The Newtown Pentacle

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apparently, the section of Pittsburgh referred to as “the North Side” used to be its own municipal entity until 1907 – dubbed as either the Borough of Allegheny or Allegheny City depending on when you were doing the dubbing. There’s a terrific amount of historic buildings on this side of town, and notably in the 27 acre “Mexican War Streets” historic district. The National Aviary and several other interesting institutions are located nearby. I got to see a very unhappy looking Condor when we walked by.

I had my friend – Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY fame – speaking in my head while I was shooting these. Kevin would go absolutely gaga in this area, I kept on thinking. This sort of heterogenous Victorian and Edwardian era development would very much be his sort of jam.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pittsburgh is climatologically notorious, due to its topography. The three rivers, coupled with the steep valleys and ridges it’s built into, as well as its geographic relationship to the Appalachia Mountain range and the faraway Great Lakes creates a volatile and quite changeable atmosphere hereabouts. Last time I was visiting, it was pouring rain about three miles away from me while I was standing under a blue sky with direct sun. Go figure.

This particular morning, it was drizzling. Occasionally it would start to “proper rain,” but it was mostly drizzle. Our Lady of the Pentacle is British, so she felt right at home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Didn’t really matter to me, as part of my travel kit is an umbrella, and I notoriously wear a filthy black raincoat all the time.

It’s actually a pretty great umbrella, by the way. Bought a $25 folding one that was recommended by NY Times’ Wirecutter people. Lifetime replacement guarantee is offered for the Repel Folding Umbrella, with an automatic open and close switch on the handle, it weighs virtually nothing, and tying it onto my camera bag is a breeze.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle was extremely interested in seeing Randyland. Randy Gilson is a local artist who has… well, here’s the Wikipedia article about Randyland.

I couldn’t help but think about how the NYC political and real estate establishment would go out of their way to eradicate and replace this area in the name of “affordable housing” if it was located in Brooklyn or Queens. The bulldozers would have long ago demolished this area and replaced it with soulless mirror box rhombuses, full of tiny studio apartments, which were cast roughly at the sky. There’d be a sign saying “Randyland used to be here” erected by a nonprofit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Stealing the Sky” is the title of a book I’ll never write about Long Island City and big real estate in the early 21st century. It starts at the Pratt University and NYU urban planning department meetings in the early 1990’s, and ends when the last condo building goes up along Newtown Creek. They’re not even close to being done yet, incidentally, the dynastic real estate companies.

Nothing matters, and nobody cares.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady was satisfied with having witnessed Randyland and the Mexican War Streets historic district on the north side, and we began shlepping back towards the city center. We still had a few hours before the preparation for her trip to the airport to begin, and decided to walk in the rain for a bit. We stopped off for a coffee, then got eyeballed by a group of sketchy guys smoking weed in a bus shelter, and continued on our way. She said to me “they were noticing the camera.” I said “I know, but I’m not worried, I’m from Brooklyn.”

Seriously, when we leave our City and go to other places, it’s like being a tiger walking amongst hamsters. Ich bin ein Brooklyner.

More tomorrow.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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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.

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January 25, 2022 at 11:00 am

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dawning love

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, I thought to gather these shots after eating dinner. Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself had enjoyed a weekend away in Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh and our marquis event meal was at a white table cloth restaurant on the prominence of Mount Washington – a ritzy section which I believe to be called “Duquesne Heights.” Fiendishly expensive, but worth every penny, the restaurant where we ate was set up in a structure perched on what seemed to be the highest point of Mt. Washington. They had floor to ceiling windows, and I’m told the views were epic as I sipped an “Old Fashioned” and shoveled steak into my face hole. I would have noticed them, but I was gazing lovingly at Our Lady. After dinner, I begged indulgence, and Our Lady graciously allowed a few minutes for me to get busy with the camera.

I try not impinge on such evenings with my obsessive need to photograph everything I see… but… just look at that view…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The entire reason we were able to get a table at this particular establishment on short notice was that what seemed like the population of the entire City of Pittsburgh was either within, or focused upon, Heinz Stadium, where the Pittsburgh Steelers were playing that night. This shot was my “money shot” of the day, although despite calling it that I didn’t and haven’t made a dime off the image.

As mentioned in posts last week, our plan for the weekend’s ending was to divide and conquer on our way back to NYC, traveling home using different modes. She was going to be leaving the following afternoon, a Monday, and I was meant to board an early morning Amtrak train on Tuesday morning. My plan, therefore, was to spend Monday night in a bacchanal of photographic pursuit and therefore I was trying to restrain myself while we were still keeping company.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady is long suffering, however, but nevertheless allowed me about a half hour’s time to “do my thing.” This shot looks up the Allegheny River.

I had set up the tripod, and was doing my landscape thing. That means low ISO settings coupled with a narrow lens aperture and hyperfocal lensing. It depends on the lens, ultimately, but what “hyperfocal” means is that anything sitting between a certain distance in the foreground and optical infinity will be in sharp focus. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but there you go – technical jargon. This is why she’s “long suffering,” if you were wondering.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What I was actually doing while getting these shots was planning out what I wanted to do the next night when I didn’t feel any time pressure or was worrying that Our Lady was growing bored or impatient with my pursuits. It was a good plan.

