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Sunday, January 8, 2006


I love Coney Island. During the summer the boardwalk and amusement parks are obviously a blast (and visited by every self-respecting Brooklyn hipster at least once a season), but the feeling of Coney on a crisp winter morning is my favorite.

One of those mornings I decided to stroll the Boardwalk down past the amusement park area out to the western tip. Western Coney is your typical borough mishmash of high-rise housing projects, newly built small homes, and a few leftover vacant lots and abandoned buildings from the bad old days.

You can always count on Coney for character, for a relief from the generic and soulless feeling that sometimes envelopes you when you work in Midtown. I wasn’t disappointed on this walk, as is evidenced by a scene I ran into halfway down the beach. Now sure, some of the hipster crowd, at least those not too hung over to schlep down to Coney, will go swimming in the Atlantic every January 1st at the annual Polar Bear club. But it takes a certain kind of person (generally fat, old, and Russian) to just hang out on the Boardwalk in 30-degree weather chatting with the locals in nothing but a bathing suit after just having gone for his morning dip.

At the end of the western tip of Coney is a gated community called Sea Gate. Back in the bad old days I’m sure it was a bit tougher to just meander about, but nowadays, despite all the “no trespassing,” and “private property” signs, nobody gives me much of a second look.

After a short walk you come to is one of its landmarks - the old Coney Island lighthouse. It used to have the last civilian lighthouse keeper in the United States until his death a few years ago. Plans to open it to sporadic public tours are apparently in the works as well.

Another one of the landmarks of Coney Island is the Parachute Jump. An old relic from the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens, it’s now standing right off the boardwalk in Coney.

Now, when you see something like that at one of your favorite places in the city, you really have little choice but to climb it. Sitting 262 feet above the empty Coney Island boardwalk on a clear winter night, the city off in the distance and the quiet lapping of the Atlantic Ocean the only thing you hear, is an almost Zen kind of experience. And one that reminds you that even though this town can drive you nuts at times, it can also give you moments like these.

But this off-season experience is coming to an end. Redevelopment plans are in the works, and a 365-day-a-year modern amusement district is planned. I wonder if naked old Russian men will still be welcome.

Neighborhoods: Sea Gate, Coney Island
Tracts Walked: B336, B352

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