Saturday, July 24, 2010

June 15 A Day In The Life...Coney Island Style

Early morning breakfast at a coffee shop on Smith St. I sat on the bench out front enjoying a cool breeze with my banana bread and juice. Then the subway to Coney Island. I got off at West 8th Street and headed toward the boardwalk. 
I passed by my favorite roller coaster, the Cyclone. It wasn't running this early or I would have ridden it. It's gonna be a great day here at the beach.
The early morning boardwalk has a different vibe before the hordes of people arrive later in the day. It is really very peaceful. The old timers enjoy the cool air while taking their morning walk. The Russians from Brighton Beach start their day with an swim in the ocean. The younger locals jog or work out on the beach. Living in Chicago, there are lots of things I miss about NYC. The ocean is one of them. Rockaway Beach for riding the waves and Coney Island for this boardwalk. You can relax on a bench facing the ocean, cool morning breeze blowing off the water and not even realize that one of the biggest cities in the world is right behind you. That is exactly what I did this morning. 
I was lost in my own head until I heard these kids chanting "Cure Diabetes Now". About 100 kids from PS 100 in Coney Island walked down boardwalk for the charity JDRF. They put a smile on my face because it gave me hope that the next generation might correct the ills of this world.
Every city needs a place where the people can get away from the day to day grind. Coney Island doesn't care about your money, religion, nationality or political views. Everyone is welcome. Everyone smiles the same after riding the Cyclone. Everyone gets to put a blanket on the same sand, enjoy the same ocean water, have the same beer at Ruby's, the same freshly shucked clams at Paul's Daughters, the same hot dog at Nathan's, the same candy apple at Williams. Coney Island is the great equalizer. Everyone gets treated the same and everyone gets to enjoy it. That is why I want Coney Island's amusement area to be saved. How many other cities have lost their "Coney Islands"? Places like this make the world a better place. I can't think of any condominiums that have done the same. 
Yet another reason I love NYC.
Coney is all about the characters that love the place. I saw this old timer several times during the week. He is wearing a Coney Island Dancers t-shirts. I'm sure the sun and the salty sea air has kept him young.

No drive through at Nathan's. You have to get out of whatever vehicle you drive. He must have started early to want a frankfurter at 9am.
The battle over land use at Coney Island centers on Thor Equities and it's owner Joseph Sitt. He bought land in CI by promising to develop the amusement area. Once he owned a major portion of the land, he asked the city to rezone the amusement area for condos. The city refused and now his land and buildings sit unused and empty adding to the already depressed area.
I met Marie as planned at the Stillwell Avenue subway station. Since her students were running late, I ran over to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus media day event on the beach. 
As usual at these media day events, the company sends out some clown to do the talking. The circus will be at Coney Island for the rest of the summer. At least it will bring people to CI, I'm conflicted on whether this is good or bad for Coney. I guess good publicity can't hurt.
There were a bunch of school kids from all over Brooklyn at this event. These kids cheered for Susie the elephant as she made her way across the beach for her photo op. 
A media event would not be complete without a smiling politician. Here's Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz with local school kids. I actually got a chance to talk to Marty for a few minutes. He didn't just shake my hand and brush right by me. He answered my questions and asked me several questions.
He told me that like me he wants to see Coney Island return to the great NYC destination it once was years ago. I got the feeling he was serious and not just playing me. I hope so.

This is the old Childs Restaurant building. A perfect example of why CI needs to be protected from greedy developers. This beautiful building should be part of any redevelopment plans in CI. Lola Staar lost her lease this year because someone sued the owner after falling down in the Roller Rink last year. 
You just don't see this kind of artistic craftsmanship on buildings anymore. I believe this building is protected due to it's landmark status.
I met Marie with her students and followed them as Marie gave them a tour of Coney Island.
Marie on the boardwalk. We had lunch at Nathan's. Then I headed toward Mermaid Avenue to meet up with the workshop group. We viewed several early edits from the work done so far. I didn't show anything because I need to start editing tonight. After the session, I tried to take pictures in a different style than I usually do. Andy told me to not be so literal with my pictures after checking out what I had shot this morning on my camera's LCD screen. I guess I was trying to emulate the pictures I had just seen from the others. Not much came of it. Here's a couple of the Wonder Wheel that I liked.

Then Marie texted that she was busy painting signs for the Mermaid Parade and I was welcome to come up to her studio. Once again over the course of a few hours we talked about artistic values, making money, decisions that change your life and the process of making art. She worked and I took pictures. Marie gave me permission to shoot anything in her studio. I felt like a professional photographer for the first time in my life. Of course Marie kept offering advice while I was shooting. Being an artist herself,  she made me aware of  the quality and direction of the light in the pictures. Even though she was very busy, she made me feel so welcomed that I was at ease taking pictures. She was painting so many banners at once that she had some on the floor of the Coney Island Museum. I just kept walking around shooting, finding different angles, adding or subtracting items from each shot and finding shots that would tell a story about an artist. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent taking pictures and I believe it shows in the pictures. 
I headed west down the boardwalk as the sun began to set. Earlier today I noticed a community garden next to the Childs building. I thought that might make a good story for my project. I took a few shots as I walked down the boardwalk.
There were several people in the community garden. I spent some time talking to Russian immigrants who thought I was a professional photographer. They wanted me to show them how to use their new camera. They were very friendly so I helped them. 
One of the Russians poses with his red, white and blue (he said they were blue) flowers. He planted them because he loves America.  He told me about living in Moscow with absolutely no freedoms. He said in Russia he could not have planted a garden in the empty lot next to his building. In America, he has his own garden. He was wearing a day pass from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. He loves his gardens. As I listened to him talk about each of his flowers, I couldn't help but think that these simple pleasures are often overlooked by us. Believe me when I tell you, he was more proud to be in America than most Americans I know. I was beginning to see a connection with photography and stories. I was using photography as a way to meet people. Interesting people. People who want to tell their stories. Perfect. I love to hear stories.
I decided twelve hours in Coney Island wasn't enough. So I walked down to the new Luna Park. It just opened on the land that the city bought from Joseph Sitt for $96 million. It used to be Astroland. I was skeptical but the park was crowded and everyone was enjoying the new rides.
I'll end the day where I started the day. On the boardwalk.
Back in Carroll Gardens, I picked up a slice of pizza and an Italian ice. As I sat on the stoop of the brownstone I was staying at, I thought about my day in Coney Island, the cool summer night breeze, the quiet tree lined city street, the slice and the lemon ice. I asked myself out loud, "Is this Heaven?" "It's as close as you'll ever get motherfucker!" came the reply from some guy in the next building. Damn, I love New York.

1 comment:

  1. I'm enjoying the stories of Coney Island and NYC thru your pictures and words. Never been there but can see why you love it. It makes me sad/mad that CI could no longer be there like the Pike in Long Beach disappeared. They are trying to revitalize the Pike area but it's not the same. You need the rides and the little food businesses. PF Chang's doesn't do it.
    I almost feel like hanging out & seeing/doing all the stuff that our ocean city and surrounding areas offers after reading & seeing your great pics of NYC and Coney Island. Thanks/