the last time i went to the coney island mermaid parade was the summer of 2013, a few weeks before i left for my one year expatriation in china. i could've gone last summer, but somehow just wasn't motivated. after a 3 year hiatus, it was time to go back to see what i've been missing.
i woke up at 4:30am. i wasn't as rushed as i typically am for a new york city trip because i booked a 6:30am lucky star bus. prices have gone up apparently, or maybe it was the weekend rate. i paid $30 to get there, and $22 to come back, and only because i paid in advance online (otherwise it's $30 each way). i used the bathroom and showered. i had time for a bagel, but decided against it in case i had a bad reaction to the cream cheese; i would either have to eat at the manhattan chinatown when i arrived or grab a nathan's hot dog on coney island.
i left by 5:30am. it was going to be a warm day, but there was a brisk chill in the morning air that made me wear me a long-sleeved shirt, which i later took off when i got on the bus. i carried my eddie bauer messenger bag; it was mostly empty since i only brought my dSLR with no other lenses (besides the 18-200mm, i also carried my panasonic lumix and fuji 3D as backups) , but i needed that empty space since i was preparing to bring a few things back from the new york chinatown. there was hardly any people, just one or two people on the porter square subway platform. and my car didn't pick up anymore passengers until we got to kendall square.
i got to south station by 6am. nobody was at the lucky star bus counter yet, except a line of waiting passengers. i got in line until i heard an angry old black shout behind me that the line was behind him, even though he was far away from the line. i murmured my acknowledgement but decided i'd go use the bathroom in the meantime. when i got back the line was a little bit longer. i was behind an old lady pulling a small travel suitcase who was deciding whether she could catch the 6am megabus or stay in line for the 6:30am lucky star. she was chatty, told me she was visiting her 35-year-old brooklyn-living-but-wellesley-raised daughter in midtown to do some shopping at macy's. "you're from new york, right?" she asked me. i was flattered but i told her i grew up in belmont and live in cambridge. she was impressed that i was going down to go see the mermaid parade for the day, something she's always wanted to do. "it's the one with the all the boobs, right?" she asked.
even though i bought my ticket online, i still had to check-in at the bus counter. when i walked down to the bus terminal, once again i was behind the lady in front of me before. it didn't seem like it'd be crowded at first, until more and more people began arriving behind us. when the bus finally left at 6:30am, it was at full capacity. i got a window seat. sitting next to me was an oversized townie adolescent (maybe around 13 years old) playing on his phone. across the aisle diagonally sat his mother, who talked in a thick townie boston accent.
i slept through most of the ride. we stopped at the midway-point burger king, which was surprising, because normally lucky star stops at a chinese buffet place instead (megabus always stops at this spot though). i got out to use the bathroom, then got back to my seat. the bus was full of delicious greasy fast food smell which made me hungry. i sucked on another cough drop, which was the only thing that kept me from a hacking cough but it had the side effect of making my teeth feel furry from all that sugar. i fantasized about brushing my teeth and fell back to sleep.
we finally arrived at the new york city chinatown by 10:40am. there was enough time for me to find a quick place to eat (a restaurant with a bathroom would be ideal) and start heading out to coney island by 11am, probably getting there by noontime, one hour before the 1pm parade. i input "noodles" into google map to bring up the nearest noodle shops. i found a lanzhou noodle shop on eldridge street, which is a street i'm somewhat familiar with, having taken a tour of the eldridge street synagogue last year. the place was empty, except for a few children, lazily watching chinese shows on cell phones on a saturday morning, and some restaurant workers. on one table was a large lump of ground pork dumpling filling. i ordered the mutton lanzhou noodle ($5.50 + $1.50 tip), which came in just a few minutes. it was not very appetizing. the soup looked like dirty dish water, the chunks of mutton smelled terrible and still had the skin on with scorch marks. the only way i was able to eat it was to add a lot of hot sauce to cover up the awful smell. i will never come here again.
from there it was just a short walk to the east broadway subway station to catch the F train to coney island. along the way i stopped in a convenience store to buy 2 bottle of cold water ($2). arriving at the station, i checked to see how much money i had on my expired MTA card ($7); i added $20 more and then received a new card. once the F train was in brooklyn, about 2 dozen college coeds got onboard, off to the see the parade as well. a few mermaids got on as well, one sitting next to me, another standing in front of me adjusting her skimpy flamingo outfit. the coeds excitingly snapped photos, so somewhere out there exists footage of me trying to act normal while surrounded by a sea of boobs.
