Beyond “Second City”: A New Yorker Moves to Chicago

This piece was originally published in the February 14, 2016 edition of Write City Magazine, the magazine of the Chicago Writers Association.

After living in New York City for 26 years, I got a dream job in Chicago I simply couldn’t turn down.  I wasn’t sure what the move would entail—my initial associations with Chicago having to do with Al Capone, the Bears, house music—but some preliminary Google searching assured me that Chicago was simply a “smaller, cleaner, friendlier version of New York.”

Across the blogosphere Chicagoans compared their city to New York on nearly every level, from neighborhoods—Pilsen, the new Williamsburg—to amenities—if you like Per Se, youll love Alinea.  Deeper Web searching yielded even bolder claims to the ways “Chicago is infinity times better than NYC,” “kicking New York’s ass.”  These claims rested on the premise that Chicago offers pretty much everything NYC does but without all the stressors.  Or as one blogger put it, it’s “NYC Lite.”  What New Yorker wouldn’t love the Big Apple scaled to size and rendered livable?
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Coney Island, Baby

The best way to sum up Coney Island (the amusement park aspect), is a line from the second Godfather movie in reference to the always-imminent death of the villainous Hyman Roth:

“He’s been dying of the same heart attack for the last 20 years.”

Coney Island is always just about to close. This summer, and next summer, and the summer of ’85, and the Summer of Sam, and decades of New York summers were/are always going to be the “last” summer of operation there. And as a result, thousands of mourners have made the June, July, or August pilgrimage to this lock-box of yesteryear America on the far eastern tip of Brooklyn, USA.

One last ride on the teacups before they become Trump-built luxury condos. Grab an authentico chip of paint off the Cyclone before it becomes termite food. So frommy own need to see this American icon before it bit the dust, we revisit Coney Island, in black and white, in the late summer of 2008.


The park, boardwalk, and overall neighborhood had a surprisingly local feel, however. It was evident that the remoteness of Coney had let is continue to exist as a neighborhood, which as folks that live in bigger cities know, if you live in a neighborhood, it’s much more likely to feel like home.P1030923

There are as many remnants of rides as there are functioning rides, and it certainly does feel like the entire amusement park will surrender itself to development one day. But on August 18, 2008, everyone that was *this* tall could still  shake, rattle and roller-coaster around on the Cyclone or pay too much for a flat soda in Astroland.

I was saddened to read that Shoot The Freak was demolished in 2010. After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, an effort was made to revive many of the boardwalk attractions. This included a far more politically-correct game called “Shoot The Clown” bringing back the spirit of ‘Freak’.

I think generally-speaking folks are probably more comfortable shooting a ‘freak’ than an innocent clown, but on the other hand maybe we just shouldn’t shoot anyone for sport.P1030924

There is a touch of almost every 20th Century decade at Coney Island. The 1920s boardwalk, where women dared to show leg above the ankle. The original Coney Island hot dog stand looks much the same as it did in the 1930s, when a hot dog was all Depression-era New Yorkers could afford to eat. ‘Newer’ rides speak to World War II and glorious fifties-era America. And the American Century rounds out nicely in East New York with the ravages of our sad experiment with urban renewal (read still-undeveloped lots) and a smattering of public housing and hastily-built condo towers.

P1030919 Coney Island remains an essential visit, be you a local or a tourist tired of the maddening crowds of Manhattan. Make sure to visit soon, as this might be the last summer of Coney Island!

Or… maybe not.

To view the “Coney Island, Baby” gallery in its entirety, please visit the CultofAmericana photo galleries or click on any of the photos above.