The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Long Island Rail Road’ Category

all signs

with 2 comments

All we have to fear is fear itself, and I’m pissing my pants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like many Queensicans, when it was announced that this year’s July 4th fireworks would be taking place in the East River just off the coast of LIC, a humble narrator grew excited. Then one began to read about frozen zones (pretty much from 11th street to the East River) and homeland security. My enthusiasm for the event began to wane as the Terror Warriors descended from their Manhattan aeries, discussed throwing down cordons, announcing entry checkpoints, and throwing a cage over the entire neighborhood. One “gets it” of course, as our enemies from “east austral Asia” specifically target public events that draw media attention, which is the very definition of what the July 4th fireworks show is.

The thing is, and I’ve been pointing this out for years, is that there is very little actual “homeland security” going on the rest of the year around these parts, and the Terror Warriors spend most of their time in Manhattan offices dreaming up scenarios which could only be accomplished by Nation/States with vast combined weapon system resources and functionally unlimited budgets. If we were at war with the United States or the People’s Republic of China, for instance, I’d be pooping my pants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is not so irresponsible to point the actual vulnerabilities out in any detail, as some moron out there might decide to exploit them (do your own research), but if you see graffiti along a train track or in a subway tunnel – that’s called time and opportunity. It should be impossible, literally, to sneak into a train yard or even get close to a moving train nearly two decades into the Terror Wars.

Problem is that our security personnel tend to focus on the outlandish notion that non state actors, who are basically mafiosos, can not only maintain but deploy complicated weapons systems that most nation states cannot even hope to possess. Jackass sappers like the Boston Marathon bombers, whose presence and intentions are THE real threat, just don’t fire the imagination or finger the purse strings of Congress.

It’s all a show, ultimately, designed to assuage the nagging truth that some jerk pulling the pin on a dud hand grenade while riding on the 7 train would be sufficient to shut the entire Subway system down for weeks while the Terror Warriors installed metal detectors and biometric sensors on every turnstile.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think I’m just going to go up on my roof this year on the 4th of July, photographing the fireworks at a distance from almond eyed Astoria. One is not interested in being part of a compacted herd of spectators, who are all potential suspects, in LIC. I’ll be out and about on the 5th of July, and will wager that I won’t see a single cop or security contractor protecting the vital infrastructure found hereabouts. To me, that’s terrifying.

The big show will be over by then, and the Terror Warriors will be worrying about space based laser systems at BBQ’s on Long Island and in Westchester County. They’ll muse whether or not ISIL has perfected a tractor beam that can pull asteroids down on targets (that’s called a mass driver, btw.) or developed a neutron bomb.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 1, 2015 at 11:05 am

public building

leave a comment »

Sunnyside Yard, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody always asks me how I get these shots, or about certain qualities in them. Simple answer is that I’m always experimenting with the camera, and when I come up with some protocol for “how to get this or that” my next move is usually to reverse it and see what happens.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, my friend, practice.

The setting: Recently, an evening meeting carried one up the hill from the elluvial flatlands of Southern Astoria to the heights of the ridge which Sunnyside was built into. Between these two neighborhoods, there’s a former tidal swamp into which the Sunnyside Yard was embedded back in the first decade of the 20th century. Once the largest rail coach yard on earth, the Yard still hosts the busiest rail junction found on the continent, the so called Harold Interlocking. The busy part is due to the frequent passage of Long Island Railroad commuter rail trains, which share the switches and rails with Amtrak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The conditions: Sunset to the west, which I was going to be shooting right into. The weather was humid, and a bit misty. The point of view is surrounded by steel plated chain link fencing whose purpose is to deny observation of vulnerable infrastructure (I’m told that this fencing was installed during the first decade of the Terror Wars). One such as myself has a vast catalog of fence holes and gaps which are dearly held, and since my meeting in Sunnyside would carry one past an entire series of these occluded viewpoints, a point was made to pocket one of my lenses small enough to fit into while leaving HQ. I also brought some chewing gum, but that’s not important.

