Fire Island is not just for homosexuals.
Despite its reputation as “the place where gay people go”, (Exhibit A, below) the Fire Island Ferry was not, in fact, full of fairies.* As peak season accommodations are limited and expensive, Fire Island proves to be a perfect daytime destination, for anyone.
Dig and I, in search of a whimsical adventure or two, boarded an early train from Penn Station. The Long Island Railroad is surprisingly and astonishingly reliable, particularly in comparison to its bridge-and-tunnel counterpart, NJ Transit. Eager island-hopping Manhattanites can land in Jamaica (Queens) in just 20 minutes where a connecting train to Speonk (Speeeee-Yonnnnk!) will transport you to Bay Shore in 40 from there.
At the train station $4 bus-taxis to the docks are available and waiting. In the kind of proper orthoepy only Strong Island can produce, the Ed Hardy clad passenger sitting behind us blurted, “yo, is there a cash machine on this island or is this going to be like some primitive shit?” We learned quickly – it’s certainly something like that.
Bring cash. Many vendors, including the Fire Island Ferries, do not accept credit cards.
A round-trip ferry ticket is $17. It also left precisely on time, and after a short sail across the bay, we set foot on solid ground in the village of Ocean Beach. Door to door travel time is approximately between 2-3 hours.
Only service vehicles are allowed in the village, and bicycles are prohibited on weekends. Awesome. The village is only a few blocks long and is easily covered on foot. It is so small that we happened to run into Seth Gilliam (aka Ellis Carver of HBO’s The Wire) on 4 different occasions, 3 of which were at meal times. There are as few as 12 restaurants, 3 ice cream shops, and a handful of bars that line streets between the bay and the beach, but it’s more than enough to entertain.
Weekenders flooded Bay Walk as the afternoon arrived and though perhaps unfamiliar to the locals, we were not at all unwelcome. It’s the kind of town where everyone is friendly with each other and where competition is not between businesses but rather between neighboring lemonade stands. I like that. Dozens of unshod denizens pulling Radio Flyer wagons take precedent over Range Rovers packed with Eddie Bauer beach gear. Such wagons have registered parking spots, and only senior citizens have the luxury of sharing a communal golf cart – which barely fits down the sidewalk-like roads.
Fire Island is also apparently home to a dense population of WTF dogs, including the most aggressive black poodle strutting around with juice-head swagger. I swear this dog begs for hair gel and protein shakes in the morning.
Our unorganized afternoon was spent watching a softball game in the park, filling up on heroes (aka subs/grinders/wedges/hoagies – depending on which part of the North East you pledge allegiance to), sitting on the beach, and sailing off to the sunken forest. This 200+ year old woodland extends over 40 acres, much of which is immersed in the bay. An hour long walk through the forest exposed hidden treasures like a family of swans swimming in the marsh and amazing vantage points of the lush surroundings.
Another water taxi ride took us back to town. With wind-blown hair, we dreamily docked at Matthew’s restaurant for dinner. The service was great and the lobster bake – New England clam chowder, steamers, lobster, and corn on the cob – was outstanding. The simple culinary preparation embodied the energy of the day: carefree, un-meticulously planned perfection.
The crowd is a funny mix of young families, locals, and Hofstra students, but remains unbastardized by flocks of Jersey-shore types. Food and services are not suburban-cheap, but Fire Island seemed to remain clean of any gaudy displays of the filthy rich. Any wealthy Wall Street type that would opt out of Newport for F.I. on M.D.W. apparently goes incognito here. I appreciate the barefoot buoyancy of Ocean Beach.
After sunset, those college age kids filled the streets to soak up the nightlife while the better behaved elementary aged children slurped up the last of their shakes as nightcaps. Fire island offers the kind of blithe beach life disgruntled New Yorkers need without the pretense of the Hamptons. And at about half the distance, Fire Island is fun for the whole family.
*Lady Dada is a proud supporter of the LGBT community… she attended art school at NYU for kerfuffle’s sake
Lady Dada can be reached at LadyDada@GDPmagazine.com.