What I Did This Summer: A New York Bucket List

Summer is on its last legs, teasing us with crisp and blustery moments before seesawing back to sticky heat. Fall is my favorite season, in general but especially in New York, so I am thrilled at each hint of sweater weather that whistles down the wind. But even so, I will be a little sad to see the summer of 2018 go. It was a good one, and a busy one. And that, dear readers, is largely because I made a list.

There are few things in life that thrill me as much as a to-do list, whether I’m making one or checking things off it. And that is why, when I arrived at the end of June feeling like I hadn’t done much with my free time besides lie in front of my fan with Netflix (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), I decided some organization was in order. I was seized by that malaise that muggy days can bring, when the humidity suffocates everything it touches and every step outside feels like wading through a claustrophobic haze. I was determined to break out of my inertia: I might be sweaty, but damn it I was still going to have fun. So I pulled up a fresh note on my phone and began to type.

Some of my to-do’s were things I’d done and loved in past New York years. Others I’d put off again and again. And some were new discoveries or activities specific to the summer of 2018. Many of them revolved around art, and beaches, and baseball. I managed to check most of them off; some will have to keep until summer rolls around again (I’m looking at you, Shakespeare in the Park and the Jazz Age Lawn Party). But that’s ok. Part of the joy of the to-do list is in the making, weaving a web of possibilities, and now I’ve got a jump start on summer 2019.

Things I Did

Brighton Beach

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I made it my mission this summer to visit as many of New York’s beaches as I could. I first discovered the joys of subway-accessible sand two summers ago. I had a magical time, marveled at how I had missed out on it for years, swore to make it a regular thing…and then didn’t make it there a single time in 2017. This year, I was determined, would be different. My tour kicked off in this enclave, which scored major points for ease of accessibility, lack of crowds, and proximity to pierogies. A few friends and I went on the day of the Russia-Croatia World Cup game, following our sun-bathing up with a Russian feast and the beautiful game.

Coney Island

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Speaking of New York’s sandier corners, in five years living here, I had somehow never made it to the iconic Brooklyn boardwalk. I guess I was making up for lost time, because I made three pilgrimages to the land of hot dogs and Cyclones this year: once for the beach, once for baseball, and once for the Mermaid Parade (the last two to-do list items in their own right — in fact, my June trip to the parade was part of what spurred my creation of the list in the first place).

Rockaway Beach+Outdoor Movie

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One of my favorite things about summer in New York (as I’ve written on this blog before) is the availability of outdoor movies, most of them free. Now unfortunately, most of these movies are shown on weeknights — presumably for the convenience of those who, unlike me, work normal schedules. This means that every year I find myself scrolling through a master list of showtimes growing more and more despondent at their decided lack of compatibility with a night shift. But this year, the movie gods smiled upon me, and there it was: an outdoor showing, on a Saturday evening, at Rockaway Beach, of “Big Fish.” Everything New York summer dreams are made of! [Note: In reality, this turned out to be more of a movie screening on the concrete steps adjacent to the beach, and the signage and punctuality of the event left much to be desired, but it was still a nice way to spend a balmy night.]

Narcissus Garden by Yayoi Kusama+Rockaway Ferry

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I returned to the Rockaways for the third iteration of the “Rockaway!” public art festival — a collaboration between the Rockaway Artists Alliance, the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, and the National Park Service that celebrates the resilience of the area, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, this installation of silvery orbs in a delapidated old train garage was the brainchild of the Japanese artist and queen of polka dots, Yayoi Kusama. Insta-bait, and conveniently located in Fort Tilden, which is my favorite stretch of Rockaway Beach. And I paired this outing with my new favorite mode of metropolitan transportation: the ferry!

Staten Island Ferry

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Speaking of ferries, this may not sound like a summer-specific activity, and it’s not. But my original plan — to pair my first-ever Staten Island ferry ride with a Pizza Rats* game— was definitely seasonal. Downpours thwarted the sporty part of my plan, but I still got to give the ferry a check. And my cohort and I spent a rainy afternoon knocking back goses at the Flagship Brewery, which is not a bad way to wile away the hours if you ask me.

*The erstwhile Staten Island Yankees held a poll in 2016, allowing the public to rename the team. Having learned nothing from Boaty McBoatface, when the votes were in they found themselves facing a lifetime as the Pizza Rats. They decided to adopt their new moniker only for Saturday home games this season — enabling me, on select nights only, to cheer them on without any Red Sox fan guilt.

Mets Game

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My DNA may preclude me from cheering for the damn Yankees, but I have no such genetic inhibitions when it comes to New York’s other, clearly superior team. This is one of those things that’s been on my to-do list since I moved to the city, and this year my lady friends and I journeyed to Citi Field and made it happen. It was…not quite as thrilling as I was expecting (not every team can be the Red Sox). But the weather was perfect, the hot dogs and beer and ice cream were plentiful, and the Mets won! So all in all, a success.

Outdoor Concert

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Most of my favorite summer activities involve being outside, and one of my favorite things to do free from a building’s constraints is listen to music — particularly if it’s being played by one of my favorite bands. Friend-of-the-blog Katie and I made a pilgrimage last year to see The Avett Brothers play under the stars in Cooperstown, NY. This year, in what is now officially a tradition, we journeyed to Bethlehem, PA (which I realize is not technically in New York, and therefore may not seem to qualify for this list, but we did try to go in New York first so I say it counts). I adore the Avetts, and I especially love seeing them live and outside. Thunderstorms delayed, and delayed, and almost cancelled the event. But in the end, the show did go on! And, as always, it was magic. Plus we managed to squeeze in a visit to my cousin and his wife, who very kindly hosted us, and took advantage of our rental car to check off the next item on my list.

Storm King

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I’d been to Storm King before in the fall (and must admit, I think I prefer it that way) but wanted to see it when everything was more green than gold. Plus, the 500-acre outdoor modern art museum is really only accessible by car, and Katie had never been. So off we went, racing a thunderstorm with clear skies ahead but ominous clouds close on our tail. We only managed about an hour at the park before the weather forced us back in our car, and even in that small window we managed to become completely drenched in sweat and drizzle. But the storm clouds just made the sweeping vistas, punctuated by Sol LeWitt’s or Alexander Calder’s, all the more majestic: a fitting backdrop for a museum of this name. And with the weather having scared most of the other art nerds away (in hindsight, wandering through large fields dotted by tall metal structures as a thunderstorm, complete with lightning, approached may not have been the wisest idea), we had the place almost entirely to ourselves.

Habana Outpost

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Many years ago now, on my way from home to a new life in Paris, I stopped in New York for a brief, pre-move visit. My first night here, my friend and I stood in the rush line at B.A.M., getting tickets for a show I’ve long forgotten. And when we found ourselves without seats and with an open evening suddenly stretching before us, she brought me over to this bar. There was a a huge backyard, crisscrossing by colorful string lights and full of salsa music. We ordered frozen mojitos that frosted up our plastic cups and grilled corn generously dusted with cheese and spices. And on my first-ever Brooklyn evening, we sat under the stars and ate and drank and laughed and I fell a little bit in love with this place.

Habana Outpost is only open during the summer, since all of its seating is outside, and I’d never managed to make it back after moving here post-France; I always managed to remember it existed when it was cold, and closed. But on the last August Friday afternoon of 2018, I finally returned. I got the same mojito and corn (plus tacos). I sat with friends. And I realized how far I’d come from that scared girl, just out of school and teetering on the brink of a new chapter. She had no idea what adventures lay ahead, the friends she would make and places she would see and life she would make for herself here. And I felt grateful. I felt home.

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