Everything (was not) Closed at Coney Island
Betty Smith begins her novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with the following passage: “Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912.” Serene isn't necessarily the word I would put to that borough on one hot August day in 2009, the day I visited Coney Island for the first time. Though I'd spent the first 22 years of my life never more than an hour and half away from New York City, I'd just never been to the beachfront amusement park. For the record, I've also never been to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the ice rink at Rockefeller Center. I have, however, been to the top of the Empire State Building – it's very tall.
The promise of a leisurely walk and a baseball game – complete with ice cream served in little plastic batting helmets – drew me, my friend and her father to the remnants of Coney Island that afternoon. On a whim, we paid a ridiculous sum to cram our legs into the cars of the Cyclone, built only fifteen years after the start of Smith's novel. Gripping our folded glasses tightly, we chatted as the train of cars began to climb the ancient wooden frame. Just before we neared the top, I heard a familiar voice in front of me. A friend of mine from Portland, a girl who has spent the past four years never more than a mile away, was seated there with her French husband. We laughed at the coincidence, the strangeness, the odds of it all. That is, until the cars began to plummet down the first hill and we all began to scream.