The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn

of them

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I cannot understand why others do not find these things quite as thrilling as I do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On one of my constitutionals, a humble narrator found himself at the veritable edge of Queens, heading in a  southerly direction through Blissville on my way to “the Pernt.” Hoary Greenpoint can be accessed from Queens via just a few easily defensible littoral spots, one of them being an eponymous path called “Greenpoint Avenue” and the bridge which is named for it.

It’s a double bascule draw bridge which spans my beloved Newtown Creek, and I refer to the area surrounding it in both Brooklyn and Queens as “DUGABO” which is short for “Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Off in the distance to the east, another one of these Thermopylae like passages is visible, the Kosciuszko Bridge.

Should hostilities between Brooklyn and Queens ever break out, it is certain that their respective militaries will make every effort to take and control these passes. Ultimately, you’d want absolute command and control over Pulaski, Kosciuszko, and Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, although sentries and artillery units would no doubt be deployed all along the Newtown Creek to guard against an amphibious invasion. The crumbling bulkheads and industrial fence lines would no doubt make for a daunting landing, and the Queens faction would have a de facto advantage in the conflict due to their ability to deploy artillery on LIRR flatbed cars.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Brooklyn side would be devastated by the first wave of a rail based artillery attack, given the massive presence of oil storage tanks on the southern shoreline. The sewer plant would be an easily targeted site, but vast reserves of Kings County loyalist troops can be found to the South and could easily be brought to the front by the G line. I’m sure there would be a fierce battle in the G tunnel underneath the Vernon/Manhattan avenue area, fought by locally raised units. Lentol’s Leathernecks, and Nolan’s Raiders, would fortify on either side of the tube, with setups reminiscent of WW1 trenches. It wouldn’t be long before both sides resorted to the usage of wonder weapons like poison gas, supplies of which are easily attainable on either side of the fabled Newtown Creek.

Queens would likely attempt the use of the 7 line to ferry in reinforcement troops like Van Bramer’s Sunnyside Battalion and Dromm’s Sikh and Gurkha Jackson Heights Commandos and the terrifying forces of the Meng Men from Flushing and Elmhurst, while Brooklyn would likely use the L line to bring in Reynoso’s Roughnecks, Levin’s Loppers, and Reyna’s Reapers from points east and south. Further to the east – where the borders of Brooklyn and Queens are not aqueous but rather terrestrial in nature – Dilan’s Death Dealers, Liz Crowley’s Maquis Freedmen, and Joe Crowley’s Fenians (backed up on their flank by Grodenchik’s Garroters, Vallone’s Vanquishers, and Katz’s Killers) would all be engaged in a Stalingrad like guerrilla struggle over Maspeth, Ridgewood, and Fresh Pond.

Media attention on the conflict would be of course be focused on LIC and Greenpoint, since you could see that from Manhattan’s east side.

Irregular sappers, freelancers like the Gambinos and Latin Kings, would no doubt be utilized by both sides in this Blood War of the Boroughs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst musing about the idea of internecine and interborough warfare, I suddenly realized that traffic had stopped flowing on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. Worrying that the dark day had arrived at last when the border of Brooklyn and Queens would be marked by fire and death, it suddenly became apparent that the DOT was preparing to open the bridge to allow a maritime transit.

Whooopppeeee!!!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To all of those stopped in traffic, it must have appeared odd, seeing some despoiled creature In a filthy black raincoat jumping up and down while squealing with joy and waving a camera around.

A minor inconvenience experienced by others is often a moment of joy for me. 

I got busy with the camera, and ran out onto the non movable part of the roadway, which is normally quite a chancey thing to do on the highly travelled span over Newtown Creek, as you’d get squished by a truck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

God help me, but I just love watching a draw bridge at work. Also, check out those bike lanes. I encouraged a bicyclist to make a try for it, telling him he could easily jump the gap if he got enough headway speed. He ignored me and played with his phone instead.

