When I left my girlfriend’s apartment last night I mistakenly got on the downtown N Train instead of the uptown train. I fell asleep and before I knew it, I was at Coney Island. Although I’ve lived in New York City for over 10 years, I’d never been to Coney Island. It was an unusually beautiful, mild July evening, so I got off the train. I was kind of surprised, not knowing what to expect, but there were other people around. A few couples, several joggers and kids doing various gravity-defying maneuvers on skateboards. I walked along the path leading to the boardwalk when I came across an old man who was apparently putting in some overtime at his hotdog cart: it was 10:55 on a Tuesday night. The old guy was sitting in a slingback canvas chair. If it hadn’t been for a single overhead light attached to the top of his cart, he would have been sitting in complete darkness.
“Excuse me, sir, can I get two dogs with mustard and kraut?”
“Certainly,” he replied. “I don’t get many customers at this time of the evening. I usually head home earlier than this, but my wife, Anna, passed away last week and I can’t bear to be in our home without her there.”
I certainly wasn’t prepared to hear this. He handed me the hotdogs and I just stood there dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to say.
“We met 47 years ago on line for the Cyclone. She was so beautiful… Tiny and exotic to a guy from Brighton Beach.” He continued. “She was born in Argentina, but her family moved to Brooklyn when she was seven years old. Naturally, she hated being here at first. The day we met, she reluctantly got on line for the Cyclone with her cousin, Gina. I was in line with my friend, Carlo, right behind them. When it came time for Anna and Gina to get on the ride, Anna couldn’t do it. In one of my bolder moments, I stepped toward her and told her I wasn’t crazy about going on the ride either, but I would go on the coaster if she would. She was still very hesitant, but agreed.” The old man was beaming as he recounted what was probably the defining moment of his life. “We went on the ride three more times after the first time.” He laughed. “It’s not like we enjoyed the ride…we just had this…attraction and didn’t want it to end. The four of us spent the rest of the day together.” He looked at his hands and then he looked at the ground, a huge smile on his face. “A year and a day later, Anna and I were married.” He took a deep breath and looked at me. “You just thought you were getting a couple hot dogs and I spout off about myself. I apologize.”
“Are you kidding me? That’s a beautiful story,” I said. I had to look away from him as I said it because I thought I would ball my eyes out right there.
He started to pour out his hotdog water and clean up. “I can’t stay out here forever. I guess I’ll head home. It’s funny, even now I feel like there’s a chance that Anna will be there when I get home.”
We just looked at each other for a moment.
“What’s your name, son?” he asked.
“Ryan. And you?”
We shook hands. He walked over to his cart and started pushing it up the hill. He looked over his shoulder at me.
“May you be as lucky as I’ve been.”
I know it wasn’t to be, but I hoped Anna was going to be home to greet Leon, too.