These are the temperatures that try men’s souls. 90, 93, 87…when accompanied by a soup-like humidity and the promise of no escape or air conditioning they could prove to be the ruin of many a weekend. The oppressive swelter blankets the body like an ill-advised trip to the sauna in a wool sweater. Fun and heat exhaustion seem to be mutually exclusive ideas at this point, but the reward for magnetizing the seemingly alien concepts with three days action-packed activity ends up being all the more gratifying when successfully carried out.
The center for much of this weekend’s polar attraction was a real freak magnet, Coney Island. Dotted with mysterious, fascinating beings of all shapes and sizes and all walks of life; at times a living, breathing, hypnotic train wreck; At other times a vast expanse shrouded in the promise of undiscovered thrill and uncharted territory that often accompanies the exploration of a tomb of ancient relics. Or maybe it simply served the purpose of alcohol central for those looking to relax and have a good time.
The latter was certainly the case on Friday afternoon as I traveled due South via the Q line from the 7th avenue Station in a race against time and my good friend Matt who had himself hopped aboard the F train at a similar time to reach Coney Island to get his 30th birthday proceedings off to an early start.
My determination to win the race to our meeting point hit an early snag when the Subway came to a 10-minute standstill at the Prospect Park stop due to some sort of emergency at the next station. I still had faith that I would arrive before or at the same time as Matt, but I had replaced my competitive edge with a more patient disposition. Besides, upon my arrival I was going to stop at Nathan’s and get a hot dog and cheese fries before high tailing it to the rendezvous point at the ever-so-famous Ruby’s Bar & Grill on the boardwalk. It had all the makings of a classic day at Coney Island.
Midway through making my Nathan’s order at the corner of Stillwell and Surf, Matt called to notify me that he had won this time. I didn’t gracefully accept defeat. I held that we were at least tied because I had stopped at a convenience store and at Nathan’s since I’d been there. We called it a draw and I met him two minutes later with Cheese Fries in hand having gulped down my dog with onions and ketchup along the way.
I grabbed two Ruby’s Ambers at $7 a piece for myself and the birthday boy and started out our Friday afternoon working our way towards potential mental imbalance that goes with excessive heat and the dehydrating nature of too much alcohol. In a matter of minutes our party grew bigger to include Matt’s sister Brooke and their mutual friend Jackie. Having a taste for something other than beer they decided to break in the day’s festivities with a Vodka Tonic only to discover that the surly female bartender had more or less given them vodka on ice with a splash of tonic. Their request for an accompanying lime was met with a harsh rejoinder of “no fruit.” So there they sat, drinking their Vodka and ice as Matt and I enjoyed our tasty brews watching the crowd of summer beachgoers parade up and down the boardwalk. The only thing missing was Matt’s wife Jenny who had unfortunately come down with the flu. We remarked that as a nutritionist she’d probably be busy handing her card out to the nutritionally challenged majority who proudly flaunted their spare tires like baby kangaroos popping out of pouches, revealing them as offspring ripe for the tanning.
The crowd grew bigger yet and stayed true to the old adage, “the more the merrier.” Aleks, Marie, Abbi, Drew, Natalie, Jeff, Alix all came out early to celebrate before the evening’s main event, a baseball game featuring the Cyclones of Brooklyn as they took on the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
The game itself was not the main event, rather it was the fact that our good friend Matt would be tossing out the first pitch on account of it being his birthday. Seeing as Matt, like myself was a lifetime Met fan he was thrilled to be throwing out the first pitch for their minor league affiliate and still even more thrilled to get the chance to meet their manager, Wally Backman, a pivotal member of the ’86 Amazins.
As we sat and sipped our drinks Matt ran through his scenarios while drinking a Pina Colada through a red tube shaped like a lady with curves in all the right places, figuring out what he would say to Wally. I maintained that I didn’t think there would be a chance he’d get to meet him, but he would never know until he went down there.
Matt and Marie split off from us at 6:15pm so he could prepare for his pitch. It was actually pretty endearing. Matt had his glove and was desperately yearning for a few practice pitches even though he had no ball. We sat around for a few more minutes until Marie sent a text message giving us our marching orders to head for MCU Park.
As we rounded the side of the stadium we heard an announcement about a first pitch being thrown out by someone else. Determined not to miss Matt’s pitch as it was pretty much the sole reason this idea was chosen for his birthday party, I broke into a bit of a jog to get into the stadium on time and what do you know…as I descended the steps behind home plate shortly after my entrance, this is what I saw:
The rest of the game was kind of an enjoyable breeze. Our party grew bigger to include 25 plus people including but not limited to Arby, Sam, Chris, Pete, Zak and Emma. The ‘Clones jumped out to an early lead off a home run in the third by their shortstop Nieves and held on to win 2-1. For a good portion of the game Marie and Abbi had picked a favorite player they thought was cute. Unfortunately, we soon found out it had been the wrong guy and they quickly switched their allegiances from 2nd Baseman Rylan Sandoval to 1st Baseman Jeff Flagg.
