Thursday, June 25, 2009

Forest Hills: Now Boarding

By Steve Tiszenkel

One of the very best parts of living in Central Queens is leaving. Oh, don’t look so offended — regular readers of this column know very well that I love it here. It’s just that excellent access to a wide variety of transportation options makes our area a better place than most to vacate, whether by bus, car, subway or commuter train. And the best way to leave is by air.

Forest Hills and Kew Gardens have long been inviting to the aviation inclined purely by an accident of geography: We’re more or less halfway between LaGuardia and JFK. For those of us who take an occasional flight, this nearly makes up for our near-total inability to take advantage of anything flying in or out of Newark. (I’ve repeatedly sworn off that other airport after one too many taxi rides approaching $100, though cheap fares keep luring me back in.) It’s no wonder that this week flight attendant Heather Poole, who lives here, recommended Forest Hills to readers of the travel blog Gadling as a great destination for travelers forced to deal with a moderate layover in New York.

I’m still not sure how this happened, but the last time I flew into LaGuardia, about 25 minutes elapsed between the time the plane’s wheels hit the runway and the moment my cab pulled up to the front of my building. And that time includes the few minutes the driver took to miss a couple of turns despite my repeated instructions. This will likely remain one of the most awe-inspiring travel experiences of my life for years to come.

But I don’t fly very often. I’d do it every week if I could — Lisbon, here I come! — but I still have a job and tickets are still expensive, even if airlines finally have been able to lower prices by charging absurd amounts to check baggage. The real beneficiaries of our comfortable place nestled in the middle of the Borough of Airports are the pilots, flight attendants and airport personnel who have long made the area home and inspired one of the better nicknames for a New York neighborhood, Crew Gardens.

Don’t know many of them personally? Well, they’re not around much. But they’re an unmistakable presence, rushing down Queens Boulevard at a professional gait with their little rolling bags and kicking back at some of the divier bars around. And often they fly under the radar—Forest Hills and Kew Gardens crash pads are the stuff of legend. At a rotating series of addresses in a situation of questionable legality, flight attendants go to the mattresses between quick flights to Dover and Dubuque. In my own building, the story has it, a doctor on the ground floor used to rent his office to a group of them to use during off hours. You don’t know they’re there—you’re not supposed to — but there they are. What, would you rather walk by a crack den on your way to Key Food?

With all this history and convenience, the Forest Hills-Kew Gardens border was the perfect location for a headquarters for JetBlue, easily the neighborhood’s marquee corporation—though one that seems to be, as I complained in this space not long ago, in a big hurry to leave town. But maybe we don’t need them. If just a few readers take Poole’s online advice to do “what flight attendants do” and pay us a quick visit, more will surely follow, and business might pick up around here. It shouldn’t matter whether you work for an airline or are just passing through—Forest Hills is the only way to fly.

The writer is the host of the Website Log on to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.

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