Monday, March 18, 2013

Rockaways Forever

Recently, I found myself in Far Rockaway, New York City, looking for a ferry that could take me west to downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan.  

The boat was gone for the afternoon and the terminal, if you can call it that, was closed.  The white plastic torn roof of the “terminal” hard against Jamaica Bay, and the locked chain link fence with not a human in sight made the whole operation look permanently shut down.  That’s the feel about most things in this coastal urban neighborhood more than two months after hurricane Sandy came smashing through.

The ferry serves as a short term replacement for the A train that was swamped by Sandy.  The task at hand everywhere is recovery: recovery of the neighborhood and recovery of the people.  The day itself was mid-winter bleak with gusts blowing off the frigid ocean that made me wince. 

The streets were filled with contractor vans and pick up trucks but mostly empty of any other traffic.  In one intersection, an army of Con Edison workers filed out of one three story building that looked condemned.

Belongings ruined by the deluge of water and sand crowded the curbs and sidewalks.  A dirty bookcase, a broken desk, a duffel bag filled with water-soaked old bank statements, cinder block sized World Encyclopedias lashed together with burlap, and countless, random pieces of wood.  Everything appeared as if it had been washed with a slurry of silt. 

I walked to the ocean side.  To get to the beach I had to scale twenty foot piles of rocks, sand, and glass shards. The boardwalk was gone, washed away by the storm.  Like a skeletal rib cage of a colossal beast, only the half buried concrete supports remained. 

The ocean was dull green and the sky had an opaque feel to it, as if thoughts had nowhere to go but back into your own head.

I found the spot where I had sat in the warm sun the past summer watching surfers rip the short break on short boards.  Sandy was just another name then, somewhere between Sally and Susan.  

There were no surfers out but then again it was a very cold day and surfing is probably last on most lists in this still-reeling neighborhood. 

Recent currents brought ashore hand-sized clam shells – quahogs.  They lay scattered all over the beach with the occasional horse shoe crab carapace.  A decent number of cormorants floated just beyond the shore break.  They dove under the turbid green water and flicked the water off their feathers when they emerged.  I wondered if they were finding enough food.  They were probably fine.  Most natural areas were unharmed by the storm. 

I left the beach heading toward a shuttle bus, another stop gap to replace the damaged subway.  A nearby large brick building sounded busy as a hive with multiple hammers banging away all at once.

A church’s bells played a despondent tune.  I never liked church bells.  They always sound dreary.  It was almost like a vulgar cliche -- the sad soundtrack of the storm tossed Rockaways.  I wondered how many people would leave for good and how many would stay and what staying would mean for them.

Past an almost totaled chain link fence, at the far end of an empty lot, an American flag beat staccato in the stiff wind.  In a nearby condo apartment complex, almost every window unit AC slumped at an angle.  Few looked lived in.  The church bells kept going.  I wished they would stop.  

Handwritten signs told some of the story.  One read "Inspected” and another read “doorbell broken, please knock”.  On one beaten avenue next to a closed and dark deli and a shuttered tavern stood a piece of plywood spray painted with “$200 for cars, any condition."

On a bent balcony, handwritten on a sagging white bed sheet:  “No Retreat, No Surrender, Rockaways Forever.”

An empty plastic trash can rolled in the street pushed around by the wind.  It probably came from one of the many row homes along the street.  A guy walking nearby picked it off the street and placed it with others in a neat row on one of the driveways.  He moved down the street and went into another one of the homes.  Somebody’s neighbor. 



Matthew Trump said...

Great post, Michael. Something Melville about it.

Mike Misner said...

Thanks Matthew. Melville loved the sea so happy to be in his company.