2002-10-19 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

I hate smart-mouthed writers for the "Manhattan" papers who come to Rockaway for a couple of hours, see a couple of drunks walking down Beach 116 Street, watch Sheila sitting on the sidewalk singing to passers-by in front of the Tobacconist, take a quick walk on the boardwalk and then go back to their computers, certain in the knowledge that they have found the "real Rockaway."

Geoffrey Gray, who writes the "Neighborhoods" column for the Village Voice seems to be one of those writers.

Writing in the September 4-10 issue of the Voice, Gray wrote, "Down past the Sunset Diner, off the powdery dunes of Atlantic sand, there is a quaint parking lot with smashing ocean views. A rusted-out Camaro has bathed in the sun for years here in this lonely graveyard of broken down trolley cars and empty chicken buckets."

What Gray must be talking about is the parking lot between the boardwalk and The Beach Club. That parking lot is used by dozens of local residents who can’t find parking nearby where they live because of the restrictive parking regulations on the west end. Had Gray really been looking for a story, that is the story he should have been looking for. Instead, he makes Rockaway look like a wasteland of rusting sheet metal and discarded chicken bones.

The "lonely graveyard of broken down trolley cars and empty chicken buckets" does not exist. There happens to be one trolley car in the lot, but that is a restored car that now belongs to the Chamber of Commerce. It is used for parades and festivals.

There are no "chicken buckets" in that "lonely graveyard."

Gray continues with his attack on Rockaway Park.

"The new Rockaway is not the new Williamsburg, though the two are becoming similar in stock." (What is that supposed to mean? Is he talking about Jews? Is he talking about Yuppies)?

"Surfers, winter types, lovers of the reverse-status symbols, and the poor struggling vanguard of the hip are all stalking their summer claims here on Rockaway Beach. Some sleep in the few remaining WW II bungalows that pepper the beach and still offer the home-grown feel of a backwards Appalachian shack. Bring lots of playing cards and disinfectants and prepare for a summer of looking up at the bellies of JFK’s jumbo jets, and looking back toward the grandeur of a beach town long forgotten."

By the way, Geoff – I can call you Geoff, can’t I, now that we are friends – Rockaway runs east to west. When you write about homes that are north of Beach 116 Street, you are writing about Jamaica Bay. Get it, Geoff – the ocean is south, the bay is north. That’s why they call the area around Beach 116 Street "The West End."

I doubt if you could get anybody to pay anything for a home north of Beach 116 Street, but they sure jack up the prices west of that street, especially for homes in the PS 114 zone (west of Beach 122 Street).

Gray writes of Rockaway restaurants, "The Irish Circle… is a dark, loud saloon with cheap beers, a tough-skinned crowd, a jukebox stocked with country and over 30 TV screens."

Of the Wharf, he writes, "The Wharf offers a picture-perfect view of Jamaica Bay, Kennedy Airport and the Manhattan skyline. Boats float to its docks to eat in or to take out from a mostly deep-fried menu that comes fairly pricey to Rockafolk… Oh, if your waitress disappears for, say, 30 minutes or more, don’t worry. She probably won’t come back anytime soon. So just try and enjoy the view."

If Geoff Gray were the only one to take Rockaway on in this way, I wouldn’t mind too much. He has done far worse hatchet jobs on other communities, I have been told.

A few months ago, however, the Times did a story about a bar on Beach 116 Street that made our local drunks seem like working-class heroes and Beach 116 Street sound like the reincarnation of "The Deuce" in Manhattan.

Just this week, the Times did a piece on places to view the most beautiful sunsets in the city and Rockaway did not even get an honorable mention even though the peninsula deserves the first ten places in any mention of the ten best places to watch the sun set. Anybody who doubts that can take a look at some of the photos my wife took from Norton Drive in Bayswater of the sun setting between the two World Trade Center buildings in early July a few years ago. Those who were at the groundbreaking for the new "Tribute Park" know that I am talking about. Those who eat regularly at the Wharf or Pier 92 or the Sunset Diner know what I mean.

It doesn’t end with sunsets, however.

At the beginning of the summer, both Newsday and the Daily News did pieces on the best beaches in New York City. Neither mentioned Rockaway, although both Riis Park and Breezy Point got mentioned in both articles.

After Flight 587 crashed in Belle Harbor, many media outlets across the nation highlighted the west end. It was always called a "lower middle-class Irish" community or a "working-class" community. Everybody talked of Rockaway’s "faded glory," as if Rockaway were a movie star who had passed her day and didn’t know when to quit.

In the vast majority of stories, there was no mention that there are Jews living there or other groups of people, no mention of doctors or lawyers. No mention that homes in the area now cost upwards of $500 thousand.

Instead, we get stories of drunks, the homeless, rusted trolleys and chicken buckets, as if those things defined the community.

Rockaway is coming back. It will never be what it was in the 30’s and 40’s, not even what it was in the 50’s. It is not, however, a community defined by decay.

I know that writers have to find a story. Why, when it is about Rockaway, must the story always be defined in the negative?


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