Saturday, September 12, 2009


I worked late last night and took the A train home to Rockaway, probably for the last time this season. There had been signs posted all week that the Rockaway Park shuttle would be out of service beginning at 10:30 P.M. on Friday, September 11th. After ten-thirty, riders were directed to stay on the train to Far Rockaway, get off at Beach 60th Street, and take a “free” (whoopee) shuttle bus back in the other direction.

Somehow I got it in my head that if I just caught the train in midtown before ten-thirty, I would be O.K. My train got into Broad Channel at about ten-forty, and the conductor didn’t say anything about the shuttle being out of service, so a bunch of us detrained, as usual, to switch to the shuttle. There was no S train lurking on the siding beyond the station, but soon one came along from the other direction, and after sitting for a while on the siding it reversed direction and slid down the tracks toward us. It looked as if we were in luck: the M.T.A. was going to provide one last ride.

The train started sounding its horn—not a good sign—and as it got closer we could make out its destination: “Not in Service.” It stopped anyway, the big tease, and sat there for a few minutes, while we hoped it would open its doors, and then slithered away.

Hmm. What to do? Clearly no more shuttles were running. I have a friend in the bungalow courts who works for a car service, but I couldn’t find his number, and it was just late enough (going on 11 P.M.) to be too rude to call anyone else. I could walk from Broad Channel. But it had been a long day, and if I wasn’t going to get home till midnight anyway, I might as well wait for the next A train and let myself be herded along to Far Rockaway and the stupid free bus with everyone else.

It drives Rockawegians crazy when people assume that all of Rockaway is Far Rockaway. Far Rockaway is the easternmost part of the peninsula, the armpit, and the rest of the Rockaway Peninsula is the arm, forming the southern rim of Jamaica Bay and a ten-mile barrier beach along the Atlantic: Rockaway Beach. A whole spectrum of neighborhoods stretches along the peninsula from east to west: Arverne, Seaside, Rockaway Park, Belle Harbor, Neponsit, Riis Park, Roxbury, Breezy Point. The A train crosses the bay at the longitude of approximately Beach 84th Street. If you live on, say, Beach 101st Street, it is a gigantic bore, on a Friday night, after you've already been on the train for an hour, to take a four-mile detour to Far Rockaway. Grrrr.

When the next A train came, the conductor made the announcement about the change in service, and we all trudged aboard, but the M.T.A. had a little more fun with us before the night was out: as the train pulled into the Beach 60th Street Station, we let out a collective groan, watching from the windows, as the shuttle bus pulled away. There was nothing for it but to follow the signs down to the street and wait. At least it had stopped raining, and the breeze was mild. A bus came: “Out of Service.” Another bus came: also “Out of Service,” but this one stopped and picked us up anyway. It took a strange route down Rockaway Beach Boulevard to Beach Channel Drive and then along the Rockaway Freeway, under the El. (Note the many applications of the name Rockaway: there is no Near Rockaway, or Close Rockaway, but there is a Rockaway Boulevard and a Rockaway Turnpike and a Rockaway Avenue and a Rockaway Point and a Rockaway Point Boulevard and an East Rockaway—and a Rockaway, New Jersey, but let's not go there.) Nobody on the bus knew what the deal was, whether the shuttle bus would automatically stop at all the train stations or whether we had to request a stop, as on a regular bus. So the bus zipped past Beach 90h Street, where I was planning to get off, to see if I could find an open deli on the way home. Then someone lit up the “Stop Requested” signal, and the driver stopped at 94th Street. Nothing was open except the bars and a pizza joint and a Chinese restaurant.

This morning, after I complained at length to my neighbor T. about getting stranded in Broad Channel and not getting home till midnight, she said, “You coulda walked one block and got the 53.” Or, her husband said, "you coulda got the 21." Of course! Both those buses come straight out Cross Bay Boulevard, through Broad Channel, and turn west, toward Rockaway Park, stopping a block from my home. What was I thinking?

Well, at least I got to complain. And the journey home gave me a strong incentive to pack up the cats and move back to Manhattan.

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