Some people, I tell you, have no sense of adventure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The apogee of the bridge roadway’s open posture was attained shortly, and it rose in monolithic fashion. This is likely the position that the Bridge would be fixed into should hostilities between Brooklyn and Queens break out, which is offered as a strategic and or tactical note to the future combatants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In my incessant research of all things Newtown Creek, an eventuality in which the Creek would have become militarized was actually set down by the War Department of the United States, during the World Wars period of the early 20th century.

Naval Destroyers (sometimes the presence of a battleship is discussed as well) were set to be stationed along the Newtown Creek (as well as the East and Hudson rivers) and its tributaries to defend the Petroleum and Industrial bases along its shorelines from air or naval attack. The anticipated pathway which a German invasion fleet would have followed involved a passage through Jamaica Bay and the Narrows in pursuance of invading Manhattan at the Battery and Brooklyn via Bay Ridge. The naval guns on Newtown Creek would have been trained on the Narrows, shooting artillery in a parabola over all of Brooklyn and bombarding enemy vessels on the waterway. The defensive plan was to create a “death zone” between and supported by Forts Totten (Staten Island) and Hamilton (Bay Ridge). Governors Island was also meant to play a role in the deployment of long range defenses and weaponry.

I know, sounds silly to we children of the atom, but this was an actual military plan. It’s part of the reason why the Kosciuszko and Long Island Expressway over Dutch Kills were built as high as they are, to allow the smoke stacks of ocean going Naval Ships purchase. The East River Bridge heights were also built with the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the presence of Capital Ships in NY Harbor during times of war in mind. It’s one of those “alt history” scenarios which leads to a fascinating thought experiment – a Kriegsmarine and Wehrmacht invasion of New York Harbor (their ACTUAL plans, btw, would have included the setup of a German base of operations at Sandy Hook). Just to reiterate – the Germans were ACTUALLY and ACTIVELY planning for this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, an invasion of the United States would have been contingent on the Germans not being involved in two major European land conflicts simultaneously, and Germany being at peace with the UK and the Royal Navy. The invasion of NY Harbor would have represented about a third of the German assault, with other units landing at Cape Cod in Massachussets and in Virginia. A simultaneous landing of troops from the Japanese Empire would have occurred in Seattle and in San Diego.

Lost in my alt history thoughts, I suddenly realized that I didn’t know which vessel the bridge had opened for, and a quick dog trot to the fences of the eastern side of the bridge was enacted.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Mary H tug was towing a fuel barge, no doubt headed some three and change miles back from the East River to the Bayside Fuel depot found nearby another one of the flash points in a Borough on Borough war – the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. Both Grand Street and Metropolitan Avenue Bridges span narrow passes on the Creek, where small arms fire and snipers would be easily able to command and control access between the two warring sides.

What would be the cause of a war between the two boroughs? Good question, lords and ladies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My bet is that it would be a trade dispute, with Brooklyn enacting a restrictive tariff on all things artisinal and organic.

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sometimes awed

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The unknown country, East New York,

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, a drive around East New York was on the schedule recently, which was accomplished with frequent Newtown Pentacle opiner “Cav” (take that George the Atheist). Cav met me in Astoria, in his “automobile” and we motored along the Grand Central Parkway to the Jackie Robinson, or Interborough, Parkway in pursuance of a visit to the legend choked locale of East New York.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described endlessly, your humble narrator is a feckless quisling and vast physical coward, so leaving Cav’s auto was not on the menu. The murder capital of Brooklyn is not a place where you’d like to be noticed carrying an array of electronics including a highly visible DSLR camera, after all. Apprently, the facility pictured above suffered a fire, which somehow terrified me.

Cav laughed at me and my building sense of terror several times as we drove around the neighborhood, which is an area he knew well in his professional capacity. I’ll let him tell you what he did for a living hereabouts, but suffice to say that he was a Municipal employee.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cav knew this neighborhood like the back of his hand, accordingly, and pointed out several land marks. He indicated that the building pictured above was once the City Hall of John Pitkin’s East New York, before it was agglutinated into the City of Brooklyn, back in 1886.