There was no need for rally caps, but we did have nice new hats courtesy of our birthday deal with the Cyclones that also included a free beer and a free hot dog. With game in hand and a few beers in our bellies we left the ballpark satisfied as the skies opened up to highlight that Coney Island summer tradition of Friday Night Fireworks.
Once the light show died down I was trying to push everyone to an evening at the vaunted Beer Island but there was a slight push to go towards another more storied landmark in the Wonder Wheel. Abbi was pushing it and I was sort of dead set against it on account that there would probably be a line and I kind of had to go to the bathroom, but as we drew closer I found myself entranced by the old-fashioned amusement. I gave in, forked over $6 and just like that was in line for the shaky section.
I rode in a car with Matt’s sister Brooke, Marie, and Aleks. The swinging section was not what I had expected at all. I thought it would just be kind of dangly. Instead it was on a track that purposely dipped you on an incline and back like the tamest of roller coasters. It was a surprise not only to me, as Matt’s sister was certainly not thrilled by this wrinkle and let out her fair share of reactive noises. Still, it was a fun experience that not everyone in the party had partaken in.
The rest of the crowd had sidled up to the sauna-like bar at Ruby’s that was undoubtedly 15 degrees warmer than the outside seating area.
After watching an obese women in a bikini act a fool in front of a young crowd who made her the chief entertainment in Ruby’s unadvertised freakshow, I retreated outside to the more calm confines of the boardwalk making relaxed chatter and generally enjoying myself amongst the company. Matt enjoyed his first corn dog and then we pretty much packed up for the Slope.
The last survivors of the evening ended up being Matt, Myself, Arby, and Samantha. The latter two didn’t last long as Matt and I had one more beer at Bar 4 before calling it a more-than-successful evening.
As I headed home towards my apartment I had the urge to tackle a protective stomach coating from Smiling Pizza on 7th avenue. I ordered up a slice and was immediately greeted by an excited declaration of my own name, “Evan!” I looked to my right at the person who had ordered a slice just before me. There stood my good friend Ryan from my days at Ramapo High School. It was a holy crap kind of moment, but good to see him after what had probably been 10 years.
We talked for a bit outside before I reached into my pocket to exchange numbers only to realize that there was nothing in my pocket with which to exchange numbers. I was phone-less. Fortunately, I knew I had my phone on the train and must have left it at Bar 4. We both walked to Bar 4 where my phone lay conveniently between 2 couch cushions. Crisis averted, old friend’s phone number received, evening over.
The next day I woke up at my own leisure and casually went about my business for the first few hours of my day. There had been some talk the previous few days via email about possibly making a trip to Coney Island to check out the Village Voice’s annual Siren Festival. Jason and Kayvalyn were really the only ones who expressed interest, but I didn’t have anything else to do that day and thought Coney Island might be fun to do again.
We met up around 2:30pm on the 7th avenue Q Platform only to have to wait 40 more minutes for the train to come. Our first move upon arriving back on the Isle of Coney was for beer. The concert organizers were doing it a bit different this year. Those in need of alcoholic refreshment were confined to an alcohol pen under the guise of being a beer garden. It was not the way to drink, but we each had 2 drink tickets each so we were sort of forced to use them, though we did so at separate times and separate stages so as to not spend too much time in one place. First we sat in the pen listening to what I think was Ponytail.
Not content to stand amongst the crowd, we sought out the variety at hand opting to cross the boardwalk and plunge feet first into the bay. The only problem with this was that the beach was so densely populated that actually reaching the water was a bit of a labor, but one that was certainly well worth it. Once we came to the waterfront we were amazed by tightly packed masses in the water that extended far beyond our area of the beach. It was a sight that not even a well-positioned photograph could say a thousand words about. The visceral experience was far more valuable.
There were so many characters around us on the beach and all seemed to be having a blast as they cooled off from the intense heat. It was also an interesting perspective from which to take in the sites beyond the boardwalk in the other direction. They Cyclone and Wonder Wheel formed a playful, aging skyline that stood as a proud testament to Coney Island’s lasting recreational appeal.
Having just cooled off a bit, we weren’t ready to throw ourselves into the roasting pit known as the main stage beer pen. Instead, we made a b-line to check out the view of the stage from Luna Park. Rather than hang around with a clear view of the stage Jason, Kayvalyn and I took advantage of being in the middle of all of that updated amusement. There were a few ride options that interested us, but none more than the Air Race that gave willing participants the opportunity to spend a few minutes hanging upside down in an airplane.
There was something perfect about gliding and dipping upside down through the air listening to the poppy sounds of the Pains of Being Pure of Heart. It seemed an atmospheric ideal and I for one felt a bit of a thrill upon my exit from the ride. It beat standing around watching a band. On our way out of Luna Park we happened upon a carnival game where two weeks ago my roommate Laura and I had won little animals with Mets logos emblazoned on them. Those bears/weasels were still there but on top of those there stood the creepiest game prize I had ever seen.
