Coney Island – Baby

In 2015, we visited NYC.   

One of the enduring curiosities I had of “The Big Apple” was a nostalgic longing to visit Coney Island. 

 Settled by the Dutch in 1624, Coney Island opened its first hotel in post-Civil War times. Its first roller coaster opened in 1884, and by 1904, the three amusement parks (Luna, Dreamland, and Steeplechase) formed one of the biggest fun park attractions in the USA.   

Fast forward to the 21st century – 2015, and on a wet, slippery ol’ August day, we took the subway, (an adventure in itself), from central Manhattan to Coney Island. We had no idea what to expect.  

About an hour later, we disembarked at the station that took us to the entrance of Coney Island’s main road, dotted with time-aged buildings whose heydays were well and truly over.  

I could feel their stories and wished they could put a voice to them. Although the wet day didn’t enhance the vista, the buildings still evoked nostalgia. Even in the rain.  

 Grand old structures such as the Grimaldi’s Pizzeria shop. Resplendent in its bright blue and red colours and 60s-style posters advertising beer and pizza. And the once bold, arched façade of the Museum. A stately building, it stands out amongst its seedier neighbours despite its peeling paint and empty-looking windows.  

The museum proudly houses the history of the Coney Island fun parks, recognising their contribution to American pop culture.

Finding nothing open, we strolled to the seaside boardwalk to taste test the famous NYC Nathans Hotdogs.  

Dressed to kill in our souvenir shower-proof ponchos, we stood on the windswept Riegelmann boardwalk, munched on hot, delicious hotdogs smeared in mustard, and watched the world go by.  Even on a quiet, wet day, the hotdog stand had queues.  A local “go to” perhaps? 

I found the locals intriguing and was entertained by “people watching” as they promenaded along the main road and Boardwalk. Young women had finished with their nightlife and were now edging towards a day spent in the rain.  Casually wandering in scrappy, clingy clothes, massive platform heels, and smeared makeup, with the best indifference I have ever seen. Young men wearing their Nathans uniforms energetically serving snacks and drinks to the queuing people . The Coney Island fun parks the backdrop.

We gazed at the impressive skyline views of the “Denos Wonder Wheel,” the enormous, colourful Ferris wheel looming above us, and the massive “Cyclone” roller coaster, an undulating orange metal frame snaking its way along the perimeter fence and eyed, what is now the defunct Parachute Jump. This landmark tower stretches 250 feet into the air.   

How innocent and carefree were the young people who braved the heights and real danger as they put their trust in the operators, relying on their help to manoeuvre into the hanging canvas seats that would then be dropped (by various mechanic means), to 4 feet above the ground? 

None of this detail was a part of the atmospheric lyrics in “Coney Island Baby,” but I imagine this colourful tapestry of life would have provided the backdrop to Lou Reed’s poignant and stirring song from his 1976 solo album of the same name – Coney Island Baby . 

A song that takes me back to the same carefree, innocent days of young love and finding my way in the world that Lou sings about.  Every time I listen to it, I am transported to the place that Lou so beautifully references in his soulful tribute to love lost and days gone by. A place I finally got to visit in 2015.

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