Apparently, it’s now simply a residence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of residences, the housing stock hereabouts was simply awesome. Unfortunately, the likely plans of City Planning, the NYCEDC, and our Mayor don’t include the people currently living in these structures – nor the structures themselves – in their “rezoning” efforts. East New York, which has had a series of targets painted on it for several generations, is currently being targeted by the “Real Estate Industrial Complex.”

Growing hungry, and knowing that the delicatessens of my youth were only a few miles away, I offered to buy Cav lunch if we headed towards the Flatlands/Canarsie/Mill Basin area. Never one to turn down a free meal, Cav pointed the car in a westerly direction and we headed towards Flatlands Avenue and the neighborhoods with which I can speak about with some authority and personal experience.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was along Glenwood and Flatlands, as we headed west past Starret City, that we began to encounter the horror of the now.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We encountered some of that “affordable housing” which the Mayor is pushing, as mentioned above. Soulless and barren expressions of architectural banality, they surpassed what my pal Kevin Walsh originally christened as “Queens Crap” or “Fedders Specials” more than a decade ago. Looks like NYC is hell bent on not just repeating but magnifying the mistakes we made in the 20th century. Instead of vertical spires of poverty, we’re building horizontal sprawling poverty.

Cav offered that if the Soviets had created housing like this, even Stalin would have had to deal with riots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Block after block, the sort of architecture “designed to drive people insane” was encountered at the border of eastern Canarsie and East New York.

As mentioned endlessly, your humble narrator emanates from this neighborhood in Brooklyn and there is only one thing that I can say about this sort of construction.

Eff you, de Blasio, eff you.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

mental images

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It’s an insult to Jackie Robinson, if you ask me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Interborough, or Jackie Robinson Parkway if you must, is one of those less well known connecting points between Brooklyn’s East New York and Kew Gardens in Queens which the Manhattan people don’t really care about. It’s New York State Route 908B, and was known as Interborough until 1997. It opened in 1935, was profoundly reworked in the late 1980’s, and is another one of the traffic corridors which crisis cross through the citywide House of Moses.

As a note, my Dad used to curse vehemently whenever our daily round involved the Interborough, and he believed that it’s design was purpose built to populate the many cemeteries through which Team Moses cut it out of. I am not 100% sure that my Pop wasn’t correct about this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent outing with frequent Newtown Pentacle commenter “Cav” saw us careening along the Interborough, traveling as fast as traffic allowed. There are virtually no shoulders on this road, as it is surrounded by the aforementioned cemeteries and a series of steep hills. The parkway is cut through many of these cemeteries, and it’s construction required the disinterment of many graves. If ever there was a haunted highway here in NYC, it would be this one.

The always excellent nycroads.com has a page on the history of the Interborough/Jackie Robinson Parkway, check it out here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cav and I were chatting about our January boredom recently, and we decided to visit East New York, which is seldom boring for long. Luckily, he is a dedicated motorist, which meant that we could visit the murder capital of Brooklyn without having to get out of the car – a plus for one such as myself – who is a vast physical coward given to falling into convulsive fits at the slightest hint of danger.

East New York ain’t no joke, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having grown up in a neighborhood adjacent to East New York (Canarsie/Flatlands area), East New York – incidentally – was the place my friends would threaten to leave you tied up and naked if you were acting like a jackass while drinking, one still maintains a healthy amount of respect for the place and those who can endure it. Again, East New York ain’t no joke.

Of course, since our current Mayor is gaga about “Affordable Housing,” he’s decided East New York is the place to install a large residential population and attempt to gentrify the place. I would point out that rents are fairly affordable in East New York as it is, mainly because it’s the murder capital of Brooklyn, and functionally just about as far from Manhattan as you can get without leaving Brooklyn. It is served by a Subway line, but it’s a LONG commute. I remember taking the L from its terminus in Canarsie, and that was an unbelievably long trip back in the 80’s.

Incidentally, I understand that Jackie Robinson himself – or at least his mortal remains – can be located at Cypress Hills Cemetery nearby exit 3.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things which makes the Interborough so spectacularly dangerous are actually the drives leading out from the cemeteries which line its route. One will not pretend to have any sort of familiarity with East New York, since as mentioned, it was a place to be avoided when I was growing up in 1980’s Brooklyn.

I lived on the Canarsie/Flatlands side of things, and 1980’s Brooklyn was a racially divided community. As you may have guessed, I’m a pale face, and back then there were “dividing lines” and “DMZ’s” between the various ethnic populations hereabouts. 1980’s Brooklyn plainly sucked for this reason.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Jackie Robinson or Interborough follows the Terminal Moraine of Long Island into a lowland area, the hills formed from the same geologic structure into which the Ridgewood Resovoir was set. There are sub neighborhoods in East New York which are named for said geology – The Hole, for instance, and “Flatlands” is right next door to “Flatbush.”

There used to be a “Stanley Avenue Dip” off Fountain Avenue, which followed the former path of Spring Creek from Jamaica Bay on its way inland. Fountain Avenue is where illegal street racing used to take place, which was quite multiracial, and apocryphal tales offered by the “Utes” of Brooklyn suggested that the sand strewn lots of East New York were a Mafia dumping ground that you didn’t want to ask too many questions about.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

weak and tender

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One last effort at combatting Cabin Fever, Dry Rot, and your SAD.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This post will be your last dose of seasonal affective disorder medication, so drink in the color. Next week – it’s back to concrete devastations, chemical factories, superfund sites, cemeteries – you know, the usual.

Funny thing about the shot above is that I used to know a girl called Mary Gold. What was funny was that she was named Mary and was from a  Jewish family, but then again Christian Mary was from a Jewish family too, so maybe Mary is as Jewish a name as Abraham, Esther, or Sarah. In my family, there were two Aunt Rose’s, and my mother would call one of them “Rose Waxman” as she had married into the clan, and the other was Aunt Rosie as she had been born into it. There was only one Ida, but if memory serves she never grew any apples but made one heck of an apple cake.

Anyway, that’s my marigold rap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve never met, nor am I knowingly related to anyone named Albizia Julibrissin. Commonly referred to as the Mimosa, the Persian Silk Tree is actually an invasive species here in North America. It’s native to Japan and Korea, apparently, and was a prized landscaping specie in the recent past. Persian Silk Trees, aka “the bastard tamarind” and or “Pink Siris,” is an allelopathic organism. Allelopathy is a ten dollar word for “secretes chemicals into its environment whose function is to inhibit or eliminate competitors.”

It’s pretty though. I’ve heard many members of the gentry hereabouts in Astoria complain about the so called Mimosa, as when its flowers drop, they create a sticky mess on their sidewalks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m pretty sure that the flower above is an Iris, but what I know about flowers is less than what I know about brands of luggage. I’ve known several Iris’s in my days, including one whose last name was Gold, but was not related to the aforementioned Mary G (who was the “OG” as I had met her first). This was all back in an earlier era, of course, when Brooklyn was a place people didn’t want to live in, Mtv played music, a young Joe Piscopo taught us all how to laugh, and Huey Lewis was the Hootie of his time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery, one moist afternoon. It was Autumn, raining, and the light was great. Turning leaves, of course, which violates today’s flowery thema but follows along with the palette of reds and pinks nicely. Red light is carried on a longer wavelength than blue, and is of a higher frequency. The human eye – according to a couple of sources – perceives about 390 to 700 nm wavelengths and frequencies which are (in a banded gradation) in the vicinity of 430–770 THz. There’s all sorts of light invisible to human eyes, but certain critters abandon one end of the spectrum for the other, like the honey bee and the gold fish who can discern the ultra violet but lose the infrared. In return for seeing deep blues and violets, they lose the ability to see any wavelength longer than orange, which is kind of a neat trade off.

Makes me think about the things which might be flopping all around me that I can’t see. Wonder what sort of critters there might be might who have evolved an effective invisibility to Homo Homicidis?  This would be the ultimate defense mechanism against us. Might answer the question about “what is that smell, and where is it coming from”?

The reason why the sky is blue? It boils down to the shorter wavelengths and lower frequencies of the violet and blue range being scattering by the atmosphere, which is also why sunny days on Earth’s surface “look” warmer as the red light with its longer wavelength is able to penetrate down to the ground and is prevalent on deck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The most amazing skies I’ve ever witnessed were in Crete, over in the Peloponnesus of Greece.

