Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Coney Island 2008

Last week, I went with my wife and my brother's family to Coney Island. I hadn't been there in about five years, which seems pretty unbelievable, but now I remember why I'm not usually in a rush to get there every summer.

Coney Island used to be kind of a resort. When it was first built up as an amusement park and boardwalk, it was considered pretty far out of the city. (Nowadays, of course, it's part of the city.) Remember, they were still using horses and buggies to travel around in those days. Still, it got pretty crowded in those days too, though the amusement parks were cleaner, newer and classier, as were most of the people that attended them. Proper attire seemed to be a requirement.

These days, Coney Island attracts basically the rabble of New York City, most of them walking or arriving by subway train, with those who can afford it generally heading further out on Long Island (or New Jersey) where the beaches are cleaner and less crowded. Coney Island's couple of small amusement parks - Astroland and Deno's - are not really the attractions that the old Luna Park and Dreamland once were, at least judging from the pictures (not that I'm old enough to have experienced them). The current parks are basically glorified street carnivals, old and run down and not really maintained too well anymore (in fact, a lot's being made of the supposed fact that this is the last year before the area is redeveloped). So most people are just going for the beach and boardwalk anyway.

We made the mistake of going there on a) a weekend, b) the hottest day of the year, and c) Puerto Rican day. Nothing against Puerto Ricans whatsoever, it just made it a lot more crowded as a lot of people made their way from the parade to Coney Island. When I say it was crowded, I mean it was swapping sweat crowded.

There's some serious visual pollution going on there if you ask me. Of course, I stuck out like a sore thumb in my black jeans and boots, but I didn't actually go on the beach - I took this from the boardwalk. I didn't plan to be going into the water. How relaxing does that look? Not very. My brother, who did go in the water, said it was like 12 people deep at every point - you had to stand in a tiny little area to keep from bumping into someone else.

There are two things I need to do when I go to Coney Island.

1. Get a hot dog at Nathan's.
2. Ride the Cyclone.

I have a Nathan's right near us on Long Island that is not crammed full of people, is clean, and has actual seats where you can actually sit down. But my brother's right in that while it may taste the same, it really isn't the same. The Coney Island Nathan's is the original one; you gotta go there. The shared metal standing table, which usually resembles a trough more than anything, is just part of the experience.

I rode the Cyclone with my brother. See if you can pick us out here (hint, I'm the dorkiest looking guy on the ride):

The Cyclone is, if you ask me, the best wooden roller coaster in the country. It defines everything that's good about wooden roller coasters. For one thing, it feels like it's going to fall apart at any moment. For another, it doesn't let up - there is no rest on the Cyclone, no time to catch your breath. And it's deceiving. Everybody thinks it's some sort of kiddie coaster before they get on it the first time. It looks really small from the outside. It doesn't look particularly fast. The hills aren't all that high.

But as soon as you hit that first drop, you know you've misjudged. Because it's so compact, the designers exaggerated all the angles, hills, and turns. Every bend in the track is super-sharp. It actually circles back on itself twice, so it's much longer than it looks. The first and second hills both feel like they're close to 90 degrees. There's crazy air time, where you're forced up against the seat restraint, which is just a lap bar - nothing else. And this thing is old-school - it wasn't designed by computer, but by a couple of guys working on a sheet of paper. It feels really dangerous.

It's $8 now to ride the Cyclone, but it's worth it. Re-rides are $5, although if it's not too busy, they'll actually haggle with you. They offered to let us go again for $3. I didn't take them up on it, because seriously, once is enough for me. It's fun, but twice in a row would probably make me sick.

The Cyclone is actually the last of many great Coney Island roller coasters, and it may not even have been the best one (though that's like saying Grand Central Terminal may not have been the best train station in New York, which is just as true and just as moot). I don't remember ever seeing or riding the Tornado, which burned down in 1977, though I surely remember the Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt was made famous (outside of NYC) in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall", but it stopped operating just a few years later. It sat there derelict for about two decades afterwards, and it was a pretty sad sight. Anyway, some people liked the Thunderbolt better than the Cyclone, but I don't know if I ever rode it so I can't really compare.

On our way out, I picked up a funnel cake - another sort-of tradition for me at Coney Island, because you can't easily find them anywhere else. Funnel cake is basically just deep-fried dough with powdered sugar on top. It's as awesome as it sounds. Actually, it's not much different than zeppoles or even home-made donuts (though the dough itself is not sweet). Unfortunately, the one I got this time was not fresh, which is a sin. It was kind of oily and chewy. Oh well.

I think I'm probably set for another five years before I'll feel like I need to go back.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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