It is early July, and even at my 145 th street stop the A train is packed with beachgoers: girls in high waisted shorts, their bikini top ties showing above the straps of their tank tops; guys in board- shorts and bro tanks toting coolers of PBR and Stella. The train’s spring break vibes only worsen as we rumble into Times Square—nearly everyone seems tan and happy (is this LA?).
A few investment bankers stand awkwardly amongst the drunken beach- goers. Their leather suitcases bump against woven tote bags; their stiff shoes trample exposed toes; their dark trousers brush bare legs.
By the time the train crosses over the marshlands—great planes of high water and thin green stems swaying back and forth as the train passes, shingled houses lining the water’s edge, looking like remnants of a desolate fisherman’s town—I am pressed between two frat boys blasting rap. They reek of cheap beer and sweat. The sunlight glints on the water and the metal bolts of the wooden track ahead.
At the Broad Channel station there is a moment of confusion where nearly all the beachgoers exit the train searching for the shuttle. An MTA employee walks along the platform herding us back in, “The A is making shuttle stops.”
In the chaos, I find myself seated in a different car. A flight attendant coming home from the airport glances up at me, “You heading to the beach?”
“Yes,” (obviously—I am wearing a flimsy A-line dress over a black swimsuit).
“You’re going to want to stay on ‘til the last stop, it’s better than the earlier beaches, less crowd- ed—I’ll show you where to get off.” She continues rambling as we pull through the other stations. I watch as the other beachgoers begin to exit; soon the car is nearly empty.
The train creaks into the last stop. The station, despite the glaring sunlight, looks like a graveyard of abandoned subway cars. The tracks are above ground and epiphytes grow on the graffitied walls. The doors open, and stay open, no announcement, just silent anticipation of the final passengers’ exit. I contemplate whether I really want to get off here, but then the flight attendant comes up behind me, ushering me towards the turnstiles, pointing me in the direction of the beach (“straight up the road, can’t miss it”), and gesturing to an ice cream shop and a deli before heading the other way.
I walk up the street, towards the water. Cheap plastic floaties and ironic bikini t-shirts hang in shop windows. Despite the disposable cups and cigarette butts littering the gutter, the street seems cleaner than those in Manhattan. As I reach the end of the road, a large expanse of dunes, thin wooden fences, and scantily clad twenty-somethings blasting Beyoncé stretches before me. Taking my place on the sand, I open my book, and promptly fall asleep.
I wake to the waves brushing over my toes and the laughs of a young family running in and out with the tide. Dusting myself off, I begin the two hour journey back to Harlem.