No question that the ferry is playing havoc with my schedule. Wednesday night I came home by ferry to no vehicle in the parking lot; I had left the Eclair at the garage that morning for its annual checkup and taken the Q22 bus to the ferry. Before leaving work to get the ferry home, I called the garage. “You’re all set,” they said. The cost, for inspection and oil change, was $72, the cheapest I’ve gotten away with in a long time. But the garage closed at six, and the ferry wouldn’t get back to Rockaway till almost seven. What to do?
Of all the options—walk home; take the Q22 home; take the Q22 halfway, as far as the garage, steal my car, and drive home—I chose the last, as the most direct. For one thing, I’d have my car in the morning, when I needed it, and wouldn’t have to ride my bike to the garage and end up with both vehicles at the ferry dock again. And I thought I could get away with it. “We know where to find you,” the patriarch, Big Bulloch, once said to me when we were joking about my bill. (I thought, You do?)
It poured down rain all night, and was still raining in the morning when I stopped at the garage on my way to the ferry, explained that I’d picked up my car the night before, when no one was there, and paid Big Bulloch, who made change out of his pocket. I sat inside on the ferry, with a cup of coffee and a book, and it was cozy—too cozy. It felt like a bus. I had to take the A train home, stranding my car at the dock again.
Sadly, today I am on the night shift, and will miss by several hours the party boat—I mean, the evening ferry—home. The tradeoff is that this morning I got to walk the three and a half miles to my car along the beach. I used to walk this stretch of beach all the time—from 101st Street to Fort Tilden—but I don’t believe I’d ever before set off deliberately to go to the far end of Riis Park.
I stopped for a swim about a third of the way. The current was running strongly westward, and I couldn't get past the waves to swim; it was all I could do to stay in the vicinity of my beach towel. About two-thirds of the way, at 149th Street, a jetty and a chain-link fence divide the city beach, in beautiful Neponsit, from Riis Park, which is run by the National Park Service. Ever since I’ve been going to Rockaway, there has been a way through or around this fence: you could slip through a hole in the fence at the landward end or, at low tide, walk out the stone jetty; some years, the sand drifted up so high that you could step right over the fence. Just a few weeks ago, I noticed that someone had cut a full-size door in the fence, halfway out the jetty. It was very convenient.
But now, I couldn’t believe it—the hole had been closed up. Someone had diabolically folded the chain link back over the rocks at the ocean end, so that you couldn’t go around the jetty without risking your life. The sand by the sea wall was low, so there was no climbing over, and the gap between the fence and the sea wall was only about five inches wide—too narrow for me. I was outraged.
I examined the fence more closely, and saw where it had been mended with industrial-strength twist-ties. This was as good a place as any to lay down my towel and take a break. This fence had not been mended in order to keep me from going to Riis Park; it had been mended to keep Riis Park from coming to Neponsit. I groped in my backpack for my trusty Swiss Army knife—really, I didn’t have time to walk all the way up to the boulevard and then back down to the beach, and I certainly didn’t want to walk through the monumental Riis Park Beach parking lot—and when no one was looking I sawed through a tough white plastic twist-tie, then sliced a more delicate one made out of what looked like magnetic tape unspooled from a tape recorder. I bent back a flap near the ground. Then I got up, casually shook out my towel and rearranged it, half on one side of the fence and half on the other, shoved my backpack and sandals through there, put my feet through, then my butt, and slithered under the fence.
The people at Riis Park Beach looked pretty much the same as the ones in Neponsit, although in Neponsit there were Orthodox Jewish women with their hair covered, their daughters bathing in full-length loose black dresses. Riis Park had more large groups of small children, and the crowd was thicker and noisier near the parking lot and bathrooms, as usual. I walked pretty fast, hoping no one had come to examine the fence as soon as I went through it. Over my shoulder I could see that I'd left a rift in the shape of the Eiffel Tower.
At the far end of Riis Park, I turned north and crossed the boulevard to the bay, where I was once again reunited with the Eclair. The mechanics had put fresh duct tape on her sprung right headlight, and I have temporarily solved the mildew problem by dowsing the interior with Arm & Hammer Carpet and Room Deodorizer. I drove home, showered, and took the A train to work.
I saw in the Times that the body of that sixteen-year-old girl who drowned last Friday was found under the Marine Parkway Bridge, right near where the ferry leaves from. The girl's name was Tiara Coaxum, and she was a high-school athlete from Jamaica, Queens. Her body had been borne some three miles west, around Rockaway Point, and back down the other side of the peninsula. The current that took her under must have been ferocious.