Schilling’s Roadhouse Gets a New Life

CommUnityPatio

Earlier this year, many in Rockaway were alarmed when one of the neighborhood’s oldest buildings, Schilling’s Roadhouse (later, The Irish Circle), at Beach 102nd Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, was put up for sale.  Dating to 1893, the structure survived Superstorm Sandy, but there were rumors that it would be demolished.  Well, the site was saved from the wrecking ball by new owners, Kelly Brook and the Joseph family, who have renovated the space and reopened it as the Comm(Unity) House restaurant.

The much-anticipated opening of the space has occurred.  The usual maiden week kinks have been worked out, and the place now seems to be going strong.  I visited on Monday, August 10, and was pleasantly surprised that the present owners created some striking new features, while keeping the best of what the Irish Circle formerly offered.

CommUnityBar2

When you walk in, the configuration of the front bar is the same, but the flooring and seating are more contemporary.  Upholstered banquettes on the right look like a comfy place to snuggle up and share a drink with someone you love!  Walking toward the back, the main dining room is larger, because the second bar, where Richie (RIP) ran things for years, is now outdoors.

CommUnitySignThe outdoor patio where many teachers used to crowd in on the last day of school has been enlarged into a spacious bar area with equally large tables, more cushioned group seating sections and romantically soft evening lights.

I make it a practice to avoid reading Yelp and Facebook reviews of restaurants I already know, as they are often ridiculous, even sometimes amusingly ridiculous!  I was a regular at the Irish Circle in the first decade of the millennium, so being there again put me in nostalgia land, recalling friends from past and present, some of whom have died or moved away from NYC. Food was never the prime draw at the Circle for me–it was always a place to see friends and have a drink and a snack together.

SchillingSignBy the way, that was true from the beginning, when the place was called Schilling’s Roadhouse.  I try to imagine the early 1900’s, when benefit card parties were held there to raise funds to build the Rockaway Beach Hospital, and the Rockaway Beach Founders Club met for dinner.  The space was a central neighborhood gathering spot.  In light of that history, the choice of a new name for the restaurant–Comm(Unity) House–was inspired, in my opinion.

After I stopped in, I heard comments from friends who had been there for the opening, and I think every problem with the food or service was pretty much smoothed out when I got there.  My waiter (and the young woman shadowing him so she could learn), were fine.  The food was excellent.  THANKS for the hand-cut potato chips at the tables, which were always my favorite snack to order at the Circle.  The grilled vegetable flatbread served on a wooden paddle was even better than the grilled veggie wrap that was my go-to Circle sandwich order.   It’s more like a yummy mini-pizza.

Congratulations, Kelly and company, on restoring and re-imagining this favorite space of Rockaway Beach.  See you for live band karaoke on Sunday evenings!

Text and photos copyright 2015 Vivian R. Carter.

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The High Bridge Beats the High Line for History

HighBridge3

There’s a new alternative venue for strolling, people-watching and getting your “history buzz”–the High Bridge connecting Upper Manhattan to the Bronx has been re-opened for the first time in over 40 years!

Highbridge1What a nice jaunt it is to cross the narrow Harlem River like Edgar Allan Poe did, over the oldest standing bridge in NYC, first opened to carry water supply pipes into the city in 1848.  It has been said that Poe frequently hiked from his cottage near the Fordham University Rose Hill campus, crossing into Manhattan over the span.  High Bridge Water Tower and the surrounding Highbridge park still provide a sylvan setting on the New York County side of the crossing, as they did when the bridge first opened.  The Bronx County side is now, unfortunately, endowed with views of the Major Deegan Expressway and the Metro North tracks. So the “river views” are not nearly as dramatic or pristine as those you get on the Walkway Over the Hudson near Poughkeepsie.   But anytime you can stand in a location within the five boroughs of NYC that hasn’t been open to the public since the 1960’s, it’s a rare treat. Knowing that the original water supply pipes for Manhattan are still ensconced under the walkway, makes it even more of a thrill for history buffs.

High Bridge2

Renovation of the walkway over the bridge was completed in June, and a formal festival to celebrate its reopening will be held on Saturday, July 25, from noon to 4 pm. You can enter from the Manhattan side at Amsterdam Ave. and 173rd Street, or from University Ave. and 170th Street in the Bronx.  Children’s activities will include the City Parks Foundation’s Puppet Mobile and a Bridge Making Workshop presented by the Bronx Children’s Museum.  Bronx County Historical Society’s Angel Hernandez will lead a walk on the bridge and around neighborhood historic sites at 11 a.m.  Purchase a ticket and get more information about High Bridge at http://www.bronxcountyhistoricalsociety.org.  At 7 pm, a SummerStage concert on the Manhattan side of the bridge, featuring Jose Pena Suazo y La Banda Gorda will close out the day.  If you can’t make it for the opening festival, the bridge is now open from 7 am to 8 pm daily.  Bicycles and pedestrians are both welcome to visit.

