Wednesday, December 31, 2014


In case you don’t know, the Polar Bear Club is a group of men and women who go swimming in the Atlantic Ocean of Coney Island (and other locales throughout the US) in winter.  The Coney Island Polar Bears host a big event on New Year’s Day where several hundred people dash into the really, really cold water.  The club is so popular that they have to hold a lottery for new membership.

I met the core members of the Polar Bear Club at Nathan’s one November morning, including their president at that time, Lou Scarcella, a retired homicide detective.  The five men had just come from the sea and were warming themselves with coffee before heading over to sit in a sauna at a spa at Sea Gate down the road.  The Polar Bear officers go in the water almost every day.  And all winter long you can find people, I assume are from Siberia, swimming in the waters near Brighton Beach.

The Polar Bears invited me to come back and swim with them sometime.  

I’m usually up for an adventure, but I’m also cold natured.  I think 80 degrees is the perfect temperature and the last summer I’d lived in Austin before moving to New York, there had been 100 days of 100-degree weather and I didn’t have air conditioning in my house or car.  I was used to heat.  This was my first winter in New York and I generally wore so many layers, I looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  It took me a month to make the decision to join them. 

On a frigid morning between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I stepped out of the women’s locker room at end of Stillman Avenue wearing a bathing suit.  The Coney Island beach is a couple hundred feet wide and gave me plenty of time to chicken out, but I didn’t.  The long walk was helpful in cooling down my body so that wading into the sea wasn’t such a shock.  Not such a shock, but still a shock.  It was damn cold.  

Swimming was out of the question.  Bobbing and chattering my teeth was the best I could do.  The Polar Bear members kept telling me this was good for my health and I kept trying to figure out how.  I was in the water for about 10 minutes.  I was ready to exit after 30 seconds, but I knew this was going to be my only polar bear experience, so I forced myself to stay as long as I could bear it (no pun intended)  Afterwards, I went to the Sea Gate spa and sat in a hot tub for 30 minutes to thaw.

I did go to the big Polar Bear New Year’s Day gala and watched a few hundred people shouting and screaming as they ran into the ocean.  I enjoyed watching as I stood there in my fur-lined boots and long down coat.  More power to ‘em!

Post by Alana Cash

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Brooklyn is a noisy city.  There are sounds of car engines and music blaring from the open windows of cars (why drivers open their windows to allow for their blasting music to carry into the neighborhood in freezing weather is inexplicable).  There is the racket of trucks bouncing their heavy loads, grinding their gears, and making those beeping sounds when they are backing up.  There is the roar of buses and the sound of trains rattling over the tracks, the screeching of their brakes, the announcements made by the conductors while the doors are open.  There are the sounds of people talking and shouting, dogs barking, cats meowing, children playing.  The sounds geese calling, birds twittering, and helicopters – so many helicopters fly over Brooklyn, you’d think there was some kind of reenactment of the Vietnam War going on.  Sirens.  Constant sirens in the distance or near.  Ambulances, fire engines, police vehicles.  And most annoying is the ridiculous, useless sound of car alarms.

Honking, although illegal in New York City, unless necessary to alert for danger, is constant.  Drivers honk to say hello, to discharge frustration, and just out of habit.  There are areas – near hospitals and a few blocks on some other streets – which are labeled no-honking zones.  No one seems to care.  I lobbied the traffic department to label our 7-block stretch across from the park as a no-honking zone.  The signs were put up on lamp posts and the genius of the department, or perhaps it was a passive aggressive action, was to put them near the top so that no driver who wasn’t driving a convertible with the top down and looking up at the sky would ever see them.  It did no good. Traffic driving into Manhattan at 6 a.m. liked to start their day with incessant honking.

But when it snowed, the City calmed down, especially when it snowed the first time in the season.

The first snowfall I experienced in Brooklyn was absolutely magical. I was on Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope when huge 1” snowflakes began descending in slow motion, like leaves falling gently from a tree.  I stood there catching the snow on my gloves, amazed at the size of the flakes, looking at their patterns.  I raised my face to the clouds and saw the snow coming down so slowly it was like I was inside a snow globe.  

At first, the snow melted on the sidewalk.  Then it started to accumulate in small patches.  I stood there enjoying the experience until the sidewalk was covered in a light dusting of snow.  As I walked home, I passed the 7th Avenue subway stop and saw the expressions on people’s faces change as they ascended onto the avenue.  “It’s snowing.”  More than one person said it reverently.  Probably recent transplants like me. (Dean Martin "Let It Snow")

By the time I got home, there was an inch of snow on the sidewalk and I sat in the window near the radiator watching as the benches across the street looked padded with snow. 

The snow acted as sound-proofing for the general noise of the City.  And, there was little traffic.  The snowploughs wouldn’t arrive until much later and people didn’t want to be skidding around.  There were few people out.  Folks generally wouldn’t be wearing their snow boots before that first snow, so their feet get wet and they want to get home.

That night, after I had been asleep for a while, I was awakened by the sounds outside the window.  I looked out and saw a car was doubled parked, the engine running, steamy exhaust rising from the muffler like incense smoke.  The passenger side door was wide open.  On the snow-covered curb, I saw a man chasing around a little boy 2 or 3 years old.  The boy kept falling down and laughing, positively gleeful.     

When they left, I looked at the clock.  It was 2 a.m.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had enjoyed myself so much at that hour of the morning.  

The next morning, I built a snowman.

Post by Alana Cash