I love Coney Island. During the summer the boardwalk
and amusement parks are obviously a blast (and visited by every
self-respecting Brooklyn hipster at least once a season), but the
feeling of Coney on a crisp winter morning is my favorite.
One of those mornings I decided to stroll
the Boardwalk down past the amusement park area out to the western tip.
Western Coney is your typical borough mishmash of high-rise housing
projects, newly built small homes, and a few leftover vacant lots and
abandoned buildings from the bad old days.
You can always count on Coney for
character, for a relief from the generic and soulless feeling that
sometimes envelopes you when you work in Midtown. I wasn’t disappointed
on this walk, as is evidenced by a scene I ran into halfway down the
beach. Now sure, some of the hipster crowd, at least those not too hung
over to schlep down to Coney, will go swimming in the Atlantic every
January 1st at the annual Polar Bear club. But it takes a certain kind
of person (generally fat, old, and Russian) to just hang out on the
Boardwalk in 30-degree weather chatting with the locals in nothing but
a bathing suit after just having gone for his morning dip.
At the end of the western tip of Coney is
a gated community called Sea Gate. Back in the bad old days I’m sure it
was a bit tougher to just meander about, but nowadays, despite all the
“no trespassing,” and “private property” signs, nobody gives me much of
a second look.
After a short walk you come to is one of
its landmarks - the old Coney Island lighthouse. It used to have the
last civilian lighthouse keeper in the United States until his death a
few years ago. Plans to open it to sporadic public tours are apparently
in the works as well.
Another one of the landmarks of Coney
Island is the Parachute Jump. An old relic from the 1939 World’s Fair
in Flushing Meadows, Queens, it’s now standing right off the boardwalk
Now, when you see something like that at
one of your favorite places in the city, you really have little choice
but to climb it. Sitting 262 feet above the empty Coney Island
boardwalk on a clear winter night, the city off in the distance and the
quiet lapping of the Atlantic Ocean the only thing you hear, is an
almost Zen kind of experience. And one that reminds you that even
though this town can drive you nuts at times, it can also give you
moments like these.
But this off-season experience is coming to an end. Redevelopment plans are in the works, and a 365-day-a-year modern amusement district is planned. I wonder if naked old Russian men will still be welcome.