Visiting Coney Island

Coney Island is real. It is neither safer nor more dangerous than anywhere else, neither pristine nor tarnished. It is where someone in your extended family proposed years ago, a magic place to which generations past have travelled from far and wide. But it is also that spot you heard was "seedy" and housed an aspect of your generation's "bad element." It is a place where grand dreams have flourished, and others have died tragic deaths. It's where we have gone to talk to the girls and boys of our dreams, get sand kicked in our faces by bullies, and either quailed in fear or rose to the challenge. It is the amusement park venue on the beach in "The City that Never Sleeps!" How you can you beat that for quintessential American entertainment saturation?

Because no single entity was ever able to wrest full control of the scene, Coney Island remains remarkably underdeveloped. The self-interest of all parties claiming a stake and steadfastly clinging to it continues to save it from overdevelopment. In the same way, each visitor can stake out their own experience, from the toddler who derives his perfect entertainment from the Coney Island sand to the teenagers looking for love to the adult pedestrians wondering about life as a freak. It is not the main attraction of summer on the East Coast like it was a hundred years ago, but Coney Island remains a permanent carnival, by the beach, in New York City. Let's repeat that; it bears repeating: Coney Island is a permanent carnival, by the beach, in New York City.

Coney Island serves as a grand microcosm for the American experience. The place was overrun by rabbits when Europeans arrived, became the epicenter of America's burgeoning entertainment industry over the course of the next few hundred years, and remains a high-ranking hotbed of capitalist ideas both coming to life and being washed out to sea. Irony of ironies, it's not even an island anymore, the creek separating it from mainland Brooklyn having been filled in decades ago for the construction of the Belt Parkway. Coney Island is a constantly evolving, contentious place, a mini-America, that encapsulates all of what we owe our kids in terms of intelligent breadth of experience.

If you are remotely inclined, pay it a visit for yourself. If nothing else, pay a visit for your kids so they can track their progress by Coney Island's progress. It is a historical site the evolution of which is still in the making, and it seems perpetually will be. Although it most assuredly will still be there in some form when your children are grown, we know not what it will look like. So go sit there on Coney Island Beach with your kitchen spoons, found objects, and sand tools. Dig canals with your kids that guide the water spraying into the air from the metal palm tree. Put them on a kiddie ride, or twenty of them. Eat something tasty, unhealthy, and overpriced that still costs only half of what it would in a centralized, self-contained, air-conditioned venue where there's no competition between vendors. And don't forget to mention to them that there was a time, before Disney, before Xbox, before Barbie, before television, that this was the most famous beach in the world, visited by billions of people throughout its history. It will ALWAYS be here for us -- as long as we keep coming back.

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