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The Net Takeaway: Coney Island, Bourne


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Coney Island, Bourne · 08/20/2007 11:58 AM, Personal

Coney Island
I went back to the Coney Island amusement area for the first time in 10 years. At one point, many years ago, Coney Island was a large scale amusement area for the East Coast. Think Disney before Disney.

Walking around there now… well, like the glass being half full or half empty, there are two ways to look at older things in the NY area: full of character, or a blight on humanity. Coney Island is rapidly moving from the former to the latter. It’s hard to put a finger on what makes it so painful: Is it the boardwalk barkers with the mixture of anger and boredom in their eyes? Is it the lack of smiles on the kids who ride the rides? Is it the collection of bums who pretend to help people park and then stand over your small child while demanding money? Is it the general run down nature of everything, from broken safety straps to peeling paint to rusty fences? The guys drinking from paper bags? The dealers coming up to every kid who could walk, even families?

Look, I really wanted to enjoy it, like I did 10 years ago when I first came, when I ate at Nathan’s, played skee-ball, rode the Wonder Wheel, basically did the whole thing. And it was run down then too… but there was also a sense that “it’s ours”, a mixture of “sure it’s beaten up, but it’s beaten up because my father and my father’s father all rode these rides”. One felt a surprising sense of “we’re all here to have fun, so enjoy together…”

Now, there is more of a sense of hopelessness. As things continue to spiral down, as the talk shifts from renovation to destruction, there is a complete sense of urgency, and a drive to find some spirit that just isn’t there. The sense of “We’re going to have fun, like it or not, so get on that ride!” was pervasive, and it all felt so forced.

Even my son Sammy was weirded out by the whole experience. He was very much out of character that whole day, not wanting to try the rides, shying away from almost every one of them. He’s enjoyed these things in the past, but for whatever reason, Coney Island wasn’t clicking for him.

We cut the day short and went to Totonno’s Pizza (for those who don’t know, Totonno worked in Lombardi’s Pizza (of Little Italy, NYC, the 1st pizzeria in the US) and later opened his own shop in Coney Island) where, as usual, it was packed. The pizza there is amazing, with fresh mozzarella slices instead of grated cheese mix, and a thin crust which doesn’t flop around like regular pizza. The only pain? They love to burn the bottom of the pie, which is now a trademark, but I don’t love burnt bread. Didn’t stop me from wolfing down half the pizza, however. Highly recommended, and only a few short blocks from the amusement area. Let the tourists pack Nathan’s, and try the NY pizza everyone else wishes they could duplicate.

Is there hope for Coney Island? Can this place spring back to becoming a hangout for families, where people can go and not have to worry about all the pains of urban life for a few hours? Well, the current love of “retro community” and the rise of secondary sports like the Brooklyn Cyclones has given energy to a collection of developers who hope to rescue the area… of course, different people have different ideas of rescue. Many developers are describing grandiose visions which mostly involve tearing down pretty much everything. Wikipedia has a full article on the current development plans.

UPDATE: Got a quick note from Professor Soloman, an author most well known for How to Find Lost Objects. He writes:

My book “Coney Island” is a history and profile of the amusement district (which may soon be undergoing development). The book is available as a free PDF download.

For reviews, go to:

To download the book, go to:

Not only is he a much better writer than I am, but he really makes you pine for the days when Coney Island was, well, really Coney Island. Worth a read, even if you’ve never thought of going to CI.

The Bourne Ultimatum
I must really be out of step with America’s movies. I was bored with the last James Bond (Wow! A poker game! That’s thrilling!) and every Bourne movie has put me to sleep. And yes, let’s get it out of the way: Ludlum’s book series was much, much better than this (and even Eric Van Lustbader’s extension novels are ok.)

What’s wrong with this one?

What was good? Well, the lack of music during many action and suspense sequences, the gentle hints at potential backstory without just putting it on the table (ala the diner scene), the fact that parts were shot in NY right where I work and walk every day, and, well, that’s about it.

No character in the movie creates sympathy, as half of them sit inside a room and watch computer screens, and are in no danger. We don’t feel much identification with the lead character, we don’t see any relationships form, and we don’t have a reason to care whether he completes his self-imposed mission. Is it darker, grimier, grittier than the Roger Moore James Bonds? Of course. But it’s still just a toy in new packaging. We rarely see Bourne in pain, he continues to do superhuman stunts, he reacts on autopilot with no planning, and he rarely if ever makes mistakes (thank the director for the one notable screwup in Morocco). Friends keep saying “He’s more realistic, more human, more American than James Bond”... but this version of reality is the one on “reality shows”: scripted, controlled, and yawn inducing. If you enjoy chase scenes ala John Frankenheimer films, you will love this. If you are looking for something deeper, then forget the Bourne Ultimatum. Rent it on DVD, save your $10.50.

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