Places Kids Play–Part Three …

 
Mary Cassatt - Children Playing on the Beach

This series would not be complete without homage to the two activities that have followed me, once since my birth, the other since fifth grade:  the beaches and bike paths of Brooklyn.

The things we did last summer, I’ll remember all winter long …

Petie removed to Long Island the summer we turned nine, I was abruptly planted into the unyielding concrete and asphault of a new neighborhood, a new apartment, and a new set of kid challenges. The one constant was my bedroom. This apartment had a long, dark hallway that led to an urban-dweller’s version of Siberia … and another closet-sized room with no door.

All things have a cycle; a beginning, a middle and an end. Today I revisit the middle, those changes that began the summer we moved from the neighborhood of Sunset Park.

What we would always call the “old neighborhood” would fade, trolleys in New York City vanish and everything in our lives turn inside itself.

Coney Island Trolley

I’ve tried so to forget, at times I do, and yet …

On the southern tip of Brooklyn, as you drive along Shore Parkway facing the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, the land curves around the penninsula that stretches out for miles and ends at Montalk Point in Long Island.

Between the first beach community of Sea Gate, to the first ocean bays of Rockaway Beach in Queens, the Brooklyn landscape is dotted with wide beaches, fishing communities, and small enclaves nestled inside safe harbors, along salt marshes or huddled inside hundreds of newly constructed co-operative buildings shadowing the boardwalk.

The memory of you lingers like our song …

Sea Gate …  is a private, gated community at the far western end of Coney Island at the southwestern tip of Brooklyn.

PICTURE OF SEA GATE

The Coney Island Boardwalk ends with one drop into the ocean, a fortified sea wall and a tall chain link fence … announcing the beginning of Sea Gate. Look but do not enter this very “private beadh” without a pass.

Although summer is when Sea Gate comes alive with people of all ages walking the streets in bathing attire, my most vivid memory of Sea Gate was not from summer, however.

It was during one violent Nor-easter that eroded this lovely little beachfront, damaged several houses … and while New Yorkers looked on in disbelief one house torn from its foundation … floated out to sea. 

Coney Island … with its three miles of wide beaches was often my family and friend’s final destination … the last stop on the Sea Beach Express. Across Surf Avenue, plant your blankets on your favorite “bay,” and enjoy fun in the sun and surf.

It also houses the most famous hot-dog stand in the country, Nathan’s, an amazing amusement park, the Seaquariam a bandshell and … Oh, yes … I can’t forget the Cyclone.

Coney Island has many of its own posts and snippets that I will revisit during another round of City Scapes.

PICTURE AND REFERENCE FOR CONEY ISLAND

Brighton Beach … the second beach community connected to the Coney Island Boardwalk was the place we had to be as teenagers.

For decades it was an exciting ethnic and cultural mix of people, shops, great deli’s, and Mom and Pop candy stores. But like everything else in our great city, change is the only constant. The delightful mixture of culture we experienced in the shops and eateries of Brighton Beach, those of our Jewish, Italian and Greek neighbors has all but vanished.

The seventies and eighties brought radical changes in housing and one pronounced change in population … renaming our lovely beach community of Brighton Beach to “Little Odessa,” from Odessa, a city of Ukraine.

As many of my Russian neighbors in Washington Heights loved to point out, Odessa should not be confused with Russia because the Ukraine was partitioned into the Soviet Union.

Photo and reference credit.

Manhattan Beach … is a residential neighborhood bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the south and east, by Sheepshead Bay on the north and Brighton Beach to the west. 

Adjacent to the beach, families could swim, put hot dogs on the “barbie” and enjoy a weekend picnic at conveniently located table and grills. 

 Traditionally known as an Italian and Ashkenazi Jewish neighborhood, it is also home to a sizable community of Separdi Jews and a large Russian Jewish immigrant population.

REFERENCE AND PHOTO OF MANHATTAN BEACH

Nothing remains the same … while all of life changes. 

Two of the most radical ethnic shifts in Brooklyn have been the influx of Russians into Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Graves End and as far adrift as Sheepshead Bay.

The other amazing change has been the thousands of Asian, mostly Chinese, that now dominate the areas of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.

My old neighborhood of Sunset Park is now known to many New York residents as Brooklyn’s China Town and the Italian, Greek, Scandinavian and Jewish shops and merchants where I shopped for my family, all replaced by Asian shops and merchants.

The things we did last summer, I’ll remember all winter long …

A little known fact about Brooklyn are our small boating and fishing communities. Happily, for those who live in the borough, a precious few of our “old neighborhoods” have survived and remain pristine examples of a lifestyle too many others have lost to the ravages of zealot housing development.