Hunter's Moon Sets Over Marine Parkway Bridge, Sat. 10/23/10, 7:28 a.m.--Copyright 2010 Vivian R. Carter

Hunter’s Moon Sets Over Marine Parkway Bridge, Sat. 10/23/10, 7:28 a.m.–Copyright 2010 Vivian R. Carter

Speaking of bridges–and ways to instill in children an awe and appreciation of the city’s incredible quantity and variety of such structures–Arch for Kids will be leading a free bridge-building workshop at Brooklyn Public Library’s Ft. Hamilton Branch on Thursday, July 23, from 2-3:30 p.m.  The library is located at 9424 Fourth Avenue, in southwest Brooklyn, 11209. Register for the program at http://www.bklynlibrary.org/calendar/bridges-new-york-archfork-fort-hamilton-library-072315.

Verrazano Bridge--Copyright 2010 Vivian R. Carter

Verrazano Bridge–Copyright 2010 Vivian R. Carter

During the 90-minute session, children and their families/caretakers will choose one of NYC’s bridges–either a suspension, cable-stayed, lift, or swing bridge, and then create an accurate 3D paper and string model of it to take home.  Arch for Kids, an outstanding group of educators I joined last year, plans the curriculum and provides materials and instruction for participants.  The group conducts a diverse range of fascinating design projects with students throughout the metropolitan area, in public, private and charter schools, libraries and museums.  Check out their website at http://www.archforkids.com.  Join us to build bridges this Thursday!

Text and photos copyright 2015 Vivian R. Carter, except photos of Marine Parkway Bridge and Verrazano Bridge (both copyright 2010 Vivian R. Carter).

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Amtrak Casualty Zemser Excelled in Every Way

By Vivian Rattay Carter

I did not know him as a midshipman, that dashing 20-year-old in dress whites whose image began flashing across the tv screen on the evening of May 13.

I knew Justin Zemser as a very bright, gentle, well-liked sixth grader eight years ago, even then a leader among his peers at Channel View School for Research in Rockaway Park, where I was his science teacher.  In a class with a curriculum focused on group explorations of the concepts of physical science, Justin was always prepared, consistently contributing his best efforts.  I recall he was very close to his pal who also played in the Rockaway Ravens football league, Breland Archbold, whose father was in charge of that program.

Sixth-graders after beach clean-up, Fall 2006.  Justin Zemser's in the gray t-shirt in front row.

Sixth-graders after beach clean-up, Fall 2006. Justin Zemser’s in the gray t-shirt in front row.

Channel View infuses Outward Bound design principles throughout its classrooms—speaking often of the importance of empathy and caring, collaboration and competition, diversity and inclusion, respect for the natural world and responsibility for learning.  Another principle, service learning, is often phrased through the simple motto “we are crew, not passengers.” Justin exemplified those design principles in every way while a student at Channel View.  He achieved the top academic honor of class valedictorian, while excelling in sports, student government, and community charitable activities. He was an Outward Bound paragon.  Someone you’d want on your team if faced with a tough challenge.

Justin was a stand-out in collaborative team science explorations like the one pictured, which his class conducted in Fall 2006.

Justin was a stand-out in collaborative team science explorations like the one pictured, which his class conducted in Fall 2006.

By March 2013, I was thrilled to read in the New York Daily News that Justin and his four closest friends from Channel View were on the path to college success, despite the obstacles placed in their way by Superstorm Sandy.  Reading Clem Richardson’s story will break your heart, in light of recent events.  http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/city-beat-rockaway-teens-united-scholars-friends-article-1.1284548.  All of Justin and his friends had competed in sports and the classroom, earning generous college scholarships.  Justin wanted to be a Navy Seal and got his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at that time.  His years of hard work were paying off.

Utter shock and disbelief consumed me, on learning that Justin’s promising life came to an end in the twisted wreckage of the Amtrak train that crashed outside Philadelphia on the evening of May 12.  Anger too, when the media reported that the black box taken from the crash site showed the train traveling at 106 mph (over twice the speed limit), obviously too fast to take a curve along the route.  The 31-year-old engineer at the controls, with over 200 lives in his hands, apparently committed a huge lapse in judgment.  Coincidentally, that young man was also from Queens, like Justin.

There is so much to say about a bright life snuffed out too soon, in what we often call “accidents.”  Inquiring people always ask “why” and “how” did it turn out this way?  The engineer lived, and Justin, probably just unlucky to have sat in the “wrong” car or on the “wrong” side of the train, is now gone.   The National Transportation Safety Board says the derailment could have been prevented had an automatic safety system been in place on that portion of the line.  It wasn’t.  Instead, passengers had to rely on the skill and judgment of the engineer in control of the train, which appear to have been lacking.

When any vehicle is being operated at more than twice the speed limit, and something goes wrong, why call it an “accident?”  Call it what it is. It’s more like vehicular homicide.

We all place so much faith in the bright lights like Justin. Until Tuesday, he was part of the promise of our future. We can’t allow their lives to be extinguished without responsibility or consequences.

Or will we?

Story copyright 2015 Vivian R. Carter.  Photos (including header photo) copyright 2006 Vivian R. Carter

Posted in Meet Your Fellow Man, The World of Human Beings | Leave a comment

Too Many Tastes of Rockaway Beach? Walk it Off This Weekend…

Back garden at Sayra's.

