Beach Date

—Sunday, June 10, 2012—

Beaches were laid back places, but for most of my life they made me feel relatively uptight. I didn’t like the sand, the salt water or sunburns. By 26 though, I was starting to come around to enjoy beaches and I fully understood that they were great places to visit with women because, duh, bathing suits.

This date, with Krista from OkCupid, had been rescheduled twice already and even on the eventual day of our date, we were squeezing it in. Such was the last month of OHD though — I had to fit dates in wherever I could. And going to the beach wasn’t exactly an in-and-out, dinner-and-drinks sort of affair — we needed a day. Also, Krista had to be at a book club in Brooklyn at 5:30 p.m., so we had to start early.

As such, we had decided to meet up at 10 a.m. that Sunday to get a jump on the day. I planned to wait for her on the 59th Street downtown 4 train platform and hop on when she arrived, but on my way into Manhattan, I realized that I hadn’t worn deodorant and Krista said she would be 15 minutes late. I was given a chance for salvation.

IMG_2058Normally, I wouldn’t have thought much about a lack of deodorant, but I was wearing a tank top and felt particularly self-conscious about my pits that morning. I had debated for a long time that a.m. as to whether or not I should meet up with Krista dressed for the beach, if I should bring beach garb as a change of clothes or if the right move was to wear a suit under a pair of shorts. Ultimately, it seemed silly to not be dressed for the beach when it was already hot out and Beach Date was our theme. To that end, I decided to wear a tank top, swim trunks and sandals. Even then, I still had two different outfits to choose from (I ended up going with the dark tank and plaid shorts).

Anyway, with my extra time allotment, I went above ground and made a pit stop into a pharmacy to get some deodorant. Old Spice had an entire line of slightly tropical themed sticks in their “Fresh Collection,” so I went with one of those. It was a beach date, after all.

Back down underground, I waited for Krista to pop out of a downtown 4 train and after one for two of them passed me by, another arrived and I saw a familiar face wave to me and smile. I jumped back on the train car with her and said hello.

“Oh! You’re really dressed for the beach,” she said. Well, yeah, it was a beach date. Krista was seemingly not dressed for such an adventure and while this was curious, I thought maybe she was just wearing a suit underneath it all.

Regardless, I felt a bit stupid because I stood out amongst the regular Sunday morning train crowd and I didn’t have a compatriot to make me look sane. I told her how I had debated the choice to wear beachwear but had decided in the end to just go for it. It was clear after looking at her a bit longer that she probably didn’t have a suit on. She was very cute though.

Strange, I thought. What part of “Beach Date” had been unclear? It didn’t matter though. Krista was there and she was clearly very nice.

We were heading out to Rockaway Beach that day and it would be a long ride. It was a good chance to talk though, as we had little else to distract us while we made the journey to one of Southern Queens’ most popular summer destinations. I asked Krista how she was doing that morning and then we talked about the reputation of Rockaway Beach. I had heard it described as a “hipster beach” and that it was not very beautiful, though it was supposed to have good food. This was roughly the description I would have expected about a beach that fell within NYC city limits. Krista had heard roughly the same things about it and we were both interested to see it for ourselves.

It was a long train ride, I acknowledged, but Krista told me that she took an hour-long bus to work every day, so it wasn’t daunting to her. She lived in the Bronx but commuted up to Westchester County for work. She worked as a sort of design editor and Jill-of-all-trades at an office of some kind.

Learning a bit about Krista’s life, I found that she’d been in New York since the early 1990s and had arrived around eighth grade or the start of high school, which made her roughly 8 or 10 years older than me. Her childhood had been spent in the Philippines though, which explained her indistinguishable ethnicity. She told me that in recent decades there had been a growth of Filipinos in the States and NYC, which made sense to be since I hadn’t known any Filipinos growing up and had a much greater awareness about them now. She mentioned how Manny Pacquiao — the world famous boxer who had just lost a huge match the previous night — was so influential in the Philippines that he had been elected a congressman. People looked up to him there because he was a real “rags to riches” kind of story.

At Fulton Street, we had to transfer to the A train. Just as Pepper had the day before, Krista asked me to explain a lot of things about improv, which I did at length, because I was a blabber mouth. It was very redundant to the spiel I had given the day prior, but I didn’t mind. After 94 dates, I was used to repeating information.

By the time we were cruising through the middle of Brooklyn, I’d confirmed that Krista was very pleasant to talk to, and maybe a tiny bit awkward. Fortunately, it was the kind of reserved demeanor that was not off-putting at all. In fact, I found it fairly endearing.

Arriving at the Rockaway Boulevard stop, there was some confusion as to whether or not we needed to get off or stay on the train. The A split after this stop, with one branch heading towards the beach and the other ending a few stops away. There wasn’t exactly a mass of beach-goers all getting off at once, so we hesitated. Then, a woman who seemed to know what she was talking about told us to stay on for the beach.

Well, that wasn’t true. Three stops later and it was the end of the line. Sweet.

We had to wait for the A train to return inbound and talked more as we waited. Krista told me about her saga of starting at one college, never quite finishing there, but eventually matriculating into FIT, where she was studying currently. I thought it was commendable that she had never stopped pursuing education.

Krista had grown up largely in Yonkers and I asked her what it was like to be a kid there. She told me that her early teens were often spent bumming around malls and giant bookstores like Barnes & Nobel, which reminded me very much of that same time period in my life. I mentioned that two of my close friends were from Pelham, which was only a couple towns away from Yonkers and right above the Bronx. I’m not sure what that was worth, but it seemed relevant at the time.

Finally, we made it to the proper A train, but then we managed to somehow miss the transfer to the S train at Broad Channel. It was the only transfer to make there, and someone I’d messed it up. This trip was terrible.

With even more time to kill, we talked about photography, after I finally asked about the Canon 60D she had with her. Krista had originally gone to school for photography, so she knew far more about it than I did. We talked about how films and videos were shot so often now on DSLRs, because the quality was so high, and that such cameras were bringing down the barriers to producing high-quality work, which was cool for everyone.

On the last leg of our journey, I talked a lot about being white, about how where I’d grown up was a real bubble and that I’d only continued that trend when I went to college. Krista asked me where I had gone to school and it turned out that her brother had also attended Fairfield. In fact, he had also been in the business school. We did the math and figured out that I had missed him by a year, so I didn’t know who he was. It was an interesting coincidence. I’d thought that Krista and I were from two completely different worlds and then I found that her brother and I were in the same damn school, only a few years apart. Funny how that works.

Overall, the journey to Rockaway Beach took us about two hours, maybe slightly longer. I felt dumb for having not known the transfers, and for adding so much time to our trip, but at least we’d both learned how to get to there for future reference.

We finally get off of all trains at Beach 98th Street. I knew that there was a well-known taco place, and maybe some other stuff, nearby on Beach 96th Street, so we walked in that direction. I told Krista that I wanted to grab a water someplace and asked if she wanted anything. She said that she’d also like a water and additionally, a bathroom. We’d have to see about a bathroom, since I figured places around there didn’t want people wandering in just to pee. In fact, I had already seen one restaurant with a sign outside reading, “Bathrooms for customers only.”

Stopping into a little convenience store, we got our waters and then continued on our way. We passed by a condemned house with a porch full of feral cats. It was interesting around there — a lot of total shit holes right next to decent homes. At the corner of Beach 96th Street, we stepped into the a cafe called Veggie Island, but there was no bathroom, and thus, no point. Next to it was Rockaway Taco, which already had a line out front, and it was radiating amazing smells. Krista definitely wanted to go back there and I was totally on board with that desire.

Just down the street from Rockaway Taco, there was a decrepit, boarded up house and as we passed it, Krista got her camera ready. It was a great photo opportunity and I had no problem standing by while she took some pictures. It was really cool scene.

A few houses later, we found a feral kitten eating a chicken carcass, but it was skittish and walked away from us after Krista got a few pictures of it.

As we approached the boardwalk, we saw a Rickshaw Dumplings truck, which was another sign that the food in these parts was great. We got up onto the boardwalk and saw that the first building to our right had public bathrooms — the day had been saved. I held Krista’s camera while she used the facilities.

We walked down the boardwalk and checked out the different food stands that were there. It was a cool place — I liked the vibe. I also completely understood why it had been labeled as a “hipster beach,” but I didn’t think it was annoying in any way. It seemed like there were a lot of cool people hanging out there, but it lacked the pretentiousness necessary for me to lump it in with such an overused adjective as “hipster.” Whatever. Maybe I just didn’t want to admit that I liked a “hipster beach.”

Krista wished that she had brought a parasol or anything else that could have been used to shade her from the sun. It was very bright that day and she talked about how when she was younger, she was told by Filipino adults not to tan because she would get darker. They told her that it was better to be light skinned. I told her that sounded pretty fucked up and she said that such an attitude was common in many cultures. I don’t think I’d ever realized that before.

