Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Morning in Rockaway: Breakfast on the Beach

With the help of quick and early G and 5 trains and the Q-35 bus, we were at Beach 116th Street in Rockaway before 9 a.m. for breakfast on the beach and a long walk on the boardwalk from Belle Harbor down to Beach 84th Street, passing places which we've been going to since the 1950s but which the New York Times Style section discovered last month. This "Go Home Hipsters, The Midwest Misses You" addition to the standard beach sign is another indicator of the peninsula's sudden popularity from some oldtimers. (Not us!)

We walked back to our first apartment from 1979, at the building by the boardwalk at 129 Beach 118th Street (our studio, 5-J, has long since been combined with two of our old neighbors' apartments to create a big co-op), and then east over the route we must have followed hundreds of times. They didn't have these grassy dunes around Beach 108th Street back in the day.

We got some wonderful refreshment at Blue Bottle Coffee at Beach 106th. Behind it, and the benches were people sit and enjoy, is 1 Beach 105th Street, where our grandparents, Nat and Sylvia Ginsberg, lived from 1965 to 1977, when they moved to North Miami Beach. It was a rental back in those days, and their apartment was 11-F.

Grandpa Nat paid extra to get the first parking space next to the ocean, a big mistake, because the whole right side of his Buick Century rusted away from the salt air.

Still, we found the car drivable in Miami as late as 1981. Across Beach 105th Street was the Dayton Towers West Mitchell-Lama co-op, where our other grandparents lived. Now they could all sit at these tables for Blue Bottle Coffee and the empanadas and arepas at Caracas Rockaway. No Caracas traffic here today yet.

Herb and Ethel Sarrett lived in apartment 10-N, facing the beach, in the center building, 103-00 Shore Front Parkway, starting in 1966.

Both sets of grandparents had taken bungalows in Rockaway down around Beach 56th Street and Beach 56th Place since World War II; our parents met there (if an 18yo boy is hanging around with your 14yo daughter, they might still be married 66 years later)

and we all spent our summers there until they tore down the bungalows in 1965. This is our youngest brother, then 4, with our cousin, 12, that last great summer before they tore the bungalows down. Our parents went away to Europe for several weeks and we only remember it as being fun except for the egg salad sandwich that made us sick while we were reading an issue of The Brave & The Bold with Black Canary and Starman.

We were 14 and read books and comics and Mad Magazine, played ball constantly, listened to music on our transistor, did science projects with one kid and made model airplanes and mosaic ashtrays and got a black eye from our cousin and got our first set of weights (no coincidence) and watched the fireworks and put Noxzema on our sunburns and saw mayoral candidate John Lindsay at the beach (he went in the water!) and spent nights on the porch in our uncle's Coast Guard hammock and walked all the way to Far Rockaway with three girls one afternoon that we still remember sights, sounds and smells from. Then they tore our bungalows down and we went into tenth grade in a high school we didn't like.

So after that summer of 1965, a lot of our family just decided to move to Rockaway year-round, including Grandpa Herb's sister Aunt Tillie and Uncle Morris in 102-00 Shore Front Parkway, the next building on the right, on the third floor (Uncle Morris was afraid of heights.) After Grandma Ethel went into a Woodmere retirement home, we lived in their apartment in the summer of 1991 and closed it up during the final three weeks of that year, when we came there after our first semester of law school at the University of Florida.

We loved the terrace and spent many wonderful hours sitting there. Our middle brother, however, like our great-uncle, wasn't crazy about heights and wouldn't sit out with us. How we ever got him to pose out on the terrace like this, we can only imagine. (Cannabis is what we're imagining.)

Now there all these new housing developments on Shore Front Parkway (which starts at Beach 108th but which Robert Moses once envisioned as running all the way to the Montauk Point) and all over the Rockaways.

These prospectors with their metal detectors searching for coins and jewelry used to fascinate us in the 1950s and 1960s.

At 96th there's the world-famous Rockaway Taco, Motorboat & The Big Banana, the Thai food of Ode to the Elephant, AND Coffee, Babycakes, and Veggie Island for good food. We should only have been so lucky in the 1970s. Today we were a few hours too early for most stands to be open, but we made do nicely.

Even at 9:45 a.m., it was starting to feel hot.

Sometimes it's almost nicer here in winter, like the winter of 1968-69, when we were 17.

Our Grandpa Herb, the day he took that pic, was only five years older than we are now. Yikes!

We took this a few years later, when we were in Brooklyn College, and our grandmother is still younger than we are now. Double yikes!

At Beach 95th, there's Whaleamena, who wasn't here back then.

Whaleamena was donated to the Rockaways by the Parks Department and was originally in the childrens zoo in Central Park. Local volunteers restored the badly deteriorated structure. So says Rockaway's newspaper since 1893, The Wave,

which in the 1950s covered one of our youthful Lincoln Court bungalow theatricals, produced by our neighbor Murray Sherman.

We can recall being on the radio and we do have 16mm film of these things somewhere, including a funny boxing match between two four-year-olds in which the fighters (us and our best friend Brucie) did a shaving cream commercial between rounds. (The one thing we refused to do was drag: we were one future gay kid who would not under any circumstances wear a dress and didn't like to see other boys dress up as girls, either). All in all, we have really happy memories of our childhood and adolescent summers in Rockaway.

We think everyone knows that Beach 90th is the surfing mecca of New York City, but our friends who used to surf were there decades ago. The more challenging waves (as the New York Times says on this very day! with non-crappy photos!) are in the winter, but the best surfing waves we ever saw was in the summer of 1976, when we were working at New Haven Manor in Far Rock and had to cut out early because Hurricane Belle was coming. We stopped off at Beach 90th to catch the action as the storm approached. (It never did much damage in the city, though it made landfall around Jones Beach and caused a lot of rain.)

Before getting off the boardwalk a couple of hours after we arrived, we stopped at the very cool Rippers (for some reason this typically incompetent pic looks more Di Chirico than in real life) for a cold drink. Then, after passing the building where our Great-Grandma Bessie Shapiro used to live, drink still in hand, we managed to run fast and catch the Q22 bus at Rockaway Beach Boulevard at Beach 84th and take it to the stop near the Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Bridge, where we changed for the Q35 over the bridge and up Flatbush Avenue past our old neighborhood to the Junction and the first leg of our subway rides home to Williamsburg.

It's nice that we've been able to enjoy the beach and boardwalk in the Rockaways for so many years.

This is the start of our seventh decade.


mike k said...

My son Zak runs "... And Coffee" at the boardwalk and B 96th St. Nice to see the photo of his little coffee bar as you passed it on this trip!

Thanks for the smiles.


Pete said...

There's still plenty of hipsters here in the Midwest. (None within shouting distance from me right now - Joliet is pretty unhip - but easy enough to find elsewhere.) And certainly Brooklyn hipsters also come from other parts of the country, don't they?

Richard said...

Mike, that's great. So it's "...And Coffee." OK, I thought maybe it was people's initials. I'm sure you're very proud of Zak. I still don't drink coffee, but I'll get some of the "and" next time.

Richard said...

Pete, I don't know where they come from, really, but then I have no idea who wrote that graffiti (at first it was so non-hand-written that I assumed the text was part of the sign; my eyes are not great). The tenants in my house come from California, Missouri, Florida and Florida, and other people seem to come from every state and country and other parts of New York. Some hipsters actually were born in Rockaway.

I have even seen what appear to be hipsters in my other home of Apache Junction, Arizona. The fair housing laws rightly prohibit discrimination against them.