Some awesome flower action is going on over there as well. Given the weather forecast, I sort of wish that that’s where I was right now. This is a back garden at a house which my In-Laws lived in for a number of years in a village called Tsiverus, a settlement which had the most treacherous road system I’ve ever experienced. Considering that this place has been settled by modern humans since the time of the pyramids, however, I’m willing to cut them some slack on the bad layout and placement of roads. I’m sure these paths were a lot easier to navigate with donkeys and slaves and stuff, but why there’s a highway with no guard rail placed on the ridge of a thousand foot gorge… it boggles.

Of course, the same day this was taken, I saw a work crew cutting a trench through the ruins of a Roman settlement to lay a sewage pipe into. Did you know that Greeks don’t call themselves that? They’re Hellenes, Athens and Kriti are in a country which is called the Ellīnikī́ Dīmokratía, and the word Greek comes from “Grik” which is a Roman slur that means “short legged.” Travel broadens you, I’m told, for me – it’s just another set of things to do research on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is hoped that this week of bright colors has helped alleviate the seasonal affective disorder symptomology which we are all feeling. People always refer to “cabin fever” during this time of the year.

Cabin fever is no joke, it’s an actual “thing.” “Piblokto” or Arctic Hysteria, is a condition that appears in Inughuit (which is how you spell “Inuit” now) societies up in the Arctic Circle, but it’s certainly not confined to the natives as both sailors and soldiers posted to the Arctic experience it as well.

Symptoms of Arctic Hysteria include: social withdrawal, excitement, convulsions with stupor, and recovery – which kind of describes my life in high school, except for the recovery part. The excitement part involves stripping naked and running around in the snow. You might survive Arctic Hysteria, but high school?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

OK, back to January.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

grisly forever

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A continuing series of colorful images, combatting the SAD reality of January.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a reason that your summer clothes are always tight when you put them on in June, and it has nothing to do with them getting shrunk by careless laundromat employees. During the cold months, there’s few options open for Queensicans other than to hunker down in their domiciles and blankly stare at a television screen while stuffing food into their mastication orifice. Personally, I’m a big fan of Citrus during the interminable winter months – high in fiber, hydrating, and it delivers a much needed blast of vitamin C.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, living in Queens, one has a lot of options which – while not the smartest choice from a dietary point of view – taste real good. A humble narrator is prejudiced towards the selection of an oatmeal raisin cookie while browsing the bakery case, using the rationalization that since its oatmeal – it’s a better choice to make. One entirely omits the fact that these things are full of the “devil’s grease,” which is better known as butter.

Either way, I’m not even thinking about the sugar.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of sugar, the shop keeps here in Astoria constantly up their cake game. Often, I wonder if they have struck some sort of deal with Satan itself, committing to slowly murdering as many of us as is possible with baked goods such as the chocolate heart cakes seen above. A true devil’s bargain, and shaped like that which they’re aimed at, these are.

Short term gain indeed, in return for an artery choking case of sclerosis which would send one plummeting to the fiery pit and into the company of the beast.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are those who work for us, instead, it should be mentioned. Agricultural bounty is available wherever you choose to seek it out. My team of doctors have passed on a simple coda for interpreting foodstuffs of the vegetative variety – bright greens and dark greens are packed with iron and simple sugars, and red things are anti inflammatory powerhouses. Yellow things are also a good choice, but one should generally avoid white and brown things like potatoes due to the carbohydrate load indicated by their coloration.

They are ambivalent about orange things, my docs, which is good as I’m a carrot guy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The coda falls apart when witnessing so called “heirloom” cultivars, of course. There’s a lot of these sorts of vegetable and fruit on the market these days, which are sold with the legend “organic.” Of course, being “Captain Vocabulary” and all – the term has always bothered me as it betrays a lack of knowledge about what words actually mean. My response to the word “organic” is always “oh good, there’s no silicon in this tomato.”

