It was hot and hazy in New York City last Saturday, even early in the morning when I set out for Coney Island.
I live in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan, so I got on the A-Train at the 200th Street/Dyckman stop, rode it to 125th, then switched to the D-Train, which I rode all the way to Coney.
For most of you, that doesn’t mean a thing, but New York City residents now have a crystal-clear mental image of my trip. Isn’t that amazing?
Coney Island used to be an actual island, but a few ambitious businessmen and a few tons of landfill changed all that in the early 20th century. Even so, if you’ll look at this aerial picture:
…you’ll see that Coney Island is still separate from the rest of the City in some ways, still its own thing – a seaside community on the edge of a great city, rather than the part of that great city that it technically is.
Romantic as that is, it’s not always an advantage – think of Sandy.
About two hours after I set out, I arrived at Coney:
Something you non-New Yorkers should understand here: when a New Yorker talks about going to Coney, they’re going to get off their train at Stillwell Ave. There are actually several subway stops within the surrounding few blocks (one with a nice bridge across Surf Ave. to the New York Aquarium), but Stillwell is sort of the official Coney Island stop.
Now, despite the fact that Coney has experienced (and is continuing to experience) a renaissance over the last few years, there are still some rough neighborhoods just back from the beach.
But as you enter the station and head toward the beach, that quickly melts away as you start to see reminders of Coney’s tawdry and illustrious past, placed there to warn you that the party is about to begin:
The first thing you see upon leaving the station is this:
It’s not as sleazy as a Coney Island establishment should be, but at least it’s touristy. I am not being sarcastic here; I am Dead. Fucking. Serious. If you want something to capture the true and historic spirit of Coney Island, it needs to be a tourist trap.
But speaking of true and historic Coney Island, right across the street from the tourist trap above is this:
What you see here is the original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand, home to the even-more-famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, the greatest competitive eating contest in the world. There is perhaps nothing that is more of an institution at Coney than Nathan’s Famous; if you’ve been to Coney but you’ve never eaten at Nathan’s, you’ve never been to Coney.
Unfortunately, I had perhaps set out and arrived a bit too early. Like most places that party well into the night, Coney does not get an early start on its day. Except for a few shops and restaurants, most of the attractions were closed and either deserted, or preparing for the day:
Undeterred, I continued up Stillwell Avenue itself…
…until I finally reached the place where it grounded on the beach.
And that is where we shall continue our adventure next time.