Cheap Thrills and Stolen Sandwiches
"It's the happiest place on Earth."
From the thousands of original paintings hanging on museum and gallery walls, to the eclectic mix of broadway shows, street performers and everything in between, New York City has no shortage of things to do. There are parks for picnicking, shops for perusing, and foods to sample from all over the world. There is so much to do and see, that there really isn’t much need to double back on things.
In the nearly three months that Mom and I have lived in the city, we have had about eight nights with just the two of us. From our friend Fahanny from Ecuador who stayed with us a few weeks to the eight other visitors who’ve found there way to our Maiden Lane abode, we have found ourselves playing tour guide in spite or our newbe status.
While we have hardly eaten at the same restaurant twice, and are constantly looking for new neighborhoods and places to explore, Coney Island is the one place I love going back to over and over again.
Living in Manhattan, times when the wail of sirens and the staccato of jackhammers can’t be heard are few and far between. I love taking in the colorful swarms of tourists and the different stories they tell, but there’s a real sense of superficiality that comes with that. The common sites, such as the Statue of Liberty and Central Park are fun to see, but they all come with the same tourist shops bursting with cheap key chains and upper-crust travelers in white tennis shoes and fanny packs.
The thing I love most about Coney Island is its where “real” people go to get away from it all.
You don’t see skinny women in black dresses and handmade shoes sipping six-dollar coffee, but there’s a 98 percent chance that you’ll spot a kid in red swim-trunks downing a fifty-cent frozen lemonade.
The excited cries, laughter and canned accordion music that used to spill over the amusement park’s bright blue iron gates are gone for the winter, but the park’s myriad of intriguing shapes and colors still serve as an exotic backdrop to a relatively quiet morning along the sandy beach.
On the occasional sunny morning before my classes, I’m sometimes able to hop on the subway with my sketchbook and a peanut butter sandwich for a couple blissful hours at the beach.
Another thing I love about Coney Island Days is the unpredictability that they bring. You know the basics. You know there will be sunshine, Nathan’s Hotdogs, and probably a few too many underdressed over-fed hairy sunbathers, but they rest is a mystery.
In the handful of times that I have been to Coney Island, there have been glamorous moments, and definitely less glamorous times (like when mom got pooped on by a passing seagull), but they have all added up to more fun than anywhere else I’ve ever been.
For starters, there was the day we feasted for four solid hours with Michael’s very Italian family before a round of Nathan’s famous hot dogs and a ride on the world’s oldest rollercoaster, the 1927 Cyclone.
Then there was the a day straight out of the Coney Island scene in the movie, Brooklyn, spent with a blue-eyed Frenchman and the last of September’s sunshine, or the unseasonably warm October day when I got caught splashing in the waves by a photographer from the New York Daily Mail and ended up in the paper. (Check it out HERE)
Even the less picturesque memories from Coney Island have been an adventure.
One bright Coney Island day before class, Mom and I were up to our waists in salt water, when we noticed a pesky seagull taking a dive at my sandwich.
It had been left lonely and unguarded along with my philosophy homework on the sand while we enjoyed the waves. Laughing, we left the water and rescued the sandwich and entertained ourselves by eavesdropping on people around us while the sun dried our wet clothes.
A nearby man with a thick Brooklyn accent and and a beer gut was listening to classic rock on an 80’s boom-box and rambling on about the Yankees to his his blonde, bikini-clad girlfriend (she had to be at least 20 years younger than him).
“Gina, doll, you wouldn't believe what happened!” He said.
“Yeeeah, yeeeah, whateva.” She smacked on her bubble gum and took out some coupons and scissors so she could multi-task while she tanned.
Mom and I were getting so much entertainment out of the scene next to us that I almost didn’t notice the same seagull swoop in for another attempt at my sandwich. His mission was successful — but not for long.
Yes, there I was, in my vintage shorts and polka-dotted blouse running down the beach after a weighed-down, very determined, struggling seagull who was carrying a zip locked baggie in his beak.
I was several yards away, but I could hear mom snorting with laughter behind me. I could hear a few other sunbather’s joining in, but I didn’t care.
I wanted my sandwich back.
In case the suspense is killing you, yes, I did get my sandwich back. The shoreline erupted with applause over my victory, and I took a bow. And despite the holes in the ziplock bag from the pest’s beak, I did eat it, and it was quite good. (You may recall from THIS blogpost from our summer road trip that this isn’t the first time someone has taken my sandwich.)
What I love about Coney Island that, while it is a vibrant place to escape to, it is just so real. The man who runs the Cyclone has been at his job for almost 30 years.
“Every day I wake up, it’s not that I have to go to work. It’s that I get to. Everyone here is always so happy,” He told me one day. “It’s the happiest place on Earth.”
There are shops for tourists to dodge into, but they’re real shops with owners that care about community. There’s Lola Star’s shop, where Lola herself designs and sells unique souvenirs, and where she’s opened up an abandoned building as a roller rink around the corner.
The people on the beach aren’t sporting selfie sticks and fanny packs. They’re the woman that works at the laundromat and the guy that sells shoes down the road. They are the retired grandparents who came from Italy in the sixties, and now spend their mornings taking in the Coney Island glow.
You don’t have to spend 100 bucks on a Broadway Show or go to a quiet museum full of snooty art connoisseurs to get inspired. From the famous grafiti-style art walls to the street performers on the boardwalk, there's always something to see. All you need is a couple dollars for a Nathan’s hotdog or three and a place to sit in the sand, taking in conversations of passersby, fifties music from Lola’s gift shop, and the sound of the waves lightly tapping the shoreline.