After the incredible success of the last survey, I think I deserved a week off.
Not much has happened since we last spoke. Oh, I watched some documentary on pet ferret conventions that painted all of these poor, enthusiastic ferret owners as total psychopaths, and then spent the rest of the afternoon pissed that a television production team would go through so much trouble to make people who liked ferrets look nutty. Other than that, it’s just been work and sleep, with a dash of Coney Island.
I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve only been to Coney Island a handful of times despite it being only a short drive from home, but now that the news has spread of the imminent destruction of much of its historic amusement pier goodness, it seemed like the right time to stumble around the wooden planks, taking pictures of seagulls and dilapidated casino arcades.
Coney’s famous Astroland Park, where most of the area’s rides and carnival games have stood for eighty-seven millennia, is on its last season, doomed to be torn down in favor of condominiums or some shit. While this won’t affect every attraction that’s made Coney famous, it’s also true that the whole boardwalk area seems to hang in a delicate balance, with every small, stupid nuance adding up to something much greater than its parts. I just can’t imagine anything shiny and new peacefully coexisting with the near-antiquated charm of these many rides, arcades and eateries, and it’s a safe bet that Coney Island as anyone knows it will cease to exist come the first sign of a bulldozer.
Fortunately, the famous Cyclone will escape destruction. This weekend marked the first time I’ve ever actually gone on the damn thing, and it holds up to its reputation. The old coaster lacks loops or any of the modern technological achievements of most of today’s top-rateds, but makes up for that by instilling a certain sense that it will fucking fall apart while you are heading for your first dip. While you’re walking towards the Cyclone, its comparatively demure size kinda makes you think that you’re going to be riding it only for the attached nostalgic value. Nuh uh. It’s a legit experience.
The main reason I wanted to visit Coney again was for its several “dark rides,” which are just growing rarer and rarer by the day. First up was the “Spook-a-Rama,” which debuted in the ’50s and really hasn’t changed much since. Virtually hidden in a sea of roofed sideshow games and shops, I might’ve walked right past it had it not been for the Alien-esque voodoo demon thing protruding several feet above its facade.
We went on it, of course. I won’t lie and tell you that it’s scary, because if you’re more than seven-years-old, it probably isn’t. Basically, you sit in a little car and stroll around a pretzel-shaped track in a dark room full of screaming, light-up displays, ranging from devils to guys in electric chairs, along with all of the other essentials that are common for rides of this type. Kinda cheesy, but it’s the good kind of cheese.
One of the stranger and most amazing things about Coney Island is how little things seem to change once they’re erected. Facelifts are far from common. Like, there’s a specific wing of Astroland that debuted in the late ’80s and hasn’t changed at all since then, proven by the characters the creators chose to “borrow” for decorative purposes.
While Coney fans insist that a lot of the key attractions will simply be relocated rather than destroyed once those condos go up, I just can’t see anyone going through the trouble of transporting crudely painted Ninja Turtle/Simpsons signs from 1989. Part of me is sad about that, but another part of me is totally itching to be among the looters when the place is finally abandoned. My living room could use a new motif.
Oh ho ho, I am well-versed in the majesty that is “Dante’s Inferno,” mainly because they have the exact same ride in Wildwood. (Or at least, they used to, before renaming it and dumbing down some of the naughtier bits.) Dante’s is a “transportable” ride, meaning they can move it around without totally dismantling every last bit of it first. This means that most of world’s Dante’s Infernos have probably had a number of homes throughout their lives, but it also means that this particular one should survive the coming demolition even though it stands right in the heart of where it’s all going down.
I often forget that my lifelong proximity to several New Jersey shore points gives me an advantage as far as carnival ride knowledge goes, but I have to imagine that a great many of you have seen Dante’s Inferno before — or at least, some version of it. If not, it’s really no different from what I explained about the Spook-a-Rama ride, but this one sort of doubles as a light roller coaster, with twists and dips and such.
Remarkably, this particular ride retained the awesomely demonic facade that all Dante’s Infernos began with. (Many of them have been “re-themed” so the scares are a little less “biblical.”) Surely, it’s more interesting to look at than it is to go on, with everything from three-headed dragons to a gigantic winged Satan warning off potential customers in ways only matched by its bloated five dollar admission fee.
There are a lot of casino arcades in the area, all in varying degrees of disrepair. Now, when I say “casino arcade,” you need to disregard the memories of the many fine casino arcades you’ve wasted money at over the years. These are a different breed. Many are no larger than bagel stores, and most of them are alarmingly bare and unkempt. I’m not even sure if the photo above registers as an entrance to a casino arcade, but that’s what it is. Having seen what’s inside, I can confirm that the sign encouraging parents to host their kids’ birthday parties there is hilarious.
The torn-apart interior, reminiscent of the set from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, hosts a small assortment of coin-op arcade games that are almost universally ready to collapse. A minor Skee-Ball section in the back teams with a sad trio of slot machines — the kind you’d buy from the back page of a novelty catalog — to give customers their only means of obtaining points for prizes. And what prizes they are!
Aside from the typical gamut of plastic spider rings and bamboo finger traps, there’s a series of larger prizes held in window display cases lining the arcade. My God. Horribly organized horrible prizes, lacking even basic signs to let you know how many points it would take to win them. I’m pissed at myself for not just offering the guy twenty bucks for whatever that radio control “Space Patrol” toy shown above is, because it’s clearly from 1978 and I am so obviously destined to own it.
Other window cases held even more life-changing prizes. Take this set of knives, featuring daggers that are one sneeze away from falling from their package, out the open window case, and onto the head of the poor soul playing Street Fighter three feet below. Another case featured a pile of Star Wars bookbags, likely pilfered from a closeout store down the road. Coney Island is incredible.
The “Ghost Hole” wasn’t open when we strolled past, which is disappointing since it appeared to be a lot bigger and three times as insane as the dark rides that were open. Web research tells me that there’s everything from man-eating crocodiles to killer Tiki statues inside, so my current number one priority is to get back to Coney Island as soon as possible.
We were kind of in a rush on this little adventure, so I can only imagine what I’d find if I allowed myself a full day to roam around. The whole place felt a bit like Mos Eisley — kinda exciting, kinda seedy. Plus, with the way so many of the arcades, souvenir shops and whatnot have existed without refurbishment for years or even decades, I know that there’s some serious treasure waiting to be discovered here.
Actually, as far as treasure goes, I did find a little something…
…at the gift shop pictured above. Alas, this entry is long enough. Find out what ridiculous thing I blew ten bucks on for your amusement in the next X-Entertainment blog entry, coming to you sometime in the year 2033.