Astroland

I was raised in Coney Island, near the boardwalk and Astroland, the Cyclone and Nathan’s. We went to the beach every single day during the summer months. Our friends’ father worked one of the counters at Nathan’s and we’d visit him on our way to spend the day at the beach. In high school, I’d sometimes visit the boardwalk with friends during our free periods. We had to take the train from our school in Bensonhurst, but on nice days it was worth it. A couple of times we had beach parties. In college, we always walked the boardwalk during school breaks. It was the best way to catch up on the months we had been separated. Even if the boardwalk was iced over or covered in snow, there were people walking.

A couple of months ago I walked the boardwalk and sat on the pier for a few hours. It was a weekday, but it was crowded with locals, tourists and a film crew. The locals ignored the film crew and the chiseled pretty boys dressed like naval officers. I tried to ignore them too, but I’m a sucker for a tight uniform. And the boys were very pretty.

A group of men were sitting at the tables outside Cha Cha’s Bar shouting at each other congenially. “They think they’re going to run us out of here. We ain’t going nowhere!” They were white, tanned, shirtless, and tattooed. They were talking about the new owners of over 12 acres of land in Coney Island. The corporation about to replace Astroland with luxury condos, a hotel and entertainment area. (I shudder to think of what that will do to the current landscape.)

astroland-sign.jpgI laughed as I listened to the men, wishing I agreed with them. But how many people have said the same thing about wonderful little neighborhoods in this city? Gentrification always wins.

I didn’t walk to the end of the pier. I stayed where the water was shallow. The end of the pier always made me nervous. We used to fish at the end. Boys would grab us and pretend to try to throw us over the rail. When I was younger, I didn’t believe they were joking.

I read for a while on the pier, and I watched people. Black, White, Puerto Rican. I hope it isn’t destroyed completely, though I don’t have much hope. Luxury condos will ruin it. I’m not against improvements, but I am against displacing locals. (My other old Brooklyn neighborhood, Park Slope, is like Manhattan’s Upper West Side and that’s utterly depressing. One of Brooklyn’s charms was that it wasn’t Manhattan. )

Coney Island may be rundown, but to me it’s beautiful. You may want to have a look at it now before it changes, but I would suggest avoiding it on weekends.