The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

certain amount

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Holiday traditions, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday, like every other history geek in Queens, I found myself at Queens Plaza waiting for the MTA’s annual “Holiday Nostalgia Trains” event to start. I missed the first roll through, as I was up fairly late the night before, but got there in time for the second showing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Nostalgia Trains are late model subway cars maintained by the transit museum that are still quite functional. They make a round trip from Queens Plaza to the City’s Second Avenue stop on what’s normally the “F” line.

As an aside, my railfan pals can cogently argue that the subway cars which the modern day F is using could qualify as museum pieces, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the Nostalgia Trains run several models of car which would be familiar to New Yorkers of the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s and so on. Some of these units were online as late as the 1970’s, I’m told. Back in the day (as late as the 1980’s), as it were, the L or Canarsie line had incredibly low ridership by modern standards, so MTA used some of these antiques to service it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One missed last year’s Nostalgia Trains, for a variety of reasons, but after the long holiday weekend – Our Lady of the Pentacle suggested that I get out of the house for a while. I ran into a number of people I know onboard, and met a few new people – including a Subway Historian named Andrew J. Sparburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MTA is going to be running the Nostalgia Trains every Sunday during December, and the link below offers a bit of nitty gritty about the eight historic examples of their rolling stock, and a schedule of when and where you can board and ride.

from mta.info

Seven of the cars on the “Shoppers Special” are nearly identical except one: No. 1575, which appears much more modern than the rest of the consist. No. 1575 is the prototype for the subway car class that followed the R1/9, with amenities such as fluorescent lights and smaller ceiling fans. Customers can visit the train year-round at the Transit Museum, though it sometimes makes guest appearances for special occasions such as anniversaries and the holidays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does wish that MTA had preserved just one of these historic units in the actual distopian condition which distinguished the NYC Subways during the “bad old days.” Graffiti, mess, etc. It would be great if they hired a professional junkie to pass out on the rattan seats as well. Spray some piss scented air freshener around, hire a couple of thugs to menace the crowds, etc. Poop on the windows… y’know – New Yawk, Fun City.

The problem with museum pieces is often the loving restoration, which belies what their true operational ambience was.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I was rather happy that all of the shooting which I’ve been doing in the Subways over the last couple of years seems to have finally paid off. Practice, practice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The nostalgia trains carried us from Queens Plaza to Manhattan, where a short interval was suffered and the reverse trip was begun. I spent much of the first half of the journey catching up with friends and acquaintances, then got busy on the return to Queens Plaza.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you’re planning on attending and photographing the trains, I’d recommend bringing along a bright lens (f2.8 or better) and shooting at a fairly high ISO speed. Modern subways are quite a bit better lit than these survivors.

The shot above, if you’re curious – was captured at f3.5, ISO 4000, and a shutter speed of 1/250th. It’s also pretty important, when shooting in the “system,” to adjust your color temperature settings. If you’re on AWB or “auto white balance,” you’re going to be losing a whole lot of the image to an orange cast which will increase image noise. I shoot in raw format, and therefore always adjust the color temperature of the shot during the development process, but these were captured under the menu settings for tungsten light and later adjusted to 3750K.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thanking the merciful creator that I didn’t have to spend much time in Manhattan, the Nostalgia trains soon reentered Queens Plaza, where riders were commanded to debark by the MTA personell. It seems they didn’t want us to see the turnaround track, for some reason.

Funny thing is, the crowd who was in attendance at this event seemed to be at least 50% railfan. Railfans will tell you the kind – and exact model – of the screws used to hold the track in place, when it was installed, and where the rails were forged.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train disappeared into the east bound tunnel, whereupon it executed a reversal along the occluded turnaround track, and then picked up another load of lookie loos for the journey back to Second Avenue.

