Remember those locations I mentioned in Ocean, Sand, and Fun? Well, I’m finally able to cross one item off this list: Last Saturday I got to check out the gorgeous beaches on Fire Island!
Ever since my roomie went to Fire Island on 4th of July, I have been desperate to go. The pictures I’ve seen and the stories I heard made it sound like a small idyllic place in the middle of the ocean, isolated from the oh-so hectic life going on over here.
I had initially planned on getting a large group of people together and to just drive over there. After waiting a few weekends, I knew it would not be happening this way. One time it was a coworker who couldn’t join in or two friends who had made other plans. Again another weekend it was raining constantly, making it a miserable idea to go to the beach. Last Saturday I finally realized that I will have only three more weekends for this opportunity, so I overcame my shadow and traveled alone. I haven’t done this in a few months, but the day turned out to be so great that I almost regret not to have gone earlier.
If you don’t have a car (like most people in New York, especially new arrivals from Europe), you are dependent upon public transportation. Now it might be different for the rest of the US, but in and around the metro area the infrastructure does not constitute a problem. Therefore, I took the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) from Penn Station (yes, such a classic!) and made sure to purchase the beach getaway package at a ticket vending machine. Armed with my five impressive-looking tickets I sought my way through
all the annoying tourists and other people standing in my way the usual busy crowd (heck, on a Saturday!). I then discovered the secret to why a huge cluster of passengers is always grouped in front of the boards indicating the train numbers (which has until now remained a mystery to me). It’s not because they’re waiting for seats to be assigned to them. It‘s also not because they belong to the Penn Station sect. It’s because you have to wait until 10 minutes before the departure to actually find out the track your train is leaving on! I definitely consider America to be disorganized in certain aspects and ten minutes ahead of departure seems kind of late of an announcement even to me. So ten to 11 AM the sign signaled the track to be number 20 and the entire crowd rushed down the stairs to fetch a seat before the train filled up. Could turn into something slightly chaotic and maybe dangerous if larger crowds are involved. It seems to have worked out over the past decades without any major incidents, though, so I’m not going to complain about the system.
Once seated in a row of three, an old couple approached me and took their seats. I quickly revealed myself as someone who is not from the City when the conductor checked my ticket and told me I had to switch in Babylon. O dear, another complication I didn’t understand at first. He chuckled and asked if this was my first time on the LIRR and I proudly pointed out that it was my second time already. He didn’t seem too impressed by this. The old couple eyed me more closely and then happened to notice my camera I had strapped around my neck (it was my new Canon I was desperate to try out). They wanted to know if this was a professional tool and we quickly jumped into a conversation. As the story goes, they lived in Long Island but had grown up in Queens, and pointed out some insider landmarks once we were through the tunnel. I didn’t know Breyer’s used to have a huge building complex on Long Island City. Not that I ever cared to know but those things are interesting. It must be nice to be familiar with historic landmarks and to feel at home in New York, I thought, and envied them for this.
They got off soon and I had all the time I needed to look at the landscape unfolding in front of me. Long Island becomes less industrial once you get out of Queens and resembles many other places in the US with fast food joints and ugly malls. It does have its own flair, it seems, as the houses’ architecture is more on the sophisticated end.
At Babylon I jumped out of the train and into the only other one across the tracks. Fire Island has many beaches to go to, but for some reason I had decided to check out the one dedicated to homosexuals because my roomie had said there would be more going on than on the family- and single-oriented beach. She had been to Ocean Bay Park and despite having a good time she had left slightly bored. To prevent this from happening I chose the Fire Island Pines as my destination.
When I entered the upper deck of the train, I was surrounded by one gay guy couple after another. I felt like an outsider. I didn’t expect I would be the only straight person going to the Pines. So I got my little foretaste of what the day would turn into on the LIRR already and had fun observing how all those guys were hitting on each other (sometimes quite pathetically). There were these three men in front of me, who were constantly taking pictures of each other and thought they were
the next hot thing too good to be true! All of a sudden one of them jumped up and recognized an “actress” popular here. I took a picture of “her” even though I didn’t know who “she” was. Another guy told me she was a biggie in the gay scene and actually a transvestite. This was when I probably met the only guy on the train who had ever been married to a German man, as when I told him where I was from he grinned widely and recalled he had lived in Essen for three years. What a coincidence! He even spoke German and this not bad at all! The guy was very entertaining and we had much to talk about but unfortunately for me he was heading off to Cherry Grove, not the Pines, like I was.
