Op-ed | The lost summer that devastated Coney Island

source https://www.amny.com/oped/op-ed-the-lost-summer-that-devastated-coney-island/

BY BRYANT ALBERTO

Everybody loves amusement parks; the fun, the laughter, and the food. That unique rush of energy and excitement people feel when they visit an amusement park, I had been blessed with experiencing it everyday at Luna Park in Coney Island, until 2020 arrived.

After immigrating from the Dominican Republic, Coney Island became my home. I was raised here and attended school in the district.

When I first arrived, our streets were forsaken, businesses were struggling to get by, and the tourists were so few that we felt forgotten. During that time I walked the deserted Boardwalk on a daily basis before the revitalization project got underway, and nothing prepared me for the transformation in my community that would change my life.

When Luna Park arrived there was a palpable sense of pride in our community. Luna Park was here, in Coney Island, our home, our backyard. I applied for a job after graduating high school when I began hearing about people in the neighborhood working there through the church groups that I belong to.

As my friends and I were hired, we were all proud to say, I live in Coney Island and I work at Luna Park. I never expected amusement parks to become an immense passion of mine, let alone my career.

Every year so much love and time goes into getting the park up and running. We always look forward to welcoming returning and new team members, guiding them and helping them develop skills that allow them to provide safe fun to our guests. 2020 began very normally. My teammates and I were all very excited for the new attractions we had in store for our guests and team members.

Little did we know that we would be heading into a global pandemic that would trigger a government-mandated lockdown for months.

Working side by side with people who share your passion is truly a blessing. My teammates have become part of my family and I have built long lasting friendships with the seasonal staff that join us year after year. Working here, I watched my hometown change for the better while I proudly developed into an Operations Manager at Luna Park in Coney Island and a working member of my community.

This year the season came and went without the seasonal team members that I call family, and without the joy and sense of pride that our park normally brings. Yet, somehow, coming back to work from quarantine was one of the best experiences I had this year. I was relieved and comforted to work outside in the sun, with the beach nearby and in fresh ocean air.

Having stable employment and a place to be every day provided me with some sanity in the middle of so much uncertainty. Although the amusement park was quiet, preparing to open, seeing and talking to my teammates, albeit through masks, gave me a sense of normalcy.

However, Luna Park in Coney Island remained closed and the possibility of opening came and vanished, leaving many of my closest friends and colleagues stranded without employment, and our hopeful guests and community left without hope. The silence in the park was sobering.

Looking around, seeing empty rides being warmed by the sun and swaying with the ocean winds with no people to be seen near or far reminded me of the strange reality of COVID.

I know our leaders are trying their best and I understand the challenges that COVID poses. However, I watched with confusion as almost every other entertainment industry opened their indoor facilities during the fall months.

It makes me wonder why outdoor amusement parks still remain shuttered without a clear understanding of when they may open, especially because we know they can operate safely.

While COVID cases are now on the rise and our leaders in New York are urging us to socialize outside in frigid November and December, I urge them to think about all the thousands of people who work outdoors in amusement parks that were kept from their employment, their income, under the safest conditions and the lowest risk for COVID spread.

Bryant Alberto works at Luna Park amusement park in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

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