It took until Monday morning as I was packing a purple and blue beach towel, a bottle of sunscreen, a Fage greek yogurt, and a book of essays into a backpack and throwing on my lime green, sweat stained Seattle Supersonics hat on the way to the Dyckman-200th Street subway station, boarding the A train downtown in the direction of Coney Island-Stillwell and sitting next to two gentlemen both with creased leather briefcases reading the New York Post for that long-dormant unbridled adolescent summer vacation mood to settle into my 29 year-old bones and breath.
An hour-and-forty-five minute ride one-way is no deterrent at all when the city’s thick-as-molasses ‘n sizzling-like-bacon heat, air conditioned MTA subway cars, and the lack of any personal schedule nor real responsibilities whatsoever are considered, and just like that a playful exercise in seeing how your imagination of a place compares with reality is underway.
After traversing all of two boroughs, the F stops at the shore and I walk onto the rickety, diagonal-planked boardwalk alongside a kid that measures up to my waist in a bucket hat shouting “I been here before! I BEEN here BEFORE!”, just losing his grade school mind, as the roller coasters, pier, and the rest of Coney Island and Luna Park come into view.
I’m the type that’s smiling in the streets by default, but my smile widens and cracks into a chuckle with the thought of myself and 20,000 other grown adults having more or less the same reaction when Phish takes the stage at Madison Square Garden on Friday to kick off their Baker’s Dozen, a 13 night residency, yet another, “Do you dare us to do it? Oh yeah?!?” moment of sur-reality from the band’s fairy tale career.
“Once upon a time” indeed.
Employing the “when in Coney Island” frame of thought, I scoop up a hot dog and crinkle-cut fries from Nathan’s, unfurl the towel in the shadow of a lifeguard’s chair, and lay out.
The dog snaps with every bite, the fries are well-done and well done, and a teenage gang of seagulls circles in on me with hungry eyes.
My lady neighbors behind and to the right are speaking Italian, sounding tremendously, effortlessly, innocently, seductive.
I am content closing my eyes and watching the sun from behind my eyelids, inhaling and exhaling with the cresting waves as they repeat and practice in musical and warm tones the English words vendors call out, like “mango” and “sour diesel” (“We take cards!”).
I inch my way into the water and towards the Atlantic expanse, looking back towards Brooklyn to marvel at the Wonder Wheel, the Thunderbolt, the Soarin’ Eagle, and the Cyclone in all their vintage magic and, beyond the happy screams, at the clusters of efficiently cold 15+ story apartment buildings, all brown or grey with sharp, non-inviting rectangular angles as the teenage seagull gang swarm my backpack and one flees with my Fage greek yogurt in beak.
It’s clear I’m dealing with professionals here.
Shuttling between the water and the book resting on my towel just above where the tide meets the sand, a light and existential joy gently washes over me.
I am finally here and nowhere else: it’s now or never.
(7/17/2017 – Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York)