I grew up in New York City; but not really. I was born and raised in Queens; but not quite. I am from a place where the air is sweeter, saltier, heavier and lighter. So close to the heart of a metropolis, of THE metropolis, is my own piece of paradise. I’m from Rockaway Beach, NY – queue overplayed cliché Ramones song. No seriously, please play the song, it’s a fav of all us salt water scallywags no matter how many times we hear it. And believe me we hear it a lot, and play it a lot, but really – wouldn’t you?
The Rockaway’s is a culture unto itself and below it lays multiple versatile subcultures so dynamic and diverse, as if there just to remind you that you are still in New York City. For so many of us it is more than a place we live, but a way of life. As a child it’s the kind of place you can’t wait to escape from. It has the same types of issues found all over America, drugs, drinking, broken families. In the winter months it held infinite boredom and in the summer it was an underage drinking oasis. It is typical that teens are dying to be anywhere else, until they realize anywhere else just won’t work out. With age comes a different appreciation for my hometown, or at least for me it did.
Last spring I decided it was high time to leave Rockaway for bigger and better things. I attempted to live in Brooklyn – the mini Manhattan. Within days I was homesick. Now if living in Brooklyn is your thing, than good for you, but this gal wasn’t having any of that. Why would anyone choose to live in Brooklyn when they could live in Rockaway—AND Rockaway is the more inexpensive choice!! Moving to Brooklyn was an incursion to my senses. The smells were bitter and heavy, the heat was thicker and the air clung to you as if trying to choke the soul right out of you. Everywhere you I turned there was cement and every little space of earth was full of some store or factory or oversized building. Nothing about it, to me, felt like a place people should live. Yet there they were, in droves, bustling about their daily busy in this place they called home. My roommate at the time was from Brooklyn and gave me countless reasons she thought her home was better than mine. I would not be swayed. She even went as far as to try comforting me with the “water view” we had—if you looked down the avenue and across the Belt Parkway. I couldn’t get past the fact that, well, Brooklyn sucked!
I made a valiant effort to make this place my home. I rearranged furniture, chose paint colors, cleaned and cooked but in the end my heart wasn’t in it. It was only two months but I knew that I could never live here. Brooklyn would always be a great place for visiting and nights out but not for setting roots. I began looking through Rockaway newspapers and internet forums with a desperate itch to get home. I looked at apartment after apartment until finally I walked into one and knew, without a doubt, that I was home. It was mid-August, just like now, when we signed the lease. The landlord even let us move in early. It was around the 20th that I moved my belongings into my new home. I immediately felt a great deal of anxiety leave my body. When I slept there for the first time I opened the sliding glass door in the bedroom completely and just sat listening to the ocean. This is my home. The taste of salt in the air and the cool breezes coming off the water that making humid summers tolerable were little things that seemed to welcome my return.
Some things in my beloved Rockaway had changed, but nothing had made her different. There has always been diversity and an overwhelming surf culture. There will always be an ebb and flow of new commerce and changing demographic. The local hangouts stood waiting for me and a smoothie from a new boardwalk concession fit right into my world of Rockaway tradition. I can think of no place else that is so full of life mixing perfectly the laid back beach town with inner city living. It is often forgotten that Rockaway is part of Queens and therefore part of NYC, but it is and if you look closely enough it becomes easier to tell.
I’m not living in Rockaway anymore, though I remain in South Queens. It was only shortly after my return that my hometown was completely and utterly devastated by Super storm Sandy. So many lives, including my own turned upside down. But that is a sad story for another time, and one that everyone knows all too well.