I avoid the purchase of said heirlooms, or hipster fruit as I sometimes call it. If a “regular” tomato was good enough for Harry Truman, it’s good enough for me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wildly verdant, despite the environmental horror of it all, these “sewer berries” can be observed growing in Greenpoint. I would recommend against their consumption, of course.

Legend has it that quaffing a handful of Greenpoint’s sewer berries will lead to bodily transformations and psychological changes. Vampirism might be rampant on the Queens side of Newtown Creek, but apocryphal tales from hoary Greenpoint involving lycanthropy all seem to tie back to some punter tossing back a few feral berries. At least that’s what’s supposed to have happened to McGuniness.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 21, 2016 at 11:00 am

with dreams

with 2 comments

Constrained and contained.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The winter blues are upon us all, one fears. Dark skies and so on, combined with recurrent viral infections polluting the local outlook. Not so at this, your Newtown Pentacle. This week it’s not about the blues, rather it’s the purples, and reds, bright green, and lemon yellows. Every image that will greet you this week is chosen not for some narrative purpose, rather it’s a public service whose purpose is to help combat your SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and virus addled days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This week you’ll be greeted by a series of shots culled from the archives, accompanied by a bit of text discussing that which is pictured, when warranted. Above, a barbed wire fence line in Blissville, Queens. Behind it rises the former headquarters of the General Electric Vehicle Company, which manufactured electric automobiles and trucks in LIC back at the start of the 20th century. I described the saga of GEVC in this post, which is actually a few years old at this point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Williamsburg Bridge is actually the reason that there’s a Municipal Art Society, as the span was considered to be such an abomination when constructed that the gentry of the early 20th century wished to ensure that nothing like it ever occurred again. Personally, I don’t consider it that bad, although I prefer the venerable Manhattan and spectacular Queensboro bridges – speaking from a strictly esthetic point of view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s at the bottom of the barrel, January, in terms of the wheel of the year. What one such as myself craves is color, saturated and bright. If all I can get is artificiality, I’ll take it.

If this Astoria vending machine, which is the sort designed to tempt a passerby to drop a few coins in pursuance of a stuffed animal which might be obtained via the use of a metallic claw, is all I can get – I’ll take it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The former Williamsburgh Savings Bank, over in North Brooklyn, has been laboriously restored to the glories typical of the era of France’s Second Empire. Luxurious detail and slavishly applied color is found on the domed ceilings of the place, both of which are sure to brighten up your wintry malaise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back to LIC’s Blissville, in the shot above, and a religious parade committed by a small army of Bolivians at St. Raphael’s on Greenpoint Avenue. If this quartet of dancers cannot brighten a January day, I don’t know what can.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yuyzel on da cruss, as my Grandmother would have described the statuary above, is found at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Lower Manhattan. The cruciform is backed up by stained glass which provides for a bit of color at one of my favorite and most cinematic spots in NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You can’t go wrong with Times Square if you’re looking to brighten up and color up your mid January. Of course, since it’s actually everything that’s wrong with modern NYC made manifest, a trip there might just backfire. Come to think of it, Times Square has always represented everything that was wrong with NYC, at least in the 20th and 21st centuries.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

FDNY always lights things up when they’re working, come to think of it.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 19, 2016 at 11:00 am

refuge open

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Street photography, literally, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has been on a bit of a “notice everything” kick of late, which I imagine would translate into “normal person” as “by Jove, one is surrounded by things which have always been accepted but unquestioned.” Well, I guess that’s how normal people think, I wouldn’t know. One of the things I’ve gotten curious about lately are streets, and more specifically – the roadway itself. This has led me down a bit of a merry path, which has led to the realization that just about every road in NYC, the United States, and in fact the world is paved with industrial waste.

Elucidation follows, but first we need to discuss the development of the thoroughfare.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Roads were originally created from the compaction of soil along trade routes in prehistoric times, and there were fairly common paths developed in Eurasia and Africa by around 10,000 BCE. The oldest stone paved road known to archaeology was built by the Egyptians, in roughly 2,300 BCE, although there are older “courdoroy” or log roads known (There’s a few in the UK which date back to around 4,000 BCE). Over on the Indian Subcontinent, streets were paved with brick as early as 3,000 BCE.

