The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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padding, clicking, walking

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Want to feel better? Take a walk in Queens.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Skillman Avenue between 39th street and 49th avenue is “big sky country” here in Western Queens, with the majesties of the Sunnyside Yard and the glorious skyline of the Shining City laid out for all observers. It has always been one of my favorite spots for a stroll, and never more so than at twilight.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a number of things I can tell you about the yards. When it opened, this was the largest coach yard on the planet, and it hosts the busiest tracks on earth to this day – specifically, the Harold Interlocking, which is shared by Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad. There’s an ocean of PCB’s and other industrial chemicals in the ground here, and its likely going to be listed for some sort of environmental cleanup or remediation before too long.

The odd and continuing appearances of cast off single shoes found along the fence line continues to intrigue and puzzle a humble narrator, but that’s another story.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that the whole “deck over the yard and build a new neighborhood on top of it, with a stadium and hotel complex at the Queens Plaza side and affordable housing to the east” chestnut has surfaced again – the latest iteration of a plan espoused by Dan Doctoroff early in the first Bloomberg term. A number of people have asked me what my thoughts on the matter are.

My reply is always: How, in any way, would that be good for Queens? Does the proposal to deck the yards include hospitals and schools, an annex for the already stretched 104th and 114th precincts, additional FDNY personnel and equipment, or some mechanism to incorporate this new population into the existing wastewater system? Who will bear the costs of these municipal services? It won’t be the entity that builds a stadium or hotel complex, one guarantees you.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

defined apprehensions

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Twirling, ever twirling.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The affability of recent climate has seen me visiting old haunts and novel locale alike in recent weeks, which might be described as having been a somewhat pleasurable set of experiences. That would mean, of course, that your humble narrator was actually capable of experiencing a sensation called “pleasure.” A series of dull events punctuated by occasional gastro-intestinal distress, all sorts of bacterial and viral infections, and the oft bizarre actions of others is the way one such as myself describes “Life.”

One bright spark in the otherwise gathering clouds of existential horror which plague me are unexpected moments of serendipity.

A train passing by can excite one endlessly, and reminds that “you have to appreciate the little things.”

In my case, it’s big things that go “thruuummmm thruuuuuuummmm thruuummmm” or “claaacckkclaaacckkclaaacckk” as they pass by, but I’m all ‘effed up.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Good days are ones where I’m not walking to go anyplace in particular. Days when I leave the house and decide only which compass point to walk toward. For some reason, its not east that often, as that’s usually looking into the light. Instinct always points my path towards water, no matter where I am. It was kind of interesting finding myself in Queens Plaza, which I used to inhabit back in 2009 and 2010 during the Queensboro Bridge Centennial period but which I mainly cross through these days on my way to someplace in Brooklyn or Hunters Point.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, Our Lady of the Pentacle had agreed to visit the Brooklyn Grange roof top farm here in Astoria with a friend of ours who subscribes to their CSA program and I tagged along. While they picked up some quality produce, I got busy with the camera. Serendipity at work, when I woke up that morning, seeing this vista overlooking the Sunnyside Yards and the Shining City of Manhattan was not on the menu.

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humid seas

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By jove, I nearly got wet yesterday.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Yesterday, despite the somewhat solitary inclination of mood which a humble narrator awoke to find himself in, nevertheless did he need to go to Sunnyside to talk to some people about some thing. Post facto, a leisurely stroll back to Astoria was planned upon.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my custom, certain breaches and apertures in the fencing which secures the Sunnyside Yards from casual observation by most, and the attentions of malodorous sappers and mad bombers in particular, were exploited for photographic use. The sky was dramatic, and active. A weak wind blew chilled air, from west north west.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking towards 36th avenue, from Northern Blvd., a certain sense of doom was laconically accepted. Surely, this will be how all is ended, in a storm. The Vikings, alas, seem to have been correct in their prophecies of the world’s end. If Ragnarok comes to Queens, it’s going to look something like the shot above.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Some wicked fancy seemed to be animating this cloud, but contemplation of such matters was not a luxury at hand. Not having any sort of umbrella or rain gear with me, haste was made to cross the few short blocks back to Newtown Pentacle HQ.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Evacuating birds were shooting through the winds, which had picked up in intensity. Oddly, there was no thunder, but a present and palpable expectation hung pregnantly about. The storm was about to break.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as I hit 44th street, the clouds attack began, and even your humble narrator found himself struck by airborne missiles of water which had been fired from thousands of feet above. These missiles, luckily, splattered.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Cover was sought behind a simple row house, one which had a small awning. Notice the “rain shadows” forming on the sidewalk.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Experience informs that summer squalls like this are short lived, quickly passing through the neighborhood, and not worth going to extreme measures over. In the twenty minutes or so spent sitting upon some anonymous stoop, observations of the passing humans included a fellow strolling along in a business suit acting as if it were not raining and a handsome young woman who walked by with a plastic bag over her head.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

This weekend-

Saturday, August 16th, LIC’s Modern Corridor
With Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, August 17th, 13 Steps Around Dutch Kills
With Brooklyn Brainery, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

mounting eagerness

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Man, I’ve barely mentioned my beloved Creek lately.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Yesterday, business took me to Red Hook’s Erie Basin, a trip which turned out to be abortive as that which I went to photograph would not be available until next week. Having a free afternoon, unexpectedly, one decided to walk home to Astoria. Shots from the journey are being processed, but your humble narrator found himself all along the river, and everywhere from Brooklyn Bridge park to The Navy Yard. My back started to ache in Williamsburg, and discretion being the better part of valor, I cut the walk off at Metropolitan and Roebling. Not bad for my first serious perambulation of 2014, but I am badly out of shape after a hibernation forced by incessant ice and snow.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast soliloquy governed my thoughts on the walk, and a realization that I havent been spending much time on the Newtown Creek- personally and at this blog – in the last few months left me thunderstruck. Accordingly, pictured above is the DB Cabin rail bridge, spanning Dutch Kills, which carries LIRR Montauk branch traffic. DB Cabin hasn’t been opened since 2002, as its motors are non functional. Accordingly, Dutch Kills is an industrial canal which cannot accept anything larger than a rowboat, and that’s only at low tide. There are those who would like to throw this inheritance away, and turn it into some sort of bullheaded swampland, but that’s something that sounds good at cocktail parties. They forget about Mosquitos, and jobs for those beyond their clique, and that M1 zones are for industry – not water sports or bird watching.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This bridge frustrates me as I’ve never gotten a decent shot of a train crossing it. There’s another rail bridge at English Kills which has stymied my desires in similar fashion over the years, but its just a matter of time until I get both. That’s the thing about me and my beloved Creek – I ain’t going nowhere. There are some who wish I would just fall in and disappear into the black mayonnaise, probably due to my brash nature and overwhelmingly unwholesome aspect, but they can go jump in the East River and swim to Manhattan to beg the Mayor for a job for all I care.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek is the subject of much speculation, discussion, and debate. All over the world – architects, planners, and engineers sniff at the air and smell a giant bucket of Federal money about to spent here. They anxiously twist their hands trying to conceive of some angle by which their pet projects can be shoehorned into the Superfund process. They forget that this is the home of industry, which must be encouraged to not just stay here, but to reinvest in Brooklyn and Queens – albeit in a manner which is less destructive to the processes of human and animal life along the waterway. You can have both.

Also, all bets are off, and your Newtown Pentacle is back in session.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

rusty impediments

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Your motive is loco, man.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

So few places to go, no one to see. The gray frigidity has me down, lords and ladies, and it is not impossible that over the last few weeks, I’ve watched everything on Netflix- including a couple of episodes of “Power Rangers Jungle Fury.” Playing with the cords on my hoodie, counting the floor tiles, bored. That’s me. Cabin Fever, I think they call it.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Been reading lots of good stuff, including a marathon exploration of the dissimilar topics of leprosy and the genetic consequences of multi generational incest- both of which led to the Hapsburgs. None of this relates one little bit to the history of Newtown Creek nor Queens, which actually has been my intention. Little projects like mine tend to drag you down a long drill hole, and you become so focused that you lose sight of the bigger picture… which somehow includes leprosy and incest.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Its cheerier reading than I normally do during this time of year, when my google searches have historically included “stages of putrefaction of cadaver” and “common practices of yeast distillation in 19th century america.” Hey, a guy gets curious about things. Its better to know something, well… some things… than to remain willfully ignorant about unpleasantries.

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Modern Corridor

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Want to see something cool? Bring a camera, and follow me.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

When I decided to start doing walking tours of the Newtown Creek watershed a few years ago, I found myself presented with a significant organizational issue. There’s a different story to be told about Maspeth than there is about Greenpoint (also, there are arguably two Greenpoints), yet… the two communities are inextricably linked up. Same thing with Bushwick and Ridgewood, or the residential centers at the Creek’s intersection with the East River. 3.8 miles long by around a mile wide, the Creeklands are vast when on foot. There is also SO much information to pass along, not just about the Creek’s past, but about all the stuff that’s going on right now- EPA, Superfund, the cool things my pals in NCA are doing with Green Infrastructure and Citizen Science…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My solution was to simply to connect the stories of these places up along the ancient roads or paths along which they grew, and follow the water from one borough to another. “Poison Cauldron” does the Greenpoint to Bushwick route, “Insalubrious Valley” follows a colonial era turnpike path, “Glittering Realms” moves from residential East River Greenpoint back to the industrial zone along another colonial pathway, and “13 Steps around Dutch Kills” traces the Queens tributary back to the Creek and ends at its smaller counterpart Whale Creek in Brooklyn.

