2008-07-18 / Editorial/Opinion

It's My Turn

Give Rockaway Back Its Beaches
By William Foehn

William Foehn is a long-time Rockaway resident and a frequent contributor to The Wave's Bag of Mail.

When I was young, the beaches and the boardwalk belonged to the people of Rockaway.

Summer was a magical time. The beaches were open, the boardwalk was teeming with people from early morning to well after midnight, attracted by the ocean during the day and the attractions on the boardwalk, or under the boardwalk, by night.

The boardwalk was lined from Beach 25 Street to Beach 98 Street with fast-food shacks, skee-ball, movie theaters, games of chance and rides.

The beaches and the boardwalk were full of teens who moved to the Rockaway bungalows every Memorial Day and remained there until Labor Day. They were the "invaders" we talked about hating, but we loved them all and the excitement and newness that they brought with them from Brooklyn and the Bronx.

There was no air conditioning in those days of the late 1940s and the 1950s. More often than not, we slept on a rooftop of our building or on the beach.

Teenagers lit bonfires all along the beachfront, and, more often than not, the cops stopped by for a frank or a hamburger. We were left alone by the law as long as we behaved ourselves.

If we didn't, we were treated to a little nightstick action and escorted home, where we promised that we would never transgress again.

The older kids and those who were more daring snuck a beer once in a while, but we were always too afraid of the cops to drink on the beach when we were younger than 18 years of age. That was for the older crowd and the rockers.

Lovers wandered the boardwalk and the beach until the early hours of the morning.

Once in a while, some drunk wandered into the surf and drowned, but that was always considered to be a "so what" event in those less-litigious days.

He got drunk and drowned. Must be his own fault.

Today, it's much different. I read in a daily paper this week that a Rockaway Park man was arrested because he dared to wade into the ocean on a beach where there was no lifeguard.

Can you believe that? He actually walked on a closed beach and put his toes in the water when there was no lifeguard on duty.

Put him in irons.

Last year, a friend of mine was walking on the beach with his wife at about 11 p.m. on a particularly hot night. He had worked late and got home about 9 p.m., took a quick shower and they decided it would be nice to take a walk on the beach or the boardwalk. After all, that is what people come to Rockaway for, to enjoy the beach and boardwalk in the summer.

They were stopped by two Parks Enforcement Police Officers, who roared up on four-wheel dune buggies.

They were asked for identification. My friend had his wallet with his driver's license, but his wife did not think to take her pocketbook.

They would not accept the word of the man that his wife was who he said she was, and since she had no identification, the police were called.

Luckily, the cops had better things to do than hassle a couple who just wanted to take a walk on a hot night, and they released the two, who then walked up on the boardwalk to return home.

Not satisfied that the two got off with just a warning, the PEP officers roared up on the boardwalk and ordered them to leave and walk on the streets.

That was the last time my friend and his wife enjoyed the beach, and they eventually put their home up for sale and moved to Flushing.

"Why live near the beach and boardwalk if you can't use them?" he reasonably asked.

I know that today is worlds away from the 1950's, but I question why I can't enjoy the boardwalk at midnight or the beach at 9 p.m. As long as I am not breaking the law by entering the water at a time when no lifeguards are present, why can't I use the beach and boardwalk as I see fit?

People come to live in Rockaway for the promise of sand and surf. That we can't often use them is our loss, and the city's Department of Parks and Recreations should be ashamed of itself for taking them from us for no reason at all.

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