Back garden at Sayra’s.

The Taste of Rockaway Beach event gets better with each repetition.  Not just the food, but the fun vibe of it all–locals out for a beautiful Saturday stroll, mingling with brand new entrepreneurs at places like Rockaway Roasters–a new local alternative to Starbucks on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 93rd Street.  Very, very cool!  Thanks, Mother Nature, for the end of winter.  Thanks to the great local businesses that are making this event a regular happening.

What were your favorite treats?  Mine included the eggplant caponata at Whit’s End, buffalo chicken lasagna at Surfside Bagels, curried vegetables at Thai Rock, grandma’s pizza at Elegante, and hot spinach-artichoke dip at Bungalow Bar.  And it was a nice touch to add the mini servings of beer and soft drinks.  Kudos to Thai Rock for having live entertainment.  It was also special to be able to sit on the patio and drink in the late afternoon sun, along with the wine, at Sayra’s.

If you consumed the equivalent of four meals in one afternoon (that’s what it felt like, to me), it’s time for another nice, long walk, to work some of it off.  Please join us for Jane’s Walk this coming weekend in Rockaway.  This year, I will guide two groups as we “walk, talk and gawk, on the Rock” (all in tribute to famed writer and planning critic, Jane Jacobs).  The event occurs around the world, annually, on the weekend before Mother’s Day.

Anything can happen on a Jane's Walk. The big catch from 2011 in Rockaway Beach.

Anything can happen on a Jane’s Walk. The big catch from 2011 in Rockaway Beach.

First up, Saturday, May 2 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., is “Fifth Avenue of the Peninsula: Beach 116th Street and Rockaway Park Into the New Century.” Meet in front of the Beach 116 Street train station at 11 a.m., then we’ll return there at 1 p.m.  On the walk, we will explore Rockaway Park’s rich history and main street. We’ll view the 1880’s site of the largest hotel in the world, and grand buildings from the first decades of the 20th century, including the Belle Harbor Yacht Club and the Busto mansion. We’ll see the block where two NYC mayors were sworn in, and pause briefly to contemplate the locations of the neighborhood’s most frightening recent historical events. What does the future hold? Let’s walk, talk and gawk on the Rock!

Jane's Walkers, Rockaway Park, May 2014.

Jane’s Walkers, Rockaway Park, May 2014.

Second walk, Saturday, May 2 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., is “Jane Jacobs and Fannie Holland: Pioneers of Different Centuries.”  Meet at the Doughboy Memorial (Rockaway Beach Boulevard between Beach 94 and Beach 95 Streets) at 2 p.m., then we’ll return there at 4 p.m.  Plenty of time to grab refreshments afterwards at local eateries.

Jane's Walkers, Rockaway Beach, May 2012

Jane’s Walkers, Rockaway Beach, May 2012

Our walk will explore the historic village of Rockaway Beach and what it has become today. We will visit the sites of its earliest hotel, school, churches, police station, courthouse, and hospital. We will pass the sites of historic bungalows and amusement parks. We will conclude with a walk past the present casual food scene. Is Rockaway Beach of today or yesterday a place Jane Jacobs would have liked?

Details on Jane’s Walks throughout New York City (including registration for mine) can be found at http://www.mas.org/janeswalk.  If you log in to the map view, each stop on the tours is marked with a pin dot.

Text copyright 2015 Vivian R. Carter.  Header photo copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter.   First Jane’s Walk photo in post, copyright 2011 Vivian R. Carter. Other photos used with permission of owners.

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With Apologies to Gordon Lightfoot…

Jill Weber, September 2011 press conference on release of Rockaway Task Force report.  Copyright 2011 Vivian R. Carter

Jill Weber, September 2011 press conference on release of Rockaway Task Force report. Copyright 2011 Vivian R. Carter

Jill Weber, administrator of Rockaway Parks, recently retired from that position, to work for Hempstead, Long Island parks.  She will be greatly missed. The timing of her departure is somewhat unfortunate.  In my opinion, Jill ranked very near the top of the list of public officials who served the Rockaways with distinction.  The catastrophe wrought by Superstorm Sandy’s storm surge in October 2012, and ineffectiveness of rebuilding efforts by city, state and federal agencies since then, will probably always cloud Jill’s legacy.  Yet, I believe that individual administrators are not to blame, but rather, the policies and practices of government agencies as a whole.  Jill toiled mightily to support the community and never tried to foist blame for failures onto subordinates.  She partnered well with all types of community groups, constantly supporting them, and dived into planning events with enthusiasm.

Weber is praised by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and a bevy of pols and colleagues, 1/8/15.

Weber is praised by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and a bevy of pols and colleagues, 1/8/15.

There is much unfinished business for the Parks Department in Rockaway–mainly, the boardwalk. It doesn’t count that with today’s snowstorm, Mother Nature has “partnered” with Parks to give residents many great new recreational opportunities–as in, sledding down the sand berms!  Could this make “bus hill” obsolete?

