It was 3am and I couldn't sleep so I decided to go look at Coney Island. I'd seen it in so many movies but I'd never seen it in the real world.
It took me a while to get there on the Subway from Manhattan and it must have been around 4am by the time I got off at the wrong Subway station, the one prior to Coney Island. I had to walk through much industrial and urban wasteland to reach my destination. That part of town was naturally deserted; even NYC kind of sleeps at that hour.
I found myself on a long narrow boulevard called Neon Street. At the other end I could make out the iconic Coney Island skyline.
Neon Street was, strangely, teeming with life. Lots of young Hassidic Jewish guys talking excitedly to one another and walking around fast in duos or larger clusters. A number of sidewalk cafes, seedy looking places, were open for business. The customers were Latino homies, wetback Elvises in leather and denim. Fantastic hip hop was blasting out of the dives.
It all seemed, for some reason, threatening or alien. I kept my eyes straight ahead and soon I was walking along the deserted legendary boardwalk in the calm moonlight.
An hour later I decided to retrace my steps back through Neon Street. Don't ask me why. It was just as lively and just as weird.
The next day, on the local TV news, I heard that a trainee Rabbi, aged twenty, had been stabbed to death on Neon Street around 5am. They showed the street in daytime, deserted but for the police investigators. The murder, the newscaster said, had been a homosexual-related crime.
Don't ask me...br>
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.