SO WORCESTER, IT HURTS…OCTOBER 27, 2011 by Steve Siddle

October 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

So Worcester, It Hurts…October 27, 2011

by Steve Siddle

On a cool, drizzly day in late October, there is nowhere I would rather be than George’s Coney Island in Worcester, Ma. Coney Island is something like a time machine. Every time I walk through its doors I am taken back to childhood. I suspect that anyone who grew up in this town has felt the same way.

There are certain things that the Worcester Native knows intrinsically, facts that have been passed down in blood and bone. We know, for instance; that Park Ave is to be avoided in the afternoon, we know that to be Mayor of Worcester is a meaningless position; we know that the Airport is empty and we know not to pick on college kids. And somehow, we know from birth, that Coney Island is closed on Tuesdays.

I was a baby when I was first brought to Coney Island and I have come here at least once a year ever since. In many ways Coney Island is like a church. The large sparsely decorated room has the feng shui of a sanctuary. The immaculate tile floor, the wooden booths with the patina of church pews and the long, clean countertop at which we the faithful line up to receive the sacrament subliminally remind us that “this is a holy place.”

Coney Island started selling hot dogs and hamburgers in 1918- the year the Red Sox won the World Series- and quickly established itself as a city institution. In 1940 the famous neon sign, with a hand clenching a hot dog, was installed. I have seen pictures of that sign all over the world and in various magazines. I remember being happy to see Coney Island profiled in an Esquire article titled “How to Eat Like a Man.”

You can tell a lot about a man by the way he orders his hot dogs. Those in the know order their dogs simply by the number of dogs they want followed by the word “up.”  “Up” means mustard, onion, and special sauce. I tend to order “3 up, chips, and a grape soda.” Many regulars order chocolate milk with their dogs. I suspect this has something to do with the nostalgic thrill of drinking out of a milk carton.

On the other side of the dining room is the bar. For most of my life I only peered into that smaller, darker smoky room.  (I have been there more times before smoking was banned in bars than after. Yes, I am old.)

Only once did I drink and eat on the bar side. It was many years ago, my friends and I got exceedingly drunk, ate a disgusting amount of Coney Island dogs and stumbled across the street to the strip club. Ugly things happened that night. I have sworn to God and Patrolmen Quinn that I will never repeat those mistakes, which reminds me of a time I used a bag full of Coney Island dogs as a weapon.

One august when I was still in high school, I had to attend Summer School. If you’ve ever had to go to Summer School you know how torturous it is to sit in a classroom all day while your friends hang out and smoke weed by the Lake. I had a teacher that summer who I hated with a passion and he always made me stay later than the other students. On the last day of class I planned to get back at him.

That morning on the way to school I stopped by Coney Island and ordered “5 Up with extra onions” and took the bag to school. While my buddy kept an eye out for me, I broke into the teacher’s Hatchback Honda Accord and shoved the bag full of dogs far under the back seat. When he kept me after class that afternoon, I didn’t mind at all because I knew that the longer his car sat in the hot summer sun, the worse his car was going to stink when he got in.

As I sat at Coney Island, in the same booth I always find myself in, I was flooded by memories. Like the countless names carved into the booth, I realized that the past is tangible, perhaps that it what we love about old restaurants. In this room, we can see, feel and taste what we thought we had lost forever.

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