2001-11-17 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

The world has discovered Rockaway. It is a shame that the community with the most beautiful beach on the planet has to be known as the "place where the plane came down," or as the community "where 70 residents perished at the World Trade Center," but such is life.

Walk down Rockaway Beach Boulevard from Beach 126 Street to Beach 137 Street or Newport in the same area and you could not spit without hitting a television truck or a well-paid television newsperson.

Don’t get me wrong. They are all there doing their job. Most of them do it very well. I did two televised interviews on Tuesday morning on Beach 131 Street and they are illustrative of what has been going on in that area since the jet dropped in on our homes, unannounced and unwanted.

I had to meet Matt Lauer and his "Today" crew at 6 a.m. I finally got on the air, interviewed by Matt at 8 a.m. There were twenty people in the NBC crew, including producers, their assistants, camera people, sound people, computer people, etc. The crew had at least three trucks and trailers to support their show. The crew and producers were unfailingly nice and they even provided "coffee, with" for my family and me. When the interview was over, he invited my son, grandson and wife to come over and take a picture with him.

As nice as he was, confidentially, just between us, I would have preferred Katie Couric to Matt. He certainly was a hit with the crowd that roamed by, however. One resident told me that she was going to wake up her two daughters to see Lauer, because he "is hot."

Later, I met with the crew from BBC National Television. They had one rented trailer, one camera and a "crew" of three. There was one producer, one combination camera-sound man and the on-air talent. This crew was unfailingly nice as well, in a British-reserved kind of way. It was certainly a "no-frills" operation.

The interview went off without a hitch, but I will never see it because even my 130-channel digital television does not get BBC on a regular basis. I do have to say that the interview was held up because Prime Minister Tony Blair was making a speech to Parliament about terrorism. I pointed out to the interviewer that the networks would never hold up "real news" when the president was speaking, but they did not find that amusing.

In any case, The Wave got literally a hundred calls from all over the world on Monday and Tuesday. I did interviews with radio and television stations from Australia to Wales. Several nationally known newspapers (The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Denver Post and the Philadelphia Bulletin, among many) called as well to gauge the reaction to the "new tragedy" in Rockaway and to see "how everybody there is standing up under the strain."

It was fun at the beginning, but quickly got tiring, especially due to the fact that we still had a newspaper of our own to put out on Thursday. When the Wales Television station called me at midnight, it became almost too much.

Several syndicated columnists joined all the newshounds on Tuesday. The daily papers were full of stories and even special sections about Rockaway.

Rockaway is indeed news these days.

The best of the lot was E.J. Dionne, (Sweet Rockaway) writing in the New York Post. I liked his positive column about Rockaway so much that I E-mailed him to ask his permission to reprint the column. Just minutes later, our own Kevin Boyle sent me his column, which was a reprint of Dionne’s. No plagiarism here. Dionne, it turns out, is Kevin’s brother-in-law and an old Rockaway hand.

Patrick Fenton (Rockaway’s Strength Comes From Its Roots), writing in Newsday, was at St. Francis De Sales Church last Friday for the Richie Allen memorial. He went to the fundraiser at the Knights of Columbus Hall. He comes to Rockaway often.

Fenton writes: "And I realized that Belle Harbor’s strength comes from a room like this (the fundraiser). Here is the very spine of the working class, the civil servants and laborers who make up most of Rockaway, a vital beach town, where they still play songs like "I’m Proud to Be A Flag-Waving American," by Johnny Cash in the Irish bars along Beach 116 Street on Saturday nights."

"It’s all part of an America that is still standing, a part most of us have somehow forgotten until now, until a flight to Santo Domingo, barely a few minutes after takeoff, comes crashing and burning into their lives."

Steve Dunleavy (Rockaways Are Like The Biblical Job), writing in the New York Post, speaks also of the impact of the World Trade Center attack (why do they always call it a ‘tragedy,’ which makes it sound like a natural disaster, rather than a ‘terrorist attack,’ which it what it was) on Rockaway. He also writes of the Richie Allen memorial and about how Allen’s family was impacted by the aircraft accident as well.

"The Rockaways, where some 90 families grieve for those killed by the flames of fury at the World Trade Center," he writes, "has been trying to get over its grief. Tears were gradually drying. Then, it was hit again."

Last, and perhaps least, comes Jimmy Breslin. I once loved his stuff, looked forward to reading it. More recently, however, something has happened to either Breslin or me. Now, I most often just get angry when I read his stuff, especially the tripe he writes about Rockaway. Strangely enough, I like his latest columns about Rockaway.

Breslin wrote two columns about Rockaway in the last week. On Sunday (A Faith Stronger Than Evil), he wrote a column about Richie Allen’s memorial.

"When there was no hope (of finding Allen’s remains), yesterday’s memorial was scheduled. The faces were those of Rockaway Beach through the decades," Breslin writes. "The talks by Allen’s friends were from beach life, surfing and life guards."

On Tuesday (Belle Harbor Shouldn’t Be Like This), Breslin wrote of how much he would like to live in Rockaway.

"I have dreamed a thousand times of sitting in a house in Belle Harbor in the morning, writing with the sound of birds and the rustle of trees, with nobody knowing where I had gone to and without the sounds of the city that are so disturbing, an ambulance siren, a fire truck’s blare, a cop car’s yip-yip-yip, the horns of hundreds of cabs. Away from all of the sounds and all the pain and torment it speaks of."

"On Friday, this lovely hideout turned into streets of ashes as they gathered by the many hundred for the memorial mass of Richard Allen, a firefighter. He was Gail McGuire Allen’s oldest child. A mother is not supposed to bury a child. The service was at St. Francis De Sales Church, at 129th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard."

"And, yesterday, a large airliner struggled into the sky from Kennedy Airport, could not make it and fell into the Belle Harbor morning.

Rockaway is indeed news these days. Perhaps we should just enjoy the notoriety and let it go at that. There is not much more that we can do.

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