…was a really good movie. I went for humbler reasons — a cheeseburger and some nostalgia. Through the lens of nostalgia, all the disrepair and faded paint read more like patina than decay. Having spent countless summer days there as a kid, Coney’s always been a favorite place of mine. Like all things old in our new and disposable society it’s being cast aside in the interest of what some people call progress. I went at what seemed to be the height of talk of its questionable fate — talk of tearing it all down to build condos for the rich as if that hasn’t happened enough in NYC. While Coney Island’s amusement district may not technically be closing, it is going to be changing drastically and this was the final season as I knew it, 2008.
I’ve been wanting to ride to Coney Island since before I even had a motorcycle. When I had a ’40 Plymouth, the plan was to fix it up and take it there. I always wanted to take a picture of it next to a Coney Island landmark. As it happened, I sold the Plymouth to buy the bike and transferred the plan. Though I didn’t know it then, I went on the last day for Astroland Park — home of the Cyclone (though that’s staying).
I left my house in the early morning on September 7th on my 66 Triumph Trophy with little notice. It was a solo trip — no support, no one to call, too few tools beneath my seat and a quart of oil in my messenger bag. It was a pretty uneventful ride to the city. Having made no plans for the trip, I didn’t get a chance to pick a route on the back roads so I took the straight shot — route 80 — as I had so many times before in my parents’ car. Almost every time I stopped for gas both ways I was delayed talking bikes to people that used to own Triumphs including one guy road tripping on a 69 Electra Glide. I can’t say I minded.
My wife wasn’t thrilled at the thought of me riding through the city traffic but was calmed a bit knowing I planned to take the Holland Tunnel and just nip Chinatown on my way to Brooklyn. Somehow, with all my navigational prowess, I took the wrong exit and instead of taking the Holland tunnel, I ended up taking the George Washington Bridge which spits you out in the Bronx. I ended up riding the city all the way down to Coney. It’s a hell of a way to see New York and having gone over the GW a million times before to get to the Bronx on purpose, I can say there was nothing like taking that bridge on an old motorcycle — way better than a station wagon. I rode past the Yankee Stadium, my family’s neighborhood in the Bronx, through Harlem and past Central Park, then I rode along the coast to Chinatown where I pulled over to shed some layers and call my wife before proceeding to Brooklyn.
Rounding the long sweeping curve of road along the coast I saw the parachute drop, then Keyspan park. I was there. It was awesome being on the same streets I had always known but different, even better to be there on my bike with a couple hundred miles behind me. When I pulled up to the Cyclone, a guy who owned a 71 Bonneville started talking bikes with me. It turns out he was a photographer for the New York Post, his partner asked me some questions and he took a few pictures. I don’t know if I ever ended up in the Post or not.
I walked around, soaking up the vibe for a while and the vibe was strange — revelry with a tinge of somberness. For some, it seemed like they were visiting a dying relative. It kind of felt like that for me too. For the most part though, it was still as I had always known it. Plenty of people were having a good time and seemed oblivious to the changes ahead. I took a few pictures, got a cheeseburger at Ruby’s, bought a sticker for my bike and a T-shirt for my wife. I probably spent about an hour and a half there before heading back to my bike for the long ride home. I felt like I had accomplished something — certainly not the longest or most impressive ride anyone’s ever done but one I had been wanting to do for a long time and the way things change I won’t have the chance again. Even if I go the same way, I won’t end up in the same place.