Saturday, September 24, 2011

The New York Cherney Journey: Hello, My Coney Island Baby

As far as our New York itinerary went, I had no personal agenda. I wanted to remain as flexible as a Cirque de Soleil hooker since we would be exposed to the realm of all possibilities. After all, the Big Apple was our oyster.

My short to-do list did include a visit to Coney Island and, since I was alone in my fascination with this iconic spot of Brooklyn, I took off in search of said Isle of Coney. Without trepidation, I hopped on the subway all by my lonesome self, feeling the invigoration of adventure in my blood for the first time in quite awhile. The subway was no big deal, merely a mode of transport and more efficient (and less treacherous) than I had been led to believe. No PELHAM 123 scenario here. Upon arrival, the last stop on the line, I exited the station and lo and behold, there it was in all of its former glory: The Coney Island Boardwalk.

To be frank, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. New York in general was a series of pre-and ill-conceived notions, I was relieved to see this landmark vacation spot was in such half-way decent shape. Before I left Oregon, I picked up a used copy of an American Express New York Travel Guide for a quarter at my local library. Since it was an impulse buy, I didn’t check the date: 1990. Oh well. I like a good historical tract as much as anyone.Twenty one years ago, American Express had this to say about Coney Island:

For generations, of working class New Yorkers, Coney Island was Riviera on the Subway. It has fallen on hard times, the shattered and burned out housing inland occupied by pensioners and the poor, the amusement center a wasteland.
In other words, American Express: Don’t leave home without it. Or pepper spray.

Since that time, the beach had been widened and the area cleaned up in an attempt to resuscitate the Boardwalk area and to accommodate the throngs that still want to do nothing more than spend a day at the beach and that included me

First things first, I just had to have a Nathan’s hot dog, especially since it was on the list.
Smaller than I wanted it to be, I opted for just a line of mustard on this dark little dog and took my first bite. Holy crap. This really lived up to the hype. It’s all in the casing. That’s the damn secret. Those skinless jobs that’s sold across the country just don’t measure up. You need that snap of a crisp casing to make it oh so damn tasty.

Out onto the Boardwalk, I gave a huge sigh of relief. It may have been pert near deserted considering the time o’ year, but I was just so very grateful to plant my two feet onto its wooden planks, a boardwalk in the truest sense of the word. I walked, the length and breadth of it, to and fro, pretty much cooking myself in the process since I absent-mindedly neglected to apply sunblock before my trip. Seems I’d enjoyed Nathan’s dogs so much that I had some intrinsic desire to resemble one. Besides, I look good in red.

The amusement park is trying a comeback after falling in disrepair over the years. No matter what rides they add to their mix, it will never regain its former glory, but at least they’re trying. While the Cyclone roller coaster is out of commission and Ye Olde Parachute Ride is a mere skeleton, it did my heart good to see the Wonder Wheel still in operation.

As I strolled up and down the promenade and eventually to the beach, I seemed to absorb the pleasures of summers past. I couldn’t help but recall my own family vacations in Santa Cruz, another place near and dear to my heart. Sure, Coney Island has seen better days, but that was before my time. These are the memories I’ll be taking with me. The end result was that the past informed the present to make these my good old days.

To end the day, I took in the Coney Island Circus Side Show, located just about a block away from Nathan’s and basically at the entrance of the amusement park. This is what is known as an authentic ten-in-one sideshow, acts that not even the circus carries anymore but these folks are carrying on in that proud tradition. The show is continuous, every hour on the hour until nightfall with performers like The Human Blockhead hammering a nail into his nasal cavity, Baron von Gieger picking up a weight with hooks attached to his eyelids, Nati the Patchwork Girl’s firedance and a chap whose name I did not get who swallowed razor blades and a string, then coughed them all up attached to that very string like a cat choking up a furball. The show was hosted by Ray Valenz, who claims to be the grand-nephew of Richie “La BambaValenz. What would Lou Diamond Phillips say?

Before I left Coney Island, I just had to have another Nathan’s. That never happens to me. (If you ever go, forget the sauteed onions. They may not be from this century.) Munching on my dog on my way to the subway, I heard the faint tinkling of what I could only make to be bottles tapping and a whiny voice in the distance calling:

“Warriors…come out and play-ay….”

Then it faded away again. Just another ghost. Or maybe too much sun.

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