As sociology experiments go -- and my relocation from the South to New York may be nothing more than a giant sociology experiment -- traveling to Coney Island to study where New Yorkers go to recreate seemed like a natural. Here I could study the wild Yankee in his native habitat: Swimming in the water, preening as he tried to attract mates, eating their indigenous foods. It all seemed so exciting.
So Saturday after dropping the missus at Grand Central to visit her mother, I found myself standing on the D-train platform, with the choice of heading north and back home, or traveling south to the end of the line -- Coney Island. The train travels through Chinatown and then across the Brooklyn Bridge, so there were some sights along the way. Brooklyn was interesting from the elevated platforms and worth another visit later. Finally, after an hour-long ride, the end of the line: Recreational Nirvana for thousands of hot, sweaty New Yorkers.
When you cross the street and get to the Boardwalk, the first impression is: old. The second impression, which comes just as quickly and is much harder to shake is: dirty. Coney Island is dirty. Let me be clear. I'm not the neatest guy, and I've started adapting to the fact that a city of 9 million people isn't going to be clean. But after a lifetime of visiting Myrtle Beach and Panama City I can tell you that the cleanest part of Coney Island is far grungier, run-down and gray than worst part of those beach venues.
Some additional observations:
New Yorkers love tattoos. During the week, you don't get to see many of them, because they're all covered up. But on the weekend, strange inked animals and words come out to frolic. (Bonus advice for those who have children majoring in languages: Get them jobs at tattoo parlors. Barely 5 percent of the words and characters I saw emblazoned across people's arms, backs and ... em, ... lower backs were in English).
Going to the beach rarely means swimming. I saw tens of thousands scattered along the sands. I saw no one in the water. Can't tell if it was because the water was cold, or sharks, or the water was dirty. Besides, who wants to take a cold bath with 10,000 New Yorkers?
Old amusements aren't always the best.Yes the Cyclone and the other rides at Luna Park were colorful and historic. But anyone who grew up on Six Flags over Georgia and DisneyWorld is going to be sorely disappointed.
Political correctness ends at the shore.One arcade game was called "Shoot the Freak" and for $5 for three shots, you could basically take a paintball gun and wail away at some guy in a suit of armor taunting you. Apparently the dress of the "freak" varies throughout the day.
Don't expect any Coney Island eateries to make the Michelin Guide. Aside from historic Nathan's, which seems to dominate the area, my favorite was the Gyro & Clam Bar, followed closely by Peruvian barbecue.
Literacy isn't a big thing in Coney Island. My favorite sign was Cha Cha's Bar & Cafe featuring -- I am not making this up -- "Live Entertainment for the Hole Family."
New York is the world's quirkiest city. These guys made Saturday interesting.
The Worst Job in the World. Belonged to the lady charged with spraying people's feet off with a hose in front of the extremely disgusting bathrooms at the bathhouse. Why someone would walk into them barefoot is beyond me -- and I'm normally a barefoot hillbilly.
I sure felt like a fly in the potato salad yesterday. Spent the afternoon at New Yankee Stadium. Got a tan on my knees (my legs were in the sun and my head and torso were in the shade). Like a trucker's tan, but in reverse.
Decided not to wear my Braves cap, since I was in an AL park, but I did sport my bright orange University of Tennessee t-shirt. No reaction whatsoever. Which was fine. Some guy with a death wish showed up in a Red Sox jersey. I figured he was some frat pledge on an initiation dare, but he swore he wasn't.
But as a sociology experiment, my first visit to the epicenter of northernness was worthy of a research paper. Some of my key findings for my Southern brethren:
Because of the high concentration of those ethnicities that do not eat pork, all the hot dogs in the stadium were all-beef franks. By the fourth inning, I was suffering from pork withdrawal.
The outfield was torn up, according to my host, because they'd hosted a boxing match there last week. I can understand messing up good baseball turfgrass for a monster truck pull, but for a boxing match?
Beers from the shouting vendors in the stands are $9. Hand them an Alexander Hamilton and the $1 tip is assumed by every vendor. Don't you dare think about asking for your buck back.
Musically, Canada has a much better national anthem than we do. America the Beautiful blows them both away, but at sporting events, we tend to screw up The Star-Spangled Banner in a big way. Maybe the next time the Braves play in New York City we could get them to play "Dixie" or Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American."
There's always those people in the stands who love to hear themselves talk, and consider themselves an expert on everything that's happening on the field. But I have to say, New York has a higher concentration of Cliff Clavins than anywhere else. I had people all around me pontificating on every aspect of the game. One predicted what was going to happen next (and disproved the maxim that a broken clock is right at least twice a day). Another would read stats off the huge TV matrix board and then recite them to his friend as if he was pulling Toronto Blue Jay right fielder Jose Bautista's slugging percentage out of his Yankee-cap-covered cranium. A third was taunting error-prone Blue Jay left fielder John McDonald -- from 800 feet away in the upper, upper deck. I'm sure McDonald heard every word.
In the end, it was a grand day. The Yankees racked up an 11-run third inning and coasted, former Atlanta Brave Mark Teixeira upheld the South's honor with some solid hitting and fielding. I didn't buy any pinstripe hats or jerseys, but my loathing of the Yanks has been diminished somewhat, thanks in large part to my host Jessica and her loyalty to her team.