New York City has beaches. Without even going beyond city lines, you can picnic on the shore, swim in the ocean, even windsurf in the waves. Coney Island, on the southern tip of Brooklyn, can be fun. There’s Brighton Beach, the famous boardwalk, the games and carnival rides. There’s Rockaway Beach in Queens which has surfing camps and a neighborhood with shops and restaurants so suffused with the surfer culture that it seems transplanted from southern California. Even Staten Island has a beach and a boardwalk. Overlooking the Verrazano Bridge, the park has a playground, a platform for fishing, and a couple of miles of sandy shoreline.
Outside the city, in Long Island, there are more than a dozen state parks, many of them with miles of shoreline. The crown jewel among these state parks is Jones Beach, the one we’ve been going to all these summers, the one we’ve grown to love.
It’s easy to love Jones Beach. It’s near, about an hour by car from Manhattan, about thirty minutes from where we are in Queens. It’s cheap, the only fee being the ten dollars you pay to park your car. If you go by bus, it’s completely free. And it’s fun – miles of white sand for stretching out and picnicking, jumping the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the blazing sun, the fresh breeze, the happy crowd.
When we go, we go early, usually leaving the house at eight in the morning. We’re at the beach before nine, the crowd still sparse, the tide low and calm, the mood still somewhat gray and somnolent. We have breakfast at the beach, the four of us sitting on our chairs or squatting on the sand, looking out to the water, quietly munching on bagels prepared at home or breakfast sandwiches picked up from a fast food joint. Then the sun comes out, we put on sunblock, the little one plays with her buckets and shovels, the bigger one goes to the water to jump the waves, my husband lies down for a nap, and I recline on my chair with a book. More people arrive, lifeguards exchange places, seagulls wheel overhead. When we get hungry, we have lunch, sometimes ham and cheese sandwiches, sometimes rice and adobo. After lunch, we put on more sunblock, we play in the water or snooze or read some more. We usually gather our things at around three or four, rinse ourselves of the salt water and sand in the outdoor shower by the parking lot, and put on our clothes on top of wet swimsuits. We go to the concession stand and buy ice cream bars. Then, tired, happy, and sunburnt after eight hours in the sun, we leave.
When I mentioned to a friend in Manila that we go to Jones Beach several times during the summer, she told me that she could imagine me lounging on the beach and looking glamorous in big sunglasses like Jackie Kennedy. The truth, however, is a lot less fancy. Jones Beach is a public beach, not a resort. You go, you park, then you lug your stuff to the beach where you want to spread your blanket. Your comfort is solely determined by what you lug from car to beach. I wear large fashionable sunglasses when we go, but then, like an abused but still multi-tasking pack animal, I’m also carrying a folding chair on my back, a large bag with towels, books, and magazines, another bag filled with sand toys, and keeping track of two kids who, once they feel the sand between their toes, immediately want to run around, do cartwheels, search for seashells and colorful stones.
But the sand, the water, the fresh salty air are worth the trek. Sometimes I look out into the water and imagine the immensity of the ocean, of the vastness of this world. When my younger daughter asked me what was on the other side of the ocean, I said Europe, maybe the coast of England. But that answer is inaccurate because Jones Beach faces south so if you sailed straight from the beach, you’ll reach the Caribbean islands, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and beyond, the coast of Venezuela. I try to show my daughter how it all looks on a map on my phone, but she doesn’t want to contemplate the blue expanse on the phone – she’d rather play in it.
Originally posted in Letters to Narcissus.