“Just the two of us
Here on a blanket of love
Writing love letters in the sand
As long as there’s sand
And as long as there’s the sea
You’ll be my Coney Island baby” – Coney Island Baby, The Excellents. 1962
“Ahhh, but remember that the city is a funny place
Something like a circus or a sewer
And just remember different people have peculiar tastes…” Coney Island Baby, Lou Reed. 1975
What hasn’t been said about Coney Island? It’s been an urban escape for many generations of New Yorkers, and part of the Brooklyn folklore. My parents first took me to the rabbit land during the ’70s. Back then it was a gritty, diminished former shell of itself. There was Astroland, the Cyclone, Nathan’s, and your average amusement park rides. In my pre-teen ’80s years, my buddy found her first boyfriend. An Hispanic guy in his late teens or early twenties. While I was too busy trying to copy Boy George’s style, she ended up losing her virginity to him. Later on as the ’80s progressed, I more or less forgot about Coney. Except for one time me and my other friend cut school to visit Coney in the winter. It was dead, dead, dead, as some wretched hag made fun of my Siouxsie hairstyle.
Coney slowly started its resurgence during the late ’90s and early 2000s. First there was the Coney Island Freakshow. Later I discovered the Mermaid parade, and followed the celebrants to Ruby’s Bar and Grill. Then there was talk of property being brought, and rumors of assorted changes. Throughout all of this, memories continued to be created. Some fond ones: me, one of my oldest friends along with his girlfriend shucking down raw clams and beer one fond September night in 1998. Discovering an ex-boyfriend’s hidden racism when a young African American boy asked him for spare change in 2004. Seeing Squeeze, Joan Jett and assorted ’70s Disco acts for in concert for free last year. The list goes on.
For me no summer in NYC would be complete without at least one visit to Coney Island. Although I only managed to visit Coney twice, I could still spot some of the sandy magic. Like watching the 1980 film Fame on an inflated big screen while locals sat on the beach. The sun was going down, the ocean was to my left, and my cynical self was reminded of what dreams were made of. Sounds corny, no? Even when switching Astroland back to it’s original name of Luna Park, Shoot The Freak was replaced by a pricey tourist shop, and Applebee’s with its cruel shark tank, there’s always going to be the core gem which is Coney Island.
See you next summer Coney Island.