My “good lenses,” which are used in particularly high rotation, have a circumference too large for these cracks in the walls around the Sunnyside Yard – so a “decent” lens which has a decidedly smaller diameter was employed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “decent lens” mentioned is the so called “nifty fifty” offered by Canon. It’s far and away my most inexpensive tool, and allows wide open apertures which would make it handy for night time shots but for its persnickety focusing mechanics. The term for what it does, autofocus wise, is called “hunting.” What that means is that it noisily rolls through the range of focus and never quite settles itself into a lock. My usual habit with this sort of thing is to use autofocus to “get it close” and then switch the thing over to manual focus for final adjustment.

The optic formula of the lens also renders things a bit less “contrasty” than I’d like, but you can’t really complain about camera equipment which retails for around a hundred bucks – especially when it fits through fence holes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The methodology: For those of you not in the know, as to how cameras and lenses work – a “bright lens” will allow you to operate it at wide apertures (f1.8 in the instance of the nifty fifty). Wide apertures create a tremendous “depth of field” effect, which means that the area which is in focus will appear sharply delineated and everything else will be blurred. Higher aperture settings – the “f-stops” as it were – will create a hyperfocal range in which everything in frame will be sharply defined. The lower the “f-stop” the more light enters the camera, and the higher ones allow less light to get to the sensor. You balance the shot using shutter speed and ISO settings. Night shots and interior spaces require you to use the lens “wide open,” with slow shutter speeds, and higher ISO settings – all of which introduce certain quality issues to the captured image.

The shots in today’s post were consciously captured with the desire to have “everything” in focus, with a minimum of motion blur as well, and to record a full range of color and tone. Difficult to do with the sun behind the scene, and in a setting where everything is made of contrasting reflective surfaces.

My formula was to actually reverse my night shooting protocol on 2/3rds of the exposure triangle, using a very narrow f-stop and fairly fast shutter speed, but with a high ISO setting for tone and color sensitivity (f10, 1/1250th of a second, ISO 800). Sometimes, particularly during the summer, the problem isn’t that there enough light – there’s actually too much of it and some methodology needs to be employed to control it. Experimentation and failure often emanate from screwing around with your normal shooting habits, but sometimes it pays to mix things up a bit.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

idly digging

with one comment

Another odd occult altar encountered, this one in Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Involuntarily marching about in Queensican DUKBO (Down under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp) recently, on my way over to East Williamsburg to conduct an iteration of the “Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek” walking tour, an occult altar was encountered not far from the bridge. It was at the grade crossing of the Haberman rail siding, nearby the intersection of 49th street and 56th road in Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This area has been observed, in the past, hosting some odd activity. The very same spot is where the “3 Headless Chickens” described in this 2012 post were found.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ceramic plate was filled with what looked like corn meal or some other roughly ground grain. The liquor bottle was white rum, and there was a considerable amount of the stuff in the bottle. The fact that it hasn’t been scooped up and consumed is noteworthy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eight arranged dark shapes seemed to be yams or sweet potatoes. There was some sort of shape impressed into the “corn meal” which reminds me of some skinny or tiny person’s naked butt, or possibly those tablets which Moses brandished about.

Entirely likely that there’s a missing piece to this altar which was swept aside by rail traffic passing over it, imho.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 25, 2015 at 11:00 am

jouncing descent

leave a comment »

The situations which I find myself in…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long story short, my pals at HarborLab ended up building a floating dock which will be used by LaGuardia community college’s biology people to study wetlands restoration techniques and theories on Newtown Creek’s LIC tributary – Dutch Kills. Problem is that a 19th century railroad bridge at the mouth of Dutch Kills has been non functional for about twenty years, so towing the dock into the canal in the manner that any normal person would accomplish the task – y’know, like using a boat with an engine to tow something heavy – is a non starter.

That’s how I found myself in a freaking canoe on Newtown Creek a few weeks ago.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

HarborLab is based on the Queens side of Newtown Creek, at the Vernon Avenue Street end, which is where we launched from. I was in a boat with Lynn Serpe, long time environmental and community activist and the former Green Party candidate for City Council in Astoria, and one of the folks behind the Two Coves Community garden over in Old Astoria. Pictured above are Patricia Menje Erickson, HarborLab’s Facilities Manager, Erik Baard, and volunteer Phillip Borbon – who had the unenviable duty of rowing the dock itself roughly a mile back from the Vernon Avenue street end to the turning basin of Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The next few days will bring you an image saturated series of posts detailing the excursion. Dutch Kills leaves the main body of Newtown Creek a little over three quarters of a mile from the Creek’s intersection with the East River and heads northish in the direction of the Sunnyside Yards and Queens Plaza for about a mile. Long time readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will tell you that Dutch Kills is far and away my favorite part of the troubled Newtown Creek watershed. Thing is, because of that decrepit rail bridge blocking the channel, you can’t get in there using a motorized vessel except at extreme low tide.

