The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Dutch Kills’ Category

excellent notion

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Water Pollution can actually be quite lovely.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was captured before the cold waste section of the year descended upon us all, with its crappy light and chill air. It depicts the Borden Avenue Bridge in Long Island City, which spans Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary. You’re looking west in this one, and you can just make out the Empire State Building over in the Shining City of Manhattan on the horizon.

The following shots aren’t at the level or perspective of the water, instead they were captured recently from the deck of the Borden Avenue Bridge itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Knowing the sort of things I know isn’t pleasant. I’ve actually had some casual training in recognizing the various things you’ll notice on the surface of Newtown Creek. Your humble narrator can distinguish between fresh petroleum and old, the difference being the sort of “sheen” which it effervesces.

Saying that, this olive colored snot pulling along on the tepid currents of Dutch Kills may – or may not – be petroleum.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If it is petroleum, it’s probably a subaqueous deposit of historical pollution which has worked its way up to the surface having become “moussed” on its way and has formed a sort of aerated foam. It can also be grease, or something that floated out of the open sewers found along Dutch Kills. Heck, it can be a whole series of unpleasant things, only a chemist would be able to tell you for sure.

Whatever it is, it’s fairly interesting from a visual point of view – no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Y’know, we’re moving into an era in which the Newtown Creek will be cleaned up and many of its environmental issues are going to be sorted out. I’m terrified by this, as the place is going to end up being “all niced up,” which will make it boring as heck. I’ll miss the oil sheens, condoms, dead rats – all the variegated crap which is defined as “floatables.”

I guess there’s always Luyster Creek, or Anable Basin, or the Kill Van Kull… luckily, there’s a long list of polluted waterways and future superfund sites here in the City of Greater New York which are splendidly filthy.

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impolite exclusions

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It’s horrible to be me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor found me wandering amidst the Degnon Terminal in Long Island City during a light drizzle, which for one such as myself indicates that’s it’s time to start recording the things I see. Above, the off ramp of the Queensboro Bridge that doth feed traffic unto the Thomson Avenue Viaduct.

As I’ve stated in the past, NYC never looks as good as it does when it’s raining.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was on my way to attend a meeting for the group that’s sprung up around the abandonment of the Montauk Cutoff tracks by the MTA, a project which was described at this – your Newtown Pentacle – recently. The meeting of the so called “Cut off coalition” was taking place over in the former Waldes Koh I Noor complex in the Degnon Terminal, and since it was raining I used the subway to get there rather than my usual methodology of walking in pursuance of not getting drenched.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Degnon Terminal, just in case you’ve missed the thousands of times I’ve referenced it, is an industrial park which was built in the early 20th century by a fellow named Michael Degnon. Degnon and his team land filled a famously honerous swamp fed by Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary at around the same time that the Pennsylvania Railroad was busy building the Sunnyside Yards railroad complex. Degnon’s project took advantage of the yards, and provided for a “ship to rail” link at the head of Dutch Kills.

“Progress” was a pretty big concept back in the early 20th century, and the Degnon Terminal saw some of the first poured concrete mega structures in the United States rise from the reclaimed wetlands of LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Loose Wiles bakery, Eveready Battery, American Chicle and other large manufacturers based themselves here and provided tens of thousands of jobs, which drew the immigrant masses out of Manhattan and out to LIC and its environs. By the 1930’s, this section of LIC had become a vast industrial sector.

After the Second World War, when manufacturing in the northeastern United States began to decline, the buildings were left behind and nobody was quite sure what to do with them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the early 1990’s, it was decided to demolish a hospital to make way for the new, and the Citi building megalith was erected. The first of the glass and steel skyscrapers in LIC, this malefic eidolon used to be a singular tower. That has changed in the last ten years, as multiple high rise residential buildings have risen around “court square.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Pearson street off of Skillman, in the Degnon Terminal, the four building Koh I Noor complex found profitable life after splitting the property up amongst smaller tenants. The Waldes company manufactured milliners and tailoring supplies – it’s said that they invented the metal zipper, for instance. Warehouse businesses, printers, and small manufacturers have taken up residence here in the 21st century.

None of them utilize the rail, nor the maritime connections, and are instead truck based businesses.

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these views

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Welcome to the Montauk Cutoff, Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, one found himself hitting the tracks just before sunrise. I was there with sanction, accompanied by an MTA employee and entirely “legal.” It should be mentioned, again, that illegal trespass is against a humble narrator’s code, and like a vampire – I need to be invited in to do my thing. You also really, really, don’t want to get caught trespassing up here by the railroad cops, by the way. You also really, really, don’t want to meet the sort of person who camps out along railroad tracks in LIC when you’re all alone in the wee hours.

