Thursday, July 13, 2006

Up all night gambling

A driver fell asleep at the wheel, lost control of his car, flipped over an embankment on Route 25 and crashed into the Orient Village Cemetery last Thursday evening, wiping out about 20 monuments. (See story, page 1.) Fortunately no one was seriously injured, including, miraculously, the driver.

Almost before the dust had settled in the cemetery — no exaggeration — word spread that the driver, a young man from Sound Beach, had just gotten off the ferry, returning from a Connecticut casino, where he'd been up all night gambling the night before.

Fact or fiction? Officials wouldn't confirm for us, on the record, that the man said he'd been up gambling all night. In fact, Ethel Terry of Orient Fire Department, the EMT in charge at the scene, denied the man said such a thing. But two officials recounted that he said exactly that. They, however, asked not to be identified by name in the paper. They're not supposed to talk to the press about things people involved in accidents say to them, they said.

The driver of the car didn't want to talk to us, either. He didn't return several messages left on his answering machine.

Because we could confirm it only with sources willing to speak off the record, associate editor Eileen Duffy and I grappled with whether to report that the man was coming from the ferry and said he'd been up all night gambling the night before. I hate reporting based on anonymous sources, though sometimes I realize there's no choice. It's got to be corroborated in some way and I've got to be thoroughly convinced of the source's veracity before I'll go forward with it. I made that decision here.

The people involved in Southold Citizens for Safe Roads immediately saw this incident as a prime example of everything wrong with the Orient ferry, and staged a rally at the cemetery Saturday evening, with signs posing the grim question, "What if these [the headstones] had been children?" The cemetery is right across the road from the elementary school, after all, where soccer practice was just getting under way when the crash occurred. He could have just as easily veered off the road and into the school parking lot.

Should Cross Sound Ferry be held accountable for irresponsible behavior of its customers? I think not — at least no more than any other business.

But I do believe the ferry company should be held accountable for the impact of its operations on our local roads. And there has been an impact.

This much is clear: Cross Sound Ferry cannot be allowed to continue unfettered expansion at its Orient terminal. And that's exactly what will happen if the town doesn't step in and limit it. Why? The demand for ferry service is going to increase, quite dramatically in fact, because of what's going on just across the Sound.

Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are in the process of major expansions that will add more than a couple thousand new hotel rooms. Mohegan Sun alone is planning a second, new 100,000-square-foot casino, with 2,000 slot machines, nearly doubling its operation and almost matching that of Foxwoods. In addition, Mohegan Sun is building a new 1,500-room hotel, a 10,000-seat arena, a 100,000-square-foot convention center and 900,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants.

A brand-new $1 billion casino is in the works just across the Connecticut border, in West Warwick, R.I., a partnership of the Narragansett Indians and Harrah's Entertainment.

Then there's the $1.6 billion entertainment center — including a 1.85 million-square-foot theme park, a 6,000-seat amphitheater and 4,200 hotel rooms — proposed for nearby Preston, Conn., by Utopia Studios, which says it expects to attract 10 million visitors per year.

The indoor auto racing track proposed for Plainfield, Conn., seems stalled, for now. The town changed its mind — and its zoning — and the developer filed suit two weeks ago. If the developer wins, the possibility of a NASCAR track will again be added to the mix.

Southeastern Connecticut's a happening place.

The existing casino operations have had traffic impacts there, and Connecticut officials are trying to deal with what's going to happen to their roadways — particularly the clogged I-95 — as a result of casino expansions, the new casino in Rhode Island, and the huge theme park/entertainment center. Connecticut state senator Bill Finch is quoted in a recent article in the Fairfield County Business Journal: "Whatever we do in Connecticut, it's going to have an impact on traffic if we don't have alternate means of transportation for all of these things. We're not going to grow with the current infrastructure we have."
Alternate means of transportation? The planners' buzzword is "intermodal." That includes trains, buses, and — yes — ferry service. That's why Cross Sound Ferry got a federal highway administration grant to improve its New London facilities.

State, county and local officials in Connecticut embrace all the development because of the economic benefits it brings. Connecticut officials are working to address casino traffic impacts "regionally." But their regional approach stops at the state line — unlike the traffic impacts, which are delivered to our doorstep by Cross Sound Ferry. Not only are they unmindful of traffic impacts on the other side of the Sound, they are increasingly looking at ferry transportation as a means of getting cars off their clogged interstate. And they're even getting assistance from the federal government to make that happen.

Who's looking out for the North Fork? Are traffic impacts here even being considered in the environmental impact statements and traffic studies being prepared in connection with these projects? Or is Southold Town on its own?

