As Peter and I got off the Q18 bus in Maspeth, he briefed me: “Remember, if anyone asks, we have a car, but it’s in the shop. We love the Mets. And the city hasn’t been right since Giuliani was in charge.”
Maspeth is one of those “real Queens” neighborhoods, where you understand why even the mention of my fair borough’s name inspires fear in the hearts of Manhattanites. There’s no subway access. Everyone owns a car. And the demographic is fairly old-school, conservative white.
We were here because we always make jokes about taking the most impractical transit route. And then occasionally we do it. This time, we were headed to a movie at the wonderful Kew Gardens Cinema. But for some reason that didn’t seem like a really exciting plan until Peter suggested we walk. And to sweeten the pot, he said, we could take a bus first. Starting in Maspeth skipped us over a lot of territory we already knew well and dumped us in an area we wouldn’t otherwise go.
We grabbed a slice of pizza (sesame seeds on the crust!), admired a display on historic Maspeth in the local bank window, and then headed for the nearby cemeteries. There’s a whole swath of them in this part of Queens, which shows where the border of “town” was, way back when–as cemeteries are always set on the outskirts. Now they’re just consumed in the larger tangle of Queens.
We had trouble finding our way into the first one, though some street signs clarified:
We finally made it into the Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery, a refreshingly scrappy place, with lots of plots overrun with weeds and wildflowers and mulberry trees. As the name indicates, it’s the catchall cemetery. There’s a mass memorial to the victims of the General Slocum steamboat fire. Around the edges were newer graves, which some people were visiting for Father’s Day. Fortunately, the cemetery appears to have relaxed its policy on plastic flowers.
On we trudged, through the adjoining cemetery and past thousands of German headstones. In the newer part of this one, many of the graves were for Puerto Ricans. And Chinese. This mishmash, even in death, is what I consider the real Queens.
Out the other side of the cemetery, and we felt like we’d been dumped in some small town. These train tracks are spookily abandoned. I don’t know how a city like New York can afford to have abandoned train tracks cutting through for miles, but that appears to be the case. Maybe they can earn some cash back by hiring them out for a remake of Stand by Me.
But soon we knew we were back in Queens. A utopian version of Queens. We have these kinds of row homes in Astoria, but they’ve all been colossally messed with over the years, so the original vision has been lost.
I’ve never seen such a pristine block. American flags were fluttering. Lexuses were parked. Women were speaking Brazilian Portuguese. Like I said, utopian Queens.
Soon enough, we were on the straightaway, down Metropolitan Ave. Where we saw the Chalet Alpina. I am still mentally apologizing for the extremely stupid penis joke I made, just before a sturdy older gentleman exited the heavy wood front door and said to us in a thick German accent, “Try anysink. You cannot go wrong.” Shamefaced, we peeked inside–only to set eyes on a real live woman playing a real live accordion. It was only 5pm, though, and we weren’t hungry yet for schnitzel. We soldiered on.
When we passed an old-timey soda fountain, we did magically get hungry for ice cream. Our timing was flawless–we’d apparently just missed an insane rush of Father’s Day sundae consumption. Behind the marble counter was a mess of sticky glasses and wadded-up napkins, and our counter guy looked a little shell-shocked. My chocolate ice-cream soda (with chocolate ice cream) was pretty splendid nonetheless. But we were getting close to our appointed movie time, so I had mine in a to-go cup, instead of a nifty glass like this guy’s.
Fueled by sugar, we made it to the theater with five minutes to spare. That gave us five minutes to duck into the wood-paneled gloom of the Homestead Gourmet Shop, where the glass cases are packed with German specialties. The Homestead deli is right across the street from the Homestead retirement home, and they both use a similar typeface in their signs. Could it really be that the two businesses are related? If so, I think I’ll be looking into an assisted-living situation there. And the train whisks by right behind. And the movies are across the street. Where do I sign?
Scooted into our seats for Midnight in Paris just as the previews started. Kew Gardens is a great place to see a movie all about nostalgia, because its halls are lined with old film posters, and the whole operation seems like it’s from a gentler era. Tickets cost $10! The carpeting has cool Art Deco patterns! Genuine teenagers work here! (Non-New Yorkers: This is remarkable because everywhere else in NYC, all the crappy service jobs are held by full-grown adult aspiring actors. Takes some of the innocence out of it.)
After the movie, we heeded the siren accordions of Chalet Alpina and walked back, through Forest Hills Gardens, ogling mansions all the way. We tucked in to wicked schnitzel, some lard-loved spaetzle and hearty goulash soup. Our brusque waitress shamelessly upsold us (“Zat schnitzel is very small. You cannot share it.”), but we couldn’t complain about anything.
We toasted each other with our giant beers. “What a great trip to Wisconsin,” Peter said. Sure, you read about Queens’ ethnic diversity all the time–its Indian, Colombian, Chinese, etc. scenes. But I never expected a day out to end with sauerkraut.
Earlier, just after the movie, we’d had a quick beer on a patio just next to the LIRR tracks. We were looking at our handy-dandy Queens bus map and plotting our next move when our waiter (another teenager) asked, “You guys tourists?” The way he said it made me for once proud and flattered to be a tourist. “Only from Astoria,” Peter answered–but I think that counts.
Total distance: 7.6 miles. Here’s our route.
You might also like to read about our first Queens Walkabout.