What started out to be a long day trip to a giant amusement park in Massachusetts turned out to be something quite different, but in the end it was better than I could have imagined. Yesterday’s date, September 11th, was appropriate in that my friend and I got to enjoy the city that’s been a part of our lives since we were born. The day was fun and emotional, and made me forever grateful that in some small way, New York City is my city.
Ever since our roller coaster vacation a little over a month ago, my friend and I have been itching to ride more coasters. We planned on visiting Six Flags, New England for the day, but our plans were scrapped after we found out that they were hosting a special day for local Christian organizations. We thought that visiting Six Flags on such a day wouldn’t be optimal for us, and we decided to take that trip sometime next summer.
I suggested instead that we visit two local, albeit smaller amusement parks in the New York City area instead. Coney Island in Brooklyn and Playland in Rye, New York are two places I’ve been to before, but my friend had never been to either place. We decided to go.
In the car on the Southern State Parkway on our way to Coney Island, my friend remarked on how beautiful a day it was, virtually the same as it was on that fateful day in 2001. The skies were bright and clear, and the air was crisp. He was absolutely right! I remember it was the same kind of day back then. It was the first time we’d mention it all day.
Our first stop was Coney Island, to see the all new Luna Park and ride the Cyclone. We found our way down to Surf Avenue and the most famous of coasters, which of course was our first stop. I remember riding it before, maybe ten years ago, and I remember that it was so rough and rickety that one ride was sufficient. Nothing changed in the ten years that passed. The Cyclone is still one of the fiercest, scariest coasters around, and my friend changed his mind about riding it multiple times after his first ride.
Afterwards we walked through the newly opened Luna Park, which was a lot smaller than I expected it to be. There were no coasters, but there were several unique rides I’d never seen before. The tickets were rather expensive, especially for a place with no roller coasters, so we headed out towards the Boardwalk and the beautiful sunshine instead.
While walking around Coney Island, you can’t help but imagine what the place must’ve been like in its heyday early in the Twentieth Century. At that time, Coney attracted millions of visitors every summer, much like Disney does today, only it attracted a more adult style of fun. Iconic images still dot the landscape at Coney Island including the Cyclone, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, the old Parachuter’s Perch, and of course, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. Though I’m sure it was much more crazed in earlier times, it was nice to be in such a historic setting on such a beautiful day.
Our next stop was a far drive away, all the way up north of the Bronx in a Westchester town called Rye. The drive would take us on one of the world’s worst highways, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The BQE, as it is more commonly known, is a terribly paved road with lots of traffic, but it does offer spectacular views of the island of Manhattan across the East River. Once again, we were reminded of the solemn date as we came upon the southern tip of the island, where those most famous of all towers once stood. After nine years, it’s still difficult to look at Lady Liberty standing in the harbor without her magnificent frame in the background. We drove on.
Rye Playland is a special place for me. Having grown up in the Bronx, I spent many fun-filled evenings there throughout my life. It’s a very historic place that’s been a magnet for pop culture events over the years. Scenes from the movie “Big” with Tom Hanks, were filmed there. Mariah Carey filmed her music video for “Fantasy” at Playland and the New York Rangers hockey team used to practice at the ice skating rink located in the park.
Playland is home to another landmark coaster, the Dragon Coaster. The Dragon Coaster, built in 1929, was my very first roller coaster and is responsible for setting me off on my journey to seek out thrill rides. It’s very tame by today’s standards, but it is a fun and relatively long ride, with the train careening into the mouth of a dragon and working its way through its body and down and out of the tail. Of course, it was the first ride of the night for my friend and I. He loved it as much as I did.
After we rode the Dragon, we walked around the beautiful park that sits between a picturesque lake and the Long Island Sound. My mind filled with memories of trips there as a child: the expansive children’s section of the park, the fun Derby Racers, and the picnic groves set up along the water. Much of the park is unchanged and it was great to experience it all again.
On the way home, we noticed the low hanging crescent moon to our right. It was covered in one of those sort of foggy clouds that make it eerily beautiful. Another bright light shone in the sky to our left and my friend said that it must’ve been a planet or something. As we moved closer we could see that it was a spotlight reaching up towards the sky, but didn’t think anything of it.
Soon we reached the Throgs Neck Bridge, which brought us from the Bronx into Queens and the rest of Long Island. Off to the right of the bridge, you can see the skyline of New York City. It was then that we realized what the spotlight was. Once again the significance of the date had slipped our minds, but we were reminded of it on that drive across the bridge. Down towards the southern tip of Manhattan, two huge spotlights beamed light up towards the sky in remembrance of that terrible day.
We rode on in silence for awhile, contemplating what had happened to the city that was had always been an indelible part of our lives. It made us happy that we chose to do what we did, for we got to enjoy a spectacular day in and around the greatest city in the world.
*For a slideshow of Coney Island, please click here.