Just a friendly reminder — if you or your children sled on the beach, please respect the areas where dune grass is growing.  Someday, it may protect our homes.

Belle Harbor dunes after snowstorm of 1/27/15.

Belle Harbor dunes after snowstorm of 1/27/15.

As to the boardwalk, Jill’s retirement filled me with nostalgia about the pre-Sandy era.  A snowy day is a good time to be creative, so I’ve written a parody of Gordon Lightfoot’s legendary ballad about the sinking of ‘The Edmund Fitzgerald.’   We want our seaside hangout back, soon!

Boardwalk Flag, copyright 2009 Vivian R. Carter

Boardwalk Flag, copyright 2009 Vivian R. Carter

The Wreck of the Rockaway Boardwalk

The legend lives on from the surfers on down, of the ocean they call the Atlantic

The ocean it’s said, never gives up her dead when the waves of October turn gloomy.

Sandy’s pressure was dropping 10 millibars lower than any wild storm had before her,

Our boardwalk, rough hewed, was a bone to be chewed, when the tides of October came foaming.

Rockaway boardwalk, copyright 2011 Vivian R. Carter

Rockaway boardwalk, copyright 2011 Vivian R. Carter

The park was the pride of Queens’ southeastern side, since its birth in the wild, Roaring Twenties

As seaside parks go, it was bigger than most, with a crew and a captain most pleasing.

Concluding some terms with the great foodie firms, at the start of the 2012 season.

Then later that summer, when the tourists got humming, could it be that a storm surge was coming?

boardwalksunriseThe wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound when the waves broke over the railings

But very few knew, from Bloomberg to Liu, that a mighty big storm surge was rolling.

The dawn came late and breakfast had to wait, when that gale of October receded

When afternoon came there were crowds on the way to the wreck of the Rockaway Boardwalk.

Jill Weber at Tribute Park,   copyright 2011 Vivian R. Carter.

Jill Weber at Tribute Park, copyright 2011 Vivian R. Carter.

Then 2015 came, our friend Jill got on stage, saying “fellas, it’s been good to know ‘ya.”

By 9 p.m.,the goodbyes had been said, and all of the plaques were presented.

Then the crowd gathered in for a group photo op, one last time to bid Jill adieu

But later that night after all had a chance to gift her, some still hummed that song by the Drifters.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

There are some who will say the park would be here today if more sand had been thrown on the shoreline.

Some blocks split up, and others capsized, and floated away in the water

And all that remains is the berms and trap bags and a couple of dunes out in Arverne.

 

Jamaica Bay Shoreline (c) Vivian R. Carter 2009

Jamaica Bay Shoreline (c) Vivian R. Carter 2009

Long Island Sound rolls, and Oyster Bay sings in the rooms of her salt-water mansions

Jamaica Bay steams like a young man’s dreams, her islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below, Breezy Inlet takes in what the Atlantic sends her

And the tourists will go, as the locals all know with the storms of the autumn remembered.

Copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter

Copyright 2012 Vivian R. Carter

In the K of C hall in Holland they prayed, and over at St. Rose of Lima,

The sirens rang long for each wind-whipped wave, for each piece of the Rockaway Boardwalk.

The legend lives on from the surfers on down of the ocean they call the Atlantic

The ocean, it’s said, never gives up her dead, ‘til the boardwalk planks start returning.

Header photo, song parody and text of posting, copyright 2015 Vivian R. Carter.  All other photos copyrighted as noted above.

Posted in Business and Economics, Local Government-Rockaway Peninsula & Broad Channel, New York City Government, The Built World, The World of Human Beings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Times Gone By — Tribute to a New Year’s Baby of 1931

Martin F. Rattay, May 1981.

Martin F. Rattay, May 1981.

The year 2015 will arrive in about 6 hours–my first year without a Dad. Martin Frank Rattay was a New Year’s baby, so the traditional singing of Auld Lang Syne (or “Times Gone By”) will forever make me think of Dad on this day.

Dad was a poet, a nature-lover, and often, a sadly misunderstood man.  He usually saw the half-empty part of the glass, a trait we shared.  In 1970, he wrote a poem that was decades ahead of its time, foreshadowing the climate crisis and the growing gulf between rich and poor Americans.   I call it “The Reckoning,” and publish it at the conclusion of this post, as a tribute to his 83-year life, which ended on August 22, 2014.

Achieving his rest was a tough battle.  Dad inevitably gave in to his adversary, Parkinson’s Disease.  In fact, he departed many months before his actual death.  I can place the last moment he was alive for me, to summer 2013, when he summoned the biggest sound I had heard come out of him in ages, loudly and distinctly correcting my pronunciation of  “pileated” woodpecker as I stood by his bed showing him magazine photos of birds and reading the captions aloud.  That was Dad—always trying to improve on things and impart knowledge.  Whether you wanted it or not.

The Pennsylvania homestead.

The Pennsylvania homestead.

He achieved almost everything he set out to do.  Every home renovation plan was laid out years in advance, and methodically checked off on his bucket list. From building a three-car garage, a sun room, and a screened porch, to covering the house with a brick facade.

