Friday, April 30, 2010

Coney Island (finally!)

Perhaps you can tell from the title of the blog that I sort of have a thing about Coney Island? I never went there as a kid, but the place is so drenched in nostalgia that it will lend you some if you can't provide your own. And it's not just one thing -- not just the ocean, not just the Boardwalk, not just the rides -- but the entirety of Coney that is so wonderful. I've had beach summers when I was on the sand and under the sun as often as I could manage; I've had summers where I simply walked the Boardwalk; I've had summers where a perfect day was eating a Nathan's frank and riding the Wonder Wheel. (I haven't had the stomach for the Cyclone, the big old giant historic wooden roller coaster, since the early 80s, but the Wonder Wheel, which has to be about 85 years old or more by now, is just fine for me.

The only bad thing about the eight years I had a really cheap apartment on the east side of Manhattan (Sutton Place area, low 50s) is that it was too far from Coney. Besides, I'm basically a Brooklyn girl, and when I met Barry, back I came. Now, unless it's overcast, I can actually see the Wonder Wheel from my subway station, which makes me really happy.

Also making me really happy: a new amusement park, Luna Park (named after one of the major Coney Island parks which closed in 1946), will open in just about a month, and I've been looking at videos and pictures of the beautiful new rides being built by the Italian firm Zamperla. They're shiny new, those rides, but they just fit. It's going to be great to have something so new and colorful and hopeful to enjoy this summer, and I'm finding the progress reports quite fascinating.

Documentarian Ric Burns (the slightly less famous brother of Ken), made a film called Coney Island that I would recommend wholeheartedly to one and all. It focuses on the heyday of Coney in the early 1900s, and has plenty of wonderful film and photos. It also explains the societal implications of such a place: a middle class American Riviera that the common person could visit and enjoy for mere nickels. It also talks about the technology that made it possible, like the Culver Line subway that made it easy to visit (this is now the F train which is my subway line), and the recent harnessing of electricity which permitted the original Luna Park to light the night sky like nothing anyone has ever seen.

Fun fact: among the handful of poems I've had published in various teeny-weeny literary magazines (I don't really do that stuff anymore), probably one of my favorites was entitled "palm sunday, coney island". I no longer have a copy of it, though I remember some of the lines. And I remember exactly how and when and why I wrote it. Stillwell Avenue, the Coney Island subway station, is where a number of train lines terminate, and can often be a very easy transfer point even if it's in the opposite direction from where you're headed. For instance, I would have to take an F train maybe 15 stops, into Manhattan, if I wanted to transfer for a B or D train -- or I can go back, "the wrong way," four stops to Stillwell and get any number of train lines that terminate there. So I'd gone to Stillwell one day to change trains there, and that day happened to be Palm Sunday, which is the traditional opening day for the Coney rides (which then operate weekends-only until the season opening on Memorial Day weekend). So, while waiting for my train leave, I watched the rides making their first go-rounds of the new season, pulled out a piece of paper, and wrote it.

Today, I was coming home from lunch with Lily on the F, listening to my new mp3 player (I bought it some months ago but this was my first time using it), when a young woman started looking at the subway map over my head. I paused my player and asked if she needed any help or info since, as I'm sure you've guessed, I know my F train pretty well. She said, "No, we're just going to Coney Island, because we've never been there before." I said, "You'll love it, but just so you know, the rides are only open weekends until Memorial Day." She looked a little crestfallen, so I told her what she *could* enjoy today, the Boardwalk and a hot dog and such. She thanked me and went back to sit with her two, similarly young friends. I went back to my music. But when I saw her take out a harmonica and start to play, I thought that was one of the coolest things ever (not a lot of female harpists out there -- the only one I can think of is Little Annie Raines), and I turned off my music and went to sit across from these young folk, who ended up all being 20 and 21. The young lady, whose name is Shana, had just moved to New York, and the two young men were friends who were visiting with her. So I talked blues with them, and Coney, and working as a writer or musician, and I ended up writing down all kinds of things for them, names of clubs and artists, and gave Shana my e-mail and blog addresses, asked her to let me know when she's playing. I'm almost sorry I didn't go with them, since it would have been a blast to see them see Coney for the first time.

In the mid-90s, I had an internet romance with an engineering professor from Wichita, Kansas, a single father of two boys, and he came to New York for a week with them so we could meet face-to-face and they could all enjoy New York. I took the week off from work, but the pace was so exhausting that I begged off a couple of things -- Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, I think, though I did walk them across the Brooklyn Bridge. *My* bridge. (See documentary by Ric Burns, Brooklyn Bridge. I also have a love-thing about the BB, but that's for another time.) We went to Planet Hollywood (yuk) and to see Smokey Joe's Cafe, a Broadway jukebox show of Leiber & Stoller songs. Turned out one of my old musician pals was an onstage performer, which much impressed my heartland friends. And one night Dad and I went out along to see V. perform at the Knitting Factory. But taking them to Coney Island was by far my favorite part of it all (in addition to the rather feverish making out he and I did at his hotel suite after the boys were asleep).

I wish I could say the romance was successful, but since I'm now in Brooklyn rather than Wichita, and not the stepmother to a couple of now-teenaged boys, it's no secret that it wasn't. We were starting to make plans for me to take a trip to visit out there, when he just balked about the entire relationship. This was very bad for me; I take it very personally when someone steps back or away, and it was bruising. Plus, that kind of indecisiveness doesn't bode well for any kind of connection. So we made a clean break. It was too bad -- he was a really lovely guy who had mailed me some of his home-baked bread and biscotti, before our first meeting, and he was so handsome that I even forgave his mullet (he usually wore his back hair in a ponytail so sometimes it seemed less mullet-y). But as upset as I was about his withdrawal, and he refusal to resume contact on a friendly basis some years later, I do hope he and his nice boys are happy, and he has some other nice woman eating his biscotti and running her fingers through that mullet.

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