Saturday, July 7, 2007

"The roller-coaster you and me": The Last Days of Coney Island

Perhaps the best thing you can say about Coney Island is that Lou Reed wrote not one but two songs about it: "Coney Island Baby" and "Coney Island Steeplechase." This is all the more impressive since Coney Island is not exactly a place that would steal the heart of many songwriters, let alone one as great as Mr. Reed. Coney Island it an expansive part of far east Brooklyn, consisting mostly of housing projects and old stores, and it is, to put it mildly, a bit run down.

But people still flock there during the summer, to visit Astroland Park, to walk along the boardwalk, to play and sun on the beach. Every July 4th, Nathan's has its world-famous hot-dogging eating contest where this year a new champion, Joey Chestnut, was crowned after he ate a record 66 dogs in 12 minutes. He bested Kobayashi, the man who had held the record since 2001. This was such a huge news story that even the BBC World News covered it. Wow.

Perhaps one of the most beloved Coney Island institutions is the Cyclone, one of the oldest roller coasters in the country. My beloved and I recently took a ride and, lemme tell ya, it was SCARY. You go way, way up and then, suddenly, drop like a rock in the ocean. Before you can catch your breath, up you go again and then ... well, you get the idea. Once you're done, you'll be shaking and sweating but also feeling grand.

Just some FYI: you wait on a roughly 10-minute line to get in and it costs about $6 a person. There is a place to check your bags and, I would strongly advise, your eyeglasses. You then stand in a small crowd of people and get on when able to. The farther back you sit, the rougher the ride, so try to sit in the front. Oh, and you will scream, even if you don't plan on it.

These are, however, the last days of the old Coney Island. While the cyclone will remain, Astroland park is being torn down and so are many new buildings. According to the Gotham Gazette:

"The city has a strategic plan for the Brooklyn neighborhood and plans to announce rezoning of the area within the next several months. With Thor Equities, the new owner of the Astroland property, envisioning luxury condos, indoor water rides and other year round amusements."

Like many parts of this city, it is changing, gentrifying. Coney Island will be refashioned. And while the neighborhood certainly could use a boost, the Gotham Gazette reports that, "some Coney Island aficionados wonder whether the area’s unique spirit can survive. Isolated attractions – the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel, the Parachute Jump – will stay on but what will surround them?"

Who knows? We shall see. But hopefully its spirit will remain. And it's that spirit Lou Reed sang about in "Coney Island Steeplechase" when he crooned:

Would you like to go on the Coney Island Steeple
Go and have a good time
We'll take the subway right down to King's Highway
Gonna have a good time
If it's all right it would be so nice
If you come and go with me
The roller-coaster you and me
Just try

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