The Nostalgia trains are running every Sunday until the end of the year.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 2, 2016 at 11:30 am

dark and shapely

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Kosciuszko, Kosciuszko, men have named you…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over Thankgiving weekend, a visit was paid to the hazy borderlands of West Maspeth and Blissville. My goal was to check in on and shoot some photos on the progress the NYS DOT is making on Phase One of the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project. Phase One involves the creation of half of the new span, the rerouting of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and the demolition of the 1939 era Kosciuszko Bridge, which overflies the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Finally, here’s one from August of 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The roadway now extends out over the water and is firmly shadowing the concrete devastations of Queens, nearly crossing the LIRR Lower Montauk tracks. The BQE Onramp also seems to be coming along, and I suspect that the DOT’s contractors will be joining the bridge span to the Queens side approaches pretty soon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the BQE Onramp, there it is. In the foreground is one of the structural steel sections which will be joined to the span and support the road surface. Not pictured are the “panels” of the road surface, which arrived a couple of days later and which were noticed during a subsequent and unrelated visit to the area.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the shot above, you can see how the sections are attached. This is a cable stay bridge, of course. The roadway above will carry four lanes of two way traffic, but it’s just half of the new bridge. When the western half of the project is complete, there will be four lanes in each direction, and there’s also going to be a bicycle and pedestrian path.

That’s awesome. Cannot wait to shoot from up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new bridge, as I’ve been mentioning for several years at this point, is going to be quite a bit lower than the 1939 model. That’s going to bring noise issues to Maspeth and Blissville, I fear, but let’s see what DOT has planned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYS DOT is currently wondering what to do with the areas on both sides of the Creek which these columns rise from. There’s talk of public space and treating the two spots in the manner of a park or playground.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Further back in Queens, to the north actually, the approaches to the new bridge seem to be ready for business. I haven’t managed to get up there yet, but cross your fingers, maybe I can talk the DOT folks into a walk through soon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given the fantastic sort of luck for which I’m distinguished, just as I started back for home (cutting through Calvary Cemetery) the misty murk occluding the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself began to break up, allowing the sky to turn blue and light to suffuse. I turned around and grabbed one last shot, while cursing.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

preliminary session

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Sometimes, you have to let the crazy out and let it play.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One’s life experience displays a certain dichotomy which is often hard to reconcile. For the first two thirds of my time on this planet, if someone spotted me lurking around their periphery they’d begin to batten down the hatches. Ladies would grasp at their purse, gentlemen would assume a proactively aggressive posture, and Policemen would eye me suspiciously. One has never understood this, as I’ve always been what law enforcement personnel would describe as “harmless.” By and large, however, I’ve always been reviled and rejected.

It’s always been an issue for me to remain curiously upright, since any accusation about a humble narrator is easy to believe. “Hey, I just saw Mitch running up and down Houston street wearing a clown suit and screaming about invading aliens. He also had a goat with him.” Most people would just say “yeah, I could see that.”

For the last third of my life, there’s been people who seem to actually want me to hang around them, occasionally. It’s weird, because I’m the same sort of objectionable fellow that I’ve always been. Maybe I’ve just figured out how to sugar coat it, or put some lipstick on this pig, or maybe I’m just getting old and they’re humoring me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The weird part of the particular stage of life I’m in – I’ll be turning fifty (hopefully) in 2017 – is the physical transition which I can’t see but which is quite visible to everybody else. My beard used to be dark brown, for instance, and my eyes are looking out of a face which doesn’t chime in with what I think I look like. Also, I make a noise when settling into a chair now, a pained exhortation which sounds like “uhhhhhnnnnnnk” that is coupled with a staccato popping of the ligaments as they stretch along decaying joints with their cartilage deficits.

If I was a late model car, the mechanic would probably tell me that with a regular maintenance schedule, there’d probably be 15-20 thousand miles left before the junk yard beckoned. Saying that, my shocks and struts are shot, and I regularly fail on my emissions tests. I routinely describe my aches and pains as due to the presence of a “pain squirrel” which spends its time running from branch to branch over the course of the day. Today, the squirrel is on the left foot, tomorrow the right arm.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, I’ve been accused of being a lot of things, including being “an environmentalist,” a “shill for the real estate guys,” and a “historical preservationist.” The latter bit is an assumption on the part of certain of my friends and colleagues. What I’m actually about – and everything I’ve been doing here at your Newtown Pentacle over the last seven years – is documenting the transformation of the ancient neighborhoods of Western Queens and North Brooklyn which surround the Newtown Creek as they transition from post industrial to residential. My researches into the subjects have revealed a paucity of the last age of transformation around the Creek, which occurred roughly a century ago. My plan is to leave behind some sort of record of what was here, before it’s all replaced by luxury condos. Hopefully, some future history kid will be able to make something out of it all.

