Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Everything Old is New Again

Gone, but not forgotten.
Yesterday I chaperoned a bunch of 9 year olds to Coney Island for an end of the school year romp. I've always loved Coney, but finding the words to describe the decrepit beauty of its old boardwalk, rides, and flea markets alude me at this moment. Maybe because I'm still drifting through Patti Smith's description in Just Kids (I swooned in agreement when she said that it always seemed magical to take a subway to the ocean). Pulling into Surf Avenue on the D train, the kids were so excited their heads were about to pop off. I was already feeling like I could duck into an Excedrin commercial.

We had fun, but Jamie had a cold and his inner ear was whispering to him to not go on the new "High Thrill" rides that his friends were going on, for example The Tickler, a candy colored roller coaster with large spinning cars that hold about 8 people. The rides have all been personalized with "Coney Island" graphics, including a fresh rendition of Tillie, the Steeplechase face. I can understand why they've been decorated like that, but it almost has an air of desperate "Please Like Me" appeal. The park has been so sanitized that nary a ghost can be seen from the shuttered Astroland. Now, you enter a big gate not unlike the one leading to Willy Wonka's house. Before you go further, step up to the ticket booth and purchase scannable bracelets or a Luna Card, which will allow you to play the carney games (the bracelet was $26 for four hours of unlimited rides). There's something sad about not being able to impulsively pull out a crumpled dollar bill to give to your kid when he begs you to take a plastic duck fishing. Now you need to anticipate the desire and purchase the card in advance.

I've just been to Six Flags in New Jersey for the first time, and can now say with accuracy that the rides at Coney are similar in their modernity and safety features. Aside from the Cyclone, the grand ole wooden gal who still remains despite encroaching progress, the new rides could be spotted on any boardwalk; the Starbucks of Amusement Parks. Harnesses that hold people in from the shoulders down abound.

Next time we head back, I'll avoid this park altogether and take my money to the Wonder Wheel and the old arcade. I didn't mosey back through that maze because it would have put me down another $30 without batting a lash, and so don't know if the Haunted House remains... does it?

If it weren't for shiny happy faces, the new boardwalk would have depressed the hell out of me. In present company, I didn't sidle up to the freshened up Ruby's. Gone are the old clam bars with the fake foods in the windows and fading paintings (one we reference a lot is a guy with a bubble coming out of his head saying, simply, "Hey Joey!"). Nope. You can find iced coffees with an extra shot of espresso. You wouldn't be slightly afraid to eat the food, its edges draped in ancient grease from fryers. Instead, there are slurpy machines and high-end looking ice cream cones. The storefronts are pristine, and to my mind seem out of place against the backdrop of this slice of New York beachfront. Thank god for Dino (RIP) and his unchanged Wonder Wheel.


  1. "You wouldn't be slightly afraid to eat the food, its edges draped in ancient grease from fryers." Priceless and heart-tugging.

  2. Ugh - I couldn't agree more - I'm a born and bred Brooklyn gal and MOURN the old C.I. - old grease and all!!

  3. Magical yes, in the 50's my mother would take me down to Coney from Manhattan on the train. There was no air conditioning on the subway then, and you could smell the sea air through the open windows on the train as you got near. I remember every year my first glimpse of the parachute jump, and my mother would cry out, "Coney Island, down the bay!" Then, I would see the sun shining on the water, like diamonds. When we got off the train at Stillwell, we walked into the station loaded with food vendors and you would be overwhelmed by the smell of food cooking. Overwhelmed, in a nice way. Truly, a feast for all senses.