It could have been the imagined fragrance of the harbor wafting through my windows that seemed to beckon. Or it could have been the opposite - a reaction, five minutes later, to the smoke from a fire a block away, as I heard the fire trucks wailing then coming to that sudden, definitive (and if it’s on your block, bone-chilling) stop.
The last time I remember having that thrilling shore sensation, was near Belle Harbor. So it seemed a good day to visit a place Lucille and I had actually come upon by accident on our trip to Jamaica Bay. I grabbed quick picnic snacks at Fairway (chopped pineapple, a chicken salad, a pair of chop sticks), filled up a water bottle, and boarded the A train at noon, bound for Far Rockaway.
On the train, we experienced the usual stares of fascination and curiosity at Lucille’s compact chassis: peoples' expressions calculating just how it unfolds; whether it’s affordable or, in some cases perhaps, even plotting a kidnapping (Lucille’s cute factor is pretty strong and she’s more than a little flirtatious when she’s folded).
As the subway emerged to elevated level, I saw this amazing sight:
The question is: are these houses habitable anymore? The Rockaways got slammed by Sandy; many of its residents who lived far less precariously, still deal daily with homelessness, and anxieties I can’t even imagine. As a tourist in the midst of such suffering. I determined to be a respectful and gracious guest wherever I went.
Emerging at Mott Avemue, I took the elevator down and, not knowing if there were still a usable boardwalk, was soon directed to the beach, where I found the original still in tact:
The further south I rode, the more sadness became a part of the ride. It wasn't just the trailers and the courageous new housing. It was somehow an accumulation of all of it, and knowing that the struggles are still not over. Then I came upon this, the saddest sight of all:
At this point, I lost the heart to journey any further into The Rockaways, but I'd come too far to turn back. Fortunately, I recognized Belle Harbor from my former trip; I knew that just a few blocks away was the Gil Hodges* Memorial Bridge, and ultimately the Brighton Beach subway station. Remembering a more joyful visit to Jamaica Bay, I decided to push on ahead and go for the B train home.
The bridge was as wondrous to ride over as ever - and I knew just how to get there!
I was on a steady climb in hot and humid weather, going in the wrong direction, when I realized I was lost with no idea how to get home; and my fall-back, Lucille’s unique ability to fold into a taxi, would not help me on a bike path along the Belt Parkway. There are plenty of taxis there, but they're all going 60mph. More importantly, they all have fares; they're not stopping. I hailed a cyclist on the path and between the two of us – with maps and GPS – we figured out where we thought I should be (though neither of us really knew how to get there).
Retracing my steps I found my mistake – which turned out not to be my mistake: construction for the dreaded gas pipeline, which for some insane reason the gas industry thinks should be located in New York’s most vulnerable geographical location, whose population is still in recovery from the last disaster (http://carpny.org/), had obscured the intersection where I would have crossed. Once I put that together, I was on my way home.
But the stress of that final confusion had really taken the wind out of my sails. By the time Lucille and I boarded the B Train (fielding many questions from curious passengers about her structure, function and folding bikes in general), we were both exhausted: her with a click in her right pedal, me on my last legs.
In the end I realized that, although I had been at the beach for hours, I had never once had the physical sensation of being at the shore. What was missing? What had I really been longing for?
Whatever it was, I wasn’t going to find it here. I was glad to have finally traveled to The Rockaways (and regretful I had not been there earlier to help out), because it’s a part of New York, and I’m a New Yorker; what happens in The Rockaways matters to me.
But I think to really connect with what I'm searching for, I’ll have to go to the source: I’ll have to take Lucille out to Bay Head. That’s where I first encountered the enchantment of the Atlantic shore. It’s strong out there. Once a year, it would be good to experience it.
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