CHANGE can be difficult. We usually discuss the mechanics of change within a business context. However, when you think about it, we have to cope with change as much, if not more, within our personal lives as we do at work. In fact, we’re often challenged with a greater variety of personal changes compared to what we’re asked to deal with in the workplace.
For instance, it’s very difficult to lose an old friend. The first time it happens you’re caught totally off guard and uncertain of what to expect. As you grow older, you suddenly witness the loss of even more old friends, and you begin to question the wisdom of change. Of course, by now you realize that I’m not necessarily discussing the loss of a fellow human being. Over the years, you accumulate a variety of friends … a special song, an extraordinary vacation spot, a unique hobby, a favorite food, a distinctive odor, a body of water, or a great view. The older you get, the more you realize how special these friends are.
I was recently shocked to read of the demise of one of my very old friends … Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Yes, an amusement park. By no stretch of the imagination does this piece of real estate even resemble anything like Disney World, Cedar Point, or your favorite Six Flags location. However, it’s a refreshing alternative to today’s corporate-owned, ever-growing, high-tech, line-stretching, global enticement.
Coney Island was one of the most celebrated beach resorts in the nation at one time, and it’s still a Mecca for summer fun even today — at least for a short while. I first arrived at this poor-man’s paradise on a hot summer weekend during my first visit to New York City decades ago. After an hour subway ride from downtown Manhattan, I exited the train to discover an abundance of sun, sand and surf. The beautiful beach was free, wide, and well-groomed at that time. You could practically taste the salty Atlantic ocean lingering in the air. My first glance at that horizon filled with rides, attractions, concessions and midway games left me speechless. The world-renowned Thunderbolt roller coaster, now abandoned, towered above everything in sight.
The smell of cotton candy, Nathan’s hot dogs, giant pretzels, peanuts and popcorn … you could gain weight by simply inhaling those aromas. Fantastic. The combination of sounds included Carny barkers, children laughing, the rides themselves, and very often the live music of top entertainers from the world of Pop and Rock. The list reads like a Who’s Who of musicians; Fabian, Chubby Checker, The Shirelles, The Chiffons, Leslie Gore, The Jackson Five, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, The Four Seasons, Bill Haley & The Comets, Bobby Rydell, Dion, Jackie Wilson, Neil Sedaka, Tony Orlando, Frankie Avalon, Little Anthony, Freddy Cannon, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Young Rascals, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Fifth Dimension and many, many more. Believe it or not, for a very small admission price, you could thrill to the live performance of six to eight top head-liners in one evening. Those were the days. The charm of Coney Island will live on in the hearts of millions.
I was stationed nearby at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and was blessed to be able to visit Coney Island on a regular basis. Later, I actually lived in Greenwich Village, which was much closer to this utopian escape. It was very special to me because it reminded me so much of home as I grew up on a lake just a stone’s throw away from a local amusement park. Of course, it was nowhere near the size of Coney Island, but it captured my heart at a very young age. Coney Island was, for a long time, my connection to home.
Today, many of the original rides have vanished and others are indeed antiquated. The area is battling back from urban blight, and investors are talking of future plans for a huge redevelopment project featuring an indoor water park, a hotel, and even a rooftop landing pad for blimps. All this would be financed by beachfront condos and several casinos. Time marches on. Change happens. It looks as though Coney Island’s last ride may very well be a bulldozer. However, regardless of what they do to that precious piece of real estate, I’ll always have the memory of so many times leaving my footprints, along with millions of others, in the glistening sands of Coney Island. Good-bye, my friend. Thanks for the memories.