My obsession with Coney Island started some years back, I must have been around 18 and just happened to be channel hopping late one evening when I stumbled upon a film entitled The Warriors. When I say late one evening I actually mean early one morning, I think I’d been out the night before with some friends and was still far to wired to be able to sleep. At 2am television pickings are always slim, but despite a worrying habit I was developing for watching BidUp TV after a night out, on this occasion I plumped for a movie and with it I got my first glimpse of Coney Island and have wanted to visit ever since.
Coney Island sits south of Manhattan, about an hours train ride away in south Brooklyn. Famous for its amusement parks, between about 1880 and World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the USA, attracting millions of visitors per year. The amusements (we’ll come to those in a bit) stretch almost the entire length of the 4km long sandy beach. Where they do not reach there now sits the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league baseball team, and the New York Aquarium. The boardwalk which runs parallel to the beach also houses a number of small bars and fast food outlets.
Arriving in Coney via train on the final day of my visit to New York, my stomach churned with a mixture of both nerves and excitement. I knew what to expect from Coney in that it was a beach side town with an amusement park, but I did not know what state it currently stood in. I had no idea if the amusement park was open, or if it was to be closed, boarded up and covered in graffiti. It was a bit of a risk, but one that in the end paid off. At first glance however, we weren’t too sure.
The station was quiet as our train pulled into Coney Island. We were the only passengers on our carriage, and it seemed two of only four passengers on the entire train. Walking through the station and swiping through the platform exit things did not improve. The shops within the station complex all had their shutters down bar one small news stand which had zero customers. Walking outside we found much of the same. The sun was trying to break through the cloud, but to little avail, and the roads were desolate. I’m sure if there had been tumbleweeds in the area, one would have rolled by right at that point. ‘Ghost’ and ‘town’ were the words that sprung to mind. The girlfriend looked at me with a look in her eyes that said ‘I know you really wanted to come here, and I hope that it gets better, but if this is all your got me out of bed for I will savage you’.
We took our first steps towards the beach and passed by a beautiful diner called Nathan’s. It was what I have come to view as a typical US diner, complete with neon signs and a series of small canopies … it was shut. On the side of the building stood a giant billboard which detailed the winners of the 2013 International Hotdog Eating Contest. We were 3 months to late, but the fact that the huge board was ticking down to the 2014 event at least indicated that there were signs of life in the area. We continued forwards, towards the beach.
As if by magic, once we had set food on the boardwalk and gazed out over the golden sands and Atlantic waters, the sun came out, and so did a few other people. Actual people. There were old couples sitting side by side and staring out over the ocean. Pee Wee Soccer teams lining up and the fast food joints to get an after game treat. There were also other tourists armed with hefty DSLR camera. Coney Island was alive and well, maybe I wouldn’t be savaged after all.
The area was by no means heaving, but it was only 11am, and Luna park was now open. I couldn’t help but smile, it was a small dream come true, and one feeling of happiness bought on several others, and memories of holidays spent with the family at British seaside resorts. A spring in our step, we decided to venture inside Luna Park and make the most of the few hours we would have in the area.
First order of the day, win something, anything, so that we’d have a memento of New York. Whilst we’d been running around Manhattan, Harlem, Queens etc for the past two days, we hadn’t actually purchased anything material, just food and transportation. We needed something to take home, even if it was a slightly odd looking cuddly toy.
Our win came pretty much at the first attempt, Luna the small pink dog was adopted from a very kind games stall owner who offered the gf and I a go each at popping 3 balloons with 3 darts. Owing the girlfriends broken hand she found the going tough, but managed a very commendable 2 out of 3 balloons. I somehow managed to pop 3 out of 3. I wont claim that I knew what I was doing, but by hook or by crook, Luna was now ours and joined us in exploring the rest of Luna Park.
As mentioned, I spent my early years holidaying with the family in sea side resorts around the UK. Coney Island was at this point feeling wonderfully familiar. Esther however spent a sizable chunk of her childhood in her fathers native Grenada, a country not such much associated with sea side amusement parks. As a result Esther had, at the grand age of XX (I cant tell you her age … can I?), never been on a carousel. It was a crime, how could she have never experienced the sheer joy of riding a horse that rises and falls whilst spinning around and around? It was a wrong that needed righting. I found the ticketing office and bought two tickets … well I wasn’t just going to stand and watch was I?
Tickets in hand, we walked towards the carousel, well actually I walked and Esther skipped. Before we could join the non existent queue however we first had to make sure that Esther was tall enough to ride. The mood was tense and she lined herself up against the measuring post, thankfully she got the all clear so thumbs up. The next step was to climb aboard the carousel without drawing too much attention to ourselves, and then for Esther to pick a horse. This took some time as they were all ‘so pretty’ (her words), but she eventually settled and the ride operator got us underway.
I think it’s safe to say that Esther is now a fan of carousels, I mean just look at the happy head on her!
Buzzing from a child dream fulfilled we ventured further into the park to explore more rides. Luna park was actually pretty big, and much more developed that either I thought it would be, or from how it looked when we first arrived. It also looked brilliant in all of its Halloween decorations, and having lived near a US airbase for much of my childhood, I understand just how bigger a’ deal Halloween is in the US.
With time against us (we flew home later that afternoon) we soon had to leave Luna Park, but not before we had taken on the main attraction, the wheel, the Wonder Wheel. Standing taller than almost any other structure in the area, the wonder wheel was effectively the reason for our visit to Coney Island. You might already know the reason for my visit to the big CI, but if not let me explain. In short I was flown to New York on a mission, a mission to compile and A to Z of the city and its surrounding areas. The mission took place over 2.5 days, so I knew I’d have to plan in advance if I was to complete and capture all 26 letters of the alphabet. Some were more tricky that others to decide upon, X for example was tough but ended up being Malcolm X Blvd. The letter W though, well W was a letter I didn’t need two seconds to decide upon. It was always going to be the Wonder Wheel.
At $7.50 per adult ride, the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island isn’t the cheapest ride in the park, but there was no way the price tag was going to stop me taking a ride on the wheel I had seen spinning around and around on my TV screen for years. A pleasant surprise was the option of choosing a stationary or swinging car, we choose swinging naturally, why wouldn’t you want to make the ride that bit more exciting? We entered our own little caged car and set off skywards.
We were afforded great views over the area from our little car, but as we reached say 90° we experienced our first swing, it was more like a slide actually, but equally great fun! We reached the tipping point and all of a sudden our tiny car started sliding forward. We slid to a point we thought our we about to drop off of the wheel and fall, crashing into the ground below. Thankfully that’s how it was supposed to feel, and we did not fall tragically to our death, we were, as designed, caught and sent swinging. Watch the below Vine videos and you’ll understand …
Two rotations of the Wonder Wheel later and we were both this happy …
But were now in need of some food, a burger perhaps, preferably one this size …
And that’s when we found Ruby’s Bar and Grill.
Ruby’s had a huge great sign hanging within its bar area which stated that the Lonely Plant had once named it as one of their top 25 sexiest bars in the world. Hmmm, it had the potential, what with being right on the beach front, but it didn’t exactly scream the word sexy … until a certain middle aged gentleman showed up and decided to set about cutting himself some shapes to a backing track of US country music, right in front of the bar. The sweat poured from his brow, no doubt owing to the giant fleece he was wearing, but a little bit ( alot!) of perspiration was never going to stop him. He moonwalked and god knows what else in font of a confused, yet amused Saturday afternoon crowd. Other tourist even took home photos and videos of his epic skills. One for the album!
As we sat, eating our burgers and drinking a bottle of bear each, we wondered if it was all a joke. Did the guy work here? Or was he out to make money? As it turns out, neither. He was just enjoy the sun, his weekend, and having a good old time. Once he’d had enough and finished his beer he simply collected and his belongings and left the scene. A crying shame, but safe to say, we had both become great admirers of his work on the dance floor.
With the hands on my watch ticking ever closer to our departure time we finished our food and sipped the last of our beers before taking a quick stroll along the pier. There wasn’t much to the pier, save a few fisherman trying their luck in the waters below, but we were afforded a pretty cool view back towards Coney Island, the beach and Luna Park. It was a beautiful thing that view. Satisfied with my Coney Island experience, I led the way back to the subway station and we set off for JFK. Perfect would be the word to describe those previous 3 hours.
Touch down in London and it was wet and windy, a far cry from the beach side resort of 12 hours ago. We made our way through passport control, threw on some extra layers and found our way to the bus terminal. There we waited for the bus back home, and eventually we fell through the front door or our little flat some time near midday on the Sunday. As ever, it was a shock to realise how far we had travelled in just a short space of time.
Showered and with the kettle on, I switched the iphone on after a much needed charge and much to my delight I found the below waiting for me …
@packsandbunks Welcome! Swinging or Stationary?
— Denos Wonder Wheel (@WonderWheelPark) October 12, 2013
Wheel-y fun! “@packsandbunks we went with swinging. It was awesome! I’ve been dreaming of visiting coney for ages. I can definitely dig it!”
— Denos Wonder Wheel (@WonderWheelPark) October 13, 2013
The Wonder Wheel had only gone and messaged me on Twitter. For the duration of our time in New York I had been using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine to in effect, real time blog. Unbeknownst to me, the Wonder Wheel was also very keen on social media and must have spotted my uploaded videos and photos. It sounds slightly silly, but these two little messages really took the edge off arriving home, I was a happy chappy.
Coney Island Info
So that was Coney Island, a wonderland that I would happily visit again any day of the week. If you too now fancy a trip, here’s some info to guide you on your way.
South Brooklyn, here’s down below …
D, F, N and Q all stop at Coney Island.
The Train journey from the lowest east side on Manhattan Island took around an hour.
$2.50 each way for the train as per usual. To enter Luna Park was free, but all rides and attractions will either need tickets (which can be purchased at the ticket office) or cash up front. Our food came to around $30 for 4 beers, two fries, a burger and some wings.
Try these for starters …
Right, so if you haven’t seen the movie which I have been harping on about for a while now, here’s your chance to get just an idea of what I am talking/typing about. Simply watch the two videos below, they’re only short, and whilst you might not fall in love with the film like I did, you might at least get an understanding of what I’ve been referring to.