As I sit here typing in my Harlem apartment, I hear about seven car horns battling one giant truck that’s blocking the street. I hear ambulance sirens and a weed-wacker. I hear the never-ending construction on the apartment next door (which begins with jackhammers at 8 a.m., how lucky am I?!), and the foreman yelling to his crew in some foreign language.
"Take me back to this time last week," I pray to the Fire Island gods. "Please? I’ll be good. I won’t even drink that much."
My four-day trip to Fire Island last weekend was exactly what I needed. I’m lucky to have a good group of friends with good jobs and good time off. I’m lucky for one of those friends to be an organizer and a planner, so all the rest of us had to do was show up to Penn Station on time and stock the rum.
Fire Island is a skinny strip of land that runs parallel to Long Island’s southern shore. While a lot of Long Island’s guidos go to Fire Island (for better or worse, depending on your preference in men), none of their cars do.
No cars. No car horns. No sirens.
I was half convinced I’d see the shifty foreman follow me onto the ferry at Bay Shore, but alas, no jackhammers either.
So on Thursday, August 6, my friends and I took the 12:40 p.m. Firebird Ferry (The one docked next to us was named Fireball. I wanted to go on that one, obviously) across the Long Island Sound to Ocean Bay Park, the town where we’d be staying. Goodbye, city living, I thought. It’s just me and the breeze now.
We were greeted on the other side by wild deer grazing in grassy patches along the side of the one-lane road. They didn’t seem to be afraid of humans…or selfies, for that matter. I was too sober to try, but figured I’d be back to give it a shot later.
We popped into the Island Pantry, an overpriced but adorably quaint grocer, and the cashier told me with a smile that bagels were brought over from the mainland on the first boat each morning. Perfect. You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t expect the girl to function without a chewy, cream cheesey bagel…amIright?
Not that we had much functioning to do. Our plan of action for the next couple of days entailed, as my friend Kat put it, “eat, beach, sleep, repeat.”
Did we ever!
Ocean Bay Park offered two bayside restaurants – Flynn’s and the Schooner Inn – the latter of which we went to on the first night.
We were given our menus, ordered a round of drinks, and promptly lost interest in everything else when the most incredible sunset I’ve ever seen presented itself before us. It was as if someone had flipped a switch and lit up the early evening sky in pink and yellow neon.
Like crazy people, we rushed to the beach a couple steps below the restaurant’s deck, and captured Snapchats and Instagrams, hungry to prove to our friends in the city that we were indeed, enjoying nature.
Hungry for shrimp and scallops in vodka sauce, too. And lobster sliders. And crab cakes. And shrimp cocktail. (These meals were spread out over the course of a couple days, I swear). I was actually mad at myself for ordering chicken fingers for lunch on our last day at the hotel bar, but my wallet wouldn’t allow for much more.
My feasting culminated in the best meal of the weekend at McGuire’s in nearby Ocean Beach Park: fresh king crab legs, a baked potato, corn on the cob, and a vat of butter to pour on top of everything. All supplemented by another killer sunset the same color as my rosé.
We followed up dinner with ice cream most nights. Because, duh. I ordered the flavor “trashcan” (think everything but the kitchen sink), which is fitting because that’s what I felt like as I consumed Fire Island’s entire summer stock of seafood that weekend. Worth it.
We stayed at the Fire Island Hotel and Resort, which offered the best of both worlds. Most days, we lazily made our way down to the pool, grabbed our lounge chairs and enjoyed a few quiet hours before children poured in from various doorways, screaming and spraying each other (and us) with water guns. When that happened, we’d happily transition to the beach, just a few yards behind the hotel.
This was actually my first time on a New York beach, and I was pleasantly surprised!
After all, I’m someone who’s grown up on Jersey and Delaware beaches where they charge you money to enjoy the sun and surf for a couple hours (what a rip off!), provided you can find a place to set up. Those beaches are packed to the nines on any given summer weekend. It’s seriously like trying to find a parking spot at the mall on Black Friday.
Our beach was empty, but for a few families with babies toddling around in the sand, and a group of friends playing volleyball behind us. We found our patch of happiness easily and without opening our wallets.
