For me, summer has never meant sand and sun and postcard memories at some exotic shoreline. I grew up on the coast of the Southeastern United States, where swimming in October is not uncommon. Summer sun and the sweaty bodies it brings have driven me indoors in past summers, where cool air envelops me and sweat is a distant threat.
But this summer, the sea called to me. The beach offered respite from New York’s skyscrapers and the constant buzz of traffic. It doesn’t hurt that the city’s beaches have a lot of personality. From Coney to Brighton to Rockaway, New York’s beaches are distinctly different.
Far Rockaway is in Queens, but it feels like a world away. It’s already 4 o’clock when I arrive, and the lifeguard at beach 116 is ready to leave.
Blue-gray skies heavy with the promise of rain ensure that the beach is mine. Cool air wraps around me. I won’t be removing my sweatshirt today.
Near the 98th Street subway station, a block of restaurants and bars stand out among the rows of run-down beach houses. As evening approaches, twenty-something hipsters line up for New York favorites like Bolivian Llama Party and Playland Motel. A block away, the popular Rockaway Taco is serving up fish tacos that satisfy both young Brooklynites and locals. With just a few tables and benches, the taco shop is hardly more than a food stand.
Rockaway Taco’s chalkboard menu offers a number of different tacos and sides, but according to the internet, there is really only one option: the fish taco, add guacamole. Greasy pieces of fried fish slip out of two corn tortillas as I hungrily devour the taco. The guacamole, tart and complex, is the best part. But even crunchy slices of radish and a squeeze of lime can’t save the lackluster fish. My drink of choice, a giant cup of pineapple mint juice, is much more well-executed. Bits of mint swim in the pulpy drink, which is surprisingly refreshing on this cool August day. As I gulp the rest of the taco down, I can’t help but wish that the salty sea air would impart some flavor to the dish.