The Montauk Cutoff in Long Island City was designed to connect the North Shore line with the Montauk Line. The Montauk Line uses the tracks which follow the shoreline of Newtown Creek through Queens, eventually intersecting with the Bushwick Branch and both head for the rail yard at Fresh Pond. The elevated trackway of the Montauk Cutoff crosses Skillman, 49th, 50th, 51st, and Borden Avenues, whereupon it meets a rail bridge called Cabin M which spans Newtown Creek’s tributary Dutch Kills.

The North Shore line used what are approximately the modern LIRR passenger tracks, give or take a few yards, which transverse the Sunnyside Yards and head through Woodside on their way east. The Montauk Cutoff was built for freight, as were the North Shore and Montauk Lines. Passenger service was always a loser for the LIRR. Modern day freight on the LIRR is handled by the New York & Atlantic company.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first discussion, which I’ve been able to find at least, about building LIC’s Montauk Cutoff was in 1906 – as part of a series of railroad projects either proposed or already under construction at the start of the 20th century by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company – projects which included Penn Station and Sunnyside Yard. Other documents I’ve examined state that the LIRR was paying taxes to New York State as early as 1912 on the Montauk Cutoff, which suggests that it came into service around the same time that the Sunnyside Yards came online. The surrounding Degnon Terminal wasn’t far behind the rail complex, either, with the Loose Wiles factory and other mega factories opening in the 1920’s.

As is always mentioned, old Mitch ain’t no authority on the whole railroad thing. If there’s something wrong in my little summary, please let me know in the comments and corrections or an errata will be incorporated. I can speak pretty intelligently about the maritime/locomotive complex around Newtown Creek, but I’ll admit to having vast gaps on the particular subject of the iron road. That was my pal Bernie Ente’s area of expertise.

For a historic series of shots, maps, and technical descriptions of anything involving the LIRR, you are going to have to visit the fairly excellent trainsarefun.com. Here’s their Montauk Cutoff Page.

Another set of maps and historic shots can be accessed at an equally fantastic site called arrts-arrchives.com. Here’s their Montauk Cutoff page.

I’ve written about the Smiling Hogshead Ranch before, which sits on the interchange between the Degnon Terminal Railway and the Montauk Cutoff, over at my old Brownstoner Queens column.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The view from up on the Montauk Cutoff is unique. That big parking lot at the bottom of the shot above is a UPS shipping center, the one on 49th avenue. Rearing above and behind it is the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the Long Island Expressway, which arches up and over Dutch Kills some 106 feet from its beginning at the Queens Midtown Tunnel – which is around a half mile away.

My MTA companion and I met up at the Smiling Hogshead Ranch at 5:30 in the morning to get these shots, which gave me a solid hour to work in absolute pitch darkness up on the tracks. The shots in today’s post are obviously tripod shots, and long exposures. Leaving the shutter open for 20-30 seconds at a pop, you can gather a tremendous amount of light and color, but the hot spots of electric street lighting always cause certain problems. Compensation for this is to move the aperture into “hyperfocal” range, f11 and narrower, which is counterintuitive for night shots but nevertheless effective. It also produces those neat little star bursts around the lights.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, why was I out on a chilly November morning with an MTA property manger, walking on a century old rail spur in Long Island City?

The MTA has decided to “abandon” this line. Abandon doesn’t mean the same thing in “railroad” as in does in english. It means that the agency has no current plans for the line and wishes to free itself of the duties necessitated in maintaining it as functional track. It means that the MTA will retain ownership of the Montauk Cutoff, and can at any time reactivate the pathway should “future use” require it. Given the speed with which rail projects generally move, however, that means a window of at least a couple of decades of inactivity awaits the property no matter what happens.

Accordingly, MTA has issued a “Request for Expressions of Interest,” or RFEI, regarding the Montauk Cutoff and is seeking potential lessees for the space.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As defined in the RFEI document, the MTA is seeking out creative uses of the land with an eye towards community improvement. The agency has set down a few ground rules for any potential lessee of the site, many of which are quite expensive – such as insurance, utility service – those sorts of things. The property, as defined in the RFEI, includes the Smiling Hogshead Ranch – who currently lease and pay insurance on the parcel in which the community garden is operated.

