How We Lived on It (26) – The Rockaways

by A. Jay Adler on October 2, 2010
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I lived the second decade of my life, my adolescence, in the beach community of the Rockaways – the Rockaway peninsula of New York City, in the area named Far Rockaway and one called Rockaway Park. Named after the Rockaway Indians, the peninsula is twenty miles and a two-hour subway ride on the A train from downtown Manhattan, along the Atlantic Ocean, on the southern shore of the New York borough of Queens. Many New Yorkers don’t even know Rockaway is part of the city, and if they do, they think it is in Brooklyn. For many decades, the population has been predominantly Irish, Jewish, and African-American, with many tens of thousands of beach visitors per day during the summer months.

With the second longest boardwalk in the country, after Atlantic City, by the 1920′s Rockaway, with it ocean-side amusements and summer bungalows, became known as the “poor man’s Riviera.” In the years before my birth, my parents spent summers there, with rumor having it that my older brother was conceived in one of the bungalows. In their time, the demure principals would neither confirm nor deny.

By my mid-teens, hearing the jets from the east side of Jamaica Bay fly overhead from out of JFK airport, gazing west across the bay at the distant but visible Manhattan skyline, I longed to escape. While biding my time, friends and I would body surf the night-time waves, nude and tripping on acid, watch the colors underwater, then sleep the night on the beach. In the mornings, we woke to whirling gull cries amid the morning breakers, the eastern sun rising in slow mystic radiance over the ocean.

For many decades, there was an amusement park, Rockaway Playland, right at the beach, and I worked the carnival amusements and food concessions there in my fifteenth summer. Playland is now gone, as are most of the bungalows, as are the lives of the 70 Rockaway residents, firemen and stock brokers, who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Two months after 9/11, American Airlines flight 587, taking off from JFK, crashed in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Rockaway, killing all on board and five on the ground.

Next month, I am going to my 40th Far Rockaway High School reunion.

There is even a song about Rockaway Beach by the Ramones.

Ramones – Rockaway Beach .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine
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2 comments

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charlie k October 2, 2010 at 8:05 am

Ah, the cherry cheese knishes!

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Maureen October 2, 2010 at 6:27 am

I enjoyed this, filled as it is with interesting information. Have fun at your reunion. I admit I have never attended any of my HS reunions. Several weeks ago, I had a call out of the blue from a classmate who worked with me on our school newspaper. It took a bit to recall who he was. I was unable to help him locate the person he was looking for.

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