Coney Island

Coney Island During the week Sean and Sara suggested we go to Coney Island on Sunday if the weather was good as it’s as much a part of a New Yorker’s upbringing as the Niks or Yankees. Both were happy to bring me there as Sara had fond childhood memories of the place and Sean hadn’t been there (not being a New Yorker himself). Luckily the weather held to form and we headed out to the Island late morning taking the subway for the 45 minute journey. As it turned out, it was easily one of the best days I’ve had so far on the trip. It was like receiving an unexpected gift that simply got better as the day unfolded.

Off the subway and before hitting the beach we made a b-line for Nathens, the world famous street side café/bar. The place is unmistakeable with its practically aluminous yellow poster boards; all drawing attention to their renowned hot dogs and beers. So we ordered the classics: chilli dogs and beers (large). Devouring each in the sun filled fast food’esk garden. With stomachs lightly filled we made our way to the promenade.

In many ways the place reminded me of Scheveningen (The Hague) or what I imagine Brighton Beach (London) to be: deep blue water, sandy beach, decked promenade lined with stores selling their beach wears and of course the fairground rides. And filled with regular families, couples young and old and friends just hanging out. This is where the real New Yorkers come. And, where I had my first of my two minor accidents. My Reef flip-flop finally gave way, should have thrown them out ages ago but always difficult with a favourite. As Sean and Sara went in search of replacements I sat waiting between the promenade and beach; not only people watching but eavesdropping too.

While the affluent escape Manhattan to mews and amuse in The Hampton’s, residents from the other boroughs go to Coney. You won’t hear talk of the body perfect, haute couture, cocktails, pool parties and of rodent sized dogs. The conversations on Coney were real and familiar. Those who’ve taken the time to sit and observe the locals in a visiting town will know how interesting this is. However people watching at the seaside is quite different from that of Piccadilly Circus, La Ramblas, The Spanish Steps or The Rocks.

Obviously there is less clothing involved but New Yorkers are a much diverse collection of individuals. As people of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds passed by I enjoyed taking life in; hearing a mother (whose ass was enormous) scold her son for not sharing his candyfloss with his sister (apparently she’d didn’t like her toffee apple), hot chicks with little bikinis bitchin about a bitch, guys with shorts almost a long as trousers and sometime oversized t-shirt throwing shapes like they should be in a Beastie Boy video, bragging about the shots they drank and who scored what ‘ho and the father complaining about the job he hated. Then I had the pleasure of sitting next to a Jewish old timer. Cannot remember his name unfortunately. On hearing that I was Irish, he delighted in telling me he grew up in an Irish neighbourhood in Queens, had many Irish friends and that his first trauma in life came at the age of 12. When his friends first told him that he wasn’t Irish. He thought everyone in the neighbourhood was Irish…..

With newly acquired footwear (luckily not crocs or sandals) it was time for more drinks. Q – Ruby’s. We couldn’t resist a sign that boasted the “21 most sexist beach bars in the world”. Sara was served Bloody Marys while Sean and I had a couple of vodkas and apple juice (my doctor said I should eat more fruit). We had good fun and banter with our grumpy 50 something barman who’s probably served too many seasons to still enjoy it. As for the sign, I’d hate to see the other 20 bars that came before Ruby’s. Nonetheless there was humour in this self-aggrandising, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I was tempted to shout – the Emperor has no clothes on! With that, time for some air and another walk. This time along the pier which was unbridled by stores or vendors.

Instead the pier was occupied by fishermen, walkers, some street performers and the occasional teenagers sporting some bravado. Ignoring the many “no diving” signs a few brave lads and girls hung to the rail before dropping into the water, leaving it to an adult to show them how it’s done. T-shirt quickly wiped off, I climbed the top of the rail, balanced a little longer than necessary so more people could see before making a magnificent dive (in my mind) and exhaling who’s your Daddy as I resurfaced. The inner child is still alive! We spent the next hour on the beach swimming from time to time.

As Sara and I swam we were distracted by the helicopters and lifeguard action going on about a mile or so down the beach. Ignorant to the fact that we were practically about to hit some rocks ourselves. We heard the whistles and Sean shouting just in time to get away with a few light scratches. We latter heard the guards where searching for a missing person. We never heard if the person was found or just turned up. After the swim we walked the promenade again where we came across a kiosk playing house music.

The small hut bellowed out the tracks as if it were a large hall while the assembled crowd shacked to the beats. Some funny characters there including a 79 year old Michael Jackson. I had a picture taken with the MC diva Heather Walker; a great voice and not a bad CD either. As we headed to take a trip on the Cyclone, Sean received an sms from a Dutch couple Stijn and Pam he’d met six months earlier. Coincidently they and their two great kids were also at Coney. We met and kicked of an early evening session of drinks, nachos, tacos, banter and war stories. Great fun.

As dusk began to settle we packed up and cosy’ed into Stijn’s BMW X5 and headed back into Manhattan, windows down while listening to van Burren, Tiesto and other great podcasts. So glad we didn’t have to get the subway back. A great day with old friends, new friends, sun, beach, shenanigans and a taste of real New York all washed down with a few beers. What more could I ask for – well, we didn’t make the Cyclone but for sure the next time.

Al Dempsey

5 September 2010