If all goes as planned, tonight I will use the second-last trip on my forty-trip ferry ticket to get back to Rockaway, on the Friday of Labor Day Weekend. Of course, there’s nothing to prevent me from buying another ticket and extending the season—in fact, I fully intend to. But it’s hard not to feel a little wistful as the last week of August and my ferry trips run out.
I have been able to take the ferry home in the evening this summer more often than I would have thought possible. On Tuesday, instead of going straight home from the ferry, I drove to my favorite beach. A bride and groom were running along the sand, being filmed. They probably were not a real bride and groom but models. (I forget that Rockaway is often used as a location. Last week on the boardwalk I walked past a rack of ratty-looking clothes and shoes and asked the guy who was tending them, “A sale?” “No,” he said. “A shoot.” Then he laughed. Lucky I didn’t automatically start riffling through the wardrobe department, looking for bargains.) Farther down the beach, someone had built a little fire out of driftwood. At the surf line two men were talking, and one of them, I could not help but notice, was completely nude. Now, I don’t care if someone wants to disrobe in public, but where am I supposed to rest my eyes? A fisherman had just pulled an undersized fish out of the water, so there was that. He threw it back.
On Wednesday morning, the captain of the ferry boat arrived carrying four shopping bags from Dunkin’ Donuts. I held off on my granola bars in case he was going to distribute doughnuts to the passengers, but they must have been for the crew. I transferred to the East River boat and walked to work from East Thirty-fourth, up streets I've never been on before. (Did you know there is a little park at Thirty-ninth and Tunnel Exit Street?) I haven’t warmed to the crew or passengers on the East River boat. On the Rockaway ferry, you recognize people from day to day, notice, say, when someone’s hair is getting longer, or who drinks the most Budweiser. (Not me.) If there’s a couple you haven’t seen before and they are both wearing yellow, they are most likely tourists, probably from Florida.
Wednesday night, I finally got to sit on one of the best seats, at the rear of the top deck, when one of the regulars—a man who dresses in conservative suits and splashy ties and wears black Reeboks and his hair in a ponytail—told a guy who had been sitting there smoking a cigarette that smoking was prohibited (“This is public transportation”) and, after an obligatory show of defiance, the guy moved. It was a beautiful evening. There were three crazy kayakers paddling up the Verrazano Narrows, and several sailboats in the bay. Curving into Riis Landing, the ferry left a graceful arc spreading in the water. I thought I heard a cell phone ring, but it rang and rang, and nobody answered, and finally I realized it was bagpipes: a man was standing behind a pickup truck in back of the old Coast Guard station practicing. And so that night we were piped ashore.