After four stops we all got off the train at Sayville and entered a shuttle bus to the ferry. The advertised “colonial taxi” turned out to be an average looking coach, nothing too impressive. The ferry station offered a nice bar with drinks to entertain the waiting passengers. I looked around and saw two more couples who seemed to not be homosexual. This could be a fun day, I thought!
The ferry took off and I got a splendid view over the small harbor of Sayville. As I was shooting away a guy sat next to me – possibly the only straight guy on the entire boat. He was heading off to a jazz show in Fire Island and didn’t know what to expect either.
The ferry ride took 20 minutes and then we drew close to the Pines. The harbor area had a few restaurants which were already crowded by drunk-looking people. Once I hopped off, I was anxious to go to the beach, of course, but I also wanted to check out what this island was about and so I wandered a bit off the beaten paths just to discover beautifully laid out houses with nice pools and garden areas hidden behind wooden fences I had to peek through. The buildings are made of wood (possibly the only material that did not have to be imported from the mainland) and wooden paths led my way through the forests and housing area.
Then I finally approached the sand dunes and when I turned around the corner, an even more beautiful scene evolved in front of my eyes: White, powdery stretches of sand with green-blue water so clear I could see my feet in it. The last time I had witnessed this was in Florida and this beach came very close to what the Gulf Coast had to offer those days. I spent a few nice hours just lying on the sand, observing gay guys playing beach volleyball or Frisbee, wearing only a hint of pants and checking each other out. A world turned upside down to me but nonetheless very interesting to witness.
My new straight friend joined me in the evening since he had a few hours to kill before his gig in the theater started. We walked around a bit and decided to try to check out Cherry Grove, supposedly only 20 minutes away from the Pines. As we made our way through the forest, we saw a deer jumping out. What else could be the ultimate manifest of peacefulness than this?!
Cherry Grove was more of a half hour walk through forest that turned into sand dunes and then wooden paths again. Here too there were a bunch of cute houses. We occasionally wondered why we were the only white people here and I found out later that something called the Black Out was going on: One weekend during the summer dedicated to African-American gays and lesbians only in Cherry Grove. The Grove had more going on than the Pines did and we ended up at the Cherry (surprise!) Restaurant where we ordered miserable-tasting American bar food that made my stomach ache afterwards. It was entertainment at its best and I couldn’t take my eyes off the crowd: Transvestites dressed up to impress, older men hitting on boys, boys warding off older men, rich people bragging about their money, the waiter who had dressed up like a whore with his black make-up and black, torn-up shirt. What a circus! I thought everything was a bit too extreme and made up, but then again, I am not gay and cannot judge these things. I also thought that the entire evening would end up in one huge orgy I wouldn’t want to witness. A band was playing nice ocean tunes and large crowds of people were waiting for the ferry back to
It was time for me to leave at around 9 PM, so I walked back to the Pines area, which had turned into a night-club pier filled with drunks. While sitting down for a few minutes, three gay guys joined me (they were taking a time-out from drinking) and asked me if I had come here by myself. They were surprised when they found out I had indeed traveled alone and deemed me very courageous as they would have been too scared of making the trip out (we’re still talking about gays). Well, what shall I say? You’re not going to see the world if you stay at home, so traveling alone is fine to me.
A setback to the trip was when I got off the ferry and the so-called colonial taxi and the LIRR would not show up for 50 mins straight. So the 2 and a half hour trip turned into a 4-hour-voyage and I got home at around 1 AM, too tired to think of all the crazy things that had happened on this secluded part of Long Island but very happy I had gone by myself!
Now it’s two more weekends of summer in New York and I have yet to see if Jones Beach is an option. I think I am giving up on the Hamptons this year, but I heard of something better on the far end of Long Island, and that is a village called Montauk. Perhaps, perhaps…