Low tide was part of the calculations made by the HarborLab team, and we timed our trip to coincide with it lest we be barred from entry or end up stuck in there waiting for the water to slack out again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One generally discourages the aspirations of people who want to do this sort of thing, given the horrendous state of water quality in Dutch Kills, but the HarborLab folks (along with my pals at North Brooklyn Boat Club) are well versed in the “rules of the road” in the maritime industrial waters of New York Harbor so I agreed to come along and record the journey.

After all, this was the first time something on Dutch Kills was going to change in nearly fifty years, with the exception of the Borden Avenue Bridge repairs from a few years ago. Sometimes, “Newtown Creek Historian” means you have to be there when something is happening in the name of preserving it for posterity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that’s how I ended up in a canoe on Newtown Creek photographing HarborLab delivering a floating dock to the Turning Basin of Dutch Kills. There were times when I had to actually row the boat, but luckily Lynn Serpe did most of the work, allowing me to wave the camera around. A couple of times, the radio crackled out instructions to get shots of them doing this or that or reminding me to shoot them with the skyline behind them.

Their radio crackled back with me saying “NO ART DIRECTION NEEDED.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What you’re looking at is part of the LIRR Montauk Branch, a swing bridge called DB Cabin. It’s not long for this world, as the LIRR and MTA are rekajiggering a bunch of their operations in LIC at the moment. The Wheelspur Yard actually has freight rail running through it again, for instance, and there’s been a lot of chatter about plans for the relict Montauk Cutoff tracks which has reached me recently.

Anyway – what DB Cabin mainly functions as these days is as an obstacle to navigation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the situation as we encountered it, at low tide mind you. There’s about four to five feet of clearance between the rusting deck of the bridge and the surface of that gelatinous analogue for water that distinguishes Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The dock sits up out of the water, of course, as did its pilots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First step was getting their own canoe into the water and hitching it up to the floating dock.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then a bit of “paddle fu” was enacted, and they slipped under DB Cabin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As Lynne Serpe and I approached the bridge, we noticed an amused gaggle watching the progress.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In tomorrow’s post – we leave the geese behind and move inexorably towards the loathsome Turning Basin of a cautionary tale known as the Dutch Kills tributary of the Newtown Creek – at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

June 11th, 2015
BROOKLYN Waterfront Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 13th, 2015
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 10, 2015 at 11:00 am

unmistakeable facades

leave a comment »

Announcing a new walking tour, the Skillman Corridor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Obscura Day is Atlas Obscura’s global outing, and this year I’m going to be offering a new walking tour that has been in the works for awhile now – The Skillman Avenue Corridor. This will explore the southern border of the Sunnyside Yards, descending from the heights of Sunnyside to the flood plain of the Newtown Creek’s tributary Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As long time readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, know – Skillman Avenue is one of my “happy hunting grounds” for photographic pursuits. Those of you who share the same obsessions with infrastructure and photography thereof that possess me will find this an immensely satisfying experience. Along the way, the history of Sunnyside Yards and the industrial giants which surround it will be explored.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will also be visiting Dutch Kills next weekend with Atlas Obscura (May 16, see the link below), on the 13 steps tour, which was actually premiered on Obscura Day several years ago. The Skillman Corridor is the first of several new tours which I’m conjuring up that aren’t directly “Newtown Creek” oriented which will occur in LIC, btw.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 30, 2015 –
The Skillman Corridor with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

historical realities

leave a comment »

From the Magic Lantern show…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Welcome to DUPBO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

many galleries

leave a comment »

A short one today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is anxious to get outside and “into the field” today, so a single image greets you this morning, depicting the Long Island Railroad entering Woodside via its ancient path. Back tomorrow with something a bit more substantial at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,122 other followers

%d bloggers like this: