Fence cling

A: Howard Beach/JFK, Queens

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Subway Stop

Damaso and I were both in town at the same time, which is a lot rarer since he moved to Barcelona and I took a touring job. I’m almost caught up posting the … hang on. My spell check has a squiggly green line under “rarer.” When I hover over the word, it says, “Non-standard word (consider revising).” Really? Is it “more rare”? Dictionary.com supports my usage, but now I am completely distracted realizing that I don’t remember the rules for forming comparative and superlative forms. Doesn’t it have something to do with the number of syllables in the root?

Maybe I should start over.

Maybe I should give up this project. I’ve posted all but three of the trips we took last year, and my fantasies for The End of the Line are dashed. This won’t be a book. Nobody will pay me to ride subways and eat food in other cities. Heck, it turns out I don’t even write about food the way I thought I would. But you know what? I like taking subways with Damaso, I like exploring the city, and I love slavish devotion to meaningless tasks, so I keep on.

I was still on the road when I realized from Facebook that Damaso was home, so we started making plans to meet up. I wanted to go to the Bronx because I had time and we’d only done one visit there. He wanted to go to Brooklyn because he was staying there. Not off to a great start, but then he heard that the A train was resuming service to the Rockaways for the first time since Hurricane Sandy in October, so we decided to go there.

Exterminator flyer

Someone leaned around a man to hand me this flyer at Broadway Junction. I’m feeling so open to new possibilities that I actually considered it for half a second.

We met on the A platform at Broadway Junction, where we realized the A forks into three lines in that direction. We decided to take whichever Rockaway train came first: Rockaway Park Beach or Far Rockaway. Only the train that showed up said Howard Beach/JFK, which wasn’t even an option on the map. Confused, we got on anyway, figuring we could take it a few stops and transfer if necessary, but when we got to Howard Beach, we were dumped out and told we could only continue via shuttle bus. Turns out our information was wrong, or at least premature; regular service was not being reinstated for another week, so we’d lucked into a temporary line end. While we were disappointed not to make it to the hard-hit Rockaways, we were eager to explore Howard Beach.

Howard Beach/JFK


Last stop

Well, I was. Damaso had some other ideas. Should we take a shuttle bus to the beach? Should we eat at the airport? Does the AirTrain to JFK count as a “line” for this project? No, no, no! I’m hungry!

Across from the temporary terminus, the Rail Bar & Grille [sic] beckoned. We’re both suckers for anything whose name evokes the project mission, but we’ve also discovered that “& Grill” doesn’t actually mean anything. In fact, I think we have yet to find an “& Grill” that served food, and this one doesn’t either. Well, they did. Turns out Hurricane Sandy knocked the whole establishment out of business. The bar has just re-opened, but the owners haven’t finished fixing the kitchen and restaurant, so those are still closed indefinitely.

On the same block facing the station are two fast-food joints, pizza and Chinese. As Damaso says, “maybe the food at the end of the line isn’t very good.” Instead of eating fast food, we set out to explore. One problem with the original concept (eat at the first place I see) is that after taking a subway for an hour or more to some exotic area, we always want to explore. I suppose we could eat first and then walk around, but what if we miss a great restaurant?

After that first block, the neighborhood is entirely residential. We walk until we spot five fire fighters on a cross street’s sidewalk. Damaso says, “Let’s ask them. Fire fighters always know the best places to eat.” He has previously declared this to be true of transit workers and police officers. He might be right, but I can’t imagine he has actual data on the subject. Who cares? It’s a good excuse to chat with some locals … some locals in uniform.

The fire fighters eye us warily as we approach and none immediately answer the question. Finally they suggest Bruno’s Ristorante, a 10-minute walk at Cross Bay Boulevard. They’re confused that we’re in the middle of a residential neighborhood with no car and ask what they’re doing. We make a deal to tell them if they tell us why five of them are standing on the sidewalk. Turns out they’re doing a building inspection. They won’t tell us whether it passed.

We circle back to the Rail Bar & Grille, pizza place, and Chinese storefront but can’t face them and head out to Cross Bay Boulevard. As we walk, we pass stone cherubs on several front gates and painted stars on several utility poles. The stars bear messages including “Hope” and “Love.”



The heart


A boy wearing a Spiderman shirt is sitting on a front stoop with an old man. I say, “Hi Spiderman” as we pass. I hear him whispering to the man, and then the kid shouts back, “I’m not Spiderman!” I tell him I was confused by his shirt, and he tries to explain to me that he’s just a kid. The man is amused; the kid is sincere.

Finally we make it to Cross Bay Boulevard, a large commercial thoroughfare. I ask whether we should look up Bruno’s on our magic phones, but Damaso says that’s cheating. At first I object that the whole thing is cheating since we didn’t go to the first place we saw, but Damaso points out that we never do, and somehow I agree—looking around isn’t cheating but looking things up is. Anyway, expensive Italian feels all wrong, so I’d rather find something else.

Sugar Bun

Sugar Bun window

A treasured food establishment

We pick a direction randomly (right) and settle on the Sugar Bun Bakery, where we linger at the counter trying to decide what to order by spying on everyone else’s food. The clientele are eating small sandwiches and salads. Everyone’s food looks delicious, but nothing on the menus above the counter appeals, so I guess what one diner’s sandwich is and order a whitefish salad sandwich on an onion roll (they don’t have everything bagels). Besides, whitefish seems slightly more exotic than tuna or egg salad, and when the sandwich arrives, I’m right. It’s oily, salty, and much fishier than tuna. The sandwich melts into the onion roll, which is mushier than a bagel. These several minor differences raise my satisfaction with the relatively boring meal. It also comes with cole slaw and a half pickle. The cole slaw is crunchy; unfortunately the pickle isn’t.

Damaso, who has taken up running and lost a ton of weight since I’ve last seen him, orders an avocado salad and a strawberry-banana smoothie. I’m nervous because he’s ordered avocado salads before and then been disappointed to get just a plate of avocados, but this time the avocados are spread on a large bed of romaine and other vegetables. He complains though that the romaine is lifeless and the salad boring. The romaine looks fine and fresh. He asks for more dressing, and I suggest salt. The combination of add-ons brings his meal up to, as he says, acceptable.

Interior art

Whitefish on onion roll

Whitefish interior

Avocado salad

The restaurant’s other patrons are older and look Jewish (do gentiles eat whitefish salad on onion rolls?). The seating section is airy and bright but filled with fake stuff as decoration: fake plants and presents line the top of the room, and window frames with mirrors in them hang on the walls instead of pictures. Before we leave, I ask whether they give refills on iced tea. The woman behind the counter tells me they don’t give refills and then promptly takes my cup and refills it. It’s in a take-out cup anyway.  As we walk back to the subway, we see statues of the Virgin Mary and other Catholic iconography. That might mean it’s a Catholic neighborhood, or it might mean Jews, atheists, and others don’t put out as many lawn ornaments. Come to think of it, what would be the Jewish outdoor decoration equivalent of a crèche or a Mary?


Arrow end



When we return to the train station, we notice how many of the other passengers have luggage, presumably on their way to or from the airport. The station overlooks a field in which we can see an abandoned rowboat and a pair of swans nesting, not an image I’d associate with the big city, but that’s the joy that keeps me doing this (because it sure isn’t the food!): finding such an unexpected range of New York City.

Fence cling

Photographs by Damaso Reyes (except exterminator flyer from my phone)

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