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!

A Life Underneath the City is Just as Colorful as One Above

New York City is renowned for its vibrancy, lightening-paced lifestyle, and constant flow of people on its streets. But its energy also surges into the subways below. One talented photo-blogger took the difficult lighting and less than prime conditions and captured the underbelly of the city over the course of a few years with a photo a day, rendering it beautiful through his lens.

enteringchitchatbacktobacklook at meyesringaroundthetoconeymaypolemypolen is for nuzzleseeyaround
All images by Travis Ruse

Capturing the Zeitgeist

zeitgeist: the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

As most of you readers well know, I love me some historical theatre. Something about the medium allows you to explore the essence of the time without even noticing that you’re learning something new. But how does a playwright or composer take us back to that period without having the material feel antiquated?  For Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, this meant reinvisioning that 7th president’s life as that of an emo rock concert. And in another new project from that same composer, Paris Commune, it means infusing 200 year old music with a healthy dose of novelty.

The Paris Commune is revered as the first socialist revolution in Europe. Citizens rallied together, overthrew the government and had control for just over 70 days. This theatre piece delves into this explosive intersection between unrest and artistic expression by centering on the giant concert that the people threw when they took over the TuileriesPalace.

The piece is extraordinary political. Although it focuses’ on an undeniably French event, its tremors of activism resonate with the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and grassroots movements that we have seen pop up and define the atmosphere of the past year.

Composer Michael Friedman also brought a new edge to this centuries-old story by using the period music as his base material and translating and adapting the lyrics to “make songs that were dangerous in 1871 still feel dangerous today.”

As for whether or not the piece is activist theatre, Friedman charges that it is most likely a mirror rather than a call to arms. At its heart, the show offers the questions of : “At what point do you realize that you have to do something? At what point do you have to seize control of your own life?” – questions that are important, universal and clues to why the theatre is still kicking.

Image Sources: 1, 2, Quotes from Culture Bot

If Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Had a Best Friend

It might be this little gem of a show, Lizzie Borden, a rock musical about the most infamous trial of the 1800s that’s currently receiving a treatment at the Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals (where both Next to Normal and Million Dollar Quartet were developed before their successful Broadway stints).


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Belting ladies, Victorian Versace-inspired rock wear, and a whole lot a venom in this powerhouse of a show. And the entire show’s told only using four female characters! Lizzie, her sister Emma, the housemaid and the next door neighbor/possible secret love interest.  Here’s hoping that it makes the hop over to New York soon.

How to Find Your Dream Job (Hint: It’s only two words)

Be creative.

That’s right. Those two little words, saddled up next to each other and getting cosy, are the key. And although it may be an overplayed cliche, today’s “tough economy” has caused all of us to get a little nervous on the subject of job hunting. This nervousness causes us to seize up and sit in a period of inaction, or try to play it safe to please the potential employers out there. But I cannot tell you how many success stories I’ve read lately of those that bent the rules a little and made themselves stand out by proving that they have their own unique brand that no one else can replicate.

I would like to think that perhaps they read this letter from 1934 from Robert Pirosh. This copywriter traded in his New York life in favor of that of  Hollywood screenwriter. The only problem? He did not have a job as a screenwriter. So he sent the following note to all of the major studios, received a slew of interview requests, and finally accepted an offer as a junior writer at MGM. From there he went on to win an Academy Award and write for some of the best and brightest (including the Marx Brothers). Just another testament to the fact that you should not water yourself down in order to obtain the dream job. Do not censor the you that just might land you the gig.

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and I still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh
385 Madison Avenue
Room 610
New York
Eldorado 5-6024

Note Source: Dear Wit; Image Source

No theatre? No problem.

Don’t have a traditional theatre on hand? More and more groups seem to be saying “that’s alright, we’ll make do” and seeking out alternative theatre spaces. And I have to say, I love this trend. A production of The Tempest staged steps away from the ocean,  Halloween-themed shows performed in a cemetery, even promenade plays that invite audiences to walk along the streets of a town and experience a theatrical event in an incredibly immersive fashion. A notable example is the NYC production, Sleep No More, which took a few abandoned warehouses and created “the McKintrick Hotel,” a 1930s setting for a multi-story recreation of MacBeth. Audience members don masks and follow the action of not only the Shakespeare original, but also what precedes and follows the story of Mac as we know it.

An immaculate amount of detail, room after room of embellishments and the result? A macabre and innovative manner of storytelling that invites the audience to be a part of its unsettling nature.

Images by Sara Krulwich