Written by Jonathan Aryeh Wayne, June 12, 2019
The temperature was 90 degrees with a heat index of 96, as I sweated profusely in the daytime sun, standing in a line stretching more than half a mile long as I waited to board the ferry to Rockaway Beach, NY. It was the day before Memorial Day and apparently half of the city’s 9 million residents all decided to do the same thing I was doing today: Going to the beach. Along with 2 other friends, we waited for over an hour, if not more, after the 1:15pm ferry we were supposed to take set sail with still about one hundred people ahead of us in line. By the time, the 2:15pm ferry arrived, I had already slathered on sunscreen as I looked forward to the cool, crisp, frothy waves in the Atlantic Ocean awaiting our arrival. After another hour sitting on the boat, we disembarked, boarded a shuttle to Fort Tilden beach, and joyfully exited the vehicle only to realize that the temperature had dropped at least 15 to 20 degrees, the sky had quickly become overcast, and a chilly wind was blowing from the ocean into our faces. Did we step into the twilight zone or enter a parallel universe?
Quickly, the three of us walked briskly towards the beach, through an old military installation and state park in Fort Tilden, across wide open grassy spaces, until I led my friends down an apparent shortcut through some thick beach dunes and brush that ended up leading to nowhere. As we stumbled across seemingly toxic refuse piles of industrial debris and muddy pathways, the sounds of the surf were just audible over the thick foliage of the maritime dune vegetation blocking our way to the beach. Doubling back towards the “No Trespassing” sign that we walked by 10 minutes ago, we were relieved to see no guards in sight and that the missile silos and munitions warehouses were no longer in use. I could have made a joke and said to “watch out for random land mines”, but at this point, we were already exhausted and just wanted to relax. Finally, after getting back on the right path, our sandals touched sand, but the cool wind whipping up the rough surf was anything but an invitation to enter the water.
After enough time passed about a 10 minute walk down the western end of the Rockaway Peninsula, I decided to plop my beach towel down, away from my friends and the somewhat crowded beach, despite the overcast and quickly darkening skies overhead. I sought peace and remoteness, but I knew on this day, with the throngs of beach-goers, it was going to be difficult to achieve. After dipping my ankles in the frigid 55 degree water, I looked up and down the beach and saw a total of 2 people swimming in the rough ocean. It was anything but a beach day at this point, as it was well into the late afternoon, after a frustrating delay back in Manhattan. Just as I was about to close my eyes and meditate to the sounds of the ocean, two men stood nearby and a third man joined in a conversation, just 7 or 8 feet from where I was sitting. I knew beforehand that this was known as a destination for gay men to meet up, but I was hoping they could be more mindful and give me a bit more space to talk about their business ventures. With dozens of feet of open sand in all directions, why did they have to conduct their candid business meetup right here and now? Was the universe already going against me?
About an hour into my beach adventure, I checked the Weather Channel app on my smartphone only to see in horror a massive storm front heading directly towards my location. I turned my head around and saw the leading edge of the menacing and dark roll cloud. Already, sporadic drops of rain fell from the sky, and I gathered my belongings and walked back down the beach, past the gradually dwindling beach crowd, to my friends. We walked another mile to where the ferry shuttle had dropped us off, only to see a mass of people, probably over 200 in total, waiting for the bus to get out of here. What were we to do now? The rain was falling slowly but the drops were large and I feared we would get drenched. I led my friends to an ancient building with a large porch that appeared to be falling apart, but in the overgrown grass in front of the structure was a sign that read “United States Park Police – Marine Patrol Unit”. Perhaps here we could wait out the storm and call for an Uber or Lyft? After about 5 or 6 attempts, not a single driver came to our rescue, all cancelling our requests. With no subway for dozens of miles in either direction, a massive amount of road traffic that lead across the one bridge on this part of the peninsula, and tens of thousands of people waiting for buses and ferries, we were in a world of pain. Suddenly, the front door behind us opened and a police officer walked out slamming the door shut before walking away. A few Asian tourists who followed our idea of huddling under the porch roof, were as startled as we were! We walked back to the bus stop area and there were still hundreds of people waiting for a single bus that seemed to never show up, so we returned back to the park police shelter. There had to be a way off this peninsula! I looked for restaurants and cafes on my phone but there were none nearby, until I zoomed in a bit further and noticed an odd place called “The Sugar Shack” in the town of Roxbury.
