Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Devastation of the Rockaways: A Photo Essay

By Der Kosmonaut
There has been a virtual media blackout about the devastation of Hurricane Sandy along the ocean front areas of the city. There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, The Rockaways is a working class area. The local, national and international media have focused their coverage of the damage done to Manhattan. While damage to Manhattan was considerable, it pales in comparison to the wreckage caused on the Rockaway peninsula. The affluent areas of Chelsea, Midtown and the Financial District have received the most attention. Another reason for the lack of coverage on Rockaway stems from the fact that it's the most remote part of New York. It lies at the furthest distance from Manhattan in the entire city. Since most of the journalists in New York aren't from the city originally, many have not heard of the Rockaways and most have never stepped foot out there. The closest most of them have come to the Rockaways is JFK Airport northeast of the peninsula. The only time journalists have ever set eyes on Rockaway was by looking out the window of a jumbo jet making its final landing approach to JFK. Moreover, the vast majority of life-long New Yorkers from Brooklyn, Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island have never been to the Rockaways. For many residents of New York City, Rockaway is simply the name of the destination of the A train.

The Rockaway boardwalk was upended by the 13 foot (3 Meter) ocean surge. This image shows the support pillars are all that remains of the boardwalk. Before Sandy, the boardwalk was on Terra-Firma. The boardwalk stood between the dozens of apartment buildings and the beach. Here the beach has been washed away as the sand blew meters inland. Rockaway Beach and its boardwalk was one of the triumphs of Robert Moses. Indeed, Rockaway Beach was the greatest gift Moses had bestowed on the New York City working class.
From beachfront to ocean front. The Atlantic Ocean now moves right up to the apartment buildings flooding basements and causing serious damage to their foundations. The concrete pillars of the boardwalk are all that's left. It's very likely that all the apartment buildings pictured heading East along the horizon will be demolished. Thousands of working class families risk being made homeless and permanently displaced. One of the things which made New York the most unique place in the world is that the working class was provided with prime real estate beach and ocean front housing. There is no other place along the Eastern Seaboard or Western Seaboard, for that matter, where the working class was housed in such a manner. This was the result of Robert Moses. This is the main reason why Robert Moses remains maligned and hated. It's not due to his nasty personality or his 44 year dictatorship over New York. Moses is hated because of his revolutionary approach to private property. The cardinal sin under capitalism is to appropriate private property from the bourgeoisie and turn it over the working class. Even worse, is to provide the working class with the best recreational and housing facilities on land which is highly valued and prized.
The day after. This scene looks as if New York had been struck by a nuclear warhead. Indeed, during the Cold War it was believed that in the event of nuclear war, the Empire State Building in Midtown Manhattan would have been ground zero. The Rockaways are located 24 KM from Midtown. This is very likely what the Rockaways would look like after a strike by a Hydrogen bomb circa 1963. Today's nukes are much more powerful than the ancient H-Bomb. The sky is a glimpse of what a nuclear winter would look like. Man's folly knows no bounds.
A section of the washed out Rockaway subway line in Jamaica Bay. Given the remoteness of Rockaway from the rest of the city, particularly as it's separated by more than 3KM by Jamaica Bay, the subway was the lifeline to the area. This was originally the tracks of the Long Island Railroad. In 1964, the New York City Transit Authority took it over. Prior to 1964, the Rockaways had no access to the subway system. One cannot overstate the importance of the Rockaway extension for the New York working class. Not only did the Rockaway line connect the most most isolated working class with the rest of the city but it provided the working class with cheap and direct access to the ocean. Before 1964, the working class had limited access to the ocean within New York City. Coney Island in Brooklyn is on a bay but not directly on the ocean. The opening of the Rockaway subway gave the working class an alternative to Coney Island. I was never personally keen on Coney Island Beach nor Brighton Beach as the inlet waters provided no waves. Rockaway Beach is the best public beach in NYC and arguably on the East Coast of the United States. The extension of the Rockaway subway firmly placed New York as having the largest subway system in the world. This made the A train the longest subway line in North America. The Northern Line of the London Underground is only longer by virtue of its myriad of branches. I believe that it's cheating. By nature of that system, the blue lines of the NYC subway (A,C,E), if considered one line as the Northern line, would be the by far the longest subway line in the world. But I digress. The Rockaway extension had one more important feature. Since it's an old railway line, it allowed the A train to reach a cruising speed of 60 MPH (100 KM/H). This stretch made the A train the fastest subway line in the city.
Whatever floats your boat. Sandy throws a boat on the tracks.
Missing Foundation. Sandy decimates the foundation of the Rockaway subway line. 

