(Oops! Wrong Coney Island picture)
(That's more like it!)
My father's end of my family is all encompassing. Nine aunts/uncles and thirty six first cousins are enough to make a McCaughey's head spin, forget the poor out-laws like my wife. My mom's side of the family is the complete opposite: one aunt and three cousins. Since my aunt is older than my mom, my cousins are significantly older than me which led me to view as uncles as much as cousins. Because of the major differences, when discussing these relations with friends, I would sometimes refer to them as my "other cousins," a moniker that may have been needed but definitely wasn't fair.
Out of the three (Michael, Thomas and Hank) the cousin that I have the most memories of is Hank. Every Thanksgiving dinner he would challenge me to an eating contest (in which he regularly trounced me up until I hit college) and for most of my childhood he tried to convince me that he was a red belt, the highest degree of martial arts belts that one could attain. "Isn't black belt the highest?" a gullible young Frank would inquire. "Nah," Hank replied, "not only is red belt the highest, but I killed Bruce Lee in order to win it." I kind of believed him for a while, but after finally conceding to my relentless demands to see the infamous belt, Hank produced a red bandanna and the tall tale was over.
As I've gotten older, there was one thing that Hank said that I always remembered. When talking about New York City, he explained that one of his favorite places was Coney Island and that every New Yorker should ride The Cyclone before they die. As someone who takes pride in living in New York City, the mystique and history of the Cyclone intrigued me. It's 84 year presence on the Coney Island Boardwalk serves as living history for the mid-20th century Brooklyn that I only know through old books and newspapers (one that had baseball!) For these reasons, I decided that when I finally made it out to Coney Island, I would ride The Cyclone. There was only one problem:
I don't really like roller coasters.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not as bad as the 8 year old version of me who threw a full blown fit while being forced onto the whitewater raft ride at Hershey Park(you know the one where the worst thing that happens is you.....get wet) but I wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of climbing aboard a nearly 100 year old wooden roller coaster.
Regardless, Kate and I decided to spend today at Coney Island, walking the Boardwalk, having a Nathan's hot dog, and catching a Cyclones game. I knew that this was my chance to live up to to the promise I made to myself many years ago, so before we left I watched a video on You Tube of a first person POV Cyclone ride and even looked up some statistics on the coaster (bad idea: 60 miles an hour? 85 foot drop? Not good) We hopped on the F train, transferred to the D and 30 stops later we were in Coney Island (just like The Warriors!). Based on past theme park experience, I knew I had to head straight down Surf Avenue and conquer my fear before I had too much time to think about it, so I bought my ticket, jumped on and before I knew it I was 85 feet above the Boardwalk, pretty sure I was about to fall to my death.
Well, not only didn't I die but I actually enjoyed it. Sure it's basically getting knocked around at high speeds for two minutes (I had a headache for about an hour after getting off) but it's also gets the blood pumping and lets you scream like an idiot. I stepped out of the cart and proudly headed back to Kate on Surf Avenue, fully pleased with myself for my (rather mediocre) accomplishment. I proceeded to have an amazing day with my wife that will be definitely be a lasting memory of this summer.
Riding The Cyclone today was one of the best things I've done in a long time. Not only was I able to overcome a personal fear, but I was able to step back and remember my "other cousins" who I may not see that much any more but still provide great memories, both past and present.