Queens Walking: X

The tenth and final installment in my series of walking meditations on various neighborhoods of Queens.

Rockaway Beach

I walked for about a mile underneath the thick down blanket of sky. I could see slivers of ocean but I stuck to Rockaway Beach Boulevard. I traveled through many different worlds: the pastel beach houses of Arverne by the Sea, with jet planes almost grazing the roofs on their descent into JFK; sprawling buildings for the YMCA and Stop & Shop, cars lazily pulling in and out of the enormous parking lots; the Hammel projects, dilapidated brick buildings guarded by black teenagers who keep their eyes trained on me as I pass by; boarded up bars and taco shops, hibernating until the summer crowds start to flood in. Each world distinct, yet all eerily silent. Not the sleepy beach towns of California I used to know, but more like a sleeping dog that you tread carefully past, hoping not to wake it.

But now, I take my first step onto the boardwalk at 90th Street. The curve of concrete stretches far and wide, lining the sandy beach with precise care. There are only two other people on this tremendous boardwalk — a pair of guys in their thirties smoking cigarettes and laughing over the breeze pulling at their hair. I sit on a bench and eat my lunch facing the sea, as thoughts slow to the rhythm of the tide.

The sand is peppered with the brilliant colors of seashells, purple and green and shocking yellow, and there are so many that I’m not able to stop my boots from crushing them as I dodge the incoming waves. The gulls and I exchange wary pleasantries, and I see those boardwalk men far off in the distance, but ultimately I am alone. Which is what I could say for all of my walks, for all of my life. Ultimately, I am alone. When I look out to the chalkboard slate of ocean here, I could truly be anywhere. What distinguishes this froth of water from the seaweed tangle of Ventura, California, or the strong pulse of Daytona Beach, or the brusque choppiness of Lake Michigan? All of these places emerge from the recesses of my mind, and Queens becomes an amalgamation of all my experience, and in that Queens becomes beautiful. I stand in this void of space and time, mesmerized by the tide that is controlled by the moon which will rise over Rockaway Beach in tonight’s spring twilight. And I know I could be content in this ultimate aloneness for an endless stretch of time, time that reaches to the end of my eye’s horizon like the boardwalk above me. I walk the sand in gratitude for Queens, for the space it gave, for the fears it unearthed, for the love it held.

As the sun starts to dip west, I take leave of the sea and start the journey back. It’s time to go home.