I’ll talk about the way that went “ass over tits” for me later on in the week, but for now… I’m glad I got these when I did.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a weird statue found at this “POV,” depicting whom I believe to be George Washington squatting and staring at a Native American guy who is also staring and squatting. Probably something “French and Indian War” related, given that that’s a significant moment in Pittsburgh’s history. I mentally pronounce “Duquesne” as “Dookesknee” so I’m the wrong guy to guess as to the sculptor’s messaging. I’ll bet the intentions of the sculptor’s meaning and intent was entirely different from the way we see or read this sort of representation today. The smart thing to do for the Native American would have been to slaughter the Europeans as quickly as possible and never allow them any further beachheads, but that’s hindsight.

Anyway, we were stuffed and wanted to head back to the AirBNB we were staying at, so I broke down the rig and went back to hand held night shooting mode with this shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I felt pretty confident about my Monday night plan, after all, and looked forward to “doing my thing.” Vainglory.

We headed back to the room, settled in, and watched a bit of that Beatles documentary on Disney+. I soon lost consciousness, and hallucinated wildly for about seven hours. Upon regaining my composure the next morning, we set out for one last set of Pittsburgh adventures and explorations. More tomorrow.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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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

January 24, 2022 at 11:00 am

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dreaded volume

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is endlessly fascinated by the topography of the City of Pittsburgh. It’s a series of riverine valleys and ridges, and walking a single block can translate into the equivalent vertical ascent of several building stories. One block’s worth of horizontal space can see the two corners separated by a hundred feet of verticality. I grew up in a place called “Flatlands” which is next door to “Flatbush,” so this sort of up and down is weird to me. I always complain about how hilly Maspeth in Queens is, which is a flat plane compared to any given block in Pittsburgh.

These shots are from the prominences of Mount Washington, which seems to be the high ground framing the downtown area. When you’re on Mt. Washington, you’re looking down at the skyscrapers in the downtown area.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Housing stock in this area is packed in pretty densely, but still has a suburban vibe to this Brooklyn kid’s eyes. The streets are somewhat narrow, and apparently parking is a real issue here. There’s a thing people here do called “parking chairs,” where you leave a plastic or folding chair in “your spot” in front of the house to reserve it. Apparently, it’s a fighting offense to move another man’s parking chair.

Wow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things we wanted to experience here was the transit situation, which is actually a pretty impressive implementation for a City of Pittsburgh’s relative size and tax base. It ain’t the Subway, let’s get that straight. The T system is a catenary wire powered light rail which extends a few miles beyond the municipal center, and is designed to interact with a much further reaching network of buses and municipal parking lots. Basically, they don’t want you driving to downtown Pittsburgh so they created a system where you can leave your car somewhere safe and then get back and forth to work. Last mile transit, ultimately.

Within the inner ring of the city, transit is free to ride, but that’s really only a few stops in one direction or another.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We boarded the Blue Line, pictured above, and rode it out to a terminal stop about a half hour away. Density wise – I’d analogize the communities it connected to as being not unlike the central and northern sections of Westchester County along the Metro North line. We didn’t have a car with us, so our observations were limited by what we could reach.

After turning around at the terminal stop, we rode the Blue Line back into the downtown area and then to its alternative terminal on the Allegheny River shoreline nearby Heinz Stadium.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is a sports town, Pittsburgh. The Steelers are the center of the universe, or at least they were on the weekend in early December when we were there. The entire focus of the City was on the game. I met and was joking around with some youngster wearing a gorilla suit and a Steelers jersey while shooting the shot above. This was normal, apparently, and the young fellow offered that the gorilla suit would keep him toasty warm well into the December night.

I should mention that I’m not, and never have been, a sports ball enthusiast of any kind. Couldn’t care less, me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that, I was definitely the exception. This shot is from the T station overlooking Heinz Stadium. Lots of tailgating, a party atmosphere prevailed, and Steelers fans were posing next to the parked automobiles of their players for selfies. Cops were everywhere, but they seemed to be having a good time too.

To each his own, and more from Pittsburgh next week at this – your traveling Newtown Pentacle.


“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

January 21, 2022 at 11:00 am

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tittered shrilly

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few last shots from the Gateway Clipper excursion which Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself enjoyed on a crisp and cool evening in Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh back in early December. That’s the Ft. Pitt Bridge pictured above, spanning the Monongahela River.

As mentioned earlier in the week, one has become rather adept at predicting the somewhat tidal nature of the Covid pandemic. I knew a high tide would be arriving around Christmas and New Year’s. It’s logarithmic mathematics we’re living through, ultimately. Viruses are essentially random number generators, and not unlike genetic slot machines. A single slot machine will pay off rarely, but if you put enough of the mechanisms in one place, there’s a payout occurring somewhere in the room once an hour.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Covid genie is out of the bottle. It’s going to be reclassified as “endemic” pretty soon, which means that the state of emergency will end and we will just have to learn to live (or die) with it. If, like a humble narrator, you find yourself infected with it after you’ve been vaccinated – there’s an uncomfortable couple of days ahead of you. If you’re not vaccinated… that’s where that random number generator side comes in. Is it a jackpot of symptoms, or did you break even?

Pictured above is the skyline of downtown Pittsburgh, as seen from the start of the Ohio River, where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers combine.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I spotted this push boat tug moving barges around while the Gateway Clipper was returning to dock along the Allegheny River.

You can recognize a logarithmic statistic when you see a graph and it looks like a hockey stick – 2×2 is 4×4 is 16×16 and so on. If you see your income taking on the shape of a hockey stick – Mazel Tov, and you should be purchasing bonds and other tax or inflation proof financial instruments to vouchsafe your windfall. If the hockey stick is going down, apply for a second job where you can work nights for a bit of extra income. If you see infection rