post-Sandy: Rockaway, inside a day

highwayIn another day and age, Stephanie said they referred to Rockaway as The Irish Riviera.

About a zillion years ago, my Aunt Millie rented a bungalow on that fair peninsula in New York City known as Rockaway Beach. In those days, clustered together were little houses, usually with porches, that you could rent for the summer, close to the beach and Rockaways Playland. It was the heyday for amusement parks. There was still the Steeplechase at Coney Island, and in Jersey, my favorite, Palisades Park.

It was another age, when families escaped the hot city summer full-time, while major breadwinners arrived over the weekend. It was the age before central air. For a double subway fare, you could easily get to the city. Some Irish Americans found heaven on earth here. Bungalows and boarding houses led to year round residence. This would be true of South and Midland Beach on Staten Island. Its residents, too, later becoming the victims of Sandy.

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Beaches are special to people. Anyone who is coastal has a special relationship to the sea. Everyone has their own special beach. So profound was the memory of these summers, my cousin Stephanie made Rockaway her full year summer getaway over 20 years ago. First as a renter, then in a highrise co-op. It was a skip to the beach. She often Facebook’s us the morning sunrise, which she is religious about. For Stephanie, I would guess, Rockaway is her heaven on earth.

aug 15 2A strange visual thing happens, even though the downtown skyline is several miles away, you can actually see it here at the Wharf Bar and Restaurant, quite clearly. Notice the Empire State building from midtown. Stephanie said that you could see the towers go down from this area on 9/11.

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Several tragedies have drawn the Breezy Point community tighter. Many firefighters and cops live in this community, and there is the Rockaway Park’s 9/11/2001 Memorial on the north side of Beach Channel Drive, as you can see downtown from this point. Like that moment in Washington when you see Maya Lin‘s Vietnam Memorial, here those 300+ names remind you of firefighters, who went to work that morning, never knowing they would be side-swiped by the unimaginable.

There was also a deadly, plane crash on November 12, 2001 in which 260 died and 5  on the ground were killed. This was out of JFK, the airport I would be leaving out of a few hours later. Then there was the horror story called Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York and Jersey like a bat out of hell. And in such a short time it looks like another world.

r houseThese neat houses I remember, they have all the charm that the middle class in NYC can muster.

trainThis is the Rockaway–post-Beachtown–highrise across the beach area. Note the train station in the background.

r yupThe old hotels are gone and the look of the future, yuppies/hipsters, who have re-found Rockaway and want a piece of the beach.

mem 2 06This was Memorial Day weekend of 2006, notice how the kids had no problem with overcrowding on the beach. Compare below, August, 2015.

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mem 3The old basketball courts and the wooden boardwalk before Sandy. Compare today below. The boardwalk is now a concrete barrier.

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mem 4 06The beach as it was in 2006, pretty much flat with the surface, boardwalk almost invisible in the far upper right.

r sand compositeDunes, plantings, concrete and steel walkways have changed the day of an unadorned beachfront.

Attempts have been made to retain the beach. It is now sculpted. Stephanie said, after Sandy, there was no beach. The surge had carried it away, along with parts of the boardwalk which wound up blocks away.  It carried away her car, too. Stephanie is proud to say her part of the boardwalk remained, in spite of a ton of sand covering everything. It remained until its recent demolition to make way for the new concrete boardwalk.

r and goofy signSince I was a teenager, Rockaway was the only place in NYC you could surf.

Either Stephanie or Mary, said that buses now came to bring people to the beach from Brooklyn. I guess no one wanted to mess with Coney Island. Buses would make sense, as parking here during high season, is tough.

r concessonThe boardwalk now has concession stands.

r bike copsAnd even bike cops!

walkway rockaway

My cousin, Steph, told me a lot about the disaster that day. I have lived through several hurricanes, both here and in New York. Nothing beat Sandy for destructiveness, and no one was fully prepared for what was to come. I left the city the Sunday before it arrived, jittery over Bloomberg and Christie, both of whom seemed to be on TV every minute.

pensiveStephanie chose the Wharf Bar and Restaurant, which was a perfect place to go to, right on the water with–what else?–seafood on the menu!

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r food waitressGreat waitresses, real New Yorkers, and even a band.

r water 1In between waiting for the meal, you people watch right on the channel. Cool.

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