Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Last Year at the New Year

There are three new year's traditions that, until now, I have never undertaken. Times Square, naturally is the first. Never been there, never will. I have no desire to spend six hours penned up on the sidewalk. The New Year's Day Mummers Parade, in Philadelphia, is an event I'd like to get down to, since what I've seen of it looks like fun. But today I was tackling the third, and the most convenient new year's adventure, one that entails only a drive on the Belt. The steady rain of the cold gray morning was ending as I turned onto Ocean Parkway. I was hoping the rain would continue, thinking it would keep the crowds away. In my mind's eye it would just be me and the guy from the Daily News, but that was a fantasy. This was New Year's day, this is Coney Island, and that means only one thing:


Polar bears, many dressed in costumes and other outlandish outfits, running full speed along the dirt-colored sand, kicking up the foam and surf and sand at the water's edge. They rush straight in, faster and further into the water than anyone would even in the summertime, they scream, screetch, bellow and just plain yell. Pasty white flesh turns bright pink, even the leathery Florida tans betray a lobster glow.


The festivities began with a single bagpiper, dressed in a white terrycloth bathrobe and vivid yellow earflap hat strolling through the sand. The crowd surrounded, opening before him and closing behind as he made his way to the waters edge. He stood there, playing as the photographers swarmed about, standing and crouching, all the while shooting, paying no attention to the fact that the entire Atlantic Ocean was at their turned backs. Attention was paid, though, for the piper's timing was excellent, and a swift and cold wave broke just about calf-high on the crowd just as he finished, and sending people surging with the water up onto the beach. A whistle was blown, and a cry went up. Through the sea of onlookers in standard winter wear came the half-naked, the near-naked, and unfortunately Speedo-challenged.


The Polar Bear Club of Coney Island has been swimming in the Atlantic in the winter since about 1903. While I don't believe there have been any fatalities since then, you have to wonder how these people can do this sort of thing without the odds catching up with them. If you or I were to drop off a west side pier in December or February we'd be dead of hypothermia in fifteen minutes. Yet....


Now while today was fairly mild (air temps were in the high 40's, the water, I'm told, was 43 degrees) there have been years when there was snow on the beach and the wind was kicking through with a serious edge. I was grateful that today was not like that, and my only concession to the elements was my selection of a red plaid scarf to accent my pleated vest and denim jacket. The gloves and umbrella I'd left in the car back on Surf Avenue; the rain had stopped just before I arrived.


Of course, a pair of waders would have been a smarter choice, since I was one of those soaked with the first wave. But in the spirit of the day, as well as having no real choice in the matter, I persevered. Perhaps seeing my wet shoes and pants soaked to the knees made the people more willing to pose for me, made them realize that I was one with them, perhaps even, one of them.


Or maybe not.


1 comment:

Sharon said...

Great post! I liked hearing about the reporters; the accounts they publish never mention their own unintentional dampenings, though that must happen all the time...
Nice shots, too.