The Rockaways. All the way up from the housing projects in Far Rockaway down to the queer sanctuary that is Jacob Riis Park. This is where you’ll see every type of New Yorker taking a break from the hustle and bustle and the reeking smell of garbage.
Some will take the A train from as far out as Uptown Manhattan, chugging along slowly as it reaches Broad Channel–remarkably close to the water that it feels like a scene out of Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away. Queens denizens are packed onto the Q53 bus, shoulder to shoulder zipping past cars on the new bus lane on Woodhaven Boulevard, knowing that relief is only 30 minutes away. Those privileged enough to be in their cars get to feel the breeze on their necks as they speed over the Cross Bay Bridge.
Then we all arrive. New Yorkers from all walks of life — large groups of teens enjoying the lack of responsibilities on summer days; Latino families erecting a tent, and bringing out the modern-day version of a boombox; or hipsters, wondering what a Nutcracker is. Everyone is here for an escape.
Those who want to turn it out on the beach stay near the main boardwalk stations at 86th, 97th, 106th, and 116th (or of course, go to the adventures of Riis, but that recollection is for another time). Others stroll along the boardwalk to find their peaceful place for a beachfront meditation. Either way, you won’t escape the sounds of reggaeton, salsa, bachata, or hip-hop and the smell of marijuana to calm the mood.
Did you know that there is a surfing scene in The Rockaways? Clearly, a sign of gentrification. The Rockaway Peninsula is also a segregated place: the far side, a mix of Black and Latino neighborhoods, while in the other direction, a mostly white (and wealthier) counterpart, which is clear if you ride a bike down to the homes in Belle Harbor. Despite the hip bars and craft eats popping up, you’ll still find Brisas del Mar and cheap Chinese food, if you’re hungry.
The only guy wearing jeans on the beach rolls by, and in his booming, unmistakable New York accent he shouts: “The barrrr is open! Nutcrackers, cold beer, Corona, Modelo. Get em before the police gets em!”
Take a sip from your ice-cold nutcracker, the fruit punch taste with just enough liquor to get your buzz — did you know some of sellers accept Venmo and Cash App now?
A massive airliner takes off from nearby JFK and you watch it soar into the scorching sun as it muffles the music for a few moments. It’s always fun to think about where in the world the plane is headed–Germany, Korea, Turkey? Anywhere as far as possible from this concrete jungle.
Time for a dip. The cold ocean water stings at first, then refreshes your skin after you’ve been baking in the hot sun and humidity. Rejuvenated. You might as well be in a beach resort town — it doesn’t matter to you as long as you don’t have to worry about your next shift. The rip current pulls you away and the strong waves topple you over occasionally, but you just hope that you don’t swallow any water because who knows what’s in it today. At least there aren’t really jellyfish anymore.
Finishing your snacks, all wrapped in some form of plastic or paper, makes you realize that if we’re ever going to help reduce waste, you don’t need that bag from the bodega. Still hungry, you make your way to the boardwalk for more food. As you wipe your feet from the sand, you notice the beauty of the grassy dunes, perfectly manicured. The city (with the help of the right urban design firm) demonstrated that they can recreate a beachfront destroyed by Hurricane Sandy with a beautifully designed boardwalk and resiliency in mind. Does the name boardwalk still apply if it no longer has wooden boards? It’s a grandiose promenade, that’s what it is now. The Rockaway Promenade.
At 97th, you walk straight to the food stands even though you know they’re overpriced (but damn, that pulled pork sandwich is good). You grab a beer, but now realize you can’t walk out of the designated area due to archaic open container laws. Oh well. Today they’re playing disco music, Donna Summer — the rotation never fails to set the vibe, and sometimes you’ll even catch a band playing or a DJ set. The crowds soak up every last minute of the summer sun and cooler weather down by the shore, before heading back to their sweltering neighborhoods.
If you’re on the bus again, you’ll turn the music up on your headphones to drown out the screaming kids. The Blood Orange discography sounds like a mellow choice to wind down the day. On your way home, you might stop for one of the best slices in Queens at New Park Pizza, in the heavily Italian-American Howard Beach neighborhood. Enjoy a glimpse of the city skyline over the bridge. The sun shining through the towering skyscrapers as it sets and you remember where you are once again.
It’s a New York summer.