Coney Island has been the recreational spot for Brooklynites and New York City dwellers for over a hundred years. It went through phases of fame, neglect and violence, and is now on the rise of popularity for locals. Situated on the southern edge of Brooklyn, people can walk along the boardwalk, sunbathe on the beach, play in the Atlantic Ocean, go fishing or crabbing. So when my friends suggested a day at Coney Island with them, I felt the big kid in me jumping for joy. It’s not the day at the beach that excited me, it’s the amusement parks. After Astroland closed its doors in September 2008, I was worried about the future of Coney Island. It just wouldn’t be Coney Island if most of the amusement parks were replaced by high-rise condos, which seems to be the trend of development in New York City. As I stepped out of the Q train to the renovated Coney Island subway stop, I was shocked by the sites, sounds, and sea of people. The famous Cyclone roller coaster and Wonder Wheel were still operational, Luna Park had carnival games and rides, and Deno’s Amusement Park had some fun rides too. So, my friends and I put on our tourist hats and did what any Coney Island tourist would do, get a hot dog from Nathan’s Famous.
After waiting for half-an-hour for our hot dogs, we wiggled through the crowd to get a seat at a table. The meal was devoured in minutes. I can’t tell the difference between hot dog brands, so I can’t really say if these were superb hot dogs that are worth $3.25 each. But, it was all part of the Coney Island Experience.
We ventured to Luna Park, passing the grand entrance on Surf Ave. that was built to look like the original 1903 Luna Park’s entrance. There were kids pulling their parents to the next fun ride or carnival game, adults seeking shade behind ticket booths, and big kids (my friends and I) having a difficult time deciding what to do. We ended up going to Spook-A-Rama in Deno’s Amusement Park (next to Luna Park but owned by a different company), which wasn’t spooky at all. However, it did provide much needed shade for me. A friend and I hopped on the Thunderbolt with other kids. We sat and “relaxed” as our cart was spun in circles at around 60 miles per hour. Not only that, our cart swung while being spun, which upped the thrill factor by a few notches. When the ride slowed down, I thought, “well, that was nice” and prepared to leave. But the music kept on playing and then I felt my vehicle going backwards. Being spun around backwards was the second part of the ride, and I felt that the operator was being too generous with his visitors. After feeling the hot dog rise in my throat and the vehicle not slowing down, I began to send a telepathic message to the operator, “stop the ride or else I’m gonna puke!” Unfortunately, I do not have telepathic abilities and I had to endure the rest of the ride. Luckily, my hot dog stayed down.
Having exhausted ourselves in the amusement park and arcade, we opted for an educational experience at the New York Aquarium. Although the place is small, it offered the right amount of educational dosage for a neighborhood known for its carnivals, beach, and food. We saw a performance by Osborne, a California Sea Lion; visited the Alien Stingers exhibit; and greeted a walrus. The highlight of my experience was holding a horseshoe crab. The “out-of-this-world” looking creature graciously curled upside-down in my palms as I was mesmerized by its five pairs of legs, the rhythmic movement of its gills, and the pointy tail that I made sure to keep my face away from. The staff at the exhibit told me to tickle a particular muscle on its back, which made the creature unfurl in my hands. The staff member (who is a high-school student on an internship at the Aquarium) was knowledgeable about the horseshoe crab and kindly answered by questions. My concern was that if I held the crab for too long, it may decide to relieve itself. The staff member said that I’ll know when it relieves itself because a pinkish stream can be seen. Shortly after having my questions answered, I returned the gentle crab to the pool.
Sitting on the subway train, heading for home, I thought about Coney Island’s history and how it had survived and thrived to this day. Without its faithful patrons, the hard work of the neighborhood’s headliners (Luna Park, Deno’s Amusment Park, New York Aquarium), and other organizations (Coney Island History Project and Coney Island, USA), the neighborhood might have gone to shambles. After my Coney Island experience today, I felt honored to have taken a small part in preserving the neighborhood and its idiosyncrasies through my food and ticket purchases. Coney Island is a gem in Brooklyn that should always have a place in Brooklynites’ hearts.