The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Fort Pitt Bridge, part 1

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A man has to have a code, I opine. One of the many points in my personal credo involves getting out every other day to point the camera at things and walk around. Back in NYC, when a spell of ugly weather was being described by the meteorological enthusiasts, I’d often say to Our Lady of the Pentacle that “I’m going to go ride the trains” and I’d take off for the 7 line, and spend a few hours hopping on and off of the train getting shots of NYC’s most photogenic subway. Not an option, now, of course.

Amongst the many other bits of wisdom my code offers is “it’s better to regret something you’ve done than something you didn’t do” and that “if you regret something you’ve done, you can’t take it back or apologize to the party you’ve wounded so don’t feel guilty, just don’t do that thing again.” Also – “stop fucking up.” I do realize how sociopathic that sounds, but it’s true.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Nothing matters and nobody cares” was added into the code during the COVID period. “Don’t skimp on shoes, hats, or eyeglasses” is another bit of sage wisdom I can offer. One of my big revelations from the last year involves a concept I call “the conservation of energy.”

Expending energy into fixing a closed system is a waste of effort. You could put all the effort into it you want, but if a closed system is designed to fail, expanding the system with an input of energy isn’t going to change that. Sometimes it’s just best to do or say nothing at all. One of my “things” these days is to listen to people arguing about some hot button political topic of the day and then announce “I’ve got an opinion about that,” whereupon I leave the room without sharing it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Fort Pitt bridge in Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is quite material and doesn’t require a personal code of conduct other than not vandalizing or jumping off of it. The bridge dates back to 1959, and connects downtown Pittsburgh to its southern surroundings via Interstate 376 which is carried on its two decks. The pedestrian walkway is attached to the lower deck, overlooking the confluence of the three rivers. Interstate 376 traffic moves to and from the Fort Pitt Tunnel (opened in 1960) which is punched through the base of Mount Washington. A notable destination on the other side of the tunnel for some of this traffic flow is the Pittsburgh International Airport. This is the third bridge to span the Monongahela River in this spot, and the first one was erected in 1877. According to 2018’s official numbers, the bridge handles about 150,000 vehicle trips a day.

Since I’ve been living here in Pittsburgh, walking over this one has been on my to-do list.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you can see, zero effort was made to clear the walkway of snow and ice by its stewards, and the footing was quite treacherous. Couple that with waist high fencing along the drop to your death side of the path, and I made it a point of sticking close to the girders that support this double decked steel bowstring arch bridge should a handhold be required.

My plan for the day, which was mentioned in yesterday’s post, was to leave the car back at home and use the T light rail to get to and from HQ. After crossing the bridge, I’d head towards another stop on the T that’s less than a mile from where the pedestrian walkway would return me to Terra-Pennsylvania.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While you’re walking along the path, just over your shoulder is an interstate carrying hurtling vehicles. As I’ve mentioned in the past, driving here is very, very different than it is back in NYC. I’ve got a practiced advantage when it comes to merging lanes, parallel parking, and a general obeisance to traffic law. Pennsylvania drivers seem to believe that the speed limit is a mere suggestion, or perhaps a starting point. I’ve driven this path before, and had people shoot past me at 70 while trying to handle a three lane merge within a few hundred feet. Brrrr.

Another one of my sage bits of wisdom is “you’ll get there when you get there, what’s the rush.” I should mention that I’m not at all naturally wise, instead there isn’t a mistake you can make that I haven’t already made. Remember rule number 4 – “stop fucking up.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This particular section of the walkway, leading down and away from the bridge towards the Duquesne Incline, was a positive skating rink. Hard packed ice with a layer of dry powder snow sitting loosely atop it. Luckily, I’m used to dealing with uneven, unmaintained, or challenging terrain.

More tomorrow at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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February 7, 2023 at 11:00 am

Shiver, me timbers

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is a typical street in the part of Pittsburgh that HQ is now located in, in the section dubbed as “Dormont.” After a week long interval of wintry weather, a day long break without freezing rain or snow occurred and despite the temperature being in the 20’s – a humble narrator needed to get out and take himself a nice long walk. I left the snow covered car parked in the driveway at HQ, and used the T light rail to get from Dormont to Downtown Pittsburgh, which is called “Dahntahn” by the born -N- bred types. There is, I should mention, a fascinating regional accent here in Pittsburgh.

The T costs $2.75 to ride into downtown from Dormont. It’s about a 20 minute ride, and after running on regular streets alongside vehicular traffic for a bit, the light rail moves first onto an exclusive to its use steel bridge, and then it shares a closed roadway with several bus lines. I’m still trying to figure all this out, as a note.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Infrastructure, infrastructure. At the left hand side of the photo above, shot through the window of the T while it was traveling on the elevated trackway mentioned above, is the entrance to the Liberty Tunnel which carries automotive traffic from the South Hills under Mount Washington and to the Liberty Bridge over the Monongahela River. The tunnel is fed by a series of primary and secondary arterial roadways which are in turn supplied with traffic by the local streets, as well as providing interchanges with high speed roads which are classified as local, State, and Interstate. Pittsburgh sits at one of those points in the interstate system where several major roads cross or combine.

The T carried me into Downtown Pittsburgh, and I disembarked the service at the Gateway Center stop. I was desirous to scout a bit in the business and governmental center of the City, on foot. There is an abundance of interesting “robber baron” era architecture found in Pittsburgh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Navigating the streets of Pittsburgh is something I’m getting better at. It’s confusing for this transplanted New Yorker, as they didn’t lay this place out using a grid system. The streets are often long helixes or curvilinear, traveling around the footprint of long gone factory and mill complexes, or railroads which are no longer there.

The shot above looks towards the ice and snow covered Mount Washington, on the other side of the Monongahela River, and the Duquesne Incline.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My goal for the day, and of course it was only about 20 degrees out, was to scuttle over the Fort Pitt Bridge’s pedestrian walkway. One has a stunning admission to offer here – I wasn’t wearing the filthy black raincoat, or as I refer to it “the street cassock,” on this walk. It’s just not warm enough, the raincoat, and one has been forced to buy an actual winter coat. I purchased a brand which I’ve noticed most of the Pittsburgh blokes favor, a Carhartt, at one of the local sporting goods stores. It’s toasty warm, a bit too warm for certain situations actually, and one was wrapped up tight. I had the whole winter layers outfit on underneath the coat, with long johns and winter boots and everything.

Don’t worry, the new coat is black in coloration. I haven’t gone native.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a ramp at Point State Park which allows egress to the pedestrian walkway of the Fort Pitt Bridge, so one maneuvered himself in that direction. There’s a bunch of early American history at work within the whole Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne thing, which involves George Washington and the French and Indian War.

As far as the atmosphere goes, it was overcast, which is somewhat typical for Pittsburgh – the 5th cloudiest City in these United States. Once I was scuttling along at a good pace, the temperature wasn’t too hard to handle, and I wasn’t even wearing gloves at this point. Wearing gloves when you’re all bundled up isn’t always the best idea, since your body needs to vent heat from somewhere and you don’t want to start getting sweaty under all those layers.

As mentioned above – it’s a pretty warm coat, the Carhartt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found the walkway path right where the internet said it would be. It wasn’t a trick.

Tomorrow, a walk over the Fort Pitt Bridge.


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February 6, 2023 at 11:00 am

Etna my heart out

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A last stop on my Allegheny River wanderings – after having visited Lock and Dam 2, Highland Park Reservoir, and Sharpsburg – was in Etna. Named for the Italian volcano, Etna was a steel town until 1953. My interest in the place was piqued by the promise of a waterfront trail with an attached parking lot. It took me a minute to find the parking lot, but after doing so, I left the Mobile Oppression Platform behind and headed for the water.

Check me out, a troll who can always be found under a bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the 62nd street, or Senator Robert D. Fleming Bridge, pictured above. It’s a 1962 vintage truss bridge which connects south side’s Morningside and Lawrenceville to north side’s Sharpsburg and Etna. It overflies a set of railroad tracks and the entrance to the waterfront public space is found right alongside of it.

One was really hoping for a train to roll by. These tracks are Norfolk Southern ones, same line as those carried by the decaying rail trestle mentioned yesterday. Denied, however, on the locomotive front.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bridge is a bit over 1,000 feet long, I’m told. I won’t be offering any shots of the trail itself today, since that’s not what I came to Etna to do. Honestly, I had been running around all day at this point, and Etna had already been decided on as my last stop before heading back to HQ.

As is the case with most of the public spaces I’ve visited in the area, there was a Porta Potty set up for public usage. Imagine that? An acknowledgement of human biology.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m definitely going to come back here sometime, and bring a folding chair. This will be a great spot for a railroad photo, something which I haven’t even gotten started on yet. As mentioned, nearly everything I’ve done behind the camera since getting to Pittsburgh in mid December has been basic scouting. Learning the lay of the land, and all that. Where’s what, why is it there, how did it get built, and when. That sort of thing.

Ignorance really is bliss, incidentally. Back in NYC, when I looked at street signage that carried somebody’s name, I could often picture the face of the actual personage (photos, yes, but also paintings and etchings) that the City named the street for. Farragut Avenue, anyone? How about The Bronx?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As always, my odd appreciation of the elegant curves and supremely utilitarian nature of freeway on and off ramp architecture was particularly piqued here. As mentioned endlessly – scouting. That shot above? It’s a morning thing, and now on my list for a day when I went out before dawn for a sunrise and will need something to shoot during the breakfast part of the day. I’m planning to zoom in a bunch, towards the area nearby the do not enter sign, and frame the ramps up with the brightness of the morning sun lighting up the hill behind it. Should be sweet.

That’s the problem with the remote scout stuff, using Google maps and whole other bag of tricks, you don’t know what it looks like – really. Sometimes you get there and decide it’s best not to get out of the car. That’s the other thing which digital research can’t tell you – vibe. Instinct is something which is honed, and especially so after all those years walking around Brooklyn and Queens’ “picturesque” areas – Newtown Creek, LIC, the Happy Place, Skelson’s Office on Staten Island, industrial Greenpoint and Bushwick, Sunset Park and Red Hook, the Gowanus, several random but picturesque docks and abandoned railways, all those bridges, etc.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On my way out of Etna, I spotted this absolute unit of a Roman Catholic Church. It’s the 1856 vintage St. Mary – Christ the King Parish church, I’m told. Wow.

That’s it for this week, from Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh.


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February 3, 2023 at 11:00 am

Scouting in Sharpsburg

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back to the Allegheny River, and my desire to get some photos of the United States Army Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam 2, after diverting away to check out the Highland Park Reservoir. Remote scouting using Google Maps had suggested several locations which might provide a point of view, and an attempt was made to visit them all.

That’s the Highland Park Bridge’s interchange ramp structure, as seen from below, on the south side of the Allegheny River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An ice cream shop, closed for the season, had a parking lot set on a prominence which overlooked the river. The shop actually had one of those tourist binoculars things that you pay a quarter to look through set up in the parking lot, along with picnic benches. It was “customers only” but since they were closed and I couldn’t purchase a vanilla cone, photos were gathered instead. That’s the Highland Park bridge again, and the dark shape in the river is the USACE dam.

Simple concrete based modifications to the natural flow of water has long been a potential remedy for Newtown Creek, back in NYC, that I’ve supported. Flow is Newtown’s problem, ultimately. Cheap and simple alterations like fish ladders and fixed crest dams are the way to encourage the laminar movement of water through the system. The City and all the other powers that be favor pumps and other mechanical contrivance instead. If you’ve got to plug it in, you’ve already lost, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the river, in the north shore community of Sharpsburg, one had spotted a marina of sorts which sat on the river side of a railroad trestle. Said trestle is more or less at the center of the shot above. The island at the left side is called Six Mile Island, which I understand as being a nature preserve overseen by the USACE.

One packed up the gear and hopped into the Mobile Oppression Platform (my nickname for the Toyota RAV4), whereupon a quick crossing of the river on the Highland Park Bridge was executed. I soon found myself staring down a series of weathered “No Trespassing” signs at what seems to be a defunct or at least closed for the season boat launch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I could probably spend an hour or two just photographing the trestle found there, to be honest. Nitre cloaked, moldy, mossy, dripping… There was a dirt road one could have easily accessed with the MOP (all wheel drive, me) but the fence posts had “posted” signage. It probably would have been a “nothing burger” heading back there, but as is often mentioned – I’m like a vampire, inasmuch as I need to be invited in to do my work. What would Superman do? Answer – the Man of Steel doesn’t knowingly trespass even if he, unlike me, is bulletproof.

People are extremely well armed out here in Western Pennsylvania. There are gun shops in shopping malls, and as the saying goes – if you fuck around, you’ll find out. I intend not to fuck around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The trestle carries railroad tracks above it, ones which the Norfolk Southern railroad outfit travel on. Beneath the tracks, it’s a dripping mess, and exactly the sort of post industrial sight that draws somebody like me directly in. As I was completely alone while driving through the thing to get back onto an actual paved road that goes somewhere, I opened the moon roof on the MOP and shot a few exposures on my way out through the roof of the car.

Monday’s post described the recent climate in Pittsburgh, with bands of rain and snow moving through the area, that have been inimical to my pursuits.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thereby, given that this particular day out was likely the only opportunity I would have – another system of winter storms was in the forecast – for a few days, I decided to make the most of it and scout out another potential “POV” spot in another community nestled up against the Allegheny. You’ll see that one tomorrow.

More scouting from Pittsburgh and its riverfronts, at your Newtown Pentacle, in Friday’s installment.


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February 2, 2023 at 11:00 am

Highland Park Resovoir

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the 117 million gallon ‘Reservoir One’ pictured above, at Pittsburgh’s Highland Park. The region’s water and sewer people style themselves as pgH20, and they’re the Pittsburgh equivalent of NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection – or DEP – whom long time readers have endured multitudinous descriptions delineating both the infamy and charm of that organization here at Newtown Pentacle.

For you New Yorkers – the DEP is annually budgeted at $1.6 billion, and is committed to spend some $24.3 billion on capital improvements to their system on top of that, just in the next decade. Pay attention to this “black box,” somebody.

The reservoir, here in a suburb of Pittsburgh, is surrounded first by a walkway and then by a large park which also incorporates the city zoo and aquarium. The enveloping neighborhood is, I’m told, also called Highland Park and boy oh boy is this a pretty town, with gorgeous housing stock surrounding the park. This is literally just up the hill from the location on the Allegheny River which started up yesterday’s post about Lock and Dam 2. Of course, when I say “just up the hill” in Pittsburgh, we’re talking Mayan pyramid up. The reservoir is at an elevation of 1,030 feet above sea level, and the lock and dam I visited was at an elevation of 721 feet, so that would be about 25-30 building stories differentially.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were all sorts of humans milling about, in their impermanence, so to remove any sign of life from these shots I set myself up for long exposures and got all artsy fartsy. That’s how you get those long mirror surface reflections, with long exposures of at least 20-30 seconds. Also, unless one of the humans stands stock still like a statue they disappear.

As opined yesterday, one remote scouts using Google maps’ satellite views to look for interesting things and locales which might be within reach of a humble narrator. In this case, it was a “what the hell is that” followed by “hey, there’s a parking lot.” Now that I’m a car guy, having a safe and legal spot to park the Mobile Oppression Platform has become part of my deal. Luckily, Pittsburgh doesn’t pretend that bike lanes can fix the universe nor do they opine that cars are the reason that housing is unaffordable. Instead, there’s places to park your car which adjoin safe and maintained trails for recreation and exercise.

Distributed load multi modal transportation network is the term you’re looking for. So’s acknowledging that people have kids, or mobility issues, and that public infrastructure like parks HAS GOT TO BE ACCESSIBLE BY PEOPLE WHO AREN’T NECESSARILY ABLE TO WALK OR RIDE A BIKE. You need to have places to bring and park vehicles. There is no one size fits all answer to anything when you’re discussing access to a public place.

Sorry, still scarred from being the Transportation Chair of a Community Board in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spent about a half hour at the reservoir, pulling shots from various angles. The locals were wandering about on bikes and on foot, and I even spotted a couple of other blokes tugging their cameras about, but they were preparing to do some sort of portrait shoot with a video component from the look of their gear. We chatted briefly, Sony shooters.

A humble narrator has long used little strips of gaff tape to cover up the bright white Canon logos on my camera, ever since I had to retouch the reflection out of the eyes of somebody I was taking a picture of. Also, the evil people are clever, and also have google on their phones and can thereby figure out what your gear is worth and if you’re worth robbing. Why not camouflage that Canon or Nikon logo?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were several signs forbidding certain things on the walkway – litter, smoking, dogs – all of which were prosaic cautions given this reservoir is full of what’s going to be used as drinking water. Where HQ is found in Dormont, the water system has been privatized and is controlled by a corporate entity called “American Water” which is apparently a fairly large corporation that I never heard of before moving here.

Pennsylvania politics flips hard “Red” or hard “Blue” during the various election cycles. Currently it’s in a blue phase. The reds ok’d fracking and a bunch of other ugly stuff, whereas the blues… man… this sort of thing really sounds like the last days of the Roman republic doesn’t it? If memory serves, for them it was Blues and Greens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, I’ve managed to avoid having just about any political conversation at all so far. Let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time until I blunder into some sort of situation where I find myself in a “political room” but I really want to stay the hell out of all that until I have to. I’ve had enough of that for a while. You should see the look on the Pennsylvanian’s faces when I mention that my Congress member used to be AOC, back in Astoria.

At any rate… Highland Park in Pittsburgh…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On my way back to the MOP, I cracked out this shot of the Highland Park’s formal entrance with its columnar accoutrements.

In yesterday’s post about Lock and Dam 2, I mentioned that a diversion of about an hour occurred in between my circling of the river infrastructure. Highland Park reservoir was where that diversion occurred.

Tomorrow, more from the corridors of the Allegheny River.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 1, 2023 at 11:00 am

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