He had no patience for dawdlers, even at the end of his life.  Once, as I hesitated by his hospital bedside about to depart, he amused everyone present by loudly announcing:  “if you’re going, ‘git’ going!”  That was classic Dad.

20140816_165011On what would have been his 84th birthday, I give thanks for all that he gave to me.

Thanks for the great poems I will always hold in my heart.

Thanks for making me hand-crafted cherry book-ends from a tree in our Pennsylvania yard, which will always be a reminder of our mutual love of nature and reading.

It may be sickly, but it survives and produced a couple dozen apples in 2014.

It may be sickly, but it survives and produced a couple dozen apples in 2014.

Thanks for saving the apple tree in my yard in Rockaway.  I always think of it as my little piece of home away from home.  As long as it lives, it will be “Grandpa ‘Tay’s tree.”

The whole family, 1974

The whole family, 1974

Thanks for your pushing, prodding, and pride in all my ventures.

I will miss you, now and always, Dad.

Text and photos above copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter,  The Reckoning, copyright 1970 Martin F. Rattay, last photo copyright 2008 Vivian R. Carter.

The Reckoning

What is this force that drives a man, to heave destruction on the land?
To spew his acids in the streams
And with one thoughtless lapse of mind, ruin the future of all mankind.

In the air we send the ash, dirty soot and noxious gas.
Turnpikes, freeways, bridges and such, were meant to serve the mass of us.
Speeds fantastic do impress, but we could do without the rest.
Loss of land and water siltation could mean the end of this mighty nation.
Snap top cans on every side. Strew the byways nationwide.
No more fly the delicate birds, they’ve given up to the destruction lords.
Garbage, litter, trash and such are the result of all of us.
Timber, coal, gas and oil; to the victors go the spoil.

Spineless leaders, gutless men; vie with each other for the pen.
Useless laws we have amassed; unenforced though they have passed.
Forgotten are the nation’s goals—broken spirits, hopeless souls.
Starving people and amassed wealth cannot help the nation’s health.
Contradictions on every side, oh my God, where can we hide?
It’s the devil in us all, carries us high, then lets us fall.

Let’s all be our brother’s keeper; for a meaning — richer, deeper.
Redirect our nation’s strengths, patch the wounds and mend the fence.
If he’s hungry, you must feed him, if he’s unloved, you must need him.
Pamper, educate, prod or reason, do what you must at this season.
Once again the nation would be united, and noone could ever hide it.

Share with all the true good life; and no longer will there be strife.
Then stand tall and with the nation – fill your lungs – without hesitation,
Walk ‘neath skies of deep blue, drink from crystal waters, too.
Lush green foliage, peace and quiet, if just once we would try it.
It could not but help succeed, for the nation has the need.

Martin F. Rattay

Youghiogheny River at Connellsville, PA, not far from Dad's birthplace.

Youghiogheny River at Connellsville, PA, not far from Dad’s birthplace.

 

 

 

Posted in Air, Philosophy, Religion and Philanthropy, Planet Earth, The Land We Share, The World of Human Beings, Water and waterways | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

2015–Year of the Taco–Again?

Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge viewed from Roosevelt Island.

Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge viewed from Roosevelt Island.

I guess you could say it started with that bridge, which connected the borough of Queens to the island of Manhattan and points west in 1909. The zenith was reached last week, when the world’s largest travel guide publisher, Lonely Planet, released its 2015 recommendations, naming Queens (and “worth a detour” Rockaway Beach), as the number one tourist destination in the U.S.  Not just AMONG the top destinations, as you might think if you had only read the N.Y. City Parks Twitter feed. THE number one place.

Yahoo headlined with: “From the Experts—10 Must See Destinations in 2015.” Their post featured a stunning photo of the deck at Thai Rock, facing the Cross Bay Bridge and a picturesque Rockaway sunset. Unfortunately, the LP guide (and the “Local Knowledge” box) mentions only one seasonal eatery on the Rock, leaving out Thai Rock and other choices for good dining and views.

As in the past six years, for the herds of Rockaway visitors, it’s all about the taco.  Perhaps someone wants tourists to think they’ll be on that deck overlooking the bay, with the taco. Instead, you are usually standing in line on a sidewalk for over an hour just to hold that yummy little tidbit in in your hand.  If you are lucky enough to get a seat, it’s on a barrel with the thing in your lap.  Don’t get me wrong, food stands and food trucks are delightful and kitschy. But can we go beyond the taco, for a change, and support the local businesses that endure, year round, to serve everyone in the community, as well as summer tourists?

Dining Room at the magical bay-front venue, Thai Rock. Copyright 2011 Robert F. Carter

Dining Room at the magical bay-front venue, Thai Rock. Copyright 2011 Robert F. Carter

Is it possible for a visitor to actually experience the unique vibe throughout the 80-some neighborhoods of Queens?  Does the appeal of Queens go beyond the diverse, inexpensive ethnic foods to be had? Can you explain to a tourist why many Queens residents, unlike those in nearby Brooklyn, prefer to live in a place that has so many unique neighborhoods?