The new one- “Modern Corridor”- is all about Hunters Point, one of the least known sections of New York City, which sits directly opposite the Shining City of midtown Manhattan.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This “Modern Corridor” walking tour starts at the old city center, nearby Jackson Avenue and Court Square, and explores the brave new world rising from the ashes of a 19th century industrial titan- the independent municipality of Long Island City. Writ large, the growing community of the titan real estate development which has reshaped the colonial vintage section of Queens called Hunters Point will be encountered, and one of the finest parks in the entire city visited. This park is built upon a significant piece of rail infrastructure which once allowed train cars to be loaded onto barges for maritime transport to Manhattan and points west.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Then we walk through to the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, and to the industrial machine surrounding the infamous Newtown Creek. Former home to sugar refineries and cargo docks, rail yards and powerhouses, this will be the future home of thousands who will live in the forthcoming Hunters Point South development which has already begun construction. See it as it is, before the towers rise and the land is reshaped to modern wants and desires.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Skirting along the Creek, you’ll see vast infrastructure, visit DUPBO (Down under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp), and walk over railroad tracks as we head back to the modern incarnation of Long Island City. Bring your cameras, as your friends won’t believe you when you try to describe the places you’ve witnessed. Closed toe shoes are also highly recommended, as is a hat or parasol as there will be little to no shelter from the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself. The walk will be approximately 2 hours in length and will cross all sorts of ground. There will be one flight of stairs involved.

paddy

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We’ll be passing from the 21st century all the way back to the 1600’s with particular emphasis on the late 19th century, when the fellow pictured above- the notorious Patrick “Battle-Ax” Gleason, served as the last Mayor of Long Island City. Gleason was personally responsible for the construction of the exquisite PS1 schoolhouse pictured in the second shot above, which nearly bankrupted LIC- amongst other imbroglios. Dogged by claims and accusations (and at least one conviction) of corruption- Gleason used to sit in a barber chair outside the Miller Hotel- which is today the LIC Crab House- and hold court with constituent and passerby alike. This was his favorite spot, directly across the street from the LIRR train and ferry terminal. He told those he met to avoid addressing him as “Mayor”, instructing them instead to “Just call me Paddy.”

Hope you can come along, this Saturday at 10- meetup at Court Square Station on Jackson Avenue.

marshy shore

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My fascination with the Sunnyside Yards here in Long Island City is well known, and observation of the modifications to the place demanded by the East Side Access project have been eagerly and enthusiastically observed and recorded accordingly. On this particular afternoon, the esoteric bit of kit on display for the discerning enthusiast was a truck adapted for life and transit upon the railroad tracks. The particular occupation of this vehicle is somewhat beyond me, with a singular observation that it seemed cool and was manufactured by a company called Brandt.

from wikipedia

The Canadian company Brandt has also converted large truck tractor units for use as locomotives that can move by road to where they are needed. Still mostly used for permanent way maintenance, they can also be employed as thunderbird (rescue) locomotives or even used in normal service, where they are suitable for smaller operators.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Nothing short of byzantine, the operational engineering of this project must be a devilish conundrum. Imagine the combined challenge of rebuilding, and in some cases installing new capability, to one of the busiest rail yards on Earth without disrupting its function. The new installation part of that is adding an additional track, including truss bridges flown over local and quite residential streets, which will fundamentally change the flow of traffic along the entire northeastern United States and parts of Canada while hundreds of passenger trains whizz by as they move between Manhattan and Long Island.

from wikipedia

Extending between Sunnyside, Queens, and Grand Central, the project will route the LIRR from its Main Line through new track connections in Sunnyside Yard and through the lower level of the existing 63rd Street Tunnel under the East River. In Manhattan, a new tunnel will begin at the western end of the 63rd Street Tunnel at Second Avenue, curving south under Park Avenue and entering a new LIRR terminal beneath Grand Central.

Current plans call for 24-trains-per-hour service to Grand Central during peak morning hours, with an estimated 162,000 passenger trips to and from Grand Central on an average weekday. Connections to AirTrain JFK at Jamaica Station in Jamaica, Queens, will facilitate travel to John F. Kennedy International Airport from the East Side of Manhattan.

A new LIRR train station in Sunnyside at Queens Boulevard and Skillman Avenue along the Northeast Corridor (which the LIRR uses to get into Pennsylvania Station) will provide one-stop access for area residents to Midtown Manhattan. The station may spur economic development and growth in Long Island City.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The specific occupation of this vehicle- given the small crane rig on its bed might be defined as a rail tie loader- but I’ve been excoriated for guessing when it come to the railroad before so if one of you might know for sure, please speak up in the comments section. There are large segments of pre assembled track and sleepers nearby the device, it should be mentioned. This sort of thing is part of the reason that I carry a camera with me whenever I’m transversing the concrete devastations of Western Queens, you never know what you might see.

Also: Upcoming Tours!

A free event, “Watch Wildlife on Maspeth Creek with NCA and DEC!” – Friday, April 26
Meetup at Maspeth Creek at 1 p.m., for more information visit newtowncreekalliance.org.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

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