Know how you haven’t left campus in a month? Think you’ll scream at the thought of eating one more meal in Ferris? Feel like you’re “wasting your potential” by not exploring the city? Never fear, The Blue and White has got you covered with our new column, the Travel Desk. To start things off, Senior Editor and Bwog Features Editor Alexander Pines, CC ’16, takes you to Coney Island at midnight. Pick up a copy on campus now.
There’s barely room on the Q train as I slip through the closing doors and into the crush of people at Times Square. A woman’s oversized fanny pack presses into the small of my back and there is what seems to be a very large and very confused family shouting about the “fackin’ line” to get into their hotel. A few stops later, as the train gasps out of the tunnel and over the Manhattan Bridge, my car has mostly cleared out. I slide onto one of the benches and stare out the window because no one’s there to see me touristing. When I get off around midnight at the last stop, Coney Island, I am the only passenger left.
The air is noticeably cooler this close to the ocean, although the groaning clank of the subway obscures the sound of any waves. I step out of the D/F/N/Q station onto the breezily named Surf Avenue.
Coney Island does not just greet its visitors; it assaults them with neon. The biggest welcome sign is courtesy of Thor Equities, a global real estate firm that owns much of the surrounding property. They reportedly wanted to build a Vegas-style hotel on the site back in 2005. Thus far, they’ve built a sign—an aggressively tacky sign, branded with logos and too many fonts, leering over a violently cheerful candy store. They’ve also hung an “Arcade” sign over a vacant building that is not, in fact, an arcade. So much for glamor.
At night, touristy New York is predictably empty, and Coney Island is no exception. While locals still staff Nathan’s Famous, McDonald’s, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts, the rows of fluorescent-lit tables look bloated and unnecessary at this hour. I’m so unnerved by the absence of human voices that I pull out my phone and key up Beyoncé’s “XO” to drown out the silence.
There are no gated fences between me and the amusement park itself, so I wander toward the ocean, quickly realizing that the darkened silhouettes of rides that look cheerful by day are absolutely fucking terrifying without the smell of cotton candy as a distraction. What’s worse is that most of them feature the same Joker-esque face, grinning with bugged-out eyes ten feet above the ground. I turn my music up.
The park is dismally industrial at this hour, like a post-apocalyptic art house film about the importance of valuing the physical, the tangible, over the digital. The light pollution casts everything in a dull sepia. I consider Instagramming the Ferris Wheel and realize that no one would really care.
I step onto the boardwalk, which feels laminated and artificial under my Docs. Beyond the boardwalk and a short fence is a thin strip of beach. I’ve only been to the ocean once before, when I was a kid visiting relatives in California. The Pacific felt terrifyingly vast – I found myself afraid to go beyond the thick ropes of seaweed, and ended up drawing in the wet sand with a stick. This is not the case at Coney Island. Like everything else in the city, the Atlantic feels constrained, its edges lapping at Jersey and the other parts of Brooklyn visible in the distance. I wonder if I should be having a Big Philosophical Moment and existentially ponder emptiness and the state of modern culture or something, Camus-style, but mostly all this water makes me feel like I need to pee.
Most of the fences and gates I pass are locked. I see a parked ambulance with its lights on and “Drunk In Love” coming from a speaker inside and decide not to get too close. Maybe someone will be having breastases for breakfast in the morning. There’s a slightly obscured Port-A-Potty, but as soon as I get my zipper down I hear something move and I run away.
More than a little cold and with a dying phone, I walk back to the train and head back to campus. I’m a little slow crossing 114th and a cabbie pauses long enough to scream, “Move your fucking ass!” as he nearly clips my bag. It’s good to be home.