The summer had proceeded in fits of frantic museum-going, a wave of free concerts, an amnesia of happy hours and frequent, aleatoric pairings of books with parks. It had been wonderful, and it had passed in the blink of a sweaty eyelid.
I realise now that there was no possible way to have a completely satisfactory summer in New York. No matter how energetic one was, there were too many things to do and see, dispersed over too many boroughs (are five really necessary?). If you caught more of the free shows, you saw less movies in the many parks. If you picnicked through the morning you missed brunch (I know – terrible). If you ventured into deepest, darkest Brooklyn, you were not exploring Queens. And if you spent the whole summer delighting in the city, you totally missed the mysterious world of ‘Upstate’, and parts beyond.
August arrived and I had not seen a single beach. I knew the New York beaches would be pretty shitty – and if I ever let this knowledge slip my mind, there was the Californian legion to remind me – but epic public transport pilgrimages to mediocre beaches are a major, seasonal institution in the city. I needed to join the throng.
No self-respecting Brooklyn adoptee would consider the journey across multiple rivers and Manhattan just to reach the beaches of Jersey. It had to be the beaches of Long Island. And for the discerning Brooklyn hipster, this year it had to be Fort Tilden.
I’d been hearing about Fort Tilden all summer. By city beach standards, Fort Tilden was about as undiscovered, unspoiled and under-the-radar as it got. Still, the New York Times had done multiple pieces on it, and an hourly weekend shuttle service from Williamsburg had started up to counter the complexities of reaching the beach by public transport.
Given my confused anthropologist, who’s-the-subject-here relationship with New York hipsters, I figured I at least needed to see the place. But time was running out: the outdoor cinemas were packing away their screens one by one, the festivals were slowing down, and students were flooding back to the city.
On the last weekend of summer, having given up on mustering my own hip beach posse, I took the A train out to the end of the line. Then switched to the S train and took that to the end of the line. Then jumped on my bike and headed vaguely westward.
It was a day of sweltering sun. It was not a great day to realise that my bike couldn’t really shift gears without losing its chain, or that its crank was a warped. I missed the quiet ride through pretty suburban streets and ended up on the main road along the peninsula. None of that mattered. Fort Tilden or bust.
Out past abandoned shacks and overgrown concrete bunkers, along a sandy track through the scrub, and eventually to the very, very end of the line.
And finally, there was the beach. A paradise of semi-clandestine drinking and awkward tattoos and exposed boobs (which are only about a half-areola different from the side-boobs in your average Williamsburg dive). Sarongs and bandanas had been tied to stakes of driftwood to make DIY (i.e. ineffectual) shelters from the sun. Footballs fizzed along the shore. The occasional patrol coughed along the beach, while light planes puttered low across the sky, dragging incongruous advertising banners after them. The closest thing to a beach paradise you can get, without leaving the five boroughs.
I cracked a furtive Foster’s. I cheersed the end of summer; I drank to destiny. I wrapped the can in paper and hid it from the sour-faced patrols, who were missing all the fun.