Boulevard Dreams

Back then, it was a bus ride along the boulevards to reach the beach. In the neighborhood of Glendale where I grew up, we always alluded to going to the beach by saying, “it’s just down the boulevards.” Woodhaven Boulevard became Cross Bay Boulevard, on up over the bridge into Rockaway. During the summer, on any given morning, the buses were packed with beachgoers from the surrounding neighborhoods. On Jamaica Avenue, people would join the journey having traveled by train from all over Queens and Brooklyn. I can remember it being festive in a way that included the surprise of seeing someone you never anticipated on meeting. The greetings were cordial and filled with joyful reminiscing. Maybe it was someone I knew from high school and never figured on seeing until the school year started up again in September. A friend headed in the same direction having never been advised it was something to do on a summer day. Random moments of coincidence and serendipity.

There were beaches back then that seemingly attracted the same crowds. After exiting the bus, there was a cheer of celebration reserved for all the people going to the same places. The hordes of people by noon filled the sandy beaches with music emanating from radios tuned to the same stations. In the early 1970s, FM radio was becoming the prominent choice for music lovers. WNEW-FM 102.7 and WCBS-FM 101.1 broadcasted the hits of the day. When swimming out beyond the crest of the waves, turning and looking back at the beach – it was at times, like being inside a speaker filled with water. Songs by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, CSNY, Marvin Gaye, Elvis Presley, The Temptations, Chuck Berry and Bill Haley and the Comets ear marked the air waves. If diversity ever needed an example of shared appreciation, it was on display via the music everyone could listen to together.

Back on our towels and blankets stretched out on the sand, looking up at the sky and out beyond the horizon, it was as if we were all assembled in a dream. A dream, in our young minds we thought would never end. First kisses, first cigarettes, first thoughts of reaching an age of bliss. Those days of what many can label their innocence being placed on trial. A few, I can now imagine, look back on those years sensing things were changing. We were the generation, who in some ways, had been baptized by fire. Having come of age in the 1960s, we were young enough to escape what others our age, 18 years old, lost due to being drafted, or caught up in the whirlwind that was called the summer of love and recognition of civil and equal rights. Our changes were different, or so we wanted to believe.

The turmoil of struggle for many lasted a few seconds at times when trying to stand up straight when caught in the under tow of a strong enough wave. Having their feet taken from beneath them, causing them to clutch for safety made the awareness of how precious the sanctity of life. Silly to imagine, how the comparison in retrospect could have possibly made anyone think differently about the choices they made. All in all, those journeys of boulevard dreams pale in comparison to the changes witnessed throughout the remainder of the 20th century.

Little did we know, by the 1980s, people would, for all intents and purposes, stop listening to music, instead becoming entranced by seeing it on MTV. Little did we know, by the 1990s, people would in many respects start to stop communicating via conversation, embracing the world of technology through their phones. Little did we know, by September 2001, the entire world would be transformed again. As if our brains would be forever placed on high alert. September 11, 2001, the day the world stood still. All eyes and ears glued to our television screens watching the world we once knew end.

Only to experience the devastation of storms in the following years that changed the physical landscape that surrounded us. In the Northeast, Hurricane Sandy, forever stripping the world we knew, like being caught in the under tow of a mighty wave without anyone to grab hold of what once was a part of our shared world.

It’s been years since I traveled down the boulevard of those young dreams. In my mind’s eye, the streets of Rockaway may all have the same names, but the view has changed, and the air is different. On 116th Street, which was the beach I frequented most as a young boy, the boardwalk places I knew so well, are gone. On one side, the expanse of high-rise condos promising ocean views and amenities. On the other side, where once was a main meeting place, there is nothing but green canvas curtains and empty lots. No access to the beach was possible. Cordoned off areas with construction vehicles and mounds of dirt. I hesitated walking to the lower numbered streets, not wanting to further delude my memories of how it once was. Not wanting to pass the newly built trailer-like structures that stood like capsules from the set of some Science Fiction thriller.

I walked back to my car after purchasing the necessary artifact. A t-shirt denoting Rockaway Beach in block letters like those found on a marquee from an old movie theater. Before getting into my car, I picked up a copy of The Rockaway Times. I paged through it wanting to discover something, anything that reminded me of yesterday. I found what I was looking for in a column written by Sean McVeigh. In the column titled “The Art of Nothing,” he shared his insights of having become newly married. I wanted to shake his hand to congratulate him and his wife on their new chapter in life. I wanted to convey his observations related to nothing were brilliantly expressed.

It reminded me of a 500-word essay I had to write in school years ago. When caught talking by a teacher and asked what I was talking about, I replied “Nothing.” The teacher told me to write a 500-word essay on Nothing. I considered it a worthy challenge. I wrote what I thought Nothing was. The next day the teacher had me read it out loud in front of the class. I remember choosing to define the word in similar ways expressed by Mr. McVeigh. At a young age, I wanted to be able to do nothing in ways that made me feel happy. I concluded my essay by saying, “Nothing is the part of our brains not yet filled with memories.” After sitting back down, the teacher told me when class ended, “Never stop dreaming.”

Driving back over the Cross Bay bridge, I could sense the ocean on both sides. Peering out at the New York City skyline, covered in a hazy grey mist, I felt in some way, the dream is still alive. I turned on WCBS.FM 101.1 on the cars radio. Teddy Pendergrass was singing “Wake Up Everybody.” The message in the song having never lost its purpose, caused me to feel nostalgic and hopeful for our shared future. It’s a dream worth having again and again. Enjoy the summer. It’s our shared time in the sun.

 Craig Schwab
Glendale, NY

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