Saturday, October 22, 2011
Coney Island, maybe
Aside from the maddening carnival-music-loop droning from one of its beachside amusement parks, Coney Island on a Sunday in mid-October was almost the opposite of its own lore. The boardwalk, particularly at its western extremity, was quiet and desolate. A stiff wind blew clouds of sand in from the beach. Now and then a headbanded jogger puffed by, blinking the grit out of squinted eyes.
Coney Island is a far jaunt from Queens, thanks to the dearth of trains connecting my borough with Brooklyn. I rode the F train the whole way, rumbling west under Roosevelt Island, making the familiar dip into midtown and then looping back onto Long Island. The car emptied steadily: Manhattan ate most of the riders, and the remainder trickled off as we approached the beach. My last companion exited at the stop before mine, and I was all alone for the final few hundred meters.
The Coney Island crowds that pack the beaches during the summer – I’ve seen them on postcards from the 1930s, so I knew they must exist – had gone into their long hibernation, and aside from the joggers and a duo of windsurfers carving the brisk waves, I pretty much had the run of the west end. It was chilly and clear, a gorgeous day, perfect for a ramble.
As I walked east towards Brighton Beach, I saw more signs of life: parents pushing strollers, fishermen dotting the pier, and two hairy, ancient curmudgeons in suspiciously thong-like attire sunning themselves and commenting on the procession of passersby, as they had done every Sunday for the past hundred years or so.
The famous parks were at low capacity, despite the halfhearted spiderwebs strung across entryways to capitalize on the Halloween season. In lieu of rickety old rollercoasters and greasy carnival lumps, people swaddled in their brunch suits ordered pre-fixe meals at boardwalk cafes. (Forget the etymological implications: “brunch” here apparently means any Sunday meal before nightfall, though I suspect a particularly determined pack of brunchers could easily extend their gathering beyond midnight, subsisting entirely on bruschetta bites and celebrity gossip from the week previous.)
It may be far removed from its heyday, but like any storied place, Coney Island retains traces of its ancestry. The big red Parachute Jump, a carnival ride long out of commission, still towers over the boardwalk. It resembles a monstrous sprinkler head poking out of the wooden lawn, but whatever craziness it once sprayed has long dried up.
But I bet those two old curmudgeons remember it all.