“On April 30, 1993, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) put the web into the public domain a decision that has fundamentally altered the past quarter-century.” --DAVID GROSSMAN
Although plenty of our pastime activities included electronic entertainment and movies, the 1980s offered kids a multitude of recreational distractions that may be less relatable to today’s youth. Whether timeless or lost to time, this ongoing series is dedicated to the many 1980s activities in which we engaged.
This week’s installment of “Before the Internet” is a rather intangible and evasive choice. Certainly “exploring” is nothing as solid, nothing as specific as previous topics like the NES or Street Games. But that’s precisely what urged me to write about childhood exploration, whether that be urban, suburban, rural, or some combination thereof. I’d wager that if I were to ask each reader to define exactly what exploration as children in the ‘80s meant to them, we’d all come up with something recognizable yet different. So let’s hop on our trusty bikes and pedal into the great unknown of 1980-something, where the sky is overcast with looming storms and the wind carries a far-off smell of wonder.
Most of my ‘80s exploration is relegated to the wilds of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn . Even though we lacked the great expanse of the forest, kids can always find those hidden places, far from adult’s prying eyes, where we could weave some grand and imaginative world within a world. And so it was, even in that concrete place of exhaust and pavement, there were discoveries to be made.
One of our favorite places to explore was beyond the Bath Beach Park. We’d cross the Tashlich footbridge, taking us over the Belt Parkway and to the Shore Parkway Greenway Trail. This is a long, paved road that runs parallel to the ocean. At one time—long before I was born—this area was a beach. But when they built the highway, they also erected a seawall. It was here we’d sometimes go to fish over the railing, catching porgies, blowfish, and other unidentifiable creatures we’d often speculate over. Sea bass, fluke, the Kraken? Anything was possible.
If we weren’t in a fishing mood, sometimes we’d just bike our way left or right. To the left, if we went far enough, we’d eventually find ourselves at a shopping center called Caesar’s Bay that housed a Toys ‘r Us, Kids ‘r Us, and most spectacularly, something called Caesar’s Bay Bazaar . If we turned right, we’d eventually reach the Verrazzano Bridge.
Most days, instead, we strove to touch the sea.
As I said, Shore Parkway ran parallel to the ocean, but also above the ocean by at least a couple meters. It was separated by a railing and seawall, so of course there was no safe way to get down to the ocean. That is, unless one were willing to traverse the treacherous Polka Dot Rocks .
In many areas of Shore Parkway there were these giant boulders that climbed from the sea, stacked one upon the other like a great rock graveyard. And in one specific spot, those rocks came right up to the edge of the railing so that adventurous sorts might be able to swing over and climb down the rocks until they reached water. Our parents were keenly aware of this dangerous spot and had warned us to never, ever climb down those rocks.
We took this to mean we should just be very careful and never mention our adventures to any nearby adults who might spill the beans. How could we ignore the spectacularly dangerous activity? So we would climb down onto the rocks, being careful of our footing, until we reached either a nice spot to sit and hang out, or until we reached the water below.
On one such memorable occasion, we found a jellyfish caught within a shallow pool of water between some rocks, perhaps having been stranded there as low tide came. We took turns poking at it with a rotted piece of wood. Not hard, and not to hurt it, but just to see what a jelly fish felt like. As we all gathered closer on the slippery rocks, the unthinkable happened.
My brother slipped and fell in.
We were very lucky because he’d only slipped into one of the shallow areas between rocks (and not into the actual ocean), but he'd been soaked all the way up to his knees! We all rushed back up to the pathway and jumped on our bikes, setting our young brains to the task of spinning the perfect yarn to explain what had happened to Mike's pants. Something that would explain how he'd become soaked, and why he smelled distinctly of the sea.
My decidedly brilliant idea was this: it was a freak water fountain accident! Seriously. That's what we told my parents.
And would you believe they didn't buy it for one second? Nope, they took one look at Mike (and probably one sniff) and knew exactly what had happened without our even having to say anything. Though of course, they made us explain it all anyway, and then we were doubly punished for not only disobeying their warning to never climb the Polka Dot Rocks, but because we'd then also lied about it.
That did it for exploration for a week, but being kids, it wasn't long before we were back out looking for those mystical, hidden spots of the world where we might discover something new, something strange, and something magical. Sure, sometimes it was a little dangerous, but that's what made it all the more exciting.
What's your most exciting story of exploration before the Internet?
 I moved to Pennsylvania in 1993, where I would experience the wonderful exploration of rural roads and deep forests too.  There’s so much to say about Caesar’s Bay, I’ll have to save it for a future article.  So named for the multicolored polka-dots that were spray painted on the rocks in that area. We of course don’t know for sure who did it, but we speculated teenagers in some distant past.