I wish I got started sooner than I did, but kay sera sera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the midst of all of this man-o-pausal angst, my wanderings have begun to carry me to places whose pavement I haven’t darkened in several dozen months. My experiential desires at the moment are for the desolate, the wind blown, the discarded. Especially, I want to be alone while I’m walking the earth, for an interval.

Other people suck. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, there is no shortage of lonely locations in the concrete devastation, and it is filthy black raincoat weather again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Queens is talking to me, can’t you hear her too?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

engulfed in

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Stealing the Sky, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one was headed for Queens Plaza and accordingly marched down Jackson Avenue. The startling rapidity of construction going on in the area claws at my sanity, as in nearly half a century spent in NYC, I’ve never met anyone who said “Man, I really want to live in Queens Plaza.” Queens Plaza? Really?

The shot above is from about a week ago, specifically the morning of the 19th of November in 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from June of 2015, and represents approximately the same point of view as the one above – although I was a little further west on Jackson Avenue than I was in the 2016 shot, and the N train is crossing the POV. LIC is one of the few spots in NYC these days where you can produce a “now and then” shot that only covers a 17 month interval.

Woof!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The two furthest buildings are going up on the site of the former West Chemical factory, which is classified as a NYS Brownfield Opportunity Area – meaning there’s a bunch of “yuck” in the ground left over from the age of industry. According to various sources, this construction you’re looking at – in Queens Plaza – will bring something like 1,800 apartments online in the next couple of years, and represents more than a million square feet of development. That’s a lot of toilets flushing into the decrepit Bowery Bay sewer plant, which overflows into Newtown Creek.

Stealing the sky, indeed.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 29, 2016 at 11:00 am

disturbing to

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Macro fun, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When it’s dark, cold, and rainy outside (a trifecta!) – a humble narrator finds himself stuck indoors. Rather than do something useful, my inclination is to set up a little “stage” on a counter in the kitchen and deploy a tripod. This time around, the stage was a piece of glass that I’d harvested a while back from a dead scanner. A quick trip to the school supplies section of my local drug store resulted in the purchase of a set of kid’s tempera paints, which were applied to the impermeable glass in distinctly separated spots. Water was introduced into the lapses of the various pigments, which caused them to bleed into each other. While the “decay” was under way, a camera was mounted onto the tripod, and placed less than a quarter of an inch from the surface of the swirling colors.

The hard part was lighting it, as there was a quite narrow window into which the light could be aimed and diffused. Additionally, handling the reflections inherent in a “wet media” subject was a bit of a challenge. Can’t begin to tell you how many times I was able to see an exact mirror image of my camera in them before I figured out the right angle to set the tripod head and lights at.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The stage remained on the counter for a couple of days, and I did multiple “set ups” with different piles of and colors of the kid paint. It was paramount to me not to use any sort of “professional” grade paint in these experiments – gouache or proper watercolors, for instance – so the 12 pack of school supply paint was exploited and utilized. I had to break it all down on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving so that Our Lady and I could cook the holiday meal, of course.

The “stage” itself is a jury rigged affair. The aforementioned scanner glass was sitting on top of a sheet of black paper, and was backed up by several other sheets of the black paper held together with gaff tape, soda straws, and pieces of a wire hanger. As mentioned, controlling the reflections in the wet pigment was a real pain the neck.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today’s post carries three of my more successful shots from this series, and I plan on doing more of them as the winter months play out.

Tomorrow, we get back to business.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Astoria

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strong nerved

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LIC cat, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m taking a short break this week, and offering single images of the Internet’s favorite critter. These are all ferals, encountered in the nooks and crannies of NYC which I wander through. Have a great Thanksgiving.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 25, 2016 at 11:00 am

remain indoors

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Astoria cat, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m taking a short break this week, and offering single images of the Internet’s favorite critter. These are all ferals, encountered in the nooks and crannies of NYC which I wander through. Have a great Thanksgiving.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 24, 2016 at 11:00 am

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