For years I have heard the string of destination, "This is an A train to Far Rockaway/JFK Airport," crackle through crusty subway speakers or felt the disappointment of a Lefferts A rolling up to the platform, forcing me to adjust my beach commute accordingly.
JFK plays a large, if forgettable, role in the Rockaway landscape. If your itinerary is --> JFK or <-- JFK, you will likely cast your shadow on the island before your plane hits the ground. Most beach goers forget the persistent passage of planes overhead within a couple of hours, but I consider them an honorable presence. Eating family meal on the picnic benches of 96th street under a glossy black sky, I watched the perfect string of plane headlights line up along their invisible cord. One by one cleared for landing, they traced an unseeable pathway to safety. Late in that summer at Rockaway, my boyfriend and I would gloat in the ease with which we had commuted to JFK only to be put in our places as the ticketing agent informed us that our tickets were scheduled from La Guardia to Minneapolis, not JFK. Another chapter in my ongoing battle with flight details (see below). For the record, we made that flight- after a sweaty-palmed taxi to LGA- but I am no longer allowed to take charge of travel days.
The proximity of airport to beach played a huge role in my moving back to New York in 2010 and is the story of my first plane snafu. In 2009, the timer on my East Coast family appeared to be up. I followed an exodus of friends and family, spending two winters in Chicago and a memorable summer in Minneapolis, trying to find my footing back in the heartland. A year and a half after my departure, my first trip back was a week of unprecedented fun and the birth a life-altering friendship (thank you, Ms. Kuck). The day I was due to fly back to MSP, my heart was torn. I was visiting home. I was supposed to be returning home. My heart knew this city, and there were friends here! I showed up to the airport conflicted, and late. Did I mention I was flying back to make my dear friend's wedding the next day? I had arrived at the terminal not late for the flight but late for the made-up, gate-is-closed-but-I-can-still-see-my-plane check-in time.
I rebooked for a balls early the next morning. Only one flight to Minneapolis would get me there with enough time to drive to La Crosse to show up to be a bridesmaid in an important wedding. But that day? That lost day in August? Only one thing is in mind: go to the beach.
I show up at Taco. Belle and Sebastian's "A Summer Wasting" is pouring out the open front of the shack. Everything is ok. I am grateful to stash my suitcase in the house next door. Free to enter the beach unburdened. No agenda, no baggage, just a grace period with the sea. Beach happens, tacos happen, my heart says yes. Sarah is hosting a dinner that night, and we dine and make our way to another friend's going away party (she moves to Brazil but will make it back to New York again one day). That extra day, those extra hours and the ease with which I coasted from departing gate to infinite ocean sealed my future in New York. Tying together escape by sky and escape by mind. Everyone taking off.