Although their reviewers like the food in Queens, LP recommended mostly Manhattan hotels, concluding that the “prevailing industrial setting” in Queens makes it far less charming than Manhattan and Brooklyn. Quite a broad generalization to make about what is, in terms of geographic area, the city’s largest borough, and second-largest in population.  If you only have a day trip, and spend most of it seeking out food, you will come away with a less than complete introduction to Queens.

Peach tree, Ozone Park, summer 2014

Peach tree, Ozone Park, summer 2014

Before it opened its gaping arms to millions of immigrants and developers, the Queens mainland was once sparsely populated by the operators of farms and small businesses, who served up fresh produce and other goods to Brooklyn, Manhattan, and points beyond, long before the hipsters arrived and started planting lettuce on the roofs in Williamsburg. From Flushing to Ozone Park and the Rockaways, fruit trees still abound due to our mild night-time winter temperatures along the ocean and bays. Trees bearing persimmons, peaches, pears and apples thrive in our gardens. If they can ever get to light and water, amidst all the development.

Persimmon tree, Flushing, summer 2014.

Persimmon tree, Flushing, summer 2014.

Speaking of development, it’s been wildly overdone in Flushing, in my opinion. Important historic sites like the Quaker Meeting House and the John Bowne House are surrounded by some of the tackiest buildings imaginable.  It would be a tragedy to completely obscure these physical remnants of the early colonial community and the Flushing Remonstrance, one of the key chapters in the fight for religious tolerance in pre-revolutionary America.

Lonely Planet advised tourists interested in Queens to hop on the ferry from midtown Manhattan to Long Island City. That ferry, coupled with the subway, can get you to a huge swath of the borough, including Astoria, Corona, Flushing, Forest Hills and Jamaica (both of which were completely ignored in the guide). But those train lines won’t get you to Rockaway Beach, JFK Airport, the rest of Southeast Queens, or to the glitzy, hugely popular, Resorts World International Casino.  For that, wait a decade or so, and maybe the powers that be will make an intelligent decision to restore the old Rockaway Beach train line, which would reunite the entire borough, linking Rockaway to Rego Park. Just a thought…

Egret in Broad Channel home, summer 2014.

Egret in Broad Channel home, summer 2014.

If you decide to come to Southeastern Queens and stay a bit, you could book an overnight rental in a Broad Channel home that sits directly on Jamaica Bay, where an egret might walk in the door looking for a meal. Then, you’d understand the appeal of Queens a bit better.  You’d be even more surprised to learn that Broad Channel and Rockaway Beach, which adjoin each other and share a zip code, are vastly different neighborhoods.   Both have rich and interesting histories of colorful bootleggers and prohibitionists, and in its heyday, the world came to Rockaway Beach for fun.   Rentals in private oceanside homes are available, on occasion.  Come, and stay for a walking tour of the area, which will be offered at this webpage in the spring of 2015.

Last Flight of the Concorde, Oct. 24, 2003 (c) Vivian R. Carter 2003

Last Flight of the Concorde, Oct. 24, 2003 (c) Vivian R. Carter 2003

If your flight is out of JFK and you’d like to visit the beach and sample Resorts World, there are many hotels near the airport.  That would give you a taste of “plane spotting,” touted by LP’s local knowledge expert.  In my opinion, plane spotting is only amusing in movies.  When you are trying to sleep or have a conversation in your home, being awakened or interrupted by plane noise is not charming. Yet, with public transit to Rockaway often taking two hours each way outside of weekday rush hours, your transit time and taco wait can eat up a good part of a day trip.  So overnight lodging is a good idea, if you can afford it.

My guess is that well-informed tourists short of time or money will head for Flushing, which the LP Guide touted as “Chinatown without the tourists.”  Not quite true, since many NYC tourists hail from Asian countries, not just Ohio and Pennsylvania.  But thank you anyway, LP, for letting the world in on this closely held, local secret. My daughter’s favorite Korean eatery, Kimganae on Union Street, is populated almost exclusively by Asian locals. The entire New World Mall food court, on Roosevelt Avenue, with over 60 vendors, where we grabbed some good, cheap, authentic Asian food on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, had exactly two Caucasian diners that day among the hundreds we observed.  Next year, the tour buses will arrive, the place will get even more crowded, and sooner or later, someone from Iowa will ask:  Is there a McDonald’s in here?

Text and photos copyright Vivian R. Carter 2014, unless otherwise noted in captions.

Posted in Business and Economics, Jamaica Bay, The Arts and Entertainment, The Built World, The Land We Share | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Long-time Brooklynite Scores U.S. Attorney General Nod

Late on Friday, November 7, CNN announced that the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, had been tapped by the White House to serve as the new Attorney General of the United States.   By noon on Saturday, President Barack Obama had formally nominated Lynch at a Roosevelt Room press conference.  To be frank, she is not much of a partisan, and did not have the inside track to the job, prior to the mid-term elections.  But by November 5, it seems that ‘non-partisan’ had become a key qualification for the A.G. candidate, and Lynch was at the top of the list.

