2012-11-30 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Commentary By Howard Schwach

For the great majority of the 73 years that I have lived on this Earth, I have lived in Rockaway. My family came here in the 1920s and 1930s and there has been a Schwach here ever since.

On October 29, everything changed and life as we knew it on October 28 is significantly different than it is today.

That change is symbolized by the thousands of vehicles that lined Rockaway’s streets and boulevards for three weeks, gleaming cars that no longer work and would soon be recycled and sold as new to rubes in other parts of the United States and overseas.

My family in Rockaway lost a total of two basements and five cars.

We are the lucky ones. When I begin to focus on my losses and the immediate losses of my son and daughter, I walk to the three hundred block of Beach 130 Street where more than a dozen homes were destroyed by fire or I drive east from Beach 116 Street and look at all the apartments and stores destroyed in that area. Or, I go to Breezy Point and view the 110 houses that no longer exist and the dozens more that were severely damaged.

One of the storefronts that was totally destroyed on Rockaway Beach Boulevard at Beach 88 Street was The Wave office.

It was not just an office, but the repository of Rockaway’s history.

In a back room were bound volumes that contained The Wave from 1900 to the present.

In those books were my birth announcement, my bar mitzvah announcement, stories about my parents, who were Rockaway activists in both school and youth activities as well as in fraternal and charity organizations. In those books were my children, now grown, and their children.

It was Rockaway’s history, but it was my personal history and that of my family as well.

Near my desk was my file cabinet that contained all of my notes and photos from the past 11 years that I have served as editor of The Wave. All of the personal stories from the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 and the tragic crash of American Airlines Flight 587 on 11/12/2001. All of the file photos that did not appear in the paper. All of the transcripts from the official NTSB hearings and the interviews with those who saw the plane explode in the air prior to the crash. Perhaps the last archive of what really happened to the Airbus A300. All of the stories and information about the school scandal more than 20 years ago. The transcripts of the wire worn by Superintendent Colman Genn. An entire drawer of information and court documents surrounding the closure of Peninsula Hospital Center and interviews with those concerned. All of the interview tapes and notes from the Kareem Bellamy case. All of the documentation to led to questions that local Democratic Leader Geraldine Chapey refused to answer.

All of that historic information now sits in the Riis Park parking lot, waiting to be burned to cinder or trucked away to some landfill in the midwest.

Officials say that there are more than 500 tons of garbage in the Riis Park lot and that they expect that there will be close to 100 tons before they are finished cleaning all the detritus of the storm from Rockaway streets. Each one of those tons is made up of the lives and memories of Rockaway residents – photos, favorite toys and stuffed animals, furniture and electronics that once graced Rockaway’s basements.

When we decided to come back to Rockaway because the electricity, heat and hot water had returned to our second floor apartment, my daughter and her husband, who decided not to return rather to stay on Long Island, asked me where we were going to shop and where we were going to eat. She had a point.

BSE (before the Sandy era) we would walk down from our apartment to Beach 129 Street where there was the best bakery and butcher shop in the city, a friendly grocery store, the local pharmacy and doctors of choice. So, all of my family’s medical records for the past 15 years are gone. Luckily, the pharmacy had a related store on Long Island where I could get prescriptions refilled. Getting prescriptions for needed drugs was problematic and shows how people – even medical professionals can differ in the amount of empathy they have for storm victims.

We were staying with relatives in Bay Shore and needed to get some new prescriptions for vital meds. The people who we were staying with called their family doctor and he said that he could not prescribe for us without a full examination that would cost a minimum of $190 for each of us – money that would not be paid by Medicare or our insurance because we were “out of network.”

I searched on the internet for an urgent care center nearby. I found one and we went there. The doctor saw us immediately when we explained our plight to his receptionist. It turned out that he had trained at Peninsula Hospital Center and knew many of the doctors who worked there, including our primary care physician in Rockaway.

After a cursory examination, he wrote prescriptions for all of the meds for which we had now-empty bottles. He declined to charge us anything for the service and even offered to prescribe a medication for nerves if we needed it. We declined. He even refused to take our insurance, simply writing “no charge” on our paperwork.

When we went to Bed Bath & Beyond in the Walt Whitman Mall to buy the necessities like pots and pans for my daughter’s new apartment, the cashier asked us if we wanted to donate some money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. When I joked with her that we were victims of the hurricane, a manager standing nearby immediately told her to take 20 percent off all of our purchases, a savings of more than $100.

On the other side, there are the people who scam survivors, who break into dark, abandoned houses and schools to rob them of their belongings.

We met both during the past month and the world as we knew it has changed forever.

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