This had to be some kind of prank. Was Ashton Kutcher hiding behind a bush? Was there a drone shooting a video overhead?
This couldn’t be real, thought longtime Wading River resident Jesse Swenk to himself late in the afternoon on Labor Day, at one point actually looking above his yard for a drone.
The day started off the way most people spend a holiday. The 41-year-old stopped by a friend’s house, took a dip in the pool and relaxed on a rare day off from the gym he runs. Around 4 p.m., he returned to his home on Park Street to find an unexpected site. Parked in front of his home, up on the grass near his mailbox, was a yellow New York City taxi. A sign on top advertised a gentlemen’s club on 52nd and Broadway. A few other cars were parked next to the cab.
He pulled into his driveway and looked toward his yard, where things became even weirder.
A group of 11 family and friends sat sprawled on blankets in his backyard, their shoes off, with a full spread of food in front of them.
“I pull in and turn around and wave to them and they waved back like I’m turning around in their driveway,” Mr. Swenk said.
The intruders walked up to him and said hello, telling Mr. Swenk “don’t worry, we won’t be here long,” he recalled.
“I’m like, excuse me? It’s my house,” Mr. Swenk said.
They invited him to join them for some food. Mr. Swenk, befuddled and unsure what was happening, agreed.
“They’re telling me their life story,” he said. “I went here, I went there, this kids in that school. They had little kids there who started school. Next thing you know, I’m cracking up with them.”
The Queens family — spotted earlier in the day at Palmer Vineyards walking through the vines, picking grapes — came out to the North Fork for a day of peach and apple picking and picnicking. They drove through Wildwood State Park but found no space available. They drove down nearby Park Street, part of Wildwood Acres, and found Mr. Swenk’s home where he’s lived since 1985. Mr. Swenk, who lives alone, takes pride in maintaining a meticulous landscape, nearly all of which he does himself.
He asked them how they ended up in his yard.
“Your house is so pretty, it looked like a park,” Mr. Swenk said they told him.
At that point, Mr. Swenk was simply happy he didn’t have a pool.
After finishing their meal, the group posed for pictures all around Mr. Swenk’s yard, from bushes to his front door. Mr. Swenk knew he needed to take a few pictures himself, because no one would ever believe him without it.
In total, Mr. Swenk spent close to an hour with the family members, who originally hailed from India.
The bizarre experience prompted Mr. Swenk, who happens to have a 31-year-old adopted sister from India, to come up with a giveaway. He posted a picture on Facebook Tuesday of the taxi and offered his followers a chance to win a membership to the gym he owns, Defined Health and Fitness in Wading River. To win, someone needed to correctly guess what was happening in the picture.
The thread quickly picked up steam. A few guesses came close, enough that Mr. Swenk plans to be giving away at least five memberships. He hopes it’s the start of more giveaways. He already has an idea for a New Year’s theme along the lines of “The Biggest Loser.”
In his years living in Wading River near tourist spots like the park, Lewin Farms and Davis Peach Farm, Mr. Swenk said it’s not unusual for a car to occasionally park on his street by his house. Never, though, had he seen anything quite like what happened this week.
The question that jumped out at Mr. Swenk was the taxi. How much did that cost?
One person told him it was $4.50 a mile for a trip roughly 74 miles each way. The driver was a friend hanging out in the group, but they still had to pay for the trip. They estimated it would be at least $650.
Why not rent a limo or town car instead?
“That’s what I’m saying,” Mr. Swenk said. “Then I was kidding around with them. Any time you want to come out here, I’ll come pick you up and bring you back for $500.”
The next day, Mr. Swenk received a phone call from one of the visitors. The woman thanked him for allowing them to picnic in his yard and sent him a few pictures they had taken. In the background, he could hear the kids clamoring to get on the phone.
“Next thing you know I’m talking to their kids,” he said. “The mother says I have a daughter. I’m like, here we go, this lady is trying to marry me off to her daughter!”
Photo Caption: A taxi parked in front of Mr. Swenk’s home on Labor Day. (Credit: Jesse Swenk/Facebook)