Things To Do In The Rockaways
Peter Tatara - August 29, 2008
As long as I've lived in New York City, I've always looked at the very edge of the map and tiny mirage of land where NYC becomes the sea called The Rockaways. This strip of sand between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean is as remote as can be, but if you turn your eyes to the horizon there, you can still see the skyline of New York City. It's a place of mystery, a place of contradictions, and a place I'd never been to until Saturday.
After years of looking at The Rockaways, I decided to finally make the trek out to where New York City ends. But before heading out, I did some research, trying to put together a list of places in The Rockaways I just had to see. There was a problem. Type as hard as I might, I couldn't find any websites when searching for "Things To Do In The Rockaways," "A Guide To Rockaway Attractions," or even "Best Rockaway Restaurants." The only success I had was when looking up beaches in The Rockaways. Rockaway Park's supposedly the best beach in NYC with Far Rockaway coming in at a close number two.
I told my girlfriend (who was coming along on my expedition to The Rockaways) about what I learned from the internet and what I didn't. She was concerned. I wasn't. I love wandering about Coney Island, discovering people, places, and things, and then slipping into a restaurant that's literally nothing more than a dank corner, a barrel of shrimp, and a deep fryer open to the sea air. My girlfriend doesn't share my sense of adventure and/or enthusiasm for fried, spoiled seafood.
Still, she joined me. We took off just before noon from Sunnyside, Queens, rode the 7 into Times Square, got on the A at Port Authority, took it to Broad Channel, and then loaded into the Rockaway Shuttle to the very end of the line. All in all, it took maybe an hour and a half. The time went by fast, though.
First, we picked up brunch from Dunkin Donuts and spent the early part of our trip analyzing their new egg white flatbread sandwich. It sucks. The egg whites were without flavor, but that's forgivable. The flatbread, however, was a soggy, sour affair that I could hardly get down. Peter's sticking to his egg and cheese on a sesame bagel from now on.
We had finished our sandwiches by the time we transferred to the A and were entertained by five homeless folks begging for change, four kids hocking stolen candy, three screaming babies, two women who were crazy for Jesus, and one dude reeking of vodka who I'm totally impressed didn't throw up on my shoes. Then, the A Train got lost and we had to backtrack a bit.
Once we were in the home stretch to The Rockaways, speeding inside the A past JFK Airport, things got surreal. On one side of the train was water. On the other side of the train was water. Here I was on a train navigating a thin trip of land invisible to me. I'm not doing this image justice at all. The trip of The Rockaways was worth it for this moment alone. Sitting inside a subway floating on water was something beautiful, powerful, and far beyond what I can begin to describe here.
Then, we got to Broad Channel Station. New York City is a city of granite monuments and glass skyscrapers. It is an eden manufactured by man, and it may because so much of the city has been planned by architects and engineers that wherever nature is given space to grow, it explodes, creating green so bright and thick it demolished whatever it touches. Broad Channel Station is the epitome of this. It is an outpost of man taken over by nature. Wild vines, olive leaves, and scythe-shaped thorns have ripped through concrete, and the morning dew has rusted steel. It's decrepit. It's actually quite beautiful. At Broad Channel, we boarded the Rockaway Shuttle for the final leg of our trek.
The Rockaway Shuttle roared atop the multitude of minute islands that make up The Rockaways. It was amazing watching every little enclave we passed, seeing each filled with life, seeing that there were men, women, and children making their lives here -- at the far end of the earth. There were schools. There were bodegas. There was a giant Duane Reade.
The Rockaway Shuttle finally rolled up on its last stop, 116 Street. We got out. We looked right and saw three thin streets and then ocean. We looked left and saw three thin streets and then ocean. The Rockaways were an astonishingly narrow bar of land between the waves of Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. We walked down 116 Street toward the Atlantic, passing by a half dozen diners and general stores. I asked my girlfriend if she wanted a beach towel or little plastic bucket and shovel, and she shot me a "Did you just fucking ask me that?" look. I should have realized sooner I had made a grave miscalculation.
We got to the beach -- a beautiful beach -- and just looked at it. I have to absolutely say that Rockaway Park is the best beach in New York City. The sand is gold. The water is deep blue. The massive waves crest in great plumes of white. And the beachgoers are all locals. While Coney Island brings in anyone and everyone from NYC as well as tourists from around the world, no one comes out to The Rockaways. There was so much beach.
My girlfriend and I proceeded to walk along the boardwalk for a dozen or so blocks, just staring out at the perfect beach before us. I thought about touching the sand. I pondered wading into the water. But, honestly, I never left the boardwalk. See, my girlfriend and I aren't outdoors people. We've got no problem looking at trees, nature, and things that are green, but we don't want to get our hands or feet dirty in the process. We traveled close to two hours out to The Rockaways only to remember that we don't really like beaches. We walked the boardwalk to its very end. From there, there was only sand out to Breezy Point and the very last edge of land. Going further meant getting sand in my shoes, but I came out to The Rockaways just for this moment -- to find the end of the universe, to stand where New York City ceases to be. I took a step forward and asked my girlfriend to come with me. She again shot me the "Did you just fucking ask me that?" look.
We didn't walk to the end of the universe. Instead, turning a corner where the boardwalk ran out, we started meandering through the well manicured lawns of The Rockaways. The houses here were nice. They were big. They were real houses. With yards. And pools. Then, soon enough, we found ourselves back at 116 Street and its main drag of dingy shops and diners. There was a little Polish joint filled with card tables and plastic chairs, a hamburger stand with a fast sleep fry cook, and a Japanese place with some flaw I can't recall. We didn't go inside any. We did, however, go into a sand-stained convenience store with a yellowed Slush Puppy machine out front. My girlfriend wanted a Slush Puppy, and I, not recalling exactly what a Slush Puppy is, happily got her a tall cup of dirty ice and 100% artificial cherry flavoring. The thing was disgusting, but my girlfriend contently sucked away, and proudly showed me how her tongue was now dyed an electric shade of red not found in nature. I lectured on about how the Icee is a far superior product.
And with that, we returned home. All in all, it took us four hours to get to The Rockaways and back, and we probably spent all of 20 minutes on the actual beach. Still, looking at the subway skimming across the water as we traveled through Broad Channel, it was worth it. And we'll be back. Maybe. But not next weekend. We're staying inside.