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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All photos courtesy of Abigail. Thanks!