After the news leaked out on Friday, praise began pouring in for this classy, fearless, capable, yet unassuming woman who has toiled mightily for years to ensure justice for the people of Queens, Long Island, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.  She received a standing ovation at the press conference.  As the President noted, she “might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists, and still has the reputation for being a charming ‘people person.'”

Friends and colleagues congratulate Loretta (in white dress) after her 2010 installation as U.S. Attorney.

Friends and colleagues congratulate Loretta (in white dress) after her 2010 installation as U.S. Attorney.

Obama thanked Loretta’s family for agreeing to share her with the people of the United States a bit longer.  The residents of the outer boroughs she served so well (and where she lived for decades) will miss her presence, as well.  I was privileged to work at the same law firm with Loretta in the late 1980’s, and we have remained friends ever since.  With fierce dedication to her brilliant career, she put marriage and children on the back burner for a really long time.  The rest of us had spouses and children; Loretta was a big law firm partner and Federal Reserve Board member, instead.  Eventually, she did wed Steve Hargrove, when she was well past the age of forty, and now enjoys being stepmother to his two grown children.

BlackHistoryMonthposterTen years ago, after Loretta had completed her first stint as U.S. Attorney during the Clinton administration and was a busy law firm partner, she graciously agreed to be the subject of my daughter’s third-grade Black history month poster.  Selection for the “African American Achievers’ Hall of Fame” on a bulletin board at PS 114 in Belle Harbor was just one small honor along the way, for a woman who has never sought the limelight. In fact, she is so low-key and non-political that when the Presidential election debates were held at Hofstra Law School in Hempstead, Long Island in fall 2012, two years into her second term sitting as U.S. Attorney, she did not even appear on the podium, or near the front, as you’d expect of a dignitary.  Instead, she sat in the upper tier of seats.  Quite a statement about her humility.

If she is confirmed by the Senate, Lynch will take her place in history as the first African-American woman ever to head the U.S. Department of Justice.  She stated at the press conference that it is the only cabinet department named for an ideal.  Obama summed up the ideal of justice quite eloquently as “whether we can make an honest living, whether we can provide for our families, whether we feel safe in our communities and welcome in our own country.”  Our first president said: “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.”

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Feeling safe in our communities? Lynch has done far more for Long Island and the three outer boroughs she serves than many people realize. We have a healthy share of corrupt politicians in these parts, and Loretta Lynch went after them all, regardless of their party, including Pedro Espada and Michael Grimm.  Drug gangs are sadly, endemic to Rockaway–she shut many of those down, too.  Until her office came in to investigate and prosecute, one group of dealers was ensconced for years on the very block of Beach 87th Street in Rockaway Beach that is now home to the Rockaway Beach Surf Club.  Just three years ago, a walk down that block was a slightly scary proposition.  Today the hipsters can wander safely from beach to bay along that stretch, thanks in part to the federal prosecutors of the Eastern District.

I often think back to summer 2012–remember the cache of weapons and explosives found in a garage in Rockaway Park, and the string of three bank robberies at the spanking-new Arverne Chase Manhattan bank branch? The Eastern District prosecutors sent all of those characters to jail, as well.  Just days before Superstorm Sandy, I sent an email to Loretta complimenting her but expressing concern that she and her staff must be seriously sleep-deprived, having accomplished so much in such a short period of time.

Loretta’s extraordinary intelligence, sensitivity, and poise will serve her well in this position.  Her tireless work to insure justice for the people of New York always fills me with pride and a sense of hope for the future.  I have faith that the Senate will see it the same way, when they are asked to confirm her nomination.

Justice.  What an ideal.

 

Text copyright Vivian R. Carter 2014.  Photo of courthouse (in header and within post) copyright Vivian R. Carter 2011, installation photo copyright Vivian R. Carter 2010, poster copyright Elizabeth M. Carter 2004.

 

Posted in The World of Human Beings, U.S. Government | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

People Marching (and Standing) for Something

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Central Park West near 81st Street. Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Central Park West near 81st Street. Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Well, at least you can call it a victory in this sense–410,000 people in New York City were NOT watching football on Sunday afternoon.  With apologies to my family and friends in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis–I must say, that’s something I would celebrate!

doginmarchThe People’s Climate March, which snaked slowly around the west and south sides of Central Park into midtown on September 21, 2014, was a huge success in another way.  Whatever you may have seen or heard about it, and I’m sure pundits will critique whether a clear and urgent message was sent, the march was important because there was such an outpouring of individuality and grass-roots passion in the diverse messages participants delivered.  Sure, there were a few mass-produced products, but even those were inspired.  If you came to the march without a banner, you could pick up an orange cardboard template that read “I’m marching for…” and fill in the blank.  You name it–penguins, maple syrup, polar bears, horseshoe crabs, sunrises, roseate spoonbills. People got very creative.marchpanoramaviv

Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, walks the walk every day, not just on 9/21/14...

