An inevitable hipster jitney to Rockaway, via Williamsburg
The young white things bound for Rockaway Beach coalesce at Broadway Junction, the subway station where Bushwick, Brownsville and East New York converge, and where the J and L trains meet the beach-bound A.
They are 20-somethings in esoteric T-shirts, some with bikini straps stretching from beneath flirty sundresses over tattooed skin. Often, they have surfboards.
From the elevated subway station, they board the A train to Broad Channel, and then a shuttle across Jamaica Bay to their barrier island destination.
The media has spent an inordinate amount of time and energy revealing and re-revealing the Brooklyn invasion of the Rockaways (the boardwalk is now a catwalk!), but only this summer have two entrepreneurs set out to make that invasion easier. They have started a bus service to Rockaway, by way of Williamsburg.
Once it's fully functional, the Rockabus, as it's called, will start pick-ups on Saturdays at 9:30 am from the intersection of Union and Meeker avenues, and deposit passengers an hour or so later at a decommissioned bus stop at Beach 86th Street and the boardwalk, a relatively short walk from Boarders surf shop, and 10 blocks from the headline grabbing Rockaway Taco, whose cider vinegar-marinated tofu taco the New York Times says "holds its toothsome own."
It all goes back to the waves.
In 2005, then Rockaway Assemblywoman and current Queens County Clerk Audrey Pheffer helped designate the city's first surfing beach in Rockaway. A second surf beach was inaugurated in 2007.
Today, Boarders offers surfboard storage for day-trippers. And when I recently asked the man behind the counter at the new Pilgrim Surf Shop on N. 3rd Street in Williamsburg where his clients went to surf, he named one place: the Rockaways.
“Then all of a sudden the taco place opened,” said Pheffer.
On fair-weather weekend afternoons, the line for Rockaway Taco runs down the block, the line itself a spectacle of skateboarders and cut-offs and sunburnt skin.
These days, drivers for the recently resurrected Deuces car service make late-night trips to Manhattan, Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick.
“It's kind of a profound change, no?” said Deuces owner Vince Castellano, of Rockabus, who described a sea-change in the neighborhood following the advent of Rockaway Taco in 2008.
“Me and a couple of my friends will walk down on the sidewalk and the boardwalk and we can just pick out the guys and the girls who are not locals,” he said.
“The women are tall and skinny, and the guys, I won't say that they're built, but they're in shape."
Locals even have a special name for them: DFDers, as in, "down for the day."
This is Rockabus' natural clientele.
"We had a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggested that a lot of the people going out to Rockaway from the city during the weekends were coming from Williamsburg, and other neighborhoods off of the L-train,” said Sam Morrill, a 25-year old Downtown Brooklynite who works “in film” and co-founded the bus line with Ryan Hefner, a Williamsburg-based surfer and web designer.
At $10 each way, or $18 roundtrip, it costs more than the subway and gets passengers there slightly faster. Unlike the subway ride from Williamsburg—which entails either the L to the A to the Shuttle, or the J to the A to the Shuttle, or maybe the L/J to the A to the Q53—it’s a one-seat ride that lets passengers off right at the beach.
“It saves usually about 15 minutes each way, 20 minutes each way,” said Morrill.
Rockabus relies on unbranded, chartered yellow school buses, so the trip isn't particularly comfortable. But it does have nostalgic value, which can go a long way in certain North Brooklyn milieus.
"For our American passengers, it's kind of a throwback to the way they used to get to school," says Morrill. "For some of our foreign passengers, it's an opportunity to ride an American school bus."
It's also supposed to be fun.
"The vibe was as close to 'party bus' as you can get on a cloudy Sunday AM," said one Brooklyn writer.
During the bus line’s inauguration a couple of weekends ago, rides were free, and Morrill estimates about 400 passengers took advantage.
He has yet grander visions for Rockabus that include expanding to Jacob Riis Park and Fort Tilden.
“I think that basically what it comes down to is, the government doesn't seem to be investing very much in public transportation these days,” said Morrill. “So I think that it's up to private providers of transportation, such as Rockabus, to pick up the slack.”
Certainly, it would seem to have a market.
“It used to be, look at this person, what the hell are they doing here?” said Castellano. “They stick out like a sore thumb. And now you've got lots of sore thumbs. And in that sense it's very noticeable. But it's kind of exciting.”
“On the other hand, for example, I went down to the boardwalk today and we had lunch," he continued. "Lunch cost $17. It was a drink, a hot dog and a cheeseburger."