Sheepshead Bayis a lovely fishing community snuggled inside a small inlet where fishing boats take anglars out for the catch of the day, or as the case might be, take them out for a day of beer and bad jokes. Mostly the men buy what the professional fishermen catch and tell tall fish “tales” their wives choose to believe.

Photo credit

Gerritsen Beach … The last beach community in Brooklyn, before the beginning of the endless waves and boarwalks of Rockaway and Far Rockaway beaches, is the beach community of Gerritsen Beach.

Located on a peninsula in the southeastern part of Brooklyn, Gerritsen Beach nestles quietly near Marine Park’s salt marsh, in a residential area split by the Gotham Avenue Canal.

Photo credit.

Gerritsen Beach is surrounded and dissected by waterways, lush brick houses, narrow sidewalks and a beachfront at the end of Gerritsen Avenue for anglers to fish, horseback riding, for people to walk and think, a place to enjoy peace and solitude. It is one of the serene pockets of the boroughs New Yorkers keep like a secret they fear too many will discover, over develop and destroy. 

The early morning hike, the rented tandem bike …

Several neighborhoods follow the Brooklyn Narrows, under the Narrows Bridge, past the tall steeple of St. Michael’s Church, headed for  New York Harbor. They are Bath Beach, Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and Red Hook, where a new Manhattan Ferry has begun operating to alleviate subway and vehicular traffic into the city.

In each of these neighborhoods there are beautiful bike paths that wind past giant oak and flowering bushes; such as can be found in Prospect or Owl’s Head Parks.

The lunches that we used to pack …

I love fat-tire mountain bikes (also known as beach cruisers) with wide seats and a basket to carry my radio and my towel. The kind of bike that uses only foot breaks, straight handlebars and peddle power.

Thousands of other New Yorkers share my love for and obsession with bikes, and have been the driving force behind dozens of great bike paths. Unlike the hills of Northern Manhattan or the long slopes along Riverside Drive, Brooklyn offers an endless cycle of flat terrane banked by our waterways.

BIKE PATH ALONG SHORE PARKWAY

Shore Parkway Waterfront Greenway, Bay Ridge – This greenway boasts some beautiful water front cycling with impressive views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

This was my haven for more than five years, and the last place in Brooklyn I lived with my children before moving to Washington Heights in Manhattan.

It also offers beautiful parks along the whole length of the route, including pier 69 at its North end and Owls Head Park just inland from the pier. At the other end sits Bensonhurst Park with ample grass, benches and the Breakpoint Tennis Center.

The Coney Island Boardwalk … Bike along the three mile Coney Island boardwalk. Once available to bikers any time of the day or night, this is now restricted to posted times before 9am and after 6pm. What a loss !!

Photo Credit

The boardwalk at Coney Island is yet another example of the demise of better times. City Planners have battled with local community leaders against covering the wooden planks along the beach with concrete:

“Perhaps in the future, a cost effective, durable local wood will become available. But the locally harvested wood options currently under discussion do not meet the needs of the Boardwalk and are not feasible. The Parks Department’s proposed recycled plastic and concrete solution best ensures the long-term sustainability and durability of the Coney Island Boardwalk.”  Reference.

 The things we did last summer, I’ll remember all winter long …

Whether riding along the ocean front, cruising along the Brooklyn Narrows or biking in the dozens of parks, one gets a different perspective of people and nature on a bike.

It is a slower pace, a more even keel than a car or motorcycle. The sensation of wheels rolling over pedestrian sidewalks or parallel with traffic, the bumps and jumps, the views of sunsets and the bright sun of a new day are part of the delight for those who love to ride.

Leave the car keys at home and take a bike out early in the morning and watch the fog  lift off the water wake, ride out during the heat of the afternoon under the dazzling yellow-orange of the sun or roll into the purle-pinks of sunset, and commune with your natural habitat.

How about you, where do you frollic with nature?

What places are a safe haven for your kids to play?

_________________
Note: Song lyrics from: The Things We Did Last Summer. (Written by songwriters: Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. Full song lyrics.

Graphic credit.

Beginning Wednesday, July 4th and continuing for three weeks, you will be treated to three of my “authors in residence,” members of my RWA-Women’s Fiction On-line Chapter.

In alphabetical order, please be sure to join me in welcoming three talented writers; each with a unique voice and a different style: Marilyn Brant, Shelley Freydont (a/w/a Shelley Nobel), andKristina McMorris. 

I will not review their books, nor will I delved into their fascinating author bio’s. I will, of course, link to both and urge you to take time to visit with each as you meet them here in July.

