Travelogues: The Charm and Craziness of Coney Island

As part of preparations for See Rock City and Other Destinations, a musical travelogue about people’s stories at various American destinations, we’re talking to real folks about their travel experiences around the U.S. Giving people a taste of others’ authentic, fun, and hard-to-believe stories one interview at a time.

Today, we’re talking to nouveau-Brooklynite Abigail’s visits to the age-old wonderland of Coney Island.

abigail bridge

I’m Abigail. I’m a graduate student in creative writing and book publicist, and I moved from Wisconsin to Brooklyn in 2009 after taking a two-month trip around the country on Greyhound buses. I love travel and languages, and I studied in Spain and Japan as an undergrad. So far, the highlight of my travels has probably been learning how to ride an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand, then lying on the ground as it walked over me.

What inspired your move from Wisconsin to Brooklyn?

Brooklyn felt like where I needed to be. To quote Calvin & Hobbes, “They say the secret of success is being at the right place at the right time. But since you never know when the right time is going to be, I figure the trick is to find the right place, and wait around.”

 What was your first experience with Coney Island?

My first trip to Coney Island was with a few close friends who had all moved to the city after graduation. I loved seeing the glimpses of olden-day carnival Coney Island, and the experience of walking along the boardwalk eating a corn dog from Nathan’s. We spent the day taking turns lying on the beach and braving the water, which was still freezing because it was so early in the summer.

nathans

 How did your trips there change over time? 

I think it’s more accurate to say that the feeling I get from visiting Coney Island and putting my feet in the ocean has stayed constant — even though the past few years of my life have involved a lot of flux. Since I’m from the Midwest, I wasn’t used to living close to an ocean — and in most of New York City, it’s strangely easy to forget how close you are to the water. I recently moved further south into Brooklyn to Bath Beach — just a few subway stops away from Coney Island — so I’m hoping I’ll begin to feel even more like it’s “mine” now that I can get there in less than 15 minutes on a bus or train.

 Strangest thing you ever saw at Coney?

I’m not sure if I could pick just one. Every year, Coney Island hosts the Mermaid Parade, which typically involves a lot of glitter and naked people. So, basically like liberal arts college. I’m kidding. There are so many amazing costumes: mermaids with octopus pasties, transformers, giant birds, circus performers on unicycles. I recommend Google-imaging “Mermaid Parade” if you’re not at work.

mermaid parade

Off-season photos of Coney look like a deserted wonderworld. Have you ever visited when no other tourists were around?

I have! I remember one unseasonably warm day in early March a few years back, and I decided it would be fun to go out to Coney Island by myself and take a walk along the beach, and maybe go for a swim. I got there and immediately realized that I had totally misjudged how cold it would be with the wind, but because I didn’t want to feel like I’d made the trip for nothing, I sat on the beach and read, even though it was freezing. There were maybe two other people on the beach, and it felt almost post-apocalyptic.

Do you think America will always have nostalgia for its beachside communities (Coney, Atlantic City, etc.)?

America loves nostalgia. I don’t think it’s necessarily specific for beach communities, though I think there is something special about places that simultaneously encompass two different worlds (one for the people that live there, and one for the tourists). The coast is also a place where fun and danger can easily meet, so maybe there’s a glamour factor in that, too.

eatup

How does Coney Island play into the modern day notion of New York? (Escapism, a much needed retreat, danger zone, etc.)

I think it’s a place where there’s tremendous tension between the old and the new. This is true for a lot of New York, but it seems especially palpable on Coney Island.

Any other fascinating finds in NY that you would recommend folks visit if they’re near the city?

My favorite thing to recommend to visitors is the Staten Island Ferry. It’s free, you get to be on a boat, and you get a great view of the Statue of Liberty. My biggest recommendation, though, is to spend some time people-watching. New York has the best people-watching in the world.

coney sunset

All photos courtesy of Abigail. Thanks!

Not All Is As it Seems On Coney Island

Once a hotspot of summer freedom, today Coney Island serves as a harsh reminder of how easily remnants of a idealized Americana can fade.

And while off-seasons are typically rough for many summer locales, Coney Island may have seen its last golden summer. As of January 2011, many well-known businesses closed their doors, restaurants served their last drinks and faced eviction while demolition crews waited eagerly on the horizon.

As photographer Nathan Kensinger brilliant captures in his series on the forgotten beach town, perhaps Coney’s best remaining symbol of its colorful past is the Playland Arcade.

coney3Playland of the Mind

coney4Shoot

“Built in 1935, it evolved from a Silver’s Penny Arcade and remained open year-round until 1981.  The arcade once faced the legendary Thunderbolt roller coaster, which was famed for the 1895 hotel located beneath its tracks. The Thunderbolt and the Kensington Hotel were torn down in November 2000, during another off season “surprise attack,” demolished by the city to make way for “waterfront development plans for a new, more profitable Coney Island.”

coney5Disco Ball

coney6Dark Murals

“Today, the Playland Arcade faces a broad empty field and has been abandoned for many years. Inside the arcade, an army of raccoons and cats has taken over. If not for the freezing winter weather, the stench of their urine would be overwhelming. Hundreds of empty cat food containers litter the floor. Large sections of ceiling have come down, allowing rain and snow to rot the interior. Collapsing walls are propped up by police barricades. Trees grow in the squalor.”

coney7Carnival Prize

coney8Naked Hunting

coney9Inside Playland

coney10“Be Happy, Stay and Have Fun

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: A New Look, New Category and New Series!

Thoughts on Theatre went in for a touch up last night and now the blog is sporting a whole new look!

In addition to a new streamlined look, there is also a new category to present: Travelogues. As more and more content popped up in the realm of travel, it seems appropriate to give it a home. This is especially true as we will feature more travel stories in the future as we delve more into the world of See Rock City & Other Destinations.

The musical takes place in the following six locales:

1. Rock City 2. Area 51 3. Glacier Bay 4. Alamo 5. Coney Island 6. Niagara Falls

And I’m looking for insight from all of you! Have you traveled to one of these destinations? Do you have wild story about your time there and pictures to match?

I will be doing an interview series in the next few months on these places as well as other notable American landmarks (Route 66! Grand Canyon! Yellowstone!).

If you would like to share your memories and be a part of the fun drop me a line at:
colorandlighttheatre [at] gmail [dot] com with the subject line See Rock City Interview.

 So that’s the update! Thanks everyone for all of your support, thoughtful comments, and wonderful questions thus far. Here’s to making more memories together!

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6