Archive: BOOK - Orchard Beach : The Bronx Riviera
Orchard -- like much of the South Bronx -- had a fearsome rep. The 1970s had not been kind. The city was going broke, and little could be done to keep up the appearance of order. People used to rip up wood planks from park benches and set them alight. Dice and card games ruled along one stretch known as Las Vegas Alley. The sand was littered with broken glass, beer-can pull tabs, and soda bottle tops. And you couldn't even think about getting in the water.
But just like the South Bronx, Orchard came to see better days. By the time Wayne first visited, it's thirteen sections were always packed with people -- a seaside alliance of colors and countries who actually got along (or at least didn't throw down.) Puerto Rican, Italian, Cuban, Dominican, Ghanaian, Panamanian, Albanian, Irish, Korean. You name it, Orchard had it.
Of course, for a place known as the Puerto Rican Riviera, Salsa concerts were a huge draw, with top latin bands playing in a tented stage by the broad pavilion. Fierce games of basketball and paddleball were waged along the courts tucked between the parking lot and the boardwalk. Those seeking quiet -- or a chance to tan parts where the sun don't shine-- would trek off to the northern tip. Caribbean drummers jammed in the shade of the trees. Kids played. People talked.
Life was lived.
And that is what Wayne discovered when he made the trek from "Do or Die" Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, to the "Boogie Down Bronx" -- life in all of its complicated Bronxian glory. He found people who grew up like him, with a no-nonsense single mother. Who might have lost a brother. Who longed to reconnect with a deep part of their culture that refused to die in the face of an unforgiving city. And, yes, to chill out, hear some music, and talk with friends, both old and newfound.
-- David Gonzalez from book introduction.