixes campers. We called Bill, who came right over, fixed the sink and the fridge, and diagnosed the leak. Weekend saved.

As soon as one problem is fixed though, another rears its ugly head.

As we enjoyed a peaceful evening, we heard yelling. We peeked our heads around the camper, and diagonally across the way found a man screaming at two Suffolk County Park Police officers. Our next-door neighbors, a large group of 20-somethings, suddenly came out from their campsite to fill us in — they had been watching most of the incident through the blinds. Allegedly, the man had two shotguns in the trunk of his car, which the cops had confiscated. It’s illegal to bring any firearms to a county park.

The man appeared intoxicated, also a no-no in a county park. He was filming the exchange with his cellphone camera — after all, the Eric Garner incident was just days old. The back-and-forth went on for quite some time with him screaming about his rights and the officers trying to keep him at bay. It was like a block party with campers from every site gathering around to watch. More cops and a sergeant arrived.

The man grew less steady on his feet as time went on, doing the two-step and carrying on. When he urinated right in front of the officers, it seemed they had had enough. I think it took six officers to arrest him as he struggled with them. My neighbor captured the whole thing on his cellphone. There were no chokeholds, though.

Everyone was relieved the man was in custody, and just as we were all ready to go back to our s’mores, the reason the officers had held off arresting him so long became apparent: a 3-year-old child asleep in a large tailgating chair and no other adults in sight. Another hour went by before a Riverhead volunteer ambulance came to fetch the child, I assume under some kind of protocol because the child seemed fine, scared and alone, but all right.

Officers remained at the campsite well after I turned in for the night. The Suffolk Times reported later that police found a loaded shotgun in the man’s tent, though the article made no mention of those other guns. Court documents said the child could have easily gotten to the gun.

You just never know what’s lurking around the corner. The whole incident got me thinking that maybe I should have stuck to Manhattan, where at least I had double-bolted doors, albeit no real view of the stars.

Taylor K. Vescey is The Star’s digital products editor.