Leaving Luna Park we decided to catch some more Siren Bands. I think we caught the end of the Pains of Being Pure of Heart while enjoying another brew in the barricaded drinking region. While talking to Jason and Kayvalyn I noticed my friend Summer off in the distance and said a quick hello, but once beer was done, we had more exploring to do.
Our Surf Avenue travels took us into another familiar site which I had never before taken the opportunity to explore, the home of the El Dorado bumper cars. Well, that sounded like fun. Jason, Kayvalyn and I bought our tickets and lined up for a bit of bumper bashing, though we figured the blinking lights and constant beats threatened to give an employee or two one helluva headache or recurring seizures. Lights and music overload mixed with a childlike propensity to create mayhem behind the wheel made for a smashing good time if a brief one. I didn’t have time to pick out a fellow bumper car rider to punish mercilessly with my reckless driving habits.
All of that excitement was enough to make you hungry, so we settled on some tasty tacos on the boardwalk.
As I marveled over the Chorizo taco from some place that advertised “Real Mexican Tacos” Jason or Kayvalyn noticed a group of hipsters just sprawled across the middle of the boardwalk as hordes of people were forced to avoid their selfish lounging. We repeatedly exclaimed in an increasingly incredulous tone how much we were not fans of these clowns causing a bottleneck on the boardwalk. Jason took matters somewhat into his own hands, walking up to them to snap photos of their general obnoxiousness. At one point a strange old lady poked herself in and eventually myself and Kayvalyn posed with them as well. I think they started to understand towards the end the more than obvious intent of our actions.
Our culinary adventure didn’t end with tacos and boardwalk hipsters. Prior to making our way back to the Stillwell stage we stopped for some dippin’ dots. Now I had previously heard of dippin’ dots and have heard many people exclaim about them as a vital ice cream experience of many a person’s childhood; I however had never experienced the magic of dippin’ dots. I have to say, I do prefer regular ice cream. Dippin’ dots were ok, but nothing special.
Finally, our evening at Coney Island came to a close as we took in a few minutes of the Holy Fuck performance from the side of the stage. We all agreed that they sounded really good, but we also wanted to beat the throng of thousands to the subway station. We chose not to stay too much longer.
Upon my arrival at home that evening my roommate Laura was having dinner with our former roommate Laura and her family. I was treated to a lovely desert and a few beers thanks to the welcoming crowd. Someone had also bought a wine called Red Cat that featured a cat in a hot tub, with a smitten kitten in the background pining over said sexy red cat. The smitten kitten was especially hilarious because the cleavage on display in her dress somewhat hinted that said cartoon kitten might be sporting some feline implants.
So how did the wine taste, you ask? Let’s just say it was a red wine for those who like their red wine as sweet as life. And life so far this weekend had been particularly sweet. Fortunately, I had one more day to go.
Sunday was not so much a day rich in uncharted adventure as it was anchored firmly in the promise of a relaxing outing with friends. My friend Enisha’s former roommate Julie was having a Bastille Day party a few days after the holiday celebrating French Independence. I was slightly vexed over which accoutrements would be appropriate for the festivities.
My original thought was to swing by the supermarket and pick up some frozen French fries from Ore-Ida, the most french of our frozen food corporations. Then I remembered that the party was to be within spitting range of a McDonald’s and resigned myself to the task of buying a few helpings of large fries and delivering them in a greasy paper bag.
Before I could make that move official, I made a mini beer run to the supermarket where I happened on La Premiére Biére Française also known as Kronenbourg 1664. After stocking up on a classy French brew, my curious nature led me to the frozen foods section in search for Ore-Ida products. Before I could stock up on frozen fries I happened upon another gem perfect for the celebration, Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza. Perfect.
I was on the early side to the party, per usual, but I joined the fray out back on the deck making appropriate conversation about Whit Stillman movies as one of the girls at the party had just auditioned for one.
While enjoying my Kronenbourg 1664, I also partook in the delicious array of fine foods prepared by our wonderful french host who had apparently been slaving over a hot stove for the better part of the last day and a half. The Pulled Pork and Vietnamese Meatball Sandwiches were no doubt the culinary highlights of the afternoon along with some sort of Dijon Mustard and sliced tomato pizza.
There were few familiar faces in the early going but soon the back deck was populated by Jason, Kayvalyn, Pete W, and Morwin. I made new friends with Serena, Jessica, Patricia, Pete’s friend Jeff and Jimena, the latter of which I had seen on several occasions but never really had the pleasure of making her acquaintance. There was plenty of warmth emanating from new friendships to go along with the somewhat unbearable heat. Luckily there was refuge to be sought in the central air conditioning of Julie’s apartment.
The original plan had been to move the festivities down to Smith Street for their Bastille Day Street Fair, but as the day grew on til it bordered the evening we saw that this would be a futile effort. Instead a few of us went to Woodwork down the street for a few beers.
For the last few hours Pete had been talking up the burger at Cornelius and although I had been stuffed full of food both french and not-so-French, all of that meat-centric conversation had my taste buds watering. So, the weekend came to a close with burger in hand as Morwin, Jimena, Pete, and myself savored the last taste of the perfect couple of summer days.