The Flight to New York
It was exactly twenty years and thirty days ago when I first set foot on US soil. My first stop–JFK airport’s old Northwest terminal.
A couple of stopovers and literally twenty four hours of travel time, it was rather “lengthy” to put it mildly. But no matter. I was ready to brave the new world. “There is nothing that my fifteen-year-old body cannot handle,” I remember saying to myself.
I had become an explorer, embarking on a global frontier for the first time in my life. And I was ecstatic…and a little terrified at the same time. But I wasn’t alone on this journey. My dad and my sister were there with me.
My mom at the time was living in Midwood, Brooklyn, a quiet middle class neighborhood tucked in the heart of South Brooklyn. She had been living there for quite some time. As soon as we began our descent from the escalator that led to the exit, we saw a familiar face. There she was, along with other greeters holding signs with names on them, waiting for us with a smile. As soon as we saw her, we immediately ran towards her and hugged her as tightly as we could. There was no question that we were happy to see her, but there was also no denying that we were relieved to have endured the grueling flight. We couldn’t wait to leave the airport. I still remember the smell of the air and coolness of the early spring breeze, as we walked out. It felt new and refreshing, a stark contrast from the hot tropical weather of the East.
Of course, when we saw each other, we wasted no time and immediately made plans to see the “sights.” After all, I was a tourist in a foreign land at the time. We wanted to see everything the city had to offer, but first things first–food! We needed food! And so we promptly made our way back to my mom’s place, and set aside the sightseeing at a later time.
Iconic South Brooklyn
After our little feast, it was almost impossible to get ourselves ready for an hour-long trip into Manhattan, so we decided to just keep things local. And that meant going to an area close to my mom’s place. Easy to get to and…cheap!
Just ten minutes away lies one of the world’s most iconic boardwalks and sandy beaches. Known for its hotdogs and a world famous observation wheel (The Wonder Wheel), Brooklyn’s Coney Island greeted us like a sweet, delightful grandmother wearing a freshly knitted sweater on a crisp spring afternoon.
Although bearing the word island, Coney Island is, in fact, a peninsula, as part of it is connected to a greater land mass despite most of the land being surrounded by a body of water. And it works. It would have been strange if it had been named Coney Peninsula, right? That would not have worked today. But I leave that interpretation up to you.
And so there it was. The first New York attraction my dad, my sister, and I saw was Coney Island. The Wonder Wheel. The Cyclone. Nathan’s Famous hotdogs. The Aquarium. The boardwalk. The view of the Atlantic Ocean. All iconic images and would have a profound and lasting impression on me.
The New Coney
I still visit up to this day. Living in South Brooklyn, I have the pleasure of enjoying this old treasure, as it is only a stone’s thrown away from my apartment. Of course, there have been many renovations. The boardwalk now has reinforced planks on top of a cement foundation as opposed to the old deteriorated wooden ones they once had. Some restrooms are brand new especially the ones further up along Brighton Beach. There are also new shops and restaurants that line up along the street on Surf Avenue and the boardwalk. Grimaldi’s and Applebee’s have become new popular spots. A candy store called IT’SUGAR has also taken up residence. It’s one of the first things that you see, as you exit the subway station. And soon, residents and visitors will be seeing the addition of Johnny Rockets and Red Mango to the area. Nathan’s has has also received a makeover right after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy (Note: New equipment and new ketchup and mustard pumping stations!). And of course, there’s the restoration(or planned renovation) of the old historic Shore Theater (formerly Loew’s Coney Island built in the Roaring 20s) on Surf.
Despite all the changes, the spirit of Coney Island remains intact. The new rides, the new shops and restaurants have made it more appealing to generations both old and new. Maybe throw in a movie theater, more trees and curb appeal, add in a little paint color, some hotels for guests, more restaurants and shopping, and I bet it will be great. Not everyone will agree, I know, but one thing is for sure. I doubt it will ever become Disney-fied. So don’t fret. There will always be that certain edginess about it. And there will always be that certain Coney Island magic for adults and kids alike.