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!

How to Keep Afloat Amidst Changing Tides

Change is hard. But stagnation makes life harder. When the riptide starts to tug at you, give into its pull. Though you may fear the shifting sands beneath you, staying still is no longer an option.  You’re not underwater – you can keep your head above the waves. You may get shaken up, but you can find a safe harbor again.

Let go. There’s no use denying that change is happening if that’s exactly what’s going on. You do not have to like it at first, but embrace the transition without giving it a label of good or bad. They are such normative terms and do little but provide a black and white lens through which one can experience this new adjustment. If you approach it objectively – “X is happening in life right now” instead of “X is happening to me, I don’t deserve this, this is terrible” – you’re more likely to adapt with ease.

Come up for air. If you feel like you’re drowning (when there’s no water to be found), rise up out of the situation and breathe. Take an hour to sketch, listen to an old album, go for a run,  or just sit in silence. Don’t berate yourself for this break. You’re allowed it. Life isn’t about rushing to the next step, it’s about living through each moment.

Use your voice. Whether its talking to a friend/family member/stranger or simply putting pen to paper, push negative thoughts through and out of your head. Allow old grudges and hangups to loosen their hold on the inner chambers of your mind where you’ve made comfortable homes for them. They have been taking up too much space altogether. Do some spring cleaning by voicing that which grieves you.

Make an accomplishment list . When things are new or different, it can be disorienting. We can get caught up in the thought-cycle of “I don’t have this yet,” “I’m so far behind,” etc. Instead of noting each and every thing that your life lacks, start tallying all that you’ve accomplished thus far and realize that your path is entirely unique. Instead of a to-do list at the top of the day, try a accomplishment-list at the end of the day. It can include everything that day that went right (got a 20 minute nap, no rain, read a fantastic article, spoke with a friend).  Sometimes these things are more important than those which we lay out for ourselves on lists that we scurry to check off as quickly as possible.

Mind what you can. If the rest of the world seems to be swirling around you, take authority over that which you do have control. Clean your room, floss, fix those pants you tore a year ago. Even the littlest efforts will help to afford peace of mind. We often think we can control the outcome of  a situation by worrying about it. But worrying is like praying for something you don’t want to happen to go ahead and happen. So shift ‘worry’ into ‘action,’ as small as it may be.

Photo by Sarah Anne Loreth

How Do You Measure Success?

Does no good to compare when everyone is on their own unique path to success. Should you lay these paths out side by side, you will see they are all equally fulfilling. Choose your own, mix and match, and remember that your success story may not look a thing like someone else’s.

Seven Good Reasons to Stop Whatever You’re Doing and Go for It

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. 

– Samuel Beckett

What is it that stops us from doing exactly what we want to in life? Most of it can be chalked up to some sort of fear – of failure, of reproach, of uncertainty. Here’s a quick list to help determine if that big risk of yours is worth trying.

1. You can’t stop thinking about it. The idea pervades your thoughts. You smile every time it crosses your mind. You’ve already worked out the best-possible scenario in your head, and you think you have the tools to make it work.

2. You’re unhappy with the status quo. Remember that little voice in your head? The one that reminds you when you’re feeling down and that now is the time to do something about it? Yeah, listen this time.

3. You’re willing to put in the work. No doubt what you’ve been dreaming about will require you to put in some effort. But that’s what has made it so elusive thus far right? It’s up to you to decide whether you want to live a life where you look back and say “I’m so glad I tried that” or one where you admit “I really wish I had done that.”

4. You’re clinging to an illusion of safety.  You’ve created a false cocoon of security in a world where no such thing actually exists. “But this way I don’t get hurt!” you convince yourself. Well, newsflash: you hurt yourself more by holding yourself  back than by mustering up the courage to change. Do what you actually want to do. Be who you actually want to be.

5. You want to. Passion is the number one ingredient in making a dream a reality. And ultimately the decision is yours, and yours alone. If you’re taking the leap solely for the reason that it will impress someone else, reevaluate.

6. You attempted to before but it didn’t work out. As a baby, did you give up on walking after the first few times resulted in a happy marriage of your forehead and the hardwood floor? Nope. You pushed yourself and tried again. Somewhere along the line, in our efforts to grow up and act like adults, we learn to stop “trying again”. We rid ourselves of the spirit that allows us to tackle anything in favor of one that promotes mental barriers and excuses. Chances are you learned something from that failed attempt. Time to put those lessons to good use.

7. It completely terrifies you. Good. You will grow 1 million times over if you look that fear in the face and mutter through gritted teeth: “bring it on.” Who knows, you may surprise yourself. And what beauty there is in such surprises.


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