Coney Island: Sea and the city
That beach in Brooklyn is still thrilling after all these years - or still chilling, if you wish.
I am a beach bum. Or I would be, if I didn't have to work every day. A Jersey girl, I have been to just about every Shore town in the Garden State. I've been beached, as well, in New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the South, by the Caribbean, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. But I hadn't been to the water's edge in New York since I was a child.
With great anticipation, I headed to Brooklyn's Coney Island on a recent Friday morning. I had read how Hurricane Sandy had ravaged New York's coast, but I also had published an article in this section last summer about the area's recovery.
As we crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, about an hour from home, I found it hard to imagine the seashore just a few miles away. All I could see was city. No seabirds flying overhead. No smell of salt air. No Coppertone ads. Even as we drove on Shore Parkway, our view was of elevated train tracks (from Manhattan, take the D, F, N, or Q subways downtown to the last stop in Brooklyn, Stillwell Avenue), and lots of businesses with signs in Cyrillic script (this is Little Odessa - Brighton Beach - after all).
Then, we saw the signs for Coney Island. Was that a Ferris wheel down that street? We drove a few blocks from the amusements. Behind tall apartment buildings, I saw it. The big blue sky, the green water of the North Atlantic. We were there.
We found a parking spot on Surf Avenue and headed to the beach. The boardwalk there surprised us. It's really a walkway, with benches strategically placed. But no pizza/hot dog joints with those giant containers of lemonade awaiting ice. No T-shirts for sale, no hermit crabs in cases. No stores at all. Good thing, I thought, that we'd stopped at Wawa for sandwiches and juices for the cooler.
The beach is lovely, with real sandy sand, not like the rocky shores farther north, and not too crowded. There were plenty of people, but these New Yorkers were there to relax, play volleyball, kick the soccer ball, and play in the water. It was a hot day, the summer sun high in the sky, and I couldn't wait to get wet, play a while in the water, then lie on the beach.
My crew, however, couldn't be still. They were up, down, in the water, out of the water, running to the jetties, on the blanket, off the blanket. Eating, crunching, slurping.
I've gotten pretty good at staying above the fray. I was enjoying the international flavor of the people on the beach and watching the boats go by.
But, this being Coney Island, there were rides to be ridden and hot dogs to be eaten. After a few hours on the beach, we were ready to hit the amusements.
Coney Island comprises several amusement parks. Our first stop was Luna Park and Scream Zone, where you can purchase a wristband to go on most rides ($32 for four hours of unlimited rides). It's right across 10th Avenue from the Cyclone, the 1927 wooden roller coaster that scares the bejeezus out of all but fearless daredevils. It's world-famous, and on the National Register of Historic Places. I love roller coasters, and the Cyclone is the big daddy to today's machines. But it's not included in the price of the wristband (neither are any of the other extreme-thrill rides).
We opted for wristband rides, including the high-thrill variety. They did not disappoint, and the Wild River log-flume ride was a splash!
The boardwalk at Coney Island is more familiar, with stores and food stands.
It stretches from West 10th Street to West 19th Street and over to Surf Avenue. On West 12th, about a block from the boardwalk, we came across the Coney Island Hi-Striker, the he-man game where you try to bring the hammer down hard enough to ring the bell. Three tries cost $5. Too much, said the negotiator in our group of five. How about five tries for $5? Deal struck, we all got a turn. Alas, nobody rang the bell. But the three kids did get plastic blow-up hammers.
Our day was winding down. We had one more ride to take: the Wonder Wheel. It dates to 1920 and has the usual fixed Ferris wheel cars and others that slide along rails between the hub and rim as the wheel rotates. We got a slider. The kids screamed, the adults laughed.
As we slowly headed back to the car, I had to stop for a funnel cake. We devoured it at a picnic table set up in the concrete food court.
Back in the car, sandy and sun-tired, I was quite satisfied. We went to the city to go to the beach. And we had a blast.