Manna Jo Greene, Environmental Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, walks the walk every day, not just on 9/21/14…

Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 classic, “The Prophet,” advised us to “Say not, ‘I have found THE truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found A truth.'”  There was so much truth to be found in these simple, yet clever, signs and banners.  I’m including a collection of the best I was able to see while standing (and briefly, moving) with the singing participants from the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater group (we had our subgroup label as well–categorized with the nuclear-free, carbon-free contingent)!  All of us were frozen in position for more than 2 hours in front of the legendary Dakota at 72nd Street and CPW, where we observed the memorable minute of silence, which I guessed would never happen.  I was wrong.  Stunning how quiet it got at 12:59 pm, as everyone raised their hands to the sky.  Then a minute later, a cacophony of sound broke loose.  Well planned and executed.

There was some topical self-promotional flair, though not quite as grand as the Macy's balloons.  A documentary, "Cowspiracy," wanted everyone to get their message.

There was some topical self-promotional flair, though not quite as grand as the Macy’s balloons. A documentary, “Cowspiracy,” wanted everyone to get their message.

GhostbusterschurchBy 2 p.m., we were crawling slowly down CPW, so I got to savor the experience of passing 55 Central Park West, infamous Spook Central of the 1984 film, Ghostbusters.  There were police barricades and cops, just like in the movie!  It was a priceless moment for me, treading in the destructive footsteps of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and recalling that great line–“nobody steps on a church in my town!”  I may have been off-task, but my inner tour guide knew there would probably never again be a chance to photograph that classic Gotham film shoot site in broad daylight from the middle of the street.

55 Central Park West

55 Central Park West

 

Joe Wachtel, right, displays his creative and eco-friendly message on a re-useable shopping bag.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel, right, who displays his creative and eco-friendly message on a re-useable shopping bag.

My neighbor, Joe Wachtel, started in the march further uptown near Zabar’s, with the foodie contingent. He kindly agreed to share some of his photos.  Enjoy the pictures below, and don’t forget to keep conserving resources, treating the planet gently, and trying to hold politicians accountable.

Text copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter.  Photos above and below copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter, unless designated as courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel. Save the birds or the bears--your choice!

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel. Save the birds or the bears–your choice!

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Who knew?  Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Who knew? Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Match the colors of your sign and your shirt, and wear a backpack with a cool design, for maximum effect!

Match the colors of your sign and your shirt, and wear a backpack with a cool design, for maximum effect!

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

Photo courtesy of Joe Wachtel.

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Posted in Air, Business and Economics, Creatures of the Planet (Non-Human), Meet Your Fellow Man, Planet Earth, The Built World, The Land We Share, The World of Human Beings, U.S. Government, Water and waterways | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Ferry Nice World, Long Ago

Beers Rockaway Beach Map of 1886

Beers Rockaway Beach Map of 1886

I often try to imagine a world without cars, and vintage maps are helpful.  This week, I am gazing at two examples–(1) the Beers 1886 map of Central Rockaway Beach, New York and (2) a sepia drawing of Staten Island as it appeared from 1775-1783.  Both maps predate the invention of motor vehicles, and depict two neighborhoods surrounded by water, with nary a bridge in sight.

Staten Island in Revolutionary Times

Staten Island in Revolutionary Times

The largely agrarian land mass of Staten Island (about 60 square miles in area), was criss-crossed with miles of wagon roads, terminating at seven ferry landings.  Four of these would ultimately become toll bridges (the Verrazano-Narrows, Goethals, Outerbridge Crossing, and Bayonne), and one of the others continues to the present day as the island’s St. George terminal for free 24-hour ferry service to Manhattan.

 

St. George ferry terminal on Staten Island's North shore, August 2014

St. George ferry terminal on Staten Island’s North shore, August 2014

Back to Rockaway Beach.  During tourism’s heyday, this small section of the peninsula, less than 20 blocks long in the 1880s, hosted five boat landing sites with regular service–the famed Iron Pier, where large oceangoing vessels could dock at Beach 105th Street, plus bayside landings at Hammels, Holland, Seaside, and Beach 108th Street’s Neptune House. While Staten Island had vast agricultural acreage (even well into the 20th century), the spine of the narrow, 11-mile long Rockaway Peninsula was one busy thoroughfare for wagons (called “Central Boulevard” in the early days), traversed by wooden pedestrian walkways, sand paths or dirt streets, depending on the location.  At one time, train lines also ran parallel to the Boulevard, along the beach and the bay.  So there were lots of transportation options for visitors and residents, even before the advent of trolleys, cars and buses.

To this day, stately historic buildings grace the North shore of Staten Island.

To this day, stately historic buildings grace the North shore of Staten Island.

Staten Island’s farming and fishing businesses were later supplemented with several large factories during the 1900s, while Rockaway continued to thrive on tourism well into the 1950’s. Vast changes occurred in both places with the arrival of Robert Moses’ roads, bridges, parks, and housing developments.  Both communities eventually attempted to secede from the City of New York, although not at the same time.  That’s a bigger story for another day.  On this muggy day in September, as New York City seems ready to terminate regular ferry service to the Rockaway peninsula next month, I’m merely waxing nostalgic on the “ferry” nice world we have lost.

Text and photos (including header photo) copyright 2014 Vivian R. Carter. Maps from public domain sources.

Posted in Business and Economics, Jamaica Bay, New York City Government, The Built World, Water and waterways | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment