A few weeks ago I was out in the Far Rockaways on a blissful and hot April afternoon. It was a Sunday, perhaps not the best day of the week to take public transit (as it’s much slower and trains have longer waiting times than during week days). I hadn’t been out ever since I stopped by last summer, for the lovely beach and some fish tacos (read more on this adventure here). I had spent some peaceful days in June, July and August hanging out at the shore – simply being happy not having to go through the crowds at both Coney Island and Brighton Beach.
But as so many other places close to the water, the Rockaways were hit hard when Sandy came and went. And now, seven months after the devastating hurricane, they are still nowhere close to what they used to be.
When I wandered out on this particular Sunday afternoon, I was under the impression that at least the beaches had been rebuilt and that I was able to walk around, taking in life before the summer season. I hadn’t expected the train not to be working, the people still rebuilding their houses and the Far Rockaway taco shack cleaning up the shards in front of their doorstep.
The first obstacle I was to encounter was when taking the A-train towards Queens: It harshly stopped at Howard Beach/ JFK (which is usually not the last stop). I already wondered what to do next until I saw the signs directing me towards a shuttle bus to Far Rockaway. When stepping out of the train station, there was an improvised MTA station for those who needed help to get around and buy tickets. A small bus transported us from the JFK stop towards our destination – over land, past hideous Queens malls and KFC joints, until finally we were in the middle of the Rockaways: Mott Avenue. Never having seen the town center before, I was left to wander around. Past some run-down houses and dubious food joints, dollar stores and delis, all concerningly low in foot traffic. The rockaways are not known to be high class but I’m sure Sandy didn’t help in destroying a perfectly poor area.
After being blabbed at by random hoodlums and feeling a bit doubtful about my adventure, I walked off to the H-Train, which, I can confirm, truly exists. The H-Train is now what the A-train used to be back then: It extends over the “island” from Mott Avenue to Beach 90th Street and takes less than 20 minutes to ride from one end to another. It’s the only means public transport that has been rebuilt only weeks after the hurricane but, so far, its progress has most likely stayed the same. Of course buses are also active but I didn’t have the patience to look up their current schedule. At B 80th Street I hopped off and walked towards the promenade.
An empty KeyFoods glared at me, with boards nailed to the doors and windows, probably never to be in service again. I had to think about how tough it must have been for businesses to sustain themselves throughout the winter. In April, a few shops here and there were open, even a nail salon and bar were back to business. However, after turning the corner at 95th Street, Giovanni’s Ice Cream and my beloved Far Rockaway Taco were tightly closed. A few guys were balancing on the joint’s roof and doing construction work. I believe this is a good sign that come June they could be open again. After taking in all of this damage around me, I was ready to get away and see a clean beach.
But arriving at the promenade, or rather what was left of it, was more than depressing. Wooden stumps semi-finished in the sand. A homeless pillow left alone on the beach. Construction debris close to the sand. Only the sea, the sea had stayed the same. I felt like just taking that pillow and taking a nap, to escape this crude nightmare. The same nightmare the residents must have experienced for the past 8 months. I really have no clue as to how and when Far Rockaway Beach will be up and running but so far it did not feel like anytime soon. The demotivation and exhaustion reeked from every turned up stone I saw on my way back. A broken doll extended her arms towards me. I wonder who lost it and how it ended up in the sewage.
A trip to the Rockaways – a shock in every bit. Whatever has been damaged will take months to come to repair. Has a summer gone to waste?