Escaping fat old lady syndrome

It isn't easy being fat. But it's almost just as hard losing weight — especially if you're a woman closing in on the half-century mark and you've got more pounds to lose than the number of years under your belt.

I don't remember being anything other than overweight, engaged in a lifelong struggle with the scale.

Two years ago, three different doctors told me to lose weight — but they were all very polite about it and not nearly forceful enough. My primary care provider, a nice young man in his early 30s, couldn't bring himself to tell me directly, even though his office scale — which I still believe to be calibrated incorrectly — said I weighed 231 pounds. He talked about how extra weight worsened my hiatal hernia. My knee problem? Well, my joints were struggling to support my body. Etc. I looked him in the eye and said, "So you mean I have fat old lady syndrome?" He winced. "Well, I guess so." "Why don't you just say so?" I laughed and left his office without even seriously considering doing something about it. So, what else is new, I thought. I'm fat. Always have been, always will be.

I wasn't always so fatalistic about it. In my teens, 20s and 30s, trying this or that diet was a way of life for me. I counted every calorie. I tried appetite suppressants. I tried liquid "meals." I joined weight loss programs. I did the low-fat thing. I did the low-carb thing. I'd lose some weight, then put it back on, plus some. I was on a weight-loss roller coaster. But no matter what I did, I could never manage to keep my weight under 150.

But I refused to allow my self-worth to be defined by the shape of the body staring back at me in the mirror. What self-respecting feminist would? I decided that my five-foot, seven-inch frame was meant to weigh 150 pounds, not 110 or 120. And I was going to be OK with that. Really. No matter what.

But I wasn't.

At some point, after having two babies in two years in my mid 30s, I more or less surrendered to obesity. The pregnancies left me almost 40 pounds heavier. Caring for two tots isn't conducive to exercise. And I found myself grazing on kid scraps all day long. An evening cocktail after the kids were down for the night packed more appeal for me. And since we'd wait till they went to bed to eat a peaceful supper, my husband and I wouldn't dine until 8:30 or 9 o'clock at night. And so it went.
I pretended to accept and love myself just the way I was. But I also refused to look. I avoided mirrors, cameras and shopping for clothes.

In January, on vacation in Florida, I didn't manage to avoid a camera while wearing a wet suit. We were swimming with dolphins, you see. And I looked like a whale. There was no escaping it.

It was like a smack across the face: Wake up! This isn't about vanity. At age 48, it's about health and longevity. "Fat old lady syndrome" would define how I'd live the rest of my life, and it would most likely even define how many years the rest of my life would have to it. Staring at the image of me in a wet suit, something snapped inside me. I marched downstairs, dusted off the scale and got on. And off. And on again. My doctor's scale was wrong, unless I'd lost 20 pounds without trying between May 2005 and January 2006 — yeah, right. But my own scale informed me that I weighed 211 pounds. Ouch.

It's been six months since the day I resolved to celebrate my 50th birthday (in November 2007) being more fit than I've been since childhood. I've lost 34 pounds since Jan. 14. On the recommendation of Andy Mitchell, Peconic Bay Medical Center CEO, I picked up a copy of "The South Beach Diet," and I am now a devotee of Dr. Arthur Agatston, the cardiologist who developed the diet to help his overweight heart patients. He explains in very understandable terms the science behind gaining — and losing — weight. He sheds light on the role of sugar in the American obesity epidemic — sugar found in many different guises in the processed foods that make up a large part of the American diet, along with nasty fats hidden in unlikely places. And how and why they pose such a serious threat to our health, especially our cardiovascular health.

Dr. Agatston sums up the principles of his diet like this: "good carbohydrates and good fats, nutrient dense whole foods, lean sources of protein, and plenty of fiber." You don't have to approach each meal with a scale and a calculator. And you don't have to eat anything weird or tasteless. The diet aims to cure you of the sugar addiction you probably don't even know you have, to fix your metabolism, and to educate you about food so you can make the right food choices. It literally allows you to eat "normal" meals and not feel deprived, while losing one to two pounds per week, the rate doctors say is best for permanent weight loss. And that's exactly what I've done.

I'm never going on another diet again. And I'm never going to weigh 200 pounds again. You've heard the saying, "It's not a diet — it's a lifestyle?" It's true. I've changed the way I eat and drink and live. It's hard to describe how much better — and younger — I feel. I've got 27 pounds to go before I reach my goal — ironically, that 150-pound mark that bothered me so much 25 years ago. I'm going to do it, and I'm going to stay there. If I need inspiration, I peek at that wet suit photo. That's all it takes. Well, that and a desire to live long enough to see — and play with — my grandchildren someday. And since my daughters may keep me waiting as long as I kept my mother waiting, I'll need to be a healthy septuagenarian. That's the plan.