Before certain web masters start pointing their fingers and shouting “j’accuse” at me while spinning a conspiratorial tale, Smiling Hogshead is indeed associated with Newtown Creek Alliance, as am I. You can absolutely bet that I’m a fan of SHHR’s operations and programming, and friends with a lot of their members. Long Island City needs every bit of green space it can get, which is how I finally get around to explaining why me and the MTA guy were here on the day before Thanksgiving and just before sunrise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A “Request for an Expression of Interest”? You can say that I’m interested. I’m interested in seeing this trackway converted over to green space, in much the same way that the Degnon Spur on Pearson and Skillman – a weedy dumping ground and homeless camp – was turned into a lush garden by a group of dedicated volunteers.

Can you imagine what a group like Smiling Hogshead’s could do up here?

If you want to get in on the conversation, or contribute some time and knowledge to the project – shape the future, as it were – whatcha doing on the 2nd of December? A bunch of us are going to attend a “visioning meeting” at Nomad Cycle (47-10 Austell Pl, Queens, NY 11101) which is set to happen between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My companion and I had discussed the possibility of getting up here in the pre dawn hours, and a couple of previous appointments had to be cancelled on account of weather. We had met on a walk through of the site which MTA had conducted back in October for parties interested in acquiring the land, an excursion which occurred just before solar noon – which is not the most efficacious time to photograph LIC. I made the case to him that a “proper” set of photos would be needed for this project and quite handy to boot, which my new friend at the agency agreed with. Hence, where we were, when we were, and why we met up in the dark on Skillman Avenue on the day before Thanksgiving.

The wrinkle in this potential project is this – it doesn’t necessarily have to become a green space. Anyone can “express interest” in the Montauk Cutoff, and as long as their proposed project meets the requirements set aside by the MTA, it will be considered a viable option.

I see this as being a frankly huge opportunity to create an enormous acreage of green space in an otherwise completely barren industrial area which can be best described as a “devastation of concrete.” My interest in this thing is simple – this property touches Dutch Kills, where the borders of the “abandoned” section ends, which is “my house.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Montauk Cutoff begins at Sunnyside Yard, and at its southeastern edge connects to the M Cabin truss bridge over Dutch Kills which connects to the Blissville Yard, which in turn feeds the tracks that travel under the Greenpoint and Kosciuszko Bridges to Maspeth, Ridgwood, and all points east. The RFEI states that the M Cabin bridge will be opened, and secured in that position, and that a barrier of some sort will be erected at the edge of the Montauk Cutoff’s lot.

Additionally, I cannot begin to, nor have I ever believed that this is the original bridge on this site. I’ve got some Intel that suggests the early 1940’s for its origins, but nothing solid enough to to stick a pin into. The original early 20th century bridge is long gone at any rate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can tell you with some certainty that the nearby DB Cabin rail bridge is from 1919, and is a swing bridge that hasn’t opened since 2002. My pal Bernie, mentioned above as having been THE authoritative source on all things rail around LIC, told me once or twice that two industrial wreckers are required to tow it from either side to open the bridge. The swing bridges motors are non functional, something that has caused no small amount of grief for the EPA’s Superfund investigators. DB Cabin allows access from the Wheelspur Yard to the Blissville Yard and the Montauk Line.

Like I said, Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking northwards along Dutch Kills, at a scene familiar and loved by long time readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle. That’s the Borden Avenue Bridge, with the LIE above, spanning Dutch Kills. I’ve been writing about this neighborhood for years, it’s one of my favorite locations in New York City. The Montauk Cutoff leads directly to this spot, which in my mind directly connects it to the environmental problems of the Newtown Creek watershed.

Know how I’ve been rattling on for years about “combined sewer outfalls” and the problems presented to the ancient sewer system during rain events? Montauk Cutoff represents an opportunity to create a nearly four acre long green sponge that can drink up a significant amount of the storm water that carries garbage, grease, and poop into this water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Montauk Cutoff. This is a once in a generation opportunity to do something right for the environment in the ruined biome of Long Island City. Every elected official I’ve spoken to about this idea is “into it” although they haven’t made any public declarations yet (too early in the process to bring them in) and recently – Community Board 2’s environmental committee voted to support the use of these tracks as “green infrastructure.”

Want to get involved in the future of the Montauk Cutoff? As mentioned above, a “visioning meeting” which be taking place at LIC’s Nomad Cycle (47-10 Austell Pl, Queens, NY 11101) on December 2nd, between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.

