Travel through the Five Towns, south on Route 878 or Rockaway Turnpike to the Atlantic Beach Bridge. Up ahead, sky and ocean meet. To the right, Reynolds Channel cuts past Far Rockaway and joins the Atlantic Ocean; to the left, the waterway leads boaters past Atlantic Beach, Long Beach, Lido Beach and parts north and east. Boaters keep the drawbridge busy before winter sets in.
It’s late September, and things have quieted down dramatically in Atlantic Beach since the end of beach club season a week ago.
Gone are the members who inundated the village since May 1, keeping restaurants busy. Parking is legal again on Atlantic Boulevard. Traffic is lighter and the bridge doesn’t have to shift toll lanes to accommodate the influx of cars each day.
There along Atlantic and Ocean boulevards are the beach clubs all in a row. Among them are Sun and Surf, Silver Point, Catalina, Sunny Atlantic, New York, Atlantic, The Shores, Inwood. Each has its own qualities and vibe. Annual fees are paid, and photo membership cards and parking passes are required to enter. From May to just after Labor Day, they are daily havens for thousands.
Sun and Surf is my staycation, my happy place where I get my best sleep anywhere on a lounge chair with a pillow under an awning; where I sit and do nothing, read, drink lemonade and munch on snacks guilt-free. Beachgoers put thousands of steps on their fitness trackers while walking at the ocean’s edge. Planes from Kennedy Airport roar overhead. I join my summer neighbors for four months of camaraderie.
Generations of families grow up at the clubs. Yesterday’s kids are now adults with their own children enjoying the same beach activities. Teens get their first summer jobs carrying chairs to the beach, servicing cabanas and sweeping sand.
When I close my eyes, I can imagine it all, especially the peace I find while looking at the water. I see the rainbow of umbrellas on the shoreline, seagulls and piping plovers foraging for food, flags flying, freighters on the horizon en route to New York Harbor, cruise ships heading to parts unknown. I feel the breeze on my face, the heat of the sun, the pinch of an insect bite and the vibration of the deck from kids running. I hear music, laughter, a child’s squeals, a lifeguard’s whistle, a helicopter’s rotor. I smell the sunscreen and the aromas of the barbecue pits, bacon, burgers and fries from the cafeteria grill, and spices from a crockpot in a cabana.
In the off-season, an eerie silence comes over the sand and the nearly empty parking lots. Office staff and maintenance crews remain to keep things running, plan for the next season, and prepare for whatever wrath nature will unleash before members return in May.
Right now, for me and perhaps others, May 1 is very far away. In the dead of winter, when I long for warmth, sunny videos and photos on the club’s website remind me of what’s to come.
Yes, May will arrive. The clubs will come alive — and there will be changes. Some members will have gone home to God and others will be just starting their lives.
Farewell, happy place. God and good health willing, I’ll see you next year. I miss you already.
Reader Francine M. Scuderi lives in Stewart Manor.