Between juggling the kids and running this company, I very rarely take a happy hour off to catch up with girlfriends. However, I have also vowed not to let this Spring season pass without getting out to enjoy the lovely weather. So I had one of those 'girlfriend catch up' sessions just a few weeks ago and it was far from a sacrifice of family or work time!
Susanne was one of my first acquaintances in the dorms at Pratt Institute and one of the few that I've managed to stay in touch with since. She is from Breezy Point, New York, a beach peninsula where Queens meets the Atlantic. While some New Yorkers have 'summer' homes in Breezy, Susanne grew up there, where it was custom to "hitch" a ride daily from the Point to the nearest Subway station, since no trains run into the private (literally, you have to have a pass to get past the gate) community. I would marvel at that thought, being a native of Maryland, I was always taught not to hitchhike, let alone to do it within the city limits of New York! "That's just how it is in Breezy", I can recall Sus saying when we were 17 years old. "We all pretty much know each other, anyway."
Coming from this kind of close-knit neighborhood, you can imagine how devastating it was for them to be hit with Hurricane Sandy last October. I had barely spoken to Susanne in the months after, other than a few texts to be sure that she and her family were alive and that their house wasn't completely destroyed. Not knowing what to expect of the landscape, I took up her offer to catch a ferry ride from the Financial District over to Rockaway, where she is now settled with her husband, a Brooklyn native.
Only costing $2, it was the best kick-off to a happy hour I've ever had. Not for the weak-bellied, the wind and water were fairly rough. But although January might be a different story, in the warm May sun, the East River spray felt awesome. We stumbled downstairs during the ride and got $4 Pinot Grigios in plastic take-out cups with lids and straws...a smart consideration for such a bumpy ride. She began to tell me about the storm and its damage on both her childhood home in Breezy Point and her new neighborhood of Rockaway, where we were headed.
We got off the boat and went to an open-decked restaurant right on the water called The Wharf. Over a Blue Moon and fried fish, it was just dreamy. She told me about her blog, Rockaway Rises where she is bringing awareness to the area and interviewing local businesses to get their stories of inspiration since having to rebuild after the hurricane. She talked about how in the past, there was a local pride which was so strong that it tended to fend-off people from other parts of the city. However, since the storm, the Rockaway locals are welcoming busloads of hipsters and fanny-packing beach-goers as well, just to build up business and morale. And what a special, under-discovered place it is!
With only a few minutes to spare before jumping back on the 6:55 boat headed back to Manhattan, Susanne took me for a spin around Rockaway. I was saddened to see the leftover devastation...empty or destroyed buildings. The subway (or 'El' they call it...not for the 'L' train, but rather the local lingo for 'Elevated Train') still wasn't working, which 7 months post-storm certainly must have had some weight on the local economy. (Just a few days after my visit, the city received the good news that the train was once again restored to the area) I could only imagine the ruin of some of the famous Rockaway Bungalows. Rockaway has long been known for being rough around the edges…a beach with city inhabitants and city attitude. And although I still probably wouldn't have a late-night stroll around some of its areas, there's something more cohesive now about this historic, multi-cultural neighborhood. Everyone now has a similar focus...to rebuild. I'm so proud of Susanne. She is doing her part to keep it real while also keeping open arms to curious outsiders.
Back on the ferry, it was an almost empty boat. I had the ENTIRE top deck to myself this time. With the Breezy Point peninsula on one side and the famous Coney Island skyline on the other, there was plenty of camera candy.
It was shocking to see so many houses along the shoreline still with boarded windows. While the rest of us have carried on our work and play, there is still this big loss for so many of our neighbors just a couple of zip codes away.
I would recommend this gem of a trip...it's fast, inexpensive, and very eye-opening. The more of us that see how the New York City beach towns have suffered since Hurricane Sandy, the more we can bring our support to the areas. I don't think it's that people don't want to help, we just aren't aware. If you can't make it out to these parts, check out Rockaway Rises for great photos, including a recent series by local photographer, Larry Deemer.
Thank you, Susanne Rieth, and thank you, Rockaway Ferry. Thank you, Breezy Point, for the memories that I am lucky enough to have because of a college buddy. And most of all, thank you New York City for the endless optimism!!