A Moving Carnival

The Street Hustle


A buddy of mine was telling me why he broke up with his latest girlfriend the other day. “I took her to Coney Island. First the aquarium, then we went to the freak show, the original Tontino’s and, of course, for a ride on the Cyclone. She seemed weirded out the whole time. All she wanted to do was get back to Manhattan,” he told me over a Guinness.


I knew exactly how he felt. Last year, I desperately wanted to take my then girlfriend and a bottle of Liopart Cava Brut (a Spanish sparkling wine) to sit on the pier and watch the sunset. She thought is was all sweet and romantic until she told her sister. “Can we do it over at Stuyvesant Cove (23rd Street and the East River),” she asked. “We can avoid all the freaks that way.”

All of that will change as of this fall as the neighborhood is the target of a huge construction project that will see an upscale amusment park and new luxury digs being erected near the boardwalk.  Coney Island beginning its gentrification process was inevitable and has really thrown me for a loop. The neighborhood was the last vestige of downbeat romance left in the City; it’s always like walking through a Tom Waits tune. Walking down the boardwalk, out on the pier, wherever you went in Coney Island, the moving carnival that was New York City not four years ago was preserved in all its clunky, messy, weird glory.


We commiserated over Astroland’s imminent demise and the general loss of personality that is seemingly overtaking the City. “How many more Duane Reade’s and banks do we need,” he wondered aloud.


Although I am in absolute agreement with my friend, it bothers me. I fear I am falling prey to a two part nostalgia hustle.


Part One. The Hustle: New York is changing and not for the better. New York City constantly re-invents itself. When the Gangs of New York was released, there was a groundswell of interest in the Five Points district of New York. To this day, no one really seems to be able to pin point its exact location. As for Astroland, there were several amusement parks before Astroland and the intent is put a fresher, newer park in its place.


Part Two. The Hustle: New York is losing the personality. We are becoming like everyone else. In the past fifteen years we have lost many things that made New York so special: jazz venues, independent bookstores, landmark bars and restaurants and they have been replaced by monolithic super drug stores and banks and dry cleaners. Are we becoming a strip mall? Yes but our own New York variety thereof. Look at it this way, Chase is a New York company.


The real question we should be asking is why is this happening? The answer is the changing culture and demographics. Let’s face it, New York City, right now is a very young town. As my friend Wayne put it, it seems every year I get older, New York City gets three years younger. These kids that are now living in town have different expectations and experiences than I had growing up. I wanted to meet Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, they want to go to clubs and meet Jay-Z. The suburbs and exurbs of my generation still had many small businesses and restaurants. My new fellow citizens grew up in the age of the chain restaurant and Wal-Mart. I got my news from newspapers and Walter Cronkite. They have the internet and CNN. The culture has moved forward and so has the marketplace. Old bars go because they can’t compete with the super pubs and Guyland bars that now dot the east side avenues.


New York City is re-inventing itself for its new residents and their expectations, it’s been going on since Chelsea was a farm and the West Village was really a village.


I am concerned that this new generation has no street smarts but they don’t need them. Back in the ‘70’s, Mad Magazine published a cartoon entitled ‘Some Really Dangerous Jobs for George Plimpton.’ On that list, which included swimming across Lake Erie, was walking through Times Square at night. Today’s youth would wonder why walking past an Applebee’s at 3:30am would have any danger attached to it at all. Depressing, I know but its life and we just have to make the best of it.


The moving carnival is still there, you just have to pay more attention and every now and then you will be rewarded. Karma gave me my reward yesterday at 7:45pm. I walked out of my building to go to Dunkin’s Donuts to get a cup of coffee. A coquettish 50 something woman in black stocking, a short read skit, heels and black blouse was running down the street trying desperately to hail a taxi. In her left hand was a martini glass with a single green olive spinning round and round. Her blue blazer, gray flannel pants husband, obviously drunk and staggering, was twenty feet behind her.


I wonder if the three blonde girls walking across the street noticed as well. They seemed rather indifferent to everything but their conversation. No matter what, I guess you still need the right kind of eyes.






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