September 05, 2008

High on Coney Island

Wonder Wheel
I've been trying not to miss out on anything as the summer ends, so I finally made it to Coney Island on the last Fireworks Friday, for the second-to-last Brooklyn Cyclones game.

I did the same thing last year, but poetically alone, taking photos from the Wonder Wheel and inhaling the fireworks smoke coming in off the ocean. This year I got to go with Edith and Eric, who humored me by arriving early with me to go exploring before the game. Our first stop, of course, was Nathan's for a cheese dog with onions. But as we walked towards Astroland we noticed that my favorite bumper car spot in the world, the El Dorado Auto Skooter ("Bump Your Ass Off"), was CLOSED with no sign of explanation and no indication of whether the closure was permanent or not. Curses.

Despite the media frenzy over the announced shuttering of Astroland (which they swear is definite this year, despite last year's false alarm), there didn't seem to be much interest in Coney Island today, even with nice weather. Edith and I got to ride the Musik Express all by ourselves, and we all faced only one opponent on the regular Astroland bumper cars, a menacing driver who was out to get every single one of us with repeated head-on collisions, giving his young female passenger a bloody nose and a childhood trauma from which she may never recover. The rest of us escaped luckily only bruised and slightly battered. I don't think that would've happened at the El Dorado. It's a happy place there.

We walked down the empty boardwalk towards the stadium as the sun was setting behind the parachute jump, and I noticed only a couple cops and a few crazies. I kept waiting for an influx of people who wanted to take advantage of the park the last chance they could, as I was doing, but it never happened. I guess it's easier to talk about the preservation of a place like Coney Island rather than actually showing up to support it.

I'd never been to a Cyclones game, but I was in a minor league state of mind after attending a Staten Island Yankees game in SI a few weeks ago, and visiting upstate with the memories of the Syracuse Chiefs games my father used to take me to. One of the first things I saw when we arrived was cute young pitcher Scott Shaw practicing this throw in the dugout, and at that moment I decided it would be pretty nice to date a minor league ball player. No media attention. Not too many groupies. But tight pants and hometown hero status.

I couldn't get any of the players to notice me before the game, though, so we took our seats: the splurge $15 "field box" seats behind home plate, which gives a great view of all the action, obstructed only by the big net that protects you from getting clocked in the head by fly balls.

Sandy the Seagull

Our view of the post-game fireworks were slightly obstructed, too, but mostly by the smoke which had eventually blown away from me last year and blew right into our faces this year.

Considering my obsessive love for amusement parks, fireworks, the ocean, and The Warriors, I can't really figure out why I don't go to Coney Island more often. How is it that I can only manage one visit a year, and I wait until the very last minute to go? By the looks of the emptiness that surrounds me every time I'm there, I guess I'm not the only one. People love to love the idea of Coney Island, but they don't really love going there.

For me, when I actually do make the trip, there's something magical about the train rumbling into the Stillwell Avenue station, especially if I'm lucky enough to arrive at night. And standing on the platform, with quiet, vacant subway trains parked all around with doors shut tight, staring out at the still, red-lit Wonder Wheel, I get a chill watching a Q train round the bend to slowly approach the station, ready to take me back home.

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