Tuesday morning I wake before Daegan again, get us both a coffee downstairs and once again drink them both while waiting for him to wake up. While I wait I assess the damage to my feet from all the previous days’ walking. I appear to have about ten blisters. After I shower I take care of them. Yes, they hurt, but it’s not like I get to spend several days in New York City with my son every week. I can live with it and deal with any consequences later.
Daegan wakes up soon after and we elect to skip the hotel breakfast. It is not that it is bad – on the contrary, it’s decent with eggs, some pastries, coffee and juice at no cost. But we both love a good diner and they’re best for breakfast. Daegan has a few in mind and we head out the door toward the subway and press the cross-walk button. It sternly tells us to “WAIT”. Push it again and it reminds us repeatedly. Eventually even when we don’t push it it still scolds us as if we might be thinking of jaywalking. I don’t know why we find this so funny but for the entire trip, we find ourselves, apropos of nothing telling each other to “WAIT!”
The subway lets us out below one of the diners we were considering. We go inside and it looks great – vintage interior, down to earth. Except there’s an odd diaper-like smell near where we sit and we both feel like this isn’t a good sign. We head out and walk 10 minutes to the other place we were considering in the neighbourhood of Williamsburg. The restaurant, Jimmy’s Diner, was one that Daegan saw on a clip from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. We both think Guy Fieri is ridiculous but some of the places look interesting.
The atmosphere is a bit trendy – a look that seems to say “Look how down to earth we are – we’re regular people here” and then serves expensive entrees and craft beer. The clientele is also very trendy – so trendy that you could see how hard they were trying to not be fashionable. But they know all your favourite bands from when they were selling e.p.’s out of the back of a van. We were clearly not quite cool enough for where we were. But then that’s pretty much how I feel about all I saw of Williamsburg.
On the other hand, the food is excellent. We both ordered simple breakfasts of eggs and cornbread. Daegan got grits and bacon with his and I got home fries and sausage – and then we traded bits so we could each try everything. It is delicious and the coffee is perfect. It isn’t a standard diner-quality breakfast – more like what you might have at the dining room of a boutique hotel that does elevated takes on classic dishes. But I think that’s what they are going for. They are succeeding and it is delicious so who am I to criticize?
We finish our breakfast and, sufficiently caffeinated, we head to a nearby park to figure out what our plan for the day will be. We don’t have any items jumping out at us on the list and in fact the area we’re in has very little on our map. So we play several games of Seep and enjoy the summer air and blue skies. We hear children playing in the playground in the distance and if this is how we have to spend eternity it’s a pretty great place to do it.
Our conversation leads to how we travel and what we find interesting. We realize that more often than not, the destination is not the most fun part of a trip. We find cool things along the way to see, we talk and laugh and enjoy each other’s company. And so, we decide to just pick a point. The night before I had seen a clip talking about the Jackson Diner in Jackson Heights, Queens. While a diner by name, it served Indian food. It may or may not have good food for lunch, but it is 8 kilometres away and so we will likely see lots of things we don’t expect. Other than the airport we arrived in, neither of us has seen Queens before and we’re both curious.
When I stand up I’m a bit disappointed at first. After sitting down my feet really hurt and I walk a bit funny as we start off trying to minimize the pressure on my blistered feet. Fortunately, it turned out the best thing to treat the pain was to walk. It is never perfect but after about 10 minutes it’s completely bearable again.
A few minutes in to our trip, Daegan says something we often say to each other when travelling. “Do you know what this part of town reminds me of?” I think for a minute and then say “Roncesvalles!” There are a ton of Polish and Eastern European businesses and restaurants. I’m disappointed that I’m still full from breakfast because there are some good looking places along the way.
Soon we find we’re leaving the residential and business area and it’s getting more industrial. There are big trucks about and lots of factories. Smells of burning and chemicals like nail polish remover are in the air along with lots of dust.
On the other side of the street and while it’s still not hugely residential, it has a different feel as this part of town has a lot of businesses related to auto repair: muffler shops, tire shops, body shops, and so on.
