Sunday, November 2, 2008

Our Walley World at Coney Island

Yesterday, we thought it was the perfect day to make the trek to Coney Island located at the Southernmost area of Brooklyn, and which was once the largest amusement site in the 19th to early 20th century. The weather could not have been more perfect - sunny and cool but not cold like it's been lately. (If we went today instead, it would have been much too cold). It's something we wanted to do one time while in New York City.

And of all the freaky things in New York City, this is one of the freakiest we've witnessed - an empty subway car. It felt kind of spooky without anyone it. It took us almost about 50 minutes and 26 stops to get to the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue subway station (the last stop) from our house. This is definitely the farthest and longest subway ride we've taken.

But things didn't turn out like we imagined. We found ourselves in a Griswold moment. Remember the scene in National Lampoon's Vacation when the Griswold family drives cross-country to go to Walley World theme park just to learn that it's closed. WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU'RE CLOSED??!! That was us yesterday.

Apparently Astroland Park was closed by the family who owned and operated the historic amusement park for almost half a century because of a lease dispute. We just missed it - they closed this past September. We were really looking forward to riding the Wonder Wheel, the tallest ferris wheel in the world that opened in 1920, and has both stationary and rocking cars.

But suckiest of all is that we missed the classic Cyclone roller coaster. It was built in 1927 and is the oldest wooden roller coaster (in operation until recently). We were really looking forward to getting terrified by the old creaky noises. The sounds that induce one's imagination of the roller coasting falling apart would be way scarier than the dips and turns. The current site of the desolate and somewhat creepy Astroland will be redeveloped and it's said they'll keep the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel.

We didn't kidnap a worker to open up the amusement park to us the way Clark Griswald did. Because at least we got to have a hot dog at Nathan's Famous. This is the original location of the now Walmart-esque hot dog franchise. As their sign said, "from a hot dog to an international habit."

The history of Nathan's is a classic New York American immigrant story. The hot dog was supposedly invented in 1874 by Charles Feltman, whose hot dog shop once occupied the Astroland Park space, and who hired Nathan Handwerker who would later create Nathan's Famous.

The lines weren't too long, but still long enough to witness hungry people fighting in line. Once you grab your dog, you can sit inside or outside. The weather was great so we ate outside. Wasn't a good idea. The area was dirty, with lots of hungry pigeons, and worst of all were the bees. If you have any allergies to bees, eat inside - this place was swarming with bees, not just regular 'ol bees, New Yorker bees, the kind that likes wieners more than honey.

This is their classic hot dog that started the craze. Nathan's Famous dog was tasty. When we bit into these hot dogs, there was a crisp snap followed by a tasty filling. But we wouldn't say it's the best we tasted. This is an example of when a brand is mightier than the product. But thinking of the yesteryear when people like Al Capone, Cary Grant, and President Franklin Roosevelt all ate Nathan's hot dogs make you feel like you're tasting a part of old New York history.

Their crinkle cut fries were definitely delicious and the perfect match to their dogs. It would be fun to go back to watch (or be a contestant at) the Nathan's famous hot dot eating contest every 4th of July.

The famous Coney Island boardwalk. Everything felt so melancholy.

A bit disturbing.

The weather was nice and it was even somewhat sunny but everything appeared so gray.

The Coney Island beach was closed but families were still playing in the sand. It's not winter yet so we didn't get to see the The Coney Island polar bear club, the oldest winter bathing organization in the U.S. that swim there in the winter months in the freezing waters.

And this just added to the overall depressing atmosphere - a small fake palm tree in the middle of nowhere.

Disappointing, gloomy, depressing, dirty, gray, melancholy, and somber are words that describe the overall abandoned ghost town feel of Coney Island, although it's probably a much different experience in July. And as if that wasn't depressing enough, our subway ride back home was hell. Due to a sick passenger in the train in front of us, it took us an hour and 45 minutes to get back home.