Saturday, October 20, 2012

Past Meets Present

Sometimes things happen for a reason. We were trying to get to Belmont Racetrack for a little thoroughbred excitement today. Sadly we had to take the Belt Parkway (known locally as that goddamned Belt Parkway. Sure enough, around Sheepshead Bay, everything in the eastbound lanes stopped cold. No warnings, no explanations, no reports of why on the local radio stations, just stopped. With no relief in sight we limped off the parkway at Knapp Street and u-turned into the westbound lanes. With nothing better to do on a beautiful sunny day, we headed for Coney Island. I have written extensively about my childhood connection to this wondrous place, and I could hear it calling to me.

We parked on Surf Avenue, right near the Parachute Jump and a few blocks from the original Nathan's Famous hot dog stand. With the warm sun on our faces we strolled up West 16 street and onto the boardwalk. In an earlier blog I mentioned how the boardwalk has been restored and the old food stands given new fronts. We had seen this wonderful improvement during an earlier visit. I assumed the restoration of the boardwalk was limited to the stretch immediately along the section that housed the amusement rides, but I was wrong. We covered a good part of the 2.5 mile boardwalk length from around the Scream Zone rides in Luna Park and Astroland toward the eastern tip of Brighton Beach, and our favorite swimming spot when we were young. (Bay 3) 

The boardwalk was clean as a whistle and crowded with people of all shapes and sizes. The language we heard most was Russian; probably at least 75% of the strollers were of that ethnic heritage. There was a time when people didn't feel safe going to Coney Island, but I'm happy to say that day is past. As we walked by the handball courts where the sun-bronzed old men were schooling the younger ones in the finer points of the game, the memories came flooding back. There were grand bath houses along the boardwalk where people could rent lockers and shower after leaving the beach. I stopped for a soft ice cream cone,,,vanilla and chocolate swirl. Pistachio and banana, my all time favorite flavors, were no longer to be had. A small cone now goes for $4 bucks, a bit higher than the 15 cents we used to pay.

As we passed the NYC Aquarium and the balconied apartment houses down toward Brighton Beach, we began noticing a series of Russian restaurants and bars built to attract the locals. They lent an exotic holiday air to the surroundings. Old men and women sat on benches gazing out to sea. Maybe in their minds, they were young again and it was the Black Sea in mother Russia they were looking out on. Young couples hand in hand, women pushing strollers, bikers, skateboarders, hairy men with their shirts off to catch some rays, and Jasmine and me. We sat here so many years ago, covered with Coppertone, sitting on a beach blanket and listening to Alan Freed on a tiny transistor radio. The future was off in the distance, and nobody knew what it would bring. I'm happy to say we are back at Brighton Beach nearly fifty years later, wistfully revisiting the past.

I felt good as we walked back to the car. I'm grateful to the Russians for reclaiming Coney Island and restoring it to glory. Knowing that a place I enjoyed so much as a kid is still around and thriving gives me hope that we might grow old together.


Children's Craniofacial Association 

No comments: