Thursday, July 05, 2007

Summer Rituals: Baloney From Coney

Let's say you're on a business trip to New York, maybe with a spouse or friend in tow, and you have a day free.

All of your life, you've heard about fabled Coney Island (above, from its glory days in the late 1880s till it faded fast in the 1960s). You have a day free. Let's go check out Coney Island!

Trust me, don't.

The amusement parks, once among the wonders of the world, were mostly gone by the late 50s. The last of them, Steeplechase Park, was gone by 1964. Remember that roller coaster Woody Allen's Alvy Singer's family lived under in "Annie Hall? (1977)" The Thunderbolt was a wreck by the early 80s, and was torn down in 2000 before it fell down.

Besides one surviving rickety roller coaster, a sad huddle of church-carnival-level amusement rides (for most, this is their last summer), and a couple of Boardwalk storefronts (including one where mimes and other "performance artists" and stiltwalkers and the like will just get on your nerves), the place is just a wide forlorn Boardwalk with a beach on a dirty inlet surrounded by a dingy neighborhood that you don't want to be wandering around in past dinnertime.

Oh, I forgot -- and a hot dog stand with an effective PR operation that knows how to milk a slow news day.
Every year on July 4, a crowd of "professional eaters" -- a.k.a. slobs -- try to devour 60 or 70 hot dogs in 12 minutes in the annual hot dog eating contest at Nathan's. Thousands gather to watch. Every unfortunate, news-starved assignment editor in the region stuck with July 4 duty dutifully sends out reporters and camera crews, all of whom desperately try to put some kind of interesting spin on this tiresome stunt.
Truth to tell, Nathan's is a landmark hot dog stand, famous particularly as a late-night stop for the famished on a lark. "Goin' to Coney for some baloney" used to be a well-known N.Y.P.D. saying for making a run down to Nathan's while on duty in Brooklyn.

But trust me, you're visiting New York? A side trip to Coney Island just ain't worth your time. It's been over for a generation, a Coney Island only of the mind. Go to the Museum of Art or the Statue of Liberty instead. There are big development plans for a new Coney Island. Check back in five years.


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