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babbling over

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National Feasting week is upon us, eat long and hard, lords and ladies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the magical Chrysler Building, surrounding by the dross modernity of Manhattan. One of the few shots captured in the City after a recent crossing the Queensboro Bridge, which was detailed in recent posts. Odds are that few, or any, of you reading this post will actually be in New York for the holiday weekend – so Newtown Pentacle will be going into its traditional holding pattern for the next few days.

Don’t worry, I’ll still be publishing, but it’s just going to some pretty pictures for a few days, without much meat on the bone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, your humble narrator will be in town.

Holiday weekends such as Thanksgiving are a fantastic time to avoid family and friends for me, and to wander aimlessly about in the concrete devastations of the nearly deserted industrial quarters of the Newtown Creek. There’s quite a few irons in the fire, however, and one fairly earth shattering project in LIC which I’m extremely excited about which I’ll fill y’all in on when you settle back into your desk chairs on Monday next.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Suffice to say that it involves a defunct railroad trackway, LIC, and the MTA itself. I’d tell you more, but that would technically be “spoilers.”

Have a happy and a healthy one, lords and ladies.

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could furnish

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As mentioned yesterday, while you’ve been sleeping, I’ve been out working.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This happens every so often to a humble narrator. Circadian rhythms short circuit somehow, and a distinctly nocturnal phase occurs. Desire to record scenes observed remains, however, and specialized kit is required. Queens looks so interesting at night, as the concrete devastations are generally well lit. Above – the Long Island Expressway’s 106 foot trussed apex over the Dutch Kills tributary of the fabled Newtown Creek.

This sort of shot is tripod country, of course.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking north along Dutch Kills in the direction of the Sunnyside Yards and Queens Plaza, a scene familiar and loved, for it depicts the waterway’s turning basin which once fed maritime traffic into the Degnon Terminal via a barge to rail facility. These shots were all captured using my trusty old Canon G10, btw, mounted on a magnetic tripod. This particular bit of camera support allows a secure connection to ferrous surfaces via the use of multiple rare earth magnets, which in the case of the shot above was the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge itself. The magnet tripod, in effect, transforms the bridge itself into a tripod via its electromagnetic grip.

These are ISO 80 15 second exposures, captured with a narrow aperture – f8 – for those of you who are curious shutterbugs. Additionally, the light meter was set to the “tungsten” temperature, which caused the light captured to favor the blue side of the spectrum rather than the oranges and reds which street lighting normally produces. The camera was outfitted with a remote release cable, and I just had to time out the sequence of traffic lights on either side of the bridge to ensure that passing vehicle traffic didn’t introduce a ruinous vibration to the bridge which would transmit up to the lens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking back to Astoria in the darkness along Skillman Avenue from Dutch Kills, certain apertures in the fence lines of the Sunnyside Yards allowed me to secure and trigger the camera fortuitously. The 7 train, notorious for its multitudinous and unexplained delays, was just sitting there waiting for a humble narrator to record it.

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Upcoming Tours –

September 20th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets

marvels unspeakable

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A possessed train?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, your humble narrator has a somewhat encyclopedic knowledge of the location of every single hole in the fencing surrounding the Sunnyside Yards which is large enough to stick a camera lens through. The Amtrak people patch these lapses all the time, but others will just spontaneously appear. It’s kind of a cat and mouse situation, but given that the Yards sit between HQ and My Beloved Creek, one spends a lot of time walking back and forth past the titan facility and I do so enjoy taking pictures of rolling stock.

One particular chunk of our national railroad infrastructure caught my eye the other day – specifically Amtrak engine 631, which seemed to be possessed or something. It’s actually a bit of newish kit for them, btw. God help me for the fact that I know this.

from wikipedia

The Siemens ACS-64, or Amtrak Cities Sprinter, is an electric locomotive designed by Siemens Mobility for use in the northeastern United States. The first 70 locomotives built are to operate on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and the Keystone Corridor, replacing the railroad’s existing fleet of AEM-7 and HHP-8locomotives. The first Amtrak ACS-64 entered service in February 2014; deliveries will last until 2015. SEPTA Regional Rail will receive an additional 13 locomotives for commuter service in 2018.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Notice how its “eyes” seem to glow red with fiendish intent? How the engineering of the thing’s leading edge seems to suggest angry eyes? Imagine having this thing bearing down on you while it was thundering down some lonely trackway in the woods of upstate NY. Something wicked this way comes, indeed.

It would be chilling, I would imagine, having those red demon eyes fix their gaze upon you as it races through the North East Corridor at 125 mph.

from wikipedia

The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is an electrified railway line in the Northeast megalopolis of the United States. Owned primarily by Amtrak, it runs from Boston through New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to Washington, D.C.