These are among the dozens of writer/friends fellow group members I have had the pleasure of reading. And I can assure you, there are a dozen good reasons why you should take the time to find their books and read them.

That being said, once more I exercise the subjective view of the people and things I love about writing, reading and our writerly life here in cyber space. 

fOIS In The City

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32 Comments

Filed under City Scapes

32 responses to “Places Kids Play–Part Three …

  1. Thank you for these wonderful, detailed, vivid posts. I do not know the places you write about, but they came real for me through your words.

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  2. I hadn’t been to New York for such a long time before last summer’s RWA. You offer such vivid and tempting pictures of a city that many people find extraordinarily intimidating. It’s nice to know that I’m riding my bike (very very similar to the one you describe) along a greenbelt while another woman might be doing the same even in NYC. I suspect they might not run into cougar, deer, fox, badgers, rattlesnakes as often the locals here might. Where some moms might yell ‘don’t talk to strangers’ as their kids run out the door, my friends would say ‘don’t forget your bear spray’ and the adage ‘bigger than a cougar and smaller than a bear’. This was always my grandpa’s advice – don’t run from either, but curl down small in the face of a bear and make yourself bigger for the cats. How’s that for a weird Idaho tidbit? ;-)

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    • I’d love to know more about your “greenbelt,” Liz. The advantage of this venue is that we can talk about all the things we love and then hear of other places.

      I guess NYC must be intimidating to many, but take the most hardened New Yorker away from the noise, polution and our own brand of “wild life,” and we might shrink … cougar deer and rattlesnakes … Oh my!! I love that you guys have bear spray while we use pepper spray … and our grandfathers might have issued a vastly different warning … Love you Idaho tibits :)

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  3. christicorbett

    As I read this lovely post, I listened to the pouring rain and my twins scrabbling through the house, trying to find something to do. I only wish I could bring them to all the places you’ve described here! What great summertimes you must have had growing up with New York as your playground.

    Fantastic post.

    Christi Corbett

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    • Christi, you might have the better of our worlds with twins scrabbling and wide open spaces … only one traffic light and a different world to explore :) In a better time we might exchange sights in person … thanks for enjoying my city and bringing me to your peaceful hamlet !!

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  4. Wow, the way you describe your home state and the places and people is way better than reading any Chamber of Commerce booklet. The pictures are telling and I love the fact that it’s so multi-cultural. It would be interesting to find out why neighborhoods changed and why different cultures migrated to those neighborhoods.
    Patti

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    • Patti, we like to think that our love for Brooklyn and all things NY is vastly different than brochures and beaurocrats.

      The reason for the changes in migration is easy … people generate to the best and many of the South Brooklyn communities are without rivals for scenic beauty. Maybe one of these days I’ll do a piece on the effects of “regentrification” on our city. Thanks for enjoying the series :)

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  5. Wow, Florence, my heart was pounding with excitement as I followed your travels. Some of my most vivid images of New York and Coney Island come from the movie The Warriors (the original, made back in the ’70’s I think). It was a thrill ride as the gang traversed the city in an attempt to get home to safety. This movie really sparked my interest in visiting your lovely city and although I probably wouldn’t see the places the characters in the movie took me to, their destination of Coney Island has remained in my mind since.

    As well, there was a movie or two centered around Brighton Beach. Although I can’t remember the names of the movies, I recall the beauty of the scenery. I’m so sad they renamed the beach!

    I foretell that at the next RWA conference in NY, you’re going to be one busy tour guide. :) Thanks for today’s lovely tour!

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    • You are gracious, Sheila. One of my favorite rants since the Vietnam era has been the difference between the New York most of our eight million love and the New York depicted in movies. There are issues in many of our urban areas and the beach communities have seen their share of problems … but the distortion of “Hollywood” comes over more like a B movie … all affect and no substance.

      The reaction of so many of you has convinced me … when I return to my City Scapes series in August, I will do more about what happens in places like Northern Manhattan, Williamsburg and a host of other neighborhoods when Yuppies come to town :)

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  6. What a lovely post. Lovely writing, lovely sentiments and great pictures and photos (I love that Mary Cassat!) Thanks for providing an oasis of beauty and calm in a hectic day. How to Be a Writer in the E-Age went live this morning. (It’s now available in ebook on Amazon.) I’m frantically proofing galleys for the print book now. But thanks for reminding me there’s a summer out there and that summers can be calm and sweet and safe..