Along the way, I noticed a long row of vintage 70s automobiles including a Ford Falcon, Lincoln Thunderbird, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and Chevrolet Caprice Classic. They reminded me of cars I saw in Martin Scorsese gangster films. Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that perhaps some mafia folks were in the area, possibly here in this beach village we were about to enter. I shrugged off this fanciful idea though and continued my walk. A noisy beach party of some sort was happening in what looked like the village bar that resembled a beach house with a large upstairs deck overlooking a baseball field. About a hundred feet away was our destination, and we were looking forward to sitting down and getting a snack at this “shack”. As we walked up the ramp, the establishment was desolate aside from two young obese employees standing behind the pizza counter. We asked if there was a restroom nearby, and they were unable to provide an answer. One of my friends named John and I took a walk around the premises and encountered not a single soul in sight. I recommended we head over to that rowdy “bar” that we walked by earlier, but right after we walked up the steps, we realized we were in the wrong place at the wrong time as a stunned older woman glared at us and said: “Who are YOU?” We quickly made a 180 and walked out of this private beach banquet party (that apparently the entire community was attending), and heard mutterings behind us such as “These dumb hipsters probably got lost” and “Hipsters need to leave this area or else”. It was anything but welcoming. With our bladders about to burst, we were desperate to relieve ourselves, so we walked to the edge of the village and discovered a parking lot full of boats on trailers and small trees.
About halfway through my urinating, an SUV about 50 feet away drove up behind me slowly and I quickly stopped midstream and fled around the boat, swearing under my breath praying he didn’t see what I was doing. After driving by, I nearly peed my shorts after having to stop a second time, as I once again ran around the other side of the boat with my right hand clutching my member. This was absolutely intolerable! I couldn’t even comfortably go to the bathroom without some vigilante police officer creeping up on me after being denied restroom services for two wayward and lost city guys. Irritated and exhausted, I walked by the noisy beach house party and saw people staring at us thinking we were dangerous, unruly criminals. Then out of the corner of my eye, a car, possibly that same SUV, stopped moving before the window rolled down and a man with a small moustache and greying hair asked me to come over to the window. He reported to me that I was not allowed in this place, as the entire village of Roxbury was private property and off limits to non residents. I frantically agreed with him and said I was going back to the Sugar Shack to round up my friends and get “the hell out of here”!
At this point, I was desperate to leave by any means necessary, thinking we were going to get shot or beaten up by this town security guy. My buddies waiting for me at first laughed as I exclaimed: “You guys gotta leave, forget the pizza, let’s go!”. But then the security man drove over, got out of the car and started getting agitated when my buddy John tried to talk his way out of leaving. “You gettin’ technical on me? We ain’t playin’ no game here. You’re trespassing on private property.” Surely in the United States of America, a small Capitalistic institution named The Sugar Shack needs to make money sometimes, so they sold out discounted and godawful slices of what they referred to as “pizza”, as we hungrily devoured the food, thinking it would give us more time since we were now unofficially customers to this private restaurant. The obese and possibly autistic workers took pity on us and gave me a free bottle of water, before we fled the premises. As we neared the edge of the road that granted us freedom, I started hobbling in pain after a terrible blister formed and broke on my right little toe. At that very moment, a magnificent rainbow formed over the highway, as the clouds receded and rain finally ended. When we finally got back to the bus stop, there were 10 people left standing, and our salvation in the form of a city bus was finally within reach. Yet, just when we thought we were out of the clear, we stood horrified as the bus neared, as we saw people’s hands and limbs sticking out of all the available doors and windows. The bus driver could barely open the front door, so he suggested we try to enter from behind. We pried the back bus door open with our nails, pushed our way onto the bus and held on for dear life as the crazed driver sped down the highway towards Marine Parkway Bridge separating the Rockaway peninsula with the borough of Brooklyn. About 10 minutes later, after I finally found a comfortable standing position, the bus driver slowed down at a bus stop and the 3 people outside ended up pushing onto the bus, creating more displacement, and making it even more insufferable. How much more could the universe be telling us that today’s innocent beach plan was not a good idea?
As we finally dismounted from the bus full of exhausted beachgoers at the final stop, we walked away… before the unthinkable happened. A massive explosion went off, and I turned my head around only to see the bus we were all just riding turn into a huge fireball that rose into the night sky. Did the mob from Roxbury track us down and get their revenge? Fortunately, later that night we saw the news headlines while eating delicious slices of Detroit-style pizza somewhere in the Lower East Side, and we were relieved to know that there no casualties or seriously injured people! Apparently, the news was reported that the deranged bus driver had created a miniature Meth lab in his front seat pocket and accidentally used inflammatory liquids for his concoction. In the nick of time, the crazy man hopped on Meth jumped out through the driver’s side window, did a heroic roll, and escaped unharmed, after all of the passengers had already exited the vehicle. Boy, did that pizza taste good now, and it sure did justice compared to the crap we ate earlier at the Sugar Shack! And somehow in New York City, even the criminals are fearless heroes too!