Sufficiently Suffolk

Suffolk County stands out from the rest of New York in a number of ways. 8/10 of the highest-grossing 7-11s in America are in Suffolk. Suffolk leads the state in heroin and fentanyl overdoses. Suffolk also leads the state in DWI crashes. Suffolk begins at Melville and ends at Montauk, spanning more than 80 miles long. And so much of those 80+ miles are filled with beauty. Somehow, I think all of these things are connected.

When I was a kid, a lot of old-timers talked about remembering Suffolk when it was just a bunch of potato farms. But, in fact, it dates back much further, to the 1600s, and is as part of early American history as anywhere else. It is Long Island, but not Gatsby's Long Island. And yet, you can't pin any one definition on it. You have the superwealthy of the Hamptons and Sagaponak and you have the hidden Central Americans of Farmingville. There are hubs of the tech industry with Canon and Computer Associates, and mom and pop shops along main streets of Port Jeff and Sayville.

Here's the thing: Suffolk is one of the most populous counties in the entire United States, but you wouldn't know it. And there is no one unifying thread. A Block Island fisherman whose vanishing livelihood was immortalized by Billy Joel in "DownEaster Alexa" may have no more in common with a Deer Park mother worried about the encroachment of MS-13 gang activity than Alaskans have with Hawaiians (It's no wonder that every so often, there is talk of the East End seceding and becoming "Peconic County"). And unlike New York City, or even the relatively young Nassau (just a little more than a century old!), there is enough space for small communities to build in relative obscurity, or for people to disappear without too many people noticing.

Newsday still (!) is the one daily newspaper that serves all of Long Island, and it has a daily section that shares news from all different towns. The diversity of preoccupations and needs of these towns is remarkable. The rest of New York, and maybe the rest of the United States has a preconceived notion of what makes a "Long Islander." But experience tells me no one description will suffice.