Famously, the Romans were bloody brilliant at building roads, many of which have lasted into modern times. Their system involved the excavation of a fairly deep trench, followed by the laying and tamping down of several feet of differing grades of stone into it, with the top layer formed from a series of carefully cut paving stones which were quite heavy. The bottom layers allowed for drainage, the top layer armored the structure while using the force of gravity to keep it in place. For about a thousand years, the Roman system (similar technologies were used in China, and amongst the Inca in South America) was the best you could really hope for.

The Europeans who colonized North America used crushed oyster shells and stones to form a road surface, and they mitigated the dust generated by horse and cart by using various forms of oil to hold the stuff in place. It wasn’t until the middle 18th century that roads became “modern” when a Frenchman named Pierre-Marie-Jérôme Trésaguet began working on carefully graded roads around Paris. Trésaguet was followed at the beginning of the 19th century by a Scot named Telford who created what modernity would refer to as “a cobblestone road” wherein the pavers were mortared in place using stone dust and gravel. Unfortunately, these methodologies used a tremendous amount of material, and required an enormous investment to lay the several feet of stone that was required for proper drainage and surface stability.

It was another Scot – John McAdam – who invented the precursor of the modern roadway, and his pavement came to be known as “Macadam.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Macadam roads wore tougher under carriage wheels, and were cheaper to build than “Telford’s”. Trial and error taught McAdam that a course of stones, broken up small enough and compacted by a heavy iron roller, would act as a solid mass if given proper drainage. It was perfect for horse and carriage, albeit a bit dusty. The roads of the industrial revolution era were generally paved in Macadam.

In 1902, a Swiss doctor named Ernest Guglielminetti hit upon the novel idea of using tar to coat the roads in Monaco. About twenty years later, an Englishman named Edgar Purnell Hooley patented a formula (in the UK and USA) which combined coal tar and blast furnace slag mixed into gravel and called his new product Tarmac, or Tarred Macadam. Tarmac became quite wide spread by the early days of the automobile, but by the late 1920’s the literal king of the road appeared and Tarmac went out of style.

Also, even by the beginning of the 20th century, physician and politicians alike began to realize that Coal Tar was a particularly unhealthy thing to loose upon the environment. Luckily, nothing bad had ever come out of the nascent petroleum industry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are 42 gallons of crude oil in one of those shipping barrels which you always hear business people referring to. When the distillation process is complete, multitudes of chemicals are wrung out of it. 1.7% of every barrel ends up as a fairly inert form of tar which is referred to as “Asphalt or Road Oil.” Asphalt actually occurs naturally, and when it bubbled up out of the ground in historical settings, it was referred to as “pitch.”

Pitch was used for waterproofing the wooden joins on ships, inside buildings – anywhere you’d need a waterproof seal. It was also used as an incendiary for flaming arrows, and for boiling people you’d want to teach a lesson to. The British, and geologists, refer to naturally occurring Asphalt as “bitumen.” There’s natural lakes of the stuff to be found, notably in Trindidad/Tobago and it’s the tar you’ll find in the LaBrea Tar pits over on the left coast in Los Angeles.

The English were paving with Asphalt as early as the 1830’s, and in 1837 a fellow named Richard Tappin Claridge was granted a patent on a formulation for asphalt paving. Claridge’s company survived until the First World War, when it had just entered into a new venture to manufacture “Asphalted Macadam.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In New York City, modern day roads (with the exceptions of historic “Belgian Block” pavement, or the rare brick surface like Stockholm Street in Ridgewood) are paved with asphalted concrete. It’s a layer cake, according to the NYC DOT. There’s a base layer of gravel, which is covered by cement or concrete (which is sometimes reinforced with structural steel, depends of where it is and what the substrate is) which is armored by a top layer of asphalted concrete. Luckily, the roads in Queens are crappy, and on a recently replaced section of Northern Blvd. in Long Island City – you can see two of the layers surrounding a collapsing sewer drain.

