Coney Island. I think you mention its name and for many, an image of bygone days surface whether or not we actually had personal memories there. We know the type of scene that part of Brooklyn once held – and if we don’t, we read or learn about it from others. We can imagine what it was like – perhaps our visions are a bit fanciful. But isn’t that what our mind does when we haven’t been to a place and wish to go? We draw up a grand picture full of various extremes. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the bold. For me? Coney Island was a hybrid image of modern with mermaid parades, and traditional with sideshow performances. It was my first time there last week and like any place you look forward to visiting for the first time, I woke up excited to explore the environment.
This excursion for me was particularly exciting because of a few reasons: 1) I’ve been yearning to see new land and other borders, and 2) I recently listened to a pod cast with Pico Iyer about traveling/culture/home. To say that I had not been there to people was like uttering a sin, or so it seemed. How could I have lived in Brooklyn for nearly 3 years and never touched foot on the boardwalk? So this past Friday I went to rectify this. As Iyer stated in his interview, “[Traveling] moves you to look at your home with new eyes…” and I needed to refresh my palette.
I’d heard going there was like visiting a different state. Like truly being on vacation. I heard it was amazing and that I’d have “so much fun.” In fact, I’ve never heard anyone express they’ve had a terrible experience. In a sense, this is what most people expect vacations to be like — one goes to Greece, the Canary Islands, Mexico, Hawaii…and you hear good and envious stories. My trip on Friday went a bit like this. Coney Island was beautiful, peaceful, full of life yet very changed at the same time. It reflected the past as well as today’s trends and one can only imagine what 50 years in the future will bring.
From talking to a few locals on the boardwalk, Coney Island seemed like THE place to be decades ago. With hot dogs for .12 cents, 6 roller-coasters and a plethora of games and shows, this iconic Brooklyn seaside landmark will never be what it once was. Lola Staar, a former roller-skating rink turned candy store turned Italian restaurant is now a vacant paint-peeling building. Hot dogs are currently $3 and some change. A friendly veteran shared photographs and reminisced with stories about his days and return to America after WWII – friends gathering for photobooth type pictures, comaraderie in the Iceberg Athletic Club, etc. Sure it won’t be the same yet people still visit and smiles still abound. And when one does stop by for a visit, there’s something about a historic place like Coney Island that is mystical yet comforting.
“I think what we’re always looking for, when we’re seeking out a place, a person or a life, is that mixture of strangeness and familiarity.” – P. Iyer