The fencing between the tracks and the trees is uprooted.
A section of the most damaged stretch. A wooden boat dock crashed upon the tracks. Notice how the salt sea water rusted the rails.
The oddity of oddities. The A train is the most important subway line in the city for many reasons. It's the most important subway line in the history of Black New York. However, the A train is the last remaining place in New York where one can find authentic social life free from corporate commercialisation. The A train, particularly when it runs beneath Brooklyn is an bizarre bazaar. Many Brooklynites make their daily living on the A train. One will always find peddlers selling merchandise. Anything from toys to watches, to fake jewelry, to radios and mobile phones. Whatever one needs, it can be found on the A train. The line is home to many creative people peddling hustles. After the peddlers pass through the cars with their merchandise, the hustlers come through peddling a scam. The scripts and lines they come up with are very original. From the panhandlers who will tell you how they escaped from the Bellevue Hopsital psychiatric ward after being falsely sent there to the crafty tricksters offering games of 3 card monty. There are comedians and magicians as well who perform on the trains. After they pass through, come the best musical and dance talent America can showcase. From rappers and beatboxers to soul singers with terrific voices and ranges. Unfortunately, since the 1980s with the introduction of totalitarian neo-liberal capitalism, the A train is the home to hundreds of people. Many homeless people sleep on the A train to pass the night away. Overnight, the journey between 207th Street and Far Rockaway takes 3 hours. A round trip journey is 6 hours. At night, the A train is packed with the sleeping homeless. On the bright side, there is always free food on the A train. Many Black churches and community charities walk the trains 24 hours offering free sandwiches and food. One can never go hungry on the A train. The A train is home to the strangest phenomena in North America but this washed up boat on the tracks is the top winner.
Above are snapshots of the scenery of Jamaica Bay. When travelling from Manhattan to Rockaway on the A train, one has to endure the tedium of meandering underground through Brooklyn. One gets bored and restless. However, the torture pays off. As the A speeds across Jamaica Bay one is just stunned with the maritime beauty of the landscape. For visitors to New York it's nothing less than a pleasant surprise. One enters the A train in the concrete jungle of Manhattan. For for than one hour, you endure interminable boredom. Then finally, you are in a different country, nay another planet. Jamaica Bay and Rockaway is by far the most beautiful and most scenic part of New York City. Even lifelong residents of the Rockaways stop reading or staring blankly to turn around and look out the windows. The change in the social atmosphere on the subway train is noticeable. While underground, people are withdrawn, afraid and anti-social. But as soon as the train crosses Jamaica Bay, the faces brighten, smiles crack away the austere countenances. Everyone looks out the windows. It is this stretch which makes the New York City subway the most interesting and frankly the best subway in the world.
Nature is no joke. It will take a long time to rebuild the Rockaway subway over Jamaica Bay. Let's hope by the end of 2013, it will be back in service.
A track worker holds an 8 foot (2.4 m) plank. The plank is used to measure how deep the flooding went into the roadbed. The waterline indicates 6 feet (1.8 m) deep. Sandy buried the Rockaway subway and left it for dead.
Well I just about seen it all. We all know the expression "your boat is sunk". However, I would have never have come up with the saying, "your track is sunk." There you have it. Sandy sunk a section of the track. There is a silver lining. The tracks more or less held steady and straight. The third rails also stood standing. Alright not even nature can overturn the tracks of the New York Subway. Perhaps on planet Venus but so far not on Earth. However, if we continue to destroy the environment, Earth may indeed turn into Venus. Forget about the subway, life will have no chance.
Poseidon's vomit. Debris from the Atlantic Ocean defecated the Rockaway subway. As a poet, I tell the following story. After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, fell gravely ill. He became so violently ill that he churned the Atlantic Ocean. He then surfaced in Jamaica Bay and threw up all over the Rockaway Subway. Why not? The subway is filthy and already filled with vermin. Poseidon is not the first to vomit on the New York subway.

Ending on a positive note. MTA workers lift the R32 subway cars off the tracks and putting them on flatbed trucks. The elevated trestle on the Rockaway peninsula survived. The MTA plans to resume limited shuttle service between Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park. This will enable residents to move around and also to connect with buses which will carry them over Jamaica Bay to Queens.
I must commend the MTA for providing these photos to the public,  as well as doing their best to resume and rebuild subway service. It's a testament to the democratic nature of the authority. By releasing photos and videos of the damage to the system, they have let the public know the full extent of the damage. The MTA could've easily withheld the photos and not have provided any information to the public at all. In the post 9/11 climate, they could have easily made the claim that showing damage would compromise security. The New York City subway system remains the most open and democratic institution remaining in the United States. I have complained and have made many criticisms about the MTA over the decades, as every New Yorker has. However, the MTA has showed its competence and professionalism, not to mention its priority for the welfare of the residents of the city. Closing down the subway nearly 48 hours before the arrival of Sandy was a wise and practical move. Despite the damage down to the Rockaway line, South Ferry and the East River tunnels, it could have been much much worse. A special word of praise and gratitude to the MTA workers. They are the most important sector of the working class in the city, if not the country. Their hard work and dedication should be commended. They are more heroic than the firefighters of 9/11. They deserve a raise. So MTA, how about giving the workers a proper pay raise, full health benefits and a comprehensive retirement package. They sure as hell deserve it.

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