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    • Yes Anne, Mary Cassat was a great find! Whoot that you are frantic over galleys … isn’t that a kick in the e-bum. You said once that the prime importance with any blog is to find your center. Mine is not to enlighten young writers, nor to explore the “how to” of our world … there are others who do that much better … yourself among them …

      I made my center the heart of New York. It ain’t just a song gals … if you can make it there … you can make it anywhere … even this once removed “at large” blogger :)

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  7. How long does it take to read your blog? An hour? Moe? Because I realized as I was reading, that even though I knew where Coney Island and Brighton Beach were, I was vague on Bath Bay, so I had to Google it. Then I had to look at some old photos of Coney Island. I’ve only been there briefly since they’ve done some fixing up, and swore I was going to go back soon. That was the beginning of last summer. I didn’t make it. Thanks for reminding me, because summer is a third over almost. And Sheepshead Bay , the food. I even looked out my front door to my bike, stored in the hall. Hmm . . ..
    Thanks for that little bit of serenity.

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    • Shelley, a complete history of just Coney Island from the 1800’s and the Vanderbuilts and their ilk travels through the landscape like our famous roller coaster. The high thrills and the sudden dips. Each transition brings new people and sights but you can’t remove the Parachute, the Wonder Wheel or the Cyclone and you can’t change the beauty of the wide beaches.

      And Sheepshead Bay has the best seafood second to none and equal to City Island. I’m glad you enjoyed my small bit of serenity :)

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  8. How beautiful! I love all the photos! I’ve always wanted to visit Coney island – more right now!!! And the Gerritsen Beach area just looks lovely. Thanks for sharing these memories!

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    • Thanks, Meredith … the secondary fun of these posts is exploring the thousands of images, graphics and photos available in cyber space.

      I trust the residents of Gerritsen Beach don’t send me mail … since their community is truly one of the best kept secrets in New York :)

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  9. I’m really enjoying this series, Florence! The only New York I know is from the various corporations I’ve worked at that have their corporate headquarters downtown. How refreshing to see the rest of the city.

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    • Glad I could take you to a better New York, Debra. No offense to corporate America but they are not even the “tip” of our great city. The purpose of this blog, in particular this series, is to introduce whoever reads me to the real New York … the one movies and TV or big business can never really duplicate :)

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  10. I haven’t been to New York… yet, but there are names that instantly bring the Big Apple to mind. Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Broadway, and of course, Coney Island.

    So cool to experience thru your words and memories than Hollywood interpretation. Thanks, Florence.

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    • Sherry, just think … if we meet at the next RWA Nationals in NYC we can do all three of those plus a few extra sights :)

      Thanks, I’m glad to show people the part of NYC many movies do not show. Well … let us not forget Woodey Allen :)

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  11. I feel like I’m homesick for New York now and I’ve only visited twice! Great stuff . . . as always. A safehaven for my kids is our Cape Coral Yacht Club Beach. I loved spending my childhood summers in the small town of Grand Haven, Michigan off Lake Michigan, Coast Guard City, USA . . . it was the inspiration for the setting of my debut novel:)

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    • Hi Jamie … thank you so much for enjoying my series.

      Is Cape Coral just south of Punta Gorda? I have traveled up the west coat as far as Clearwater … great places to raise kids for sure. Your home town sounds interesting … and I await your first novel :)

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  12. Another wonderful visit to the city where you made so many great memories–charming and playful all rolled into one great package. I’ve learned now that before I start reading your blog, I’d best make myself an iced latte – I savor your blog along with the coffee.

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    • Ah, Sheri … you are too kind. I do enjoy weaving these snippets of my city … The next time, we’ll sit and have a iced latte together.

      BTW there are few words for how much I savor your book reviews :)

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  13. I so want to visit all these places. I especially want to see the Coney Island Boardwalk. In AR, we have lots of outdoors activities. There are great state parks, mountains, and lakes. We make several trips during the summer to the local lakes for boating. It’s only an hour away from my house.

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    • Brinda, I would recommend a short trip to Brooklyn if you get to NYC … the Coney Island boardwalk is currently going through another transition which we all hope will make it even better … only time will tell.

      Isn’t it wonderful to have so much of nature in your life? I think it keeps us all younger, longer :)

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  14. pk hrezo

    Felt just like I was there! I’d love to bike those paths. I know there’s another side to NY that I’ve yet to discover. Thanks for sharing your memories. And have a wonderful time at your workshop! It sounds great! And of course, enjoy your 4th! ((hugs))

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    • Thanks, PK … I would love to show you all the great places people never see when they visit New York. And yes, there are many sides to NY to enjoy. Have a safe and happy Fourth !! xoxo to you :)

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  15. I loved this walk through places. The pictures and your writing were both very picturesque.

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