The Rez Reporter
Ray Clendenin Jr., a member and resident of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, is a one-man weather and traffic bureau
Gone are the days when you had to wait for your local weekly to hit the stands each Thursday to find out what was happening. News no longer waits, and anyone with an iPhone can report anything interesting they see happening. On the South Fork, one citizen reporter caught our eye recently.
Ray Clendenin Jr., a member and resident of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, has always had a fascination with Mother Nature, as well as the bus and train systems. People who knew Ray would often ask him, “Hey, man, what’s the weather?,” and he loved telling them. In 2013, he turned his interest into a public-service Facebook page called “Traffic & Weather in & Around the Shinnecock Reservation”; two years later, he launched his popular Twitter account, @thereztw.
Clendenin, whose day job is working for the Shinnecock Indian Nation, tries to provide tribal citizens and the surrounding community with forecasts, road closures, and transit information. He likes to lend a hand. Sometimes, he is asked to weigh in on whether events being held on the Rez will be hit by bad weather, and he hurries to post any severe-weather bulletins that come up. Last summer, for instance, when a sudden tornado warning was issued — and a small one touched down on the North Fork — he was among the first to alert the public, tweeting out a word of caution just before the lighting, thunder, and heavy rain arrived. There was flash-flooding, and at least one fire broke out, in Sag Harbor. “The fact that I was able to catch that . . . ,” he says, with a big smile spreading across his face. He doesn’t just rely on television meteorologists, but watches the radar.
“I’m not a meteorologist by a long shot,” he admits, but has just always paid close attention.
Now 38, he graduated with a degree in communications from Southampton College and worked at the radio station 88.3 when it was based there. “I grew up basically watching the Weather Channel,” he says. As a child, he put a map over the top bunk of his bunk bed and pretended to be a meteorologist.
Though he was raised in Jamaica, Queens, he spent time on the Reservation, where his maternal grandparents lived. He began to notice differences in the weather between places — how it’s warmer in Montauk than on the Reservation. “I’m just amazed by that.”
His love of mass transit started at home, too. His father was a track worker for the Long Island Rail Road, and his great uncle was a tollbooth clerk in the New York City subway system. As a kid, he would study the maps of the transit system. “The next thing I knew, I know every bus driver in Queens.”
A self-described “transit buff,” he picked up the name “Ray the Transit Man.” He is a member of the Metropolitan New York Bus Association, a group of transportation professionals and enthusiasts who document the history of bus transportation in the metro area. Every August, they take a four-day group trip, much as other hobbyists might go birdwatching; last year, it was to Montreal.
After moving east during college, he buckled down and learned the ins and outs of the Suffolk County bus line, not because he relied on it for transportation, but because he wanted to. He takes the buses every once in a while, to keep up on things. “It needs to be revamped,” he says with certainty.
The shuttle trains from Speonk to Montauk back in 2007 and 2008, during the widening of County Road 39, “did wonders,” he says. “They should bring that back.” He is pleased there has been discussion of that as of late.
Relying on acquaintances and connections, local news organizations, and what he happens to see, he is able to keep his followers posted on road closures and delays east of Riverhead. He retweets or reposts important messages from authorities like Suffolk County Fire Rescue Emergency Services, flagging problems on the Long Island Expressway and the county roads: traffic jams, accidents, paving crews at work.
One of his proudest moments came when Sam Schwartz, the New York Daily News columnist and the former New York City traffic commissioner, started following him from his account, @GridlockSam. “The fact that he’s following me means a lot.”
He follows the experts. too, of course, but says he is not the type to call them out on their mistakes. “I’m not here trying to insult them. They are the professionals. I’m just doing this as a hobby.” •