Back in the day, my friends and I used to hang out at Astoria Park. Like every other major park in New York City, Astoria Park has basketball courts, softball fields, a track, and an Olympic Size pool, but what makes Astoria Park the best park in New York City is its main attraction: “The Strip” Shore Boulevard. Shore Boulevard is a mile stretch of shorefront overlooking the East River and sitting beneath the Hell Gate Bridge. Teenagers from every borough and Long Island used to flock to Astoria Park to cruise the strip.
On a beautiful summer day it could take upwards of a half-hour just to do one lap around the park, and on the weekends, if you wanted to park your car and hang out with your friends you’d better get down there early.
The Strip was divided into several different sections. If you were a die hard Rock-n-Roller in a tie-dye Led Zeppelin tee shirt and ripped jeans, you could probably be found hanging out by the monument, a war memorial, located at the half way point of the strip. If you were a guy sporting a mullet, or a girl with her hair teased to the moon in a tank top, deck shoes, and listened to free style music, you were likely at the Guido Bus Stop, North of the Monument. If you were a stoner, then you were probably down out at the end of the strip by the weed spot.
Once you were old enough to get your driver’s license, you’d cruise in any car you and your friends could get your hands on, but once you started hanging out down at the park, it quickly became imperative to get some nice wheels to cruise the strip. Astoria Park was the place to showcase your “ride.” Some days it was like a car show down at there — you could stand in awe watching mint luxury sedans and muscle cars pass one after another. If you were hanging out at the park late enough, every once in a while you’d even catch a fierce drag race.
For several years my friends and I practically lived down at the park. Our days started and ended with a cruise through the strip to see who was hanging out. Even on a Sunday morning, driving grandmother to church, you’d have a quick ride through. On Saturday nights, my friends and I used to meet down at the park before going out, and after a night of clubbing we’d hit a diner and then meet at the park again before heading home.
As per tradition at my high school, the graduating class picked a day at the end of May to ditch school and celebrate our accomplishments down at Astoria Park drinking beer and dancing in the middle of the street. Unfortunately, our Senior Cut Day was a little too much fun, and one of the senior boys got really drunk. Some kids got him home but were too scared to confront the boys parents, so they left him passed out on the front lawn, rang the bell, and left. The boys parents, who were affluent in the community, were justifiably upset and made some phone calls. When it came to light that there was underage drinking going on down at the park, everything about the park changed over night. The next day there was a huge police presence down there, conducting checkpoints and cars stop. The City installed speed bumps — killing the drag races — and just like that, our once beloved park became unrecognizable for a long time. By the end of that summer, I had started college and begun working, and my endless days of hanging out down at the park with all my friends were over. My life had begun.
Back in the day, my friends and I used to hang out down at Astoria Park. The first and last thing we did every day was cruise the strip. Even to this day, whenever I’m in Astoria, I can’t help but take a ride through the park. My friends might not be there anymore, but the memories of a well-spent youth still are, and hopefully they will never fade.