On the first hot, sunny day of the summer, I decided to go and see what this Coney Island place actually is. The first thing I discovered was that it's not an island. It's just the end of Brooklyn--last stop before the ocean. This means, of course, that there is a beach. And as you might imagine, a beach in New York that is easily accessible by public transit is rather crowded on the first real summer day of the year. But in this case, the crowd is part of the attraction -- I had understood Coney Island to be the run-down ghost of a once-popular resort; I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is both busy and fun.
One of the first things I did -- after waiting in a long, slow line for an expensive hot dog on the boardwalk -- was ride the famous Cyclone. As I was waiting for my turn on this old, small, creaky wooden roller coaster, I thought it was going to be about as exciting as a ride on the F-train (for those of you non-New Yorkers, that's not slang; it's the subway line I take to work). Turns out I was wrong -- it was surprisingly fun, partly because of the real fear of pain I started to feel after going through the first drop. The cheap padded cushions you sit in really don't cushion anything, and unlike those other newfangled shiny, modern, well-maintained roller coasters, there is a genuine fear of death in the back of your mind as you ride this one. On the bright side, this was possibly the shortest line I've ever waited in for a roller coaster. But you pay for it -- $5 a ride.
Other than that, Coney Island features mostly the same carnival games as any other amusement park and a bunch of other rides that you can also find elsewhere. There is a freak show if you like that sort of thing. And every 4th of July, there is a special freak show -- the Nathan's hot dog-eating contest, where skinny Japanese guys eat 50 hot dogs in a few minutes.
As amusement parks go, it may not have the polish of, say, a Six Flags, but it's free to visit, easy to get to (the F, Q, N, and several other subway lines end up here), and right on the ocean. It can be a pleasant escape from Manhattan on a sunny day.