The Warriors. A 1979 film about a Coney Island gang attending a mass gang meeting in The Bronx which goes wry. (A film I’ve now seen a few times!). The Warriors get stitched up and have to fight their way all the way home to Coney Island. When they eventually get there the first thing they see when getting off the train is the Wonder Wheel. A symbol that they’ve made it home. I’ve fancied having a look at it myself, and that was our plan for today. Hopefully without having to fight our way all the way down!
There’s a lot more to Coney Island than the Wonder Wheel of course. By the 1920s Coney Island was starting to bill its self as the `Worlds largest playground`. It had grown from three huge fairgrounds built between 1887 and 1904 (Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park), providing a popular combination of hair-raising rides and nearby beaches. The subway arrived in 1920, and the building of the boardwalk in 1921 ensured Coney Islands popularity throughout the depression.
Three landmark status attractions dominate around here: The wooden Cyclone roller coaster (one of only a few wooden track roller coasters left in the world), was ready to roll in 1927, reaching speeds of 68mph and including nine drops and six curves. It still brings plenty of screams out of people to this day. The Wonder Wheel, a 150 feet high Ferris wheel opened on Memorial Day in 1920. It has twenty four passenger cars that not only rock but slide along tracks as the wheel turns. And the big red Parachute Jump near the boardwalk, which came to Coney Island from New York Worlds Fair of 1939/40. Although now long closed it still remains a beckoning landmark.
The train made very frequent stops all the way down through Brooklyn, with few passengers getting on or off. I didn’t mind too much though, it gave us the chance to check out the graffiti at all the stations. In the film it wasn’t just the stations that were covered in graffiti, the trains were in a right old state as well. In fact the image put across was that New York its self was a place not to be wandering around once the sun went down, and from what I’ve read and seen, that could well have been true! It’s a different story today though, of course, and it was from a very clean and graffiti free carriage that we admired the artwork outside.
Before too long we were stepping off the train and looking over at the same sight as the Warriors in the film. It just happened to be another dazzling sunshine day. Magic! Walking out of the subway station takes you onto Surf Avenue, with flea market stalls, sideshows and Nathan’s historic hot dog stand, all closed today. Bit early in the season I suppose, it was only March! There was a café open just down the road, so after a bite to eat (chicken and chips), we bought a couple of bottles of coke so I could re-enact a scene from the film. The amusement park wasn’t open for the season yet so we had to make do with standing in front of the wire fence.
With Malc at the ready with camera at hand, I started slowly creeping around shouting “Warriors come out to plaaaay!” repeated a few times while clanking the bottles together. (If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know exactly what I mean!). After rolling around in fits of laughter we had the photos we wanted and went to have a look around.
We had as good a look at things through the fence as we could then wandered over to the boardwalk. What a shame the park wasn’t open, but it still felt great to at least be standing in front of it. I was quite surprised at how big the beach was, very clean as well, easy to see why it gets so busy down here in the summer.
While walking along the boardwalk towards the Parachute Jump, a woman slowed down while walking towards us.
“You guys ok?” she asked, sounding a bit concerned.
“Aye champion thanks” I replied.
“Ok” and she walked on.
Me and Malc exchanged glances. “Bit strange the way she said that” said Malc.
“Aye, you think she saw the little performance earlier with the coke bottles?”
“Well if she did, she could have taken the photos!”
Once we got past the Parachute Jump the scenery turned very residential, so we had a bit of a wander through the streets before heading back towards the subway station. With very little open there seemed little point hanging around, but the main thing was, we’d seen everything we wanted to and were happy enough with that.
Later on that night we were having a drink in a bar/grill near the hotel, when a man standing near us cut in on our conversation (Lets call him Brad). He said that he worked in the city and talked with people from all over the world but was having trouble placing our accents. “North East England mate, Hexham, near Newcastle Upon Tyne” I told him.
“You guys are English? Damn I had you down for German or something. That’s some accent you guys have, I couldn’t pick many words up.”
German indeed. After finding out we were on `vacation`, he then went on and reeled off all the tourist things he thought we would have done.
He got them all right. “Aye” I said, “spot on.” “Oh, and we’ve been down to Coney Island today.” When he heard this he nearly choked on his beer.
“Coney Island” he repeated, rather loudly. “Why the hell`d you wanna go down there?”
I explained about the Warriors thing but he still looked bemused.
“Were you guys in a tour group or something?”
“No, just hopped on the train”
“Weren’t you a bit wary?”
“Aye a little bit, in fact we both nodded off on the way back” (fell asleep).
(He meant wary, as in scared, I heard it as weary, as in tired!) At this he guffawed again.
“You fell asleep?” he asked/shouted. “Don’t you guys realise you’ve just ridden one of the most dangerous lines in the western world?”
“Really? Seemed ok to us.”
“Did you notice many more white men on the train?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Guys, you’ve been right through Brooklyn to Coney Island and made it back without getting your throats cut. Put your money away, the beers are on me!”
Well I thought he was totally over-reacting, but if he was happy to buy us beer, that was fine by me.
He spent the next half-hour or so buying us drinks, then his friends turned up and he talked to them instead. He did buy us one more drink each after I ‘accidentally’ bumped his arm when our glasses were empty.
To this day I don’t know why he reacted like that. Maybe he’d had a bad experience in Brooklyn himself? I don’t know. Were those two men we spoke to yesterday unloading the truck keeping something from us? Why were they laughing?
The woman on the boardwalk looking somewhat concerned, what was that all about? Was Coney Island/ Brooklyn to be avoided in March 2001? One thing I do know though, that stranger in the bar, (Brad?), he’ll never get a job as a tour guide, not with that attitude!