turns out it was an express train and we arrived at coney island in about 30 minutes. the station was crowded. there were lines for the bathrooms, although the women line was 3x as long. after using the facility, i exited the station. it wasn't even 12pm yet but already most of the viewing spots had been taken. very popular was the self-determined reserved spots, where people had brought beach chairs and roped off their own little area with police tape. i ended up finding a little spot opposite 12th street. it wasn't optimal, i just have to remember to come even earlier next time (if there is a next time). i sprayed sunblock on my head, arms, and legs. i waited for the parade to begin in another hour.
i've photographed enough parades at this point to know the best setting for the camera: aperture priority f8.0 ISO800 autofocus servo. aperture priority allows me to set the aperture to f8.0, which i think gives the best amount of foreground background focus. ISO800 gives me a high shutter speed on such a sunny day, so i was getting shutter speeds of 1/800 to 1/1000 on the average. the AI servo allows the camera to focus continuously, as my subjects are moving.
the end of the procession passed by around 3:30pm. i tried to make it down to the boardwalk as the parade route continues along there, but i was tired, there were too many people, and by that point i just wanted to get home. i made my way back into the crowded subway station. there were so many people that they opened the emergency exits as a safety precaution and i was able to get into the station for free.
i took an F local train back to east broadway. it took nearly a whole hour to get back. as we were approaching manhattan, a group of chinese tourists got on the train. as the train lurched forward, one of the chinese women stumbled backwards. i instinctively braced her so she wouldn't fall, but she stepped on my foot. here's the weird thing: she didn't get off my foot afterwards, nor acknowledged the fact that i saved her from a fall. i gently pushed her away and pulled my foot out from underneath her shoe. then when two people started to get up, she raced over to grab the seats, even pushing one of the guys because he wasn't moving fast enough for her. as she and her friend sat down, she squeezed down to make room for a third, without considering the poor person she was sitting next to. i was close to yelling at her, telling her to go back to china if she's going to be so rude.
exiting in chinatown, i was in search of 2 things: a barber shop and a liquor store. i tried to find the place where i got my hair cut the last time, but couldn't remember where it was. i ended up just going to a random haircut place (bao ying salon). new york chinese barbers do an adequate job, and the price is very inexpensive. the one i went to had a man and woman barber. the man was cutting a man's hair, the woman giving a little girl a haircut while her sister and mother waited nearby. when it came to my turn, the lady gave me my haircut. "long enough on the top to comb, very short on the sides and back," i told her in mandarin, not quite sure if she understood me completely (she could be a cantonese speaker). my time in the air conditioned subway car dried me off well enough that i was sweaty and gross. my haircut seemed okay. i asked how much, thinking it'd be $8 (a bargain), but turns out it was just $6. a $6 haircut! where else in new york city can you get a haircut that cheap? not even in the boston chinatown are they this cheap (i heard $10). i paid $8 and left, rubbing the new stubbles on the back of my head.
actually there was a 3rd thing i wanted to find: a place to have dinner before my 7pm bus ride. i walked down canal street, buying 3 lbs. worth of lizhi for $10; had i walked down a few more blocks, i would've discovered that the going price for lizhi is actually $9 for 3 lbs. i then walked into little italy, and found a nice little vietnamese restaurant (pho bang) on mott street. i got a bowl of pho and a glass of tea with condensed milk ($10.25 total). the pho was so delicious, i closed my eyes with every bite just to savor the flavor. i finished eating by 6:20pm, not realizing how close it was to leaving.
heading back to bus stop, i ran across an old lady on a street corner selling zongzi for $1.50 each. i got 2 taiwanese zongzi and 2 cantonese zongzi.
i walked down to a liquor store on the outskirts of chinatown, figuring i could score some cheaper baijiu, but it was actually more expensive, $17 per bottle of wuliangye. so i went back to the liquor store around the corner from the lucky star office, where it was only $13 a bottle. i got 2 bottles of wuliangye and 1 bottle of luzhou biajiu ($13 as well).
i went to the lucky star office to check-in with 15 minutes to spare. there was a line but only a handful of people. the bus turned out to be pretty empty, so that everyone who wanted 2 seats could find one. we left soon after 7pm. a sense of relief washed over me.
as i was sitting on the left side of the bus, i had a good view of the new york city skyline as we left the city. we left manhattan via a route i hadn't seen before, down 1st avenue, until we got to the queens midtown tunnel. i stayed awake long enough to watch the sunset. afterwards i went to sleep. we stopped at burger king again with about an hour and a half left before arriving back in boston. we finally got to south station by 11:20pm. from there it was a simple hop on the red line back to cambridge. i got home by midnight.
every time i go to the mermaid parade i swear it's my last one. the hassle is just too great. but then i get home and see all the photos i've taken, and i can't wait until the next mermaid parade.