As we stepped down onto the beach, Krista told me that the Philippines and India sold the most skin-lightener products than anywhere else in the world. She also told me about a study where a number of Filipinos where asked to choose between two equally attractive women: one fully Filipino and the other, half-white. The overwhelming majority chose the half-white woman. When asked why they’d chosen that woman, most people said it was because she had lighter skin. They equated lighter skin with looking healthier and more refined, amongst other things.

Though I was quite familiar with the concept of lighter skin being considered preferential (Hello, All of US History), I’d always associated that attitude with predominantly white societies (Especially ones with a history of slavery. Oh, all of them had slaves? Yeah, then all of them.) and the lingering stigmas that persisted in such places. I didn’t really think that it was an attitude also held by people in traditionally non-white societies. My conclusion was that this was super fucked up and most definitely the fault of white people. And the thing was, white people had been doing the exact opposite thing for years! Since I could remember, white people were always trying to be darker. Whether it was the sun, tanning beds or chemicals that did the trick, darker almost always seemed better. It was all quite backwards, no?

Anyway, that study had us discussing what we personally found most attractive and I told Krista that I liked darker women — but not fake dark — and super white women because freckles were cool. Krista agreed with the freckles thing — she wished she could get them. All in all, I thought that everyone was attractive, but the far ends of the spectrum were often the most desirable (Along with pretty much all of the darker half, so basically just plain boring white people were out).

We meandered down the beach in the hot sand until I spotted a relatively flat area that looked to be good for sitting. I laid down a big blanket I had brought with me and we sat on top of it. My sandals came off but the tank top stayed on, sadly, because I thought it would be weird for me to be mostly naked while Krista remained as she was, completely clothed in non-beach attire.

On the beach, we talked about the cultural enclaves of both NYC and Boston, which had come up specifically because Krista had asked where the hood was in Boston. This bled into some talk on race and colonialism. I told her how the British Museum in London was an unsettling place to visit because it felt like a shrine to colonialism with all of its stolen artifacts. It had so much stuff from Egypt, especially. Were we supposed to think that it had all been donated to the museum? They had the fucking Rosetta Stone for fuck’s sake.

Krista told me a bit about Spain’s lasting influence in the Philippines and then she waded out into the water. I hesitated, insisting that I needed to apply some sun block first, but Krista said that she didn’t need it and had gone ahead without me. I quickly put on sun block, but neglected my legs as I was eager to catch up. Standing out in the water, Krista proclaimed it was refreshing and I followed her in soon enough.

For the record, she was totally right. The water was very refreshing. I always underestimated the ocean, but it had a really nice way of slowing things down. The seafloor at the edge of the water was porous, laden with shell remnants that slid from beneath my feet at the waves retreated. It was beautiful out there. I hadn’t stood in an ocean for a good long time, save a momentary toe dipping in the Pacific during Drive-In Movie Theater Date. In fact, I don’t think I had made it to a beach at all in 2011, which meant that the last time would have been December 2010 in Jamaica. Yeah, that was probably right. Crazy. Stupid. (Love?)

Back on the towel, Krista said that if she’d had a bathing suit on, she would have gone further out in the water. “Yeah, it’s a bummer,” I replied while still wondering why she hadn’t worn a bathing suit to the beach. At least it wasn’t stopping her from enjoying it though.

We talked about music a little. Country music, at least. She told me that country music was oddly popular in the Philippines, kind of how jazz was big in Japan and Europe, but that it was decidedly weirder because of how specific the themes of country music were to America.

Switching topics, we discussed NYC’s Type A personality and its reputation for being big and aggressive, but we both agreed that those things made for a pretty great place to live. You didn’t have to worry about people being passive, you trusted that almost everyone was out for their own interests and you knew that you wouldn’t be criticized for following your dreams. It might not have been a gentle place, but you knew exactly what to expect and you could be yourself.

I went on to compare NYC to Boston for a while and then we talked about Tokyo and its culture. From that, we discussed Hong Kong and wound up back on Filipinos after I had mentioned all the foreign maids I had seen during my visit. Apparently, they all gathered in public spaces on Sundays, their only day of the week off from work. Krista informed me that many of them were likely Filipino.