The ocean water was salty and refreshing – a bit chilly, but after a couple piña coladas, I was immune to the temperature anyway. My friend Chrissy and I splashed about for a good half hour or so and talked about life, as you do when you’re in such a giant expanse of water. There’s something wonderful about knowing that the ocean you’re standing in is the only thing separating you from adventures in Europe or Africa, or whatever lies beyond the horizon. It makes the world feel gigantic and miniscule all at the same time.
We headed back in, got pummeled by a rogue wave, nearly flashed a family of four, and then happily napped in the shade of an umbrella we nabbed from the hotel beach hut, pretending we were on some exotic island, but really quite content with this one.
It’s what you’re supposed to do on vacation, right? We gave paddle boarding an honest, five-minute consideration, but didn’t want to exert too much energy. This was going to be the most relaxing few days of the summer, dammit, and that’s the way we wanted it.
Our surroundings certainly helped. I know some New Yorkers who, when removed from the city, can’t sleep without "Sounds of the Trash Truck" or "Barking Pack of Dogs," playing on their sound machines, but I revert immediately back to my suburban upbringing and snooze like a baby.
Our sleepy corner of Fire Island was ideal for peace and quiet. Other parts of the island, we found, have reputations as the places where you go to party.
We decided to try it out on our last night, after having failed to stay up past 11 p.m. the two nights prior. To be fair, we sprinted home early Thursday night to watch the Republican debates (so cool, I know), but after realizing that our TV got approximately two channels, there wasn’t much else we could do but hit the sack and dream up the ridiculous things Trump might have said (which all turned out to be real).
So on Saturday night, we took our 25-minute walk down the shaded, one-lane road to Ocean Beach Park, a couple towns over. The landmarks became familiar even after two days: pass the tiny firehouse, turn right at the gorgeous two-building mansion, pause to take a picture at the quaint country church, round the corner at the Seaview Ferry. We didn’t talk much on those walks. I think we all got lost in our own thoughts and just enjoyed the silence, the breeze, the sounds of the crickets wailing away.
After dinner, we popped next door to Housers, one of the few bars without a cover and a line, and headed into battle. After skeptically examining our IDs for a good three minutes each – I’m 26, I swear, guhhhh – the bouncer let us in, and we immediately went blind. And deaf.
Were clubs always this dark? And this loud? Were we really this old?
Some guy immediately sprayed a Corona all over us like it was a bottle of champagne and he was P. Diddy (Is that reference even relevant? Or do I sound even older now?).
We got our drinks after those heated couple of minutes when you’re forced to grind on the people in front of you leaving the bar, as you replace their patch of space at the counter, hoping that the bartender takes pity on you soon.
The dance floor wasn’t crowded, and was much cooler. So that’s where we stayed. And danced. And frankly, had a blast. We heard some old favorites (Boom Boom by The Vengaboys…anyone?) and some new classics (Ke$ha, a must in any frat party-esque bar), and decided to leave when the DJ put on country and killed the party.
We lasted about two hours in total, got some ice cream, and ended the night on the beach with the most brilliant, midnight sky stretching above us, thanking our lucky stars that we were 26, and not 21 anymore.
It didn't take much convincing, but now I know Fire Island needs to become an annual tradition.
We walked towards the ferry on Sunday with bellyaches from laughing, trying to recall an absurd amount of inside jokes that can only come from a weekend with your girlfriends.
It felt as if the town was saying goodbye to us. We meandered through a charity 5K which had dozens of spectators and an announcer at the finish line who congratulated each participant by name on the microphone. Why couldn’t real life be this quaint?
As the ferry pulled out and we hurtled into the Long Island Sound, back toward responsibility and questionable public transit, I couldn’t help but notice the huge, blue sky above me. My friends and I played “what does that cloud look like?” for a couple minutes, desperate to avoid adulthood for a little while longer.
The sphere of sky above me was the same I saw each day in Manhattan. But I never quite saw it. After all, it’s always obscured by tall buildings or city humidity – or you’re looking down because you just stepped in dog shit.
My island doesn’t look like, or sound like, and definitely doesn’t smell like this one. But then again, few do. Come next summer, I’ll be island hopping again.