It’s actually quite a thin crust, when you get down to it. This PDF at NYC.gov offers the “Materials” chapter of the DOT’s street design manual, and it covers the various approved road surfaces (sidewalks too) which you are encouraged to use in the City of Greater New York. It will tell you that, amongst other things, asphalted concrete is the most highly recycled substance in our municipality.

There is a “Green Asphalt” plant found in Blissville, at my beloved Newtown Creek, which is one of many facilities around the City which perform this sort of service. It seems that there is an economic, and practical, reason for placing these facilities within the City itself. Your “mix” needs to be within a certain distance of where you’re going to be laying it down, otherwise it begins to solidify and degrade in transit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Closer to home – my home at least – on Broadway in Astoria, a “trencher” was observed cutting its way through the street. You can see the layer cake of concrete and asphalt, and in the post which originally described the device – this one – your humble narrator reported that several largish chunks of timber were being brought to the surface along with the concrete and asphalt.

Broadway, in this section, is quite a complicated structure. The IND tracks of the R train are found at what’s probably 20-30 feet under the surface, which were constructing using the “cut and cover” method. There’s all kind of other stuff snaking around – sewers, utility tunnels, rat middens, etc. That means that the street is actually the uppermost section of a larger structure, meaning that if you fell down in the crosswalk – you’ve actually just landed on the roof of a building. As I mentioned above, how normal people think is a bit of a mystery to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to officialdom, 99% of Asphalt is recycled, and that 95% of the roads in the United States are paved with it. Asphalt pavement is rated according to the weather extremes it can withstand, and there are certain formulations designed for different climates. A different mix of tar and concrete is used for roads in Buffalo than those in NYC, for instance, due to climatological factors.

Engineers I’ve checked in with like the stuff – describing it as “easy to work with, and easy to repair.” It seems that a fresh laid bed of asphalted concrete is structurally a single unit – until something goes wrong under the surface or utility access requirements and repairs forces laborers to start cutting holes in it. That’s when the surface starts to flow, and pull, and crack. NYC is basically always working on one street or another – grinding, paving, laying new foundations. Given that a lot of the City sits on former wetlands, it’s a task best described as Sisyphean.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So – back to the industrial waste part of things – according to a buddy who works as an Enviro-Cop, asphalt is actually a fairly benign substance as far as petroleum goes. Unlike other derivates, it’s environmentally stable once it has set. The recycling industry uses high levels of heat to release the bitumen from the concrete matrix, which allows it to be mixed in with a fresh batch of concrete and applied to a street. There’s all sorts of things which have, and still, get mixed into asphalted concrete. Although NYC claims its has never used the stuff on its roads, some have experimented with mixing in asbestos fibers, and or coal tar. Plastics collected by the recycling industry are often shredded and mixed in with the tar and concrete, as is glass. For a while, automotive tires were considered a good candidate for inclusion in the mix, but the cost of shredding steel belted rubber was too high. Routinely, fly ash from industrial furnaces is mixed in, along with all sorts of other stuff which would otherwise just fill up an ever shrinking square footage of municipal landfills and dumps. By the ton, the singularly largest part of the flow of NYC’s garbage involves the disposition of road construction waste. The fumes emitting from hot and freshly laid asphalt carry some risk, cancer wise, but the injuries most often associated with the material in its malleable form are laborers getting burned while working with it.

Regardless, it’s another one of the many byproducts produced by the petroleum industry. Remember, asphalt – which is found on nearly all of NYC’s 6,074 miles of roads and on 95% of the roads in the United States represents 1.7% of every barrel of crude oil sent to the refinery.

About half of that barrel will become gasoline. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information: “In 2014, the United States consumed a total of 6.97 billion barrels of petroleum products, an average of about 19.11 million barrels per day. This total includes about 0.34 billion barrels of biofuels”.

Of course this beggars the question, a paradox actually, which asks: if 99% of asphalt is recycled, where’s all the freshly manufactured stuff going? 1.7% of 6.97 billion barrels of oil would suggest that the U.S.A. produces 118,490,000 barrels of fresh Asphalt (or road oil) per year.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

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