It was funny to think that I had almost no awareness of Filipinos before moving to NYC. Then I remembered that my aunt Yolanda was half-Filipino and that I’d never really asked her about it. Her other half was Cuban and I had always equated her cultural differences to Cuba, not the Philippines. I asked Krista if she had other family in the States and she told me that they were spread out in California, North Carolina, Texas(?) and even one in Alberta, Canada. It sounded kind of cool to have relatives all over like that — there was always some place to visit. We talked about travel too before the sun became too much for us and we folded up the blanket and got moving.

Walking back down the boardwalk, I asked Krista about her accent, which was not incredibly strong, but distinct. “Is there a Filipino accent?” I asked. She said that there definitely was, but that she only had remnants of one. I wouldn’t have noticed it at all except that she said some works like my aunt Yolanda, and once I realized that, it clicked that the only commonality between them was their Filipino heritage. Krista agreed that it was probably that influence. We then talked about less-obvious American accents, like Upstate NY and the small amount of Boston flavor in my own speech.

Back at the concessions stands, we decided that it was time for food. There was CaracasLobster Joint and a few other options, but the tacos we’d seen earlier were calling. We even passed by Rickshaw Dumplings again without getting anything, all in pursuit of Rockaway Taco.

While waiting in line at the diminutive taco outlet, we talked about rap music and Krista told me that it was invented in the Bronx. I understood where she was coming from — as did most rap historians — but I challenged her and said that rap had really come from Jamaica. Krista asked me to prove out what I had claimed and so I went a bit into the history of reggae and dub to show her how people in the Bronx had come to be talk and rhyme over instrumental tracks. By the end of my spiel, she seemed moderately satisfied with my explanation. It was not much longer before we were up to order.

Krista got two fish tacos — one with guac, one without — while I ordered a fish taco, a carne taco and a chorizo taco. I got some watermelon juice too.

We waited for our tacos in the small eating area adjacent to the eatery’s kitchen, moving from sunnier spots to shadier spots as people finished their meals and left. By the time we got our tacos, Krista was fully in the shade and I was still somewhat exposed, but it was much better than where we had started out. 

The tacos —by the way — were fantastic. There were a ton of tattooed people around us (Hipster alert), so I asked Krista if she was secretly covered in tats beneath her t-shirt and shorts. No, she said, tattoos were too permanent for her. She liked them though, presumably on other people. I felt the same way, I said, despite the fact that I had one. Though I hadn’t meant to bait her, Krista eventually asked about my tattoo and about my mom. I had definitely said things like, “My mom used to do…” earlier in the day, so it probably wasn’t shocking for her to hear that she had died. As expected, Krista was really nice about it and everything.

A moment of great confusion came over me when I bit into my third and final taco. Apparently, they had given me a potato taco instead of a chorizo one. This was mildly disappointing, because swapping a vegetable for pork always was, but the taco was still delicious and I ate it happily.

Once we were done eating, we still had some time to kill before we had get back on the train, so we went next door to Veggie Island, the bathroomless cafe we had previously stepped into. Krista got an iced coffee while I finished my watermelon juice from the taco place. After I drained that bevanda, I too got an iced coffee from the kind people at Veggie Island and we talked some more as we drank our dranks. After a little while, it was time to get a move on and we both needed to use the boardwalk bathroom again before our long train ride back to civilization.

On our way back to the boardwalk, I asked Krista if she had a type. This question seemed to catch her off guard at first, which was understandable, because I had asked it fairly abruptly. She had seemed comfortable with dating subject matter all day, so I thought, Why not just ask? Once she’d collected her thoughts, she ventured that she probably did have a type, but it was hard to say for sure. That was how I felt too. It was too difficult to summarize, but I knew it when I saw it. She knew one thing for sure: she didn’t like traditionally masculine men, which was good news for me. I didn’t like those guys either.

I again held her camera while she used the facilities and then I used the bathroom too, just in case.

Our journey home was not nearly as long as the trip out and it was a nice, lazy way to wind down our day. The train was fairly crowded and the ride was lengthy, but we had seats, so we enjoyed it. I don’t remember too much of what we talked about, but I do recall that I finally told her that I liked her nails.

Krista was jumping off near Atlantic Terminal, well before I would disembark, but I stood up when we reached her stop and gave her a good hug. I thanked her for a lovely day at the beach and then she went to book club.

Next time, I’d remind my date to bring a bathing suit and somehow try not to sound like a creep in the process.

My leg on the ride home:

IMG_2059

Same leg two weeks later (the line stayed for nearly a year – no joke!):

IMG_2095