Coney Island Weekend

Coney Island is going away. It's a sad truth that New York City is being developed within an inch of its life. Everything from warehouses to piers are turning into condominiums and a lot of the flavor of the neighborhoods, and consequently the city, is being glazed over with that Midwest sheen of homogeneity. The latest victim is Coney Island, that low-rent bastion of carnival culture that was once called "Sodom by the Sea."

Coney Island is an interesting place, a collection of small amusement parks all backed up against each other with very little to differentiate them except ticket booths. The rides are a mix of period piece carnival rides that look like they've been painted a few thousand times, with inch thick enamel that is still peeling off, and modern fiberglass style attractions that you can probably find in any county fair around the US. Interspersed into that are the two landmark rides, the Wonder Wheel, and the Cyclone. The Wonder Wheel is a Ferris wheel of sorts, except every other car is on a looped track so that as the wheel turns the car rocks back and forth in a dizzying motion. It is the only one of it's kind in the world. The Cyclone is also a historic ride, standing in the space where the world's first roller coaster stood, and it is still ranked as one of the best coasters in the world. All of this together is a bizarre mix of modern and past, tacky and fascinating, beautiful, ugly and ugly/beautiful, all at once. It's such a bizarre place.

Out on the boardwalk is the usual mix of beach stores selling tee-shirts and sun lotion, bars and beach food vendors selling everything you can imagine fried, and/or stuck on a stick. But the real attraction is the people. Beach bums, loud Dominican mother's, women in bikini's dancing on stilts, drag queens, burlesque dancers, screaming kids, carny workers, sideshow freaks... everybody is welcome in Coney Island and no one feels out of place. It is one of the best places to people watch that I have ever seen.

But now it's over. This is the last year of Coney Island. The area has been purchased by a real estate developer. They promise that they aren't planning to put in shoebox condos. In fact they are cleaning space and bringing in a semi-permanent circus for the summer, the first time that a real circus has been in residence there in decades, but people still worry. The Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone won't go anywhere because they are registered landmarks, but the rest have no guarantees. All those decisions will be revealed to the public at the end of the season. It's been a much talked about event here in the city as you can imagine. It may be the final straw that gets the people motivated to fight harder against what is happening to the city, we'll see. In the meantime the biggest question what happens to the residents and workers? There are men who have been operating the major attraction rides for nearly 40 years, and that type of job can't have much of a retirement plan. Besides that where else can you go to see the variety of people and events that Coney Island collapses into a single location. Sure all those people I mentioned will go on, out there in the world somewhere... but not as one. Not as a collection so easily accessible, and that's sad. It's a culture that going away, not just a place.

My advice... if you can get here before the summer is over, you should. It really is just a day trip and you can easily fit it into a schedule for any other trip to the city that you might be planning. Come, see Sodom before it falls.

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