It's still summer and nothing conjures classic images of this season than a seashore, a boardwalk, arcade games, carnival rides, and freaks - welcome to Coney Island, NY!
The phrase, "in its heydey" really has no place with Coney Island because it has always been a poor man's Riveria, the working class Monaco, where folks with not a lot come to spend a little cash, chug a little beer, and swim in a section of the Atlantic that gets the backwash from new York Harbor. The air is redolent with the smell of something being fried and combined with the odors drifting from low tide, it just does not get any better.
My friend, Sweet Betsy from Pike, got the idea that we would show my son Coney Island, and she would be able to relive her own childhood, when her father would take her down to the last stop of the IND line on the New York City subway and buy her lunch at the world's famous hot dog stand, Nathan's. The site of the annual 4th of July hot dog eating contest, I have to admit, Nathan's has that type of hot dog where the casing gives you just the right *snap!* when you bite in. Sauerkraut and mustard for Betsy, grilled onions for me, corn dog for Patrick.
After that, we hit the rides - stupidly, I agreed to ride the ancient and rickety Ferris Wheel which proved to be a demon with my vertigo. Better The Cyclone for me, Coney Island's famous landmark and attraction. On the Ferris Wheel, my son kept saying, "Mommy, look at the beach!" I had to convince him that Mommy really was very, very , very interested in the floor of the hanging car, fighting the rising panic as I became convinced that the locks would fail, the doors would fly open, and we would all tumble to our untimely deaths. [No doubt this confession will bring about a challenge at some point in the future at Disneyland but I am counting on old head injuries sustaining that short term memory loss by the time the opportunity presents itself.]
The real attraction at Coney Island is people watching. As photographs by Weegee indicate, Coney Island has always brought out the bizarre and odd, as well as the mundane and middle class. Whaddaya know, we ran into the Girls Next Door, who were filmimng an episode there. For the love of God - why?! Of all the places in The Big Apple - Fifth Avenue, Herald Square, Central Park, Yankee Stadium - they chose Coney Friggin' Island. The Girls were getting on The Cyclone as I was getting off, except for Hef's "Number One" Girl, Holly Madison. I found her sitting off to the side, looking pretty peaked. I asked a crew member why she was not with the others, and the young lady replied, "Oh, she was out partying hard last night, and had too much to drink, so she is still pretty hung over." Holly did not seem too pleased that I went all papparazzi on her, as her expression indicates, but such is the price of fame and loose-lipped crew members. Holly, sweetie, are you really proud about doing this show? [Please note that I did not seek fame and fortune by selling this to TMZ.com and I remind readers that my photographs are copyrighted]
Back to the boardwalk. Probably one of the weirder sights was something called Shoot the Freak. It's a paint ball gallery, in which a young man in protective gear runs back and forth while another young man eggs you on - shoot him in the head, shoot him in the head! Well, I suppose it is one way to make a living during a long, hot summer, but suddenly selling Sno-Cones does not seem that bad. I talked with "The Freak" for a while and he proudly told me that The Girls Next Door had come by earlier, and he was shot by them and they each gave him a kiss. Again, is this something you really want to be able to go home and tell your mother about?
But that is life at Coney Island. My friend said one of the reasons why she wanted to come down was to see it again, because the word on the streets is that redevelopers are buying it up and planning to clean out the trash and put in water front condos. I can believe that - one of the last remaining patches of cheap property by the shore, regardless of how dirty the water is, and just as Williamsburg and Hoboken, NJ have profited by their proximity to an aquarian landscape, so too would Coney Island.
So if you have not been there, get to it - you will want to see this piece of Americana, warts and all.
The Freak of Coney Island