The Hamptons used to be regarded as a seaside resort area on the tip of Long Island, a place where New Yorkers of means could escape in the summer. In more recent years, it has become a gilded caricature of excess and indifference: the playground of misbehaved celebrities and the super-rich, where people like Bernard Madoff can own a slice of prime oceanfront and erect super-mansions to their hearts' content.
Looking for a symbol of the greedy Wall Street financiers who nearly brought this nation's economy to its knees, or of the swarming nouveaux riche and their fixation on social status? Welcome, as a New York Post writer observed more than a decade ago, to the "Hellish Hamptons."
So imagine one's surprise to discover that there is a community that aspires to be known as the "Hamptons of the Chesapeake Bay." That people living in this community actually paid money to run advertisements in magazines stating this claim. And that the community in question is located right here in Maryland.
Meet Talbot County, home to St. Michaels and Oxford (filling in for Sag Harbor and Southampton, apparently) and its hundreds of miles of prime waterfront on the Miles and Tred Avon rivers and their tributaries.
That the Eastern Shore county has Hampton-like tendencies was well-known. Rich retirees have been moving here for at least a half-century, and in recent years their likes have included quite a number of Washington movers and shakers, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
But most people think well enough of Talbot Countians to overlook all that. The county still has some of the best blue crabs in Maryland, charming tourist destinations, great restaurants and some of the most gorgeous waterfront to be found anywhere - at least what can be seen of it beyond the gates and security cameras of the wealthiest landowners.
Why would a county with so much going for it want to be likened to an overcrowded, over-hyped, overpriced, hoity-toity country club of a place where at least half the neighborhood is living off TARP handouts and million-dollar bonuses?
It's a puzzle. As a former county resident, to me it's a bit like watching an old friend suffer some kind of midlife crisis.
Time for an intervention. Talbot County, snap out of it. You're not Paris Hilton. You're black labs riding in pickup trucks, oysters on the half-shell, beers on the back deck and the annual Waterfowl Festival in Easton. Don't let the upwardly mobile bring you down.