Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Morning in Coney Island: Breakfast on the Boardwalk

We never liked Coney Island in the summer and never went to the beach there. It was too crowded and seemed tacky in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Our family, and when we were older, our friends went to the much-nicer Rockaway beaches or if we stayed in Brooklyn, to Manhattan Beach. Both seemed like real beaches outside of a city.

But Coney Island was really nice early this morning. We got the G train in Williamsburg at 7:45 a.m. and changed for the F at Church Avenue. At the West 8th Street/Aquarium stop we changed for the Q to Brighton Beach, where we got iced tea and oatmeal at Starbucks and brought it back to Coney Island, at the boardwalk near Stillwell Avenue.

It was a gorgeous morning and very few people were up and about. The boardwalk food stands and restaurants were all closed. This was really the first time we went to Coney Island in the morning. If we're staying in Brooklyn, we usually go to Brighton Beach, which seems more homey and friendly. And Russian.

We always knew about the Parachute Jump, the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel, etc., but even as a kid, we hated rides. Although we never got carsick, the thought of going on rides and getting dizzy and nauseated didn't appeal to us, especially when we saw other kids getting sick.

Coney Island always seemed scuzzy to us as a kid. We lived not that far away, just a couple of exits on the Belt Parkway - yeah, our Brooklyn was car-oriented since there were no subways in our neighborhood - but we didn't come here often.

Rockaway was closer, and since we grew up in the Arverne bungalow colonies and then later both sets of grandparents lived in beachfront apartments, we always gravitated to Rockaway, which was where we got our first apartment. That's where we went on good beach days this summer. One Saturday our friend and former Nova Southeastern University Law colleague Mark, now director of academic support at Pace Law School, came down from Westchester with his 5yo son Josh, and we went to Beach 116th Street in Rockaway Park. Mark, who grew up in the Bronx, was there for the first time and also thought Rockaway was a much nicer beach than Coney Island.

When we did go to Coney Island with our family, usually on fall or winter Sundays, we went to Faber's - not the Faber's Fascination but next door. We think it was called Faber's Playland (Faber's Sportland was at Rockaways Playland, which seemed to us a nicer amusement park although we really didn't like any amusement parks. We actually preferred the little Faber's on the Rockaway boardwalk in Edgemere, which we used to walk to with our friends from our bungalow on Beach 56th Street in Arverne.)

Faber's had skee-ball, which we loved to play, and some pinball machines and other games we liked.

Our memories of Stillwell Avenue are mostly of being there on dark, cold winter Sunday afternoons when there were only a handful of cars parked in the middle of the street. It seemed kind of depressing.

Around the time of our Memorial Day 1964 bar mitzvah in nearby Sheepshead Bay, the Loews Coney Island Theatre became the Brandt's Shore. Before we turned 20, the Shore played only X-rated porn films.

We liked Nathan's well enough. As a kid, we liked the french fries, and it was the only place where we would put mustard, not ketchup, on our french fries. But by the time we got to high school, the Nathan's on Long Beach Road in Oceanside was a cooler place to go: it felt (and was) suburban, our uncle lived nearby, and kids from Midwood High School would go out to the Oceanside Nathan's rather than the Coney Island one.

We do like Keyspan Park, of course. Today was the second day of the Great Irish Fair and we would have liked to check it out, but the $12 admission fee didn't fit our potato-famine budget. We went once or twice to Ebbets Field but barely remember it. Jackie Robinson was our god and Pee Wee Reese a saint. The statue of the famous gesture is really great, especially the way the base explains it so effectively. Our favorite Brooklyn Dodger was Duke Snider; at age 6, we knew he wasn't really royalty but did believe that Snyder Avenue was named for him.

Sometimes on off-season weekends, we'd just take a Sunday ride and go down Surf Avenue from one end to the other, by Sea Gate. It always seemed desolate in cold weather. Later we associated with friends and family members who lived in the big apartment houses. So Coney Island never seemed like a fun destination to us, and we suspect that's true for a lot of kids who grew up in southeastern Brooklyn in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The beach was almost deserted early this morning. One of those vehicles that make the sand smooth and even was going up and down the beach. Of course the lifeguards disappear after Labor Day.

This is looking east from part of the boardwalk that goes in a little, by the foul-urine-smelling public bathrooms at Stillwell Avenue. You can make out the Marine Parkway Bridge faintly at right.

Same location, only facing west. We still have weird problems with "east" and "west" on the Belt Parkway, which was the first highway we drove on by ourselves. When we got home from school on the day when our driver's license came in the mail (we'd failed the road test, then given around Rockaway Avenue and Avenue B, near Brookdale Hospital), we decided to take our first ride on the Belt. We got on at Flatbush Avenue and took it one exit west to Knapp Street, probably less than a mile. It gave us a panic attack.

According to Wikipedia, the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue subway station is "the world's largest above-ground terminal facility, and notable as the most energy-efficient mass transit facility in the United States." Because we were car people, we never entered it until a few years ago, after its reconstruction and reopening in 2004.

It's the only train station in New York City with that European train station "look and feel."

We like that the station exterior still says BMT. We are so old that we automatically say we are going on the IRT or BMT someplace and nobody younger than 45 seems to know what we're talking about.

We spent a couple of hours reading the Sunday Times after eating our oatmeal and as we drank our iced tea. It was really lovely to sit on a bench by the beach and watch the ocean.

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