Who would have thought Coney Island could be so much fun?! I have only been there once before – for the ‘Polar Bear’ event on New Year’s Day, when crazy, thick skinned or newly resolute dare-devils plunge into the freezing surf. But that was years ago, and there has been so much talk since then about the whole area being sold off and redeveloped that I didn’t realise the place was still alive and pumping. Coney Island has all the fun of the fair and for most of the year round. There are rides and fairy floss, toffee apples and dodgem cars. And while summer is the prime time, since I heard about the ferris wheel having special candle lit spins during snow season, I’m going to keep my skates on, just in case. Imagine how beautiful that would be?
On Friday afternoon, at the beginning of the Labor day weekend and with the temperature topping 33*C, there were thousands of people on the beach and a few thousand more whooping it up in the amusement park. Sean was rather keen to join the whoopers on the wooden roller coaster, but the sound of the structure creaking as the cars lurched around the ancient bends was enough to drive us ( me ) toward the more senior but somehow safer, Wonder Wheel. The wheel was built in 1920, and is maintained so well that it looks exactly the same as it did in all those movies – or in your memories of visits past. The stationary cars ( rather than those than swing around ) went the full 150 feet off the ground, and this proved to be a huge bonus when we caught the breeze at the top. It was as refreshing as the view was magnificent. Joey, who we would be filming at Nathan’s later in the day, explained that the mechanism of the old wheel was so simple that the only running cost was the $20 of grease needed each day to keep the cogs turning. Solar power kept everything else on the move.
Lunch meant Nathan’s, the most famous hot dog destination in the world, whether you want one or have the stomach to break the record. It had been 18 years since I had doggedly indulged and that was on a snowy Christmas Eve and my first night ever in NYC. So the memory bar was high, but, I am happy to report, it was well met. Of course the atmosphere helped, as it was the tips from Al Capone’s bar over the road that provided the seed money for Nathan to open his doors in the first place. Unfortunately Shore’s Hotel is closed for business these days. The building is still there, and the neon sign has been restored, but who could run the floor now like Jimmy Durante anyway? One thing that hasn’t changed – by popular demand – are the fries at Nathan’s. It seems they are just as famous as the hot dogs. Apparently a particular potato, and family of suppliers, has been used consistently for nearly 100 years to provide the signature chip. When the drought this year meant there were none of the regular potatoes and a substitute created an outcry from patrons, the vendor had to buy more farm land in another agricultural zone to ensure continuity in the face of climate change. I guess if you have a 24 hour business and sell over 425 million hot dogs in one year, your bark has to be as good as your bite.