I went to NYC over the summer, and one afternoon a Californian friend dragged me all the way to Rockaway Beach to hang out with some sk8er bois.
On a balmy Tuesday afternoon we embarked upon an epic journey to Rockaway, Queens, to see a pair of Lexi’s skater friends from her hometown in California. Spencer and Joey had been spending their holiday working at a smoothie bar on Rockaway beach, being drooled over by teenage girls on cruiser bikes and hanging out with the myriad other beautiful young people that had chosen a sunny summer in Queens over wherever they’re from, be it Hunt’s Point or Honduras. The boys were sharing a bedroom in a terraced house also occupied by a Californian skater with the most amazing shark tattoo, a deaf Brazilian masseuse, and a pair of beautiful South American best friends. They were living the dream. It may have taken us a marathon two and a half hours to get into Queens from Manhattan, but we were met with beers and buddies on a gloriously sunny beach so we didn’t mind too much.
Rockaway has gone through many incarnations. Spencer’s aunt, visiting for the day, told us that when she was younger the place was hip and cool and full of beautiful youth at the weekend – just as it is is now. In the thirty years in between a surge in immigration and poverty hit the neighbourhood hard, and we were told that streets we now casually strolled down in the dark would have been absolute no-gos a decade before; now the houses are full of a mix of young hipsters and foreigners alike here for the summer, and well-established families living alongside each other in harmony. Hipsters head in from Brooklyn and Broad Channel to spend their afternoons on the beach. Spencer and Joey’s house shared a backyard with a young Puerto Rican family and their ecstatic pitbull puppy, and across the street crowds of kids on razor scooters and skateboards were playing tag outside the social housing. It’s not all good news – most of the buildings along the waterfront are glitteringly new after the devastation of last winter’s storms, and graffiti tags over the sidewalk sported slogans like “We will rebuild. We will not give in.” The shadow of Hurricane Sandy still hangs heavy over Rockaway.
Their plasterboard house was full of surfboards and skateboards, paintings by its residents and vinyl on the walls. We piled into the tiny hallway only to be angrily shushed by Berenice storming out of her room covered in massage oil, and abashedly retreated behind a flimsy curtain entrance to the boys’ room to munch on vacuum-packed cinnamon cookies that Joey’s mum had shipped over from California. Spencer’s cousin owns a tiny organic cafe right next door, but we opted instead for Rockaway Taco, a surfer stall on the corner famed across the city for its excellent fare. I had a chorizo one. It was great. As we set off to walk their boss’s dogs, strays rescued from the garbage dumps of Puerto Rico, Spencer greeted almost everyone we passed on the few blocks towards the house. They are all invariably in their 20s, many foreign, and every single one incredibly attractive; Rockaway Beach seems to be the place to come to enjoy a summer of eternal fun, youth and beauty. And dogs. Everyone has one. The front yards of these rows of houses are invariably filled with Virgin Mary shrines and American flags, plastic pink flamingos and the occasional vegetable patch. We passed two community farms that host hog dinners and a rundown piano with flowers spilling out of the lid, all soundtracked by the omnipresent planes roaring overhead towards JFK. Two black cats picked their way across a vegetable patch and begrudgingly allowed themselves to be petted, descending into deafening hissing and a retreat behind a surfboard as our charges lolloped down the porch steps to nearly bowl us over. We walked them a few blocks and then ram them around a skate park by the water, before returning them to cat glares so we could head on to an evening’s cannnine-free entertainment.
More eating and more drinking at a Thai place on the waterfront, lit by twinkling fairy lights that swayed in a bracing wind from which we hid under Peruvian blankets. It was a lovely spot, flanked by houseboats that gently knock against the dock, and we were joined by all the housemates; Columbians and Puerto Ricans and Californians discussing university plans and leaving parties, and the unspoken undercurrent of how to continue a relationship with each party on a separate continent. We moved on with much laughter and skateboarding and screams of uncoming traffic to a house party for Peruvian New Year, in a garden rigged up with suspended table lamps and disco lights, another piano filled with flowers and a film projected onto a neighbouring wall. A cat sprawled at the entrance basking in the attention of countless party-goers, and a familiar smell filled the air (and our lungs). Everyone has to leave far too soon, and all we have time for before rattling back to Manhattan on the A train is perhaps the most delicious beverage ever invented: a frozen Pina Colada from an Irish bar full of drunks.
Spencer has a true cliche tattooed on his forearm that we all laugh at, but it also seems bizarrely fitting for this summer town of carefree party people: Live Life. No Regrets.