Bike Rides to the Beach
When I was 14 or so, my friends and I would sometimes ride our bikes to Rockaway Beach, a distance of about 10-15 miles from our neighborhood.
I knew the way by paying attention to how my father drove to the Rockaway Beaches by car. We could do this by taking city streets and never have to get on the highway.
Rockaway in the summer was great. The boardwalk had amusements and places to get food. The young people would gather at beaches 32-38 (designated streets) because there was some food places on the boardwalk and some amusements like Bumper Cars. Beach 98th Street had Playland, a real amusement park with a rollercoaster, rides, games, etc.
Friends of our family, the Ecksteins, took a bungalow at Beach 84th Street (or close to that), and my friends and I visited them a couple of times. They had a daughter and son our age.
My mother was firmly against these excursions and fervently prayed for rain on the night before I was set to go. She sometimes got her wish, but just as often the sun would shine and she would reluctantly let us go. My father had already agreed. After all, we were big boys now.
I was usually accompanied by three of my friends, John Sangimino, John Wekerle and Louie Weiss. We had all gotten new bikes at around age 13. These new bikes were “Racers” instead of the Schwinns we all had previously.
These bikes were sleek, thin and had 3 gears to make pedaling easier. We had English Racers or Italian Racers. The Italian Racers had handle bars that turned down so you were hunched over the handle bars much like a jockey on a horse.
After going to Rockaway a few times, we thought it was time to try another beach. The other beach was Jones Beach.
Now, Jones Beach is the premier beach in NY. It stretches from Nassau to Suffolk counties along the south shore of Long Island. Compared to Rockaway it was pristine and a major step up. It was also about 30 miles from our homes.
I thought I knew the way from the few times my family had gone there by car. We would get on the Southern State Parkway and then the Meadowbrook Parkway which would lead us to Jones Beach.
My friends and I set up a day to try this. Without being specific, I mentioned to my mother I was going to the “Beach”. She did her best to dissuade me, prayed for rain and let me go, thinking I was going to Rockaway.
John Wekerle couldn’t come that day so John Sangimino, Louie Weiss and I set off.
We road our bikes to the Cross Island Parkway and got on. The Cross Island becomes the Southern State Parkway when it enters Nassau County.
We were riding along on the Parkway when we came to a toll booth. We attempted to go through and were held up by the toll booth guy.
“What are you guys doing?” he asked.
“Going to Jones Beach” we replied.
“Are you boys crazy? You can’t ride your bikes on the parkway, you’ll have to get off here,” he said.
“Whattya mean” we replied, “we have a dime to go through.”
Despite our pleas he ordered us off the parkway. We had to take the city streets.
The Southern State does not have a service road that runs along side it and we were soon lost in the maze of neighborhood streets. Undeterred, we pressed on, getting further and further from the parkway as the streets curved, and went off in new directions. We were thoroughly lost.
We eventually went down a road that dead ended at a horse riding ranch.
Realizing that we were never getting to the beach, we opted to try horseback riding, something we had never done.
You have to picture us in our beach clothes. We had on shorts or clam diggers (3/4 length pants), sneakers, T-shirts, and our bathing suits underneath the shorts or pants.
We went into the “ranch” office.
“How much to ride the horses?” we asked.
“$3.00 an hour” the man said. “You boys know how to ride?” he asked eyeing us suspiciously.
“Oh, yeah” we replied. None of us had ever been on a horse. We quickly consulted with each other to see if we had enough money. We just about did.
“Ok, we want to ride,” we told the man.
“Alright, what kind of saddle do you want to use?” he asked.
What kind of saddle???? There was more than one kind????
“What kind you got?” we asked.
“There’s Western or English” he answered. He seemed to know we didn’t have any idea about riding.
“We’ll take Western style” we said, figuring if it’s good enough for the cowboys it’s good enough for us.
“I think it best you boys stay in the corral until I see how you do” he said.
We went out to the corral, where we were given horses to ride and some simple instructions.
Needless to say, we never left the corral and had no idea how to get the horses to do what we wanted. At the end of the hour we got back on our bikes and decided to try to find our way home.
We eventually made it to Hempstead Turnpike, a road we had heard of. We knew if we continued west on Hempstead Turnpike, we would eventually get back to Queens near our homes. We started to ride.
Hempstead Turnpike is a busy commercial roadway with stop lights, traffic and many ways for us to get in trouble.
We were cruising along with me in the lead, John behind me and then Louie. I had one of the Italian Racer bikes, so I was hunched over the handlebars, head down as I was pedaling along.
We were approaching an intersection where the light was placed about 20 yards from the corner. I was passing under it when it changed.
John yelled out “Shell, watch out”.
I turned my head in his direction to see what I should watch out for. As I turned back I entered the intersection. So did a car from the right. We met in the middle.
I crashed into his front fender and did a flip over his hood and landed on the other side on my backside.
John later claimed it was a great flip and interesting to watch.
Somewhat stunned, I took stock and discovered I was alright except for some scratches and an aching backside.
The driver stopped and asked how I was. I told him I was ok, and he sped off.
John and Louie came over to see how I was. A small crowd was gathering. I stood up and walked over to where my bike was. The front and rear wheels were now side by side. The bike resembled a unicycle.
Fortunately, we were in front of a corner candy store. The owner had seen the accident and offered us free Lime Rickeys to drink. They were pretty good.
We were now faced with a dilemma, how to get home. We thought about me riding the cross bars of one of the bikes, but we had no idea of how far it was. Also, the problem of what to do about my bike. It was unrideable and could not be carried by one of us while riding his bike.
I realized I would have to bite the bullet and call my mother, who had the family car that day.
The prospect of calling her was not appealing. She would be mad I had not told her I was going to Jones Beach (I just never mentioned which beach), and that I had got into a car accident and destroyed my relatively new bike would not go over well. Plus, she was at work and wouldn’t like to be disturbed.
I made the dreaded call from the phone booth in the candy store.
“Hello ma, I had a little accident, don’t worry, I’m not hurt but I need you to come get me,” I said.
“What do you mean a little accident, where are you?” she said.
I told her what happened and where I thought we were. She agreed to come get me. She was not happy.
About 40 minutes later she drove up and parked near the candy store.
“Alright, let’s see you. You look alright, how’s the bike? Oh my God, wait till your father see’s this, you’re going to get it. Do you realize I had to leave work for this? What are you an idiot, a moron? Throw that bike in the trunk and get in the car. You boys follow me. Wait till I tell your mothers you were out here” she angrily exclaimed.
I think she was a little put out. The correct term I believe is “pissed”.
I got in the car and she took off. My friends tried to follow but she soon left them behind. They eventually made it home.
My mother was beside herself. She was mad I got into an accident, mad I had destroyed the bike, and mad she had to leave work to get me. She didn’t seem very concerned about my well being, only in what she was going to do to me when we got home.
I never did get a new bike, so in effect she got her wish.
No more bike rides to the beach.