The corridor is used by many Amtrak trains, including the high-speed Acela Express, intercity trains, and several long-distance trains. Most of the corridor also has frequent commuter rail service, operated by the MBTA, Shore Line East, Metro-North Railroad, New Jersey Transit, SEPTA, and MARC. Several companies run freight trains over sections of the NEC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amtrak’s Acela Express engine 2000, in comparison, seems like it would be quite a friendly locomotive, although it’s general outline is somewhat reminiscent of the Toho studios “Kaiju” monster and frequent Godzilla sparring partner that is called Mothra (while still in its larval phase, of course).

from wikipedia

The Acela is certified with a top speed of 165 mph (266 km/h) and reaches a maximum of 150 mph (241 km/h) in regular service. The Acela Express is the only service in North America that exceeds the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 125 mph (201 km/h) definition of high speed rail. The Acela achieves an average speed (including stops) of 81.7 mph (131 km/h) between Washington and New York, and an average speed of 66.9 mph (108 km/h) from Washington to Boston.[68] The average speed from New York to Boston is a slightly faster 69.8 mph (112 km/h). The average speed for the entire length excluding stops is 84 mph (135 km/h). Its maximum speed limit is 150 mph (241 km/h) on three sections of track totaling 33.9 mi (55 km) in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lamentably, there is a lack of folkloric tale telling about the various light and heavy rail lines that transit through Western Queens. Other parts of the country tell richly ornamented tales about ghost trains and haunted rail cars. Along the Metro North tracks that feed into Manhattan via the Spuyten Duyvel bridge, there are stories of a ghostly steam locomotive, for instance.

You seldom hear tell of a haunted Subway or station, although some describe the appearance of the 7 along the elevated tracks in Sunnyside with hushed voices and describe it with an air of dread expectation.

from wikipedia

On June 13, 1915, the first test train on the IRT Flushing Line ran between Grand Central and Vernon Boulevard – Jackson Avenue, followed by the start of revenue service on June 22. Over the next thirteen years, the line was extended piece by piece to its current form between Times Square and Flushing – Main Street, after the former opened on March 14, 1927. Express service started in 1917. The service on the Flushing Line east of Queensboro Plaza was shared by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation from 1912 to 1949; BMT trains were designated 9, while IRT services were designated 7 on maps only. The 7 designation was assigned to trains since the introduction of the front rollsigns on the R12 in 1948.

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debased patois

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America’s Workshop, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marching involuntarily down Borden Avenue in LIC recently, one decided to head east on Review Avenue towards Calvary Cemetery. Along the way, the striking architecture of the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the larger Long Island Expressway caught my attention. This section of Borden Avenue rose out of a swamp shortly after the Civil War, originally manifesting as a courdoroy or plank toll road for horse and ox carts. Its purpose was to connect Hunters Point with upland farms in Maspeth (Borden… as in dairy) “back in the day.” This is the sort of thing you’ll hear about if you come on tomorrow’s “13 Steps around Dutch Kills” tour, btw, with ticketing links found at the bottom of the post.

At any rate, one elected to head in a generally easterly direction, leaving the great steel expressway which was installed over Borden Avenue in 1939 by the House of Moses behind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of the old General Electric Vehicle complex was demolished a couple of years back, and as is the case with many of the “development” properties in this section of LIC, the lot sat dormant for a while. Construction has started up on the property, which I believe is going to host yet another self storage facility.

One could not help notice the hookup to a fire hydrant which the construction guys on the lot had set up, as it was geysering a spray of water into the afternoon sun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that this is a part of town which could really use a good wash, or at least a nice rinse. The bad news is that the water in this hose was under serious pressure – fire fighting pressure, as it were – and an uncountable amount of water was escaping from the hydrant system. This, no doubt, reduced the amount of water available for… y’know… fire fighting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The hydrant itself was burbling and gushing as it fed the construction hookup, feeding a small but growing pond on Review Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The water was ultimately being fed into this unknown device, which seemed to be some sort of hydraulically driven piston. Can’t tell you what it’s purpose was, but it made a sound which I can try to describe as “shish clack whirrsh clang shish.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sensing the presence of humans moving around behind me, one noticed that the geyser of water was serving another purpose on this warm afternoon in LIC. The pause that refreshes, indeed.

So, whatcha doing tomorrow morning? Want to come along on the walking tour I’m conducting with Atlas Obscura of the Dutch Kills tributary of the fabled Newtown Creek? The weather should be perfect, btw, and quite similar to today. Ticketing link is just below.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

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