The train lurched into the station with a final exhale of steam. As the doors slid open, tourist and locals spilled from the cramped subway cars onto a semi-deserted platform. People immediately ran for the exits, clogging stairwells and blocking off ramps with strollers, beach bags, and any other number of important summer items.
July 4th at Coney Island.
Ivy and I wriggled between slowly paced families, dodging umbrellas along the way. We wanted to see that glorious sun… and the hot dog-eating contest, of course.
We found a spot close to the stage and waited for about 40 minutes before any real festivities began. Soon enough, contestants were called up and introduced to the audience as a man shouted some of their disgusting past feats. Once prompted, the food cramming commenced as hot dog were thrown into water – bun and all – then gulped down.
The site of drippy bread as it was flung onto the faces of men and women was… less than appetizing. But the experience was certainly memorable and even a bit exciting as contenders’ boards were flipped for each dog consumed.
After winners were announced, we swiveled away from the hubbub surrounding Nathan’s food stand and opted for an exploration of Coney Island before returning to Manhattan.
The culture of this place has always intrigued me.
There’s something dark and gritty about Coney Island’s atmosphere, only slightly masked by the florescent layers of chipping paint from years gone by. A menacing clown-like face with a Cheshire cat smile grins down on patrons of the park and odd carousel music beats eerily in the background.
But in the background….
Far, far away - in that place between background noise and a dream – you can hear the chuckle of a woman. She dons a white 1920s style hat that drapes around her face. It clashes beautifully with her dark hair and dark eyes, accentuated by more makeup than her mother would allow. She’s young and has a charming face, soft and sharp in all the right places.
Strolling to her side is a dapper man, well known in New York’s more elite circles. He’s a handsome fellow, for sure, though some might say his eyes were too shrewd – a trait surely inherited from his father. His thin mustache makes him look more like a businessman, while a stylish straw hat tilted to the left suggested otherwise.
She laughs and smiles, nearly prancing with joy down Shore Avenue. He gives her a small grin and grabs her hand tightly… maybe too tightly. The sea breeze rustles her skirts and she laughs once more, glancing at his face. But even when shielding her vision from the sun, she can’t quite make out his eyes. She can’t quite tell what he’s thinking. She doesn’t quite know if…
“Sorry! Sorry.” I say twice, as if that makes it any better. Bumping into people in New York is pretty constant, but running smack into someone’s back is downright embarrassing - particularly when I'm just lost in my own mind.
I gave my surroundings one more futile glance, longing to perhaps witness two imaginary characters walking arm-in-arm… Or maybe my flapper had escaped the questionable dandy? But no, instead I saw Ivy talking on the phone near a hot dog stand.
An eerie feeling descended on me and despite the heat, I felt goose bumps rise up my arms in movie-like fashion. Coney Island is an enjoyable place to visit with fascinating history and certainly a story to be told...
But I could never quite shake the feeling that something terrible had happened on those carnival grounds. Or maybe the truly tragic situation is that this amusement park is no longer amusing to most, and already forgotten by everyone else. Housing projects surround the area, and I couldn’t get disturbing scenes from “Requiem for a Dream” out of my head.
The carousel music still plays in the background, but no one – imaginary or real – is riding a single painted horse.