More than anyplace on the trip this felt like the New York I remember from my couple of visits in the 80’s and television from even earlier. Part of me is sure that if I go around the corner I will find the garage where the real version of Taxi is playing out.
For this stretch from the moment we saw the coffee cart in the dust until now we’ve seen only a handful of people outside of their cars. In this area, more than others, it’s clear that pedestrians are an anomaly.
Finally, we start to notice the landscape changing again. We’re entering “Sunnyside”. There are more people on the street. Basketball courts have people playing in them. There are people on bikes and parents pushing kids in strollers and grandparents walking with grandchildren.
And along with that we see businesses that are for people not cars. We also start to see street vendors. One of them is selling Italian Ice. It’s getting hot, we can’t pass it up. We order two scoops of lemon from a woman about my age.
While she’s scooping it, an older woman next to her speaks to us enthusiastically in a language that I don’t recognize. It doesn’t matter, though, because with her gestures and enthusiasm I know she’s trying to tell us it tastes really good.
The woman wasn’t wrong. It was delicious and the perfect treat for a hot day like this.
The further east we walk, the busier it gets. Eventually we intersect with the subway line. Now, though, it’s not a subway, it’s above us, with trains clattering loudly above in one direction or the other every 5 minutes or so.
At times it is as dark as night underneath the tracks but the streets are filling wit hepole.
As we walk we both wonder aloud what it must be like to live next to the tracks above, to look out your window and make eye contact with strangers commuting to work, and to hear the trains all the time.
Eventually we make it to the restaurant. It’s in a neighbourhood with a lot of sari shops, jewelery, a few Indian and Bangladeshi grocers, and a couple of restaurants. The diner itself doesn’t look all that bad, but what’s on offer is an all you can eat buffet. It’s late in the day, after 2PM, and my experience is that by that time even the best buffet food can get old. We wander a bit and find our way to “Spicy Tibet”.
The menu has lots of intriguing things on it. Daegan chooses a beef soup. While it sounds really good, it’s also pretty hot outside and the idea of a hot soup is the furthest thing from my mind. I order chilli chicken and rice and between us we drink what seems like several gallons of water.
The soup looks and smells delicious and I can’t help myself. I have to try a little myself.
The chicken is pretty standard chilli chicken. Meanwhile, as we eat we see other plates going by – delicious-looking momos, sizzling things, things that smell amazing. It’s a shame this isn’t closer to home – or even close enough to our hotel to go to dinner. I would certainly be back to try these things again.
Now that we’re fed and have made our destination, it’s time to figure out what to do with the rest of the day. It’s only about 3PM so it would be silly to head back to the hotel. Daegan has an idea. We’re off to Coney Island. And so we settle our bill and head off to the subway. I’m disappointed to find that we’re actually going to be taking an underground subway and not having the chance to see the houses we were imagining as we walked below.
The trip takes us under the East River, down through Manhattan. It gets busier while we’re there, and then, as we cross back in to Brooklyn and head further from Manhattan the crowds thin out. It takes us a bit over an hour to make the whole trip and we doze a bit as we travel. There really is something about a long ride, whether in a bus, train, or car, that makes me sleepy and it feels good to close my eyes.
We arrive at Coney Island and find our way outside. There are many families with kids, and the businesses are there to take advantage of that starting with “It’s Sugar!” a place filled top to bottom with candy. The air smells beautifully of a mixture of sweet baked goods and fryer oil, the food of the fair mixed with the smell of the ocean which is just out of our sight.
One of the first places we come across is a a glimpse of something I saw in a video from 1981: The Eldorado bumper cars.
There are only a few people inside so it isn’t worth riding ourselves, but it’s still fun to see it. There’s modern hip hop in it which seems wrong. In my mind, there’s another song that’s supposed to be playing, the one in this video that was filmed at Coney Island in 1981.
I love how unique everyone looks in that video – not just that they look different from today but they also look different from each other. There seems to be more conformity today.
Be watching, by the way, at 2:21 you’ll see the woman selling tickets to these bumper cars. At 2:28 you’ll hear her say a slogan that still sits outside:
And after that you’ll see the actual ride. It makes me incredibly happy to watch that video.
As we walk through the park, people running the games call out trying to entice us to play. We both are pretty sure most of them are rigged so that we’ll lose and we save our money. It’s busy enough, though, that it doesn’t matter to them, other people are flocking to them.
We need a break from the noise of people, music, rides and screams. Fortunately, just a few steps away is the beach.
We walk toward that big pier off in the distance. As we go we pass many people fishing. Some are quiet older men, others are groups of young men playing loud music – it’s as much a party as a fishing trip. Eventually we get to the end of the pier and look back.
The wind feels good – it’s quite cool out here over the ocean. There are tons of people taking selfies, of course, along with the fishermen. And then a couple of policemen join us, and start asking one of the fishermen a few questions and asks to see what’s in his catch. Apparently, according to him, they were looking to see if he was catching anything he wasn’t supposed to be. They seemed so serious about their jobs that Daegan and I ended up laughing for days afterward about the new reality show we cooked up: “Fish Cops”
We couldn’t leave Coney Island without having some of the food there. We headed first to a place advertising fried clams. They’re one of my favourites.
But on the way we were distracted by another blast from the past:
Maybe you have to be from the 80’s to recognize this (or a fan of the 80’s like Daegan). Still don’t get it? Maybe this will help:
He’s not quite the same one but it’s close enough to have made us both think of the movie Big. It was a bit hard explaining to Sage that Daegan is now 30 but sometimes as parents we have to do difficult things.
After giving Zoltar a bit of our money, I order my clams and fries and Daegan got a corn dog which he was really pleased with.
They are delicious but honestly, fried clams like this are not particularly flavourful or hard to mess up. They’re delicious deep fried chewy bits with crispy coating. Yummy!
We are still hungry so we head over to Nathan’s. This is one of the first hot dog stands on Coney Island and is one of the reason some people call hot dogs “Coneys”. We order a couple of them and some more fries.
Another win – this one was one of the better hot dogs I’ve had out.
After this we head back toward the subway, past a long haired barker advertising a “freak show”. I’m surprised to see that these still exist in 2018 and wonder what they are. In years past they were hugely exploitative and not good at all. I wasn’t willing to pay money to find out it was. Looking at some of the reviews now, though, it appears it was more about tricks (fire eating, sword swallowing) and not about physical appearance. I’m glad to see that.
After passing the freak show, a set of pinball machines catches our eye. I’m a huge fan and Daegan hadn’t had a chance to play many before. We only have a few quarters but that was enough for us to share one game.
After the game we decide it is time to go back to the hotel. We head back up to the subway and sit down. A family sits across from us: A girl of about 14 sits across from me looking miserable. Her grandmother sits on one side of her, her grandfather on the right. Grandpa is completely engrossed in a game on his phone with repetitive music. The music makes Daegan and I laugh and we giggle as the grandma scowls at us.
And then I realize that this ridiculous song we’re being forced to listen to must have lyrics to go with the terrible music and so I start singing:
“Gonna go back to Can-Na-Da…Gonna have some fun…They’ve got moose in Can-Na-Da… Gonna get me one…” and on and on just making up silly verses with that structure as I went. Daegan got inspired and played along with a mimed muted trumpet and we made fools of ourselves as we rode back to the hotel. We never did get a smile from the sad family. In fact, the grandfather never even looked up.
We arrive at our stop and go back upstairs. A hot dog and a few clams and fries won’t be enough for dinner so we both pick up a quick chicken shawarma and eat it in the hotel room. As we eat we conclude that, at least for us, it doesn’t really matter what our destination is. We just need an excuse to get out in a place and see things – and those people and things that we see and encounter along the way are what make it fun. And that, for me, more than any famous landmark.