Six Hours In Canarsie

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Bwog staffer Lydia Ross spent a day in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie exploring the hidden gems of Rockaway Blvd.

Despite a history of racial tensions, Canarsie—located near the southeastern shore of Brooklyn—is today home to an incredibly diverse population of Europeans, African-Americans, and Caribbean immigrants. In search of cultural history and potential adventure, I took the L train to the end of the line and began my exploration.

Discounts, Discounts, Discounts! (10:30)
I step off the train onto Rockaway Parkway, the busiest shopping street in Canarsie, and am overwhelmed by signs advertising discount merchandise. My first stop is Stella’s Wholesale Liquidations, which has everything from the Smart Edge Bilingual Laptop for kids to framed copies of Impressionist art. Next I proceed to one 99-cent store after another, buying more cheap shit than a girl could go through in a dozen lifetimes.

“I Got a Horse Right Here, his Name is Paul Revere…” (12:00)
Further down Rockaway I see a placard for Off the Track Betting, a legal but shady looking establishment with long dark curtains in the storefront window. Inside, I find one of the most interesting examples of Canarsie’s cultural diversity: there are Jews, Latinos, African-Americans and Italians, all with strong accents, all old. This is a place of business, but it also seems like the social hotspot for the “over sixty” crowd. The youngest guy in the room turns as I leave and says with his thick New York accent, “Look, a lady in here. Yup, there she goes. No more ladies in here.”

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (12:30)
Continuing down Rockaway I pass a slew of restaurants with the word “Yummy” in the title followed by their food type (“Yummy Chinese Restaurant,” “Yummy Taco,” “Yummy Jamaican Restaurant and Jerk Center”). As yummy as these places seem, I head towards Avenue L, the neighborhood’s other major shopping street. Known affectionately as “The Heart of Canarsie,” it provides a sense of history, with stores that have been around since the ‘40s. As further proof that ethnic and religious groups now coexist peacefully in Canarsie, the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, Temple Beth Eloheim, and the Premiere Haitian Baptise, covered in French writing, are all on the same block.

100% Playground (2:30)
When I see at sign outside a Jewish deli advertising their “Manna Burger,” I just can’t resist. Its taste, unfortunately, was about as bland as its title was amusing. On Glenwood Road I find a park with the greatest name ever: “100% Playground.” I pick up a hot chocolate from a nearby street vender and sit down to read and watch the Canarsie world go by. Across the road, I see an auto repair shop with an old painted front reading “First Carriage Repairs”—it fixed horse-drawn carriages back in the day!

Brooklyn Public Library, Canarsie Style (3:00)
I had read that this tiny, run down library was one of Canarsie’s main attractions, but at first I’m not sure why. As I make my way around, however, I stop to appreciate the hanging inflatable fish, whale, frog, and fleur d’elis. I sit down for a bit to read a copy of the Jewish Press, one of the many cultural newspapers they offer, and thoroughly enjoy a piece entitled “Who Created the Miracle of Jewish Existence?” A miracle indeed.

To Bella’s (3:45)
I stop in Bella’s Bakery back on Rockaway, and for $1.50 I’m in carrot cake heaven. Savoring each bite, I discuss with the lady behind the counter the pros and cons of working in a bakery when you detest baked goods.

Time to Depart (4:15)
Anticipating the long ride back and, quite frankly, having run out of things to do, I head back to the busy train station and wave goodbye to Canarsie as the L pulls me back to Manhattan.

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