By Corey Kilgannon
Photographs and Video by Leslye Davis
Weekday mornings bring rush-hour chaos to the Queensboro Bridge.
“You have cars, trucks, cabs, and they’re all blowing their horns,” said Oscar Vivar, whose sidewalk coffee cart on the Manhattan side of the bridge overlooks a battlefield, with traffic agents fighting gridlock, and drivers vying for tiny advances along clogged streets.
Amid the raging rat race, Mr. Vivar works his tiny grill making egg sandwiches next to a column of traffic inching onto the bridge and sees the lucky people headed out to lovely summer weekends on eastern Long Island.
“That’s the American dream,” said Mr. Vivar, a Mexican immigrant whose wife, Sara Moran, works alongside him.
The bridge is the western end — let’s call it the beginning — of New York State Route 25, whose local street name changes frequently as it snakes roughly 100 miles from Queens to the eastern tip of Long Island.
With parkways and expressways offering far quicker passage, no practical person would opt to drive the length of Route 25 with its changing speed limits and hundreds of traffic lights.
But a recent daylong jaunt along the entirety of the route — following the 25 East signs and stopping frequently to sample life along the way — showed how a single road could tie together vastly different worlds extending from the ethnic pockets of Queens to suburban sections of Nassau and Suffolk Counties to bucolic stretches of the North Fork, furthest east.
The Queensboro Bridge over the East River led into Queens Plaza and onto Queens Boulevard under the clattering elevated 7 Train, a subway line known as the “International Express” for its passage through some of the most ethnically diverse immigrant neighborhoods in any city in the world.
Along the boulevard, in Sunnyside, is a charming breakfast shop called Alpha Donuts, where Patty Zorbas, a Greek immigrant, has been serving up breakfast for decades behind a small counter.
“They know everyone who comes in,” said Ed Kirsch, who sat and bantered with the grill man, Nick Skoufis, as James Eric Adler and his son, Arlo, 3, sat nearby enjoying a cruller.
Queens Boulevard is the spine of the borough, a sprawling thoroughfare that ends at Hillside Avenue. Route 25 continues along Hillside, which is narrower and lined with small storefronts often distinguished by nationality.
Standing near the intersection of Hillside and Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica, you can spot outposts for Indian eyebrow-threading and wiring money to Haiti, an African market, a halal deli, as well as Sri Lankan, Guatemalan and Jamaican food places.
“It’s a multitude of different ethnicities and cultures and everyone mostly gets along,” said Aliesa Ramdharry, 31, a Guyanese immigrant who was folding laundry and fixing a washing machine at Everest Laundromat, which had signs in English, Spanish and Bengali. “It’s middle class or maybe a little lower. You see a lot of crazy things but also a lot of good things.”
Heading east, Route 25 hangs a right onto Braddock Avenue through Bellerose, and then follows, briefly, Jamaica Avenue and then Jericho Turnpike. Past the city limits and into Nassau County it is now the suburbs, with neat, single-family houses and large chain stores and strip malls.
“It’s a good, working-class, busy area and very neighborhoody,” said Dr. Joe Moreira, 58, who was buying a sandwich at Ardito’s Italian-American Deli in Mineola. Ardito’s opened in 1956 and remains a family-run place with no menus or written suggestions.
Dr. Moreira, a neurologist, said he raised four children in Manhasset, a well-to-do area that was a far cry from his unrestrained childhood in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
“Being a kid in the suburbs today is very different,” he said. “We played stickball and stoop ball. They have play dates and organized sports.”
Jericho Turnpike continues east into Suffolk County and through Huntington, where suddenly there was a man riding a motorized scooter against traffic on the shoulder of the road.
He was William Collier, 58, and he wore his dog tags outside his shirt, with a “U.S. Veteran” sticker on his scooter.
Mr. Collier, an Army veteran, said he was returning from the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center and was dealing with issues that included a bullet lodged in his left ankle dating to a mishap during training in 1979.
He said he grew up the youngest of 16 children — “all from one mother, one father” — in South Jamaica, just off Route 25, some 20 miles west.
“Growing up, we had gangs and racial fights, but you fought and you were done with it,” he said. “I think the world has gotten more cowardly today, with people hiding behind their guns.”
Further east, Route 25 is known as Middle Country Road and on the right was Miller’s Ale House in Lake Grove.
“This used to be a two-lane road,” said Nick Buongervino, who was sitting with his wife, Marilyn, at the bar, both wearing beachy outfits that screamed: happily retired.
They were taking advantage of the Wednesday $15 lobster special, a respite from the high cost of living on Long Island, which they said gets more crowded and expensive every year.
“It used to be five minutes to the expressway — now it takes 17,” he said, referring to the Long Island Expressway. Ms. Buongervino nodded and added: “I used to get the groceries home in five minutes, before the ice cream melted — now it takes 15.”
Further east, in Centereach, was Cliff’s Tattoo studio, a popular inking parlor decorated like a tattoo museum with an old sideshow feel.
A young woman asked for an estimate for a simple butterfly design on her wrist. Around $70, said Anthony La Femina, 49, a retired New York City Police detective who now works illustrating people.
She declined and walked out.
“She can probably get some guy in his basement to do it for a cigarette and a $20 bill,” Mr. La Femina said. “And then she’ll be back here asking us to fix it.”
Further east, Route 25, becomes increasingly rural, passing the Long Island Pine Barrens, Calverton National Cemetery, the Tanger Outlets stores and then heading through downtown Riverhead as West (then East) Main Street.
Then, as Main Road, Route 25 runs through wine country, past fields, charming hamlets, and old-bones farmhouses, vineyards and wineries.
“Long Island wines have gained respect — they really hold their own,” said Chris Weiss, a Manhattan banker who was buying a case of 2014 Cabernet Franc at Pindar Vineyards in Peconic.
In Greenport, a village flush with summer tourists, the route is called Front Street and passes a village green with a carousel overlooking the old whaling harbor. On the left is the Whiskey Wind Tavern, a dive bar for locals averse to the prices at tourist spots.
There is country music on the jukebox, a pool table, a faded cigarette machine and $3 Bud Light drafts during happy hour.
“It’s like family here,” said Harley Britt, 25, a laborer who sipped whiskey and said he’d take Greenport over Manhattan any day. “We all know each other and help each other out.”
Heading further east, the land narrows with water close on both sides. It is a long way from Manhattan rush hour. The smell is of salt water, not exhaust, and the competing traffic is an osprey gliding on the wind off Gardiners Bay.
“Roadway Ends 2000 Feet,” a sign warned. Ahead, drivers were lined up for the ferry from Orient Point to New London, Conn., including Joe Kinney, 52.
Mr. Kinney, the head baseball coach at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, was teaching and scouting on Long Island and, now bound for a Nantucket vacation, was taking the ferry “to save a little time and a lot of stress.”
The ferry, the Susan Anne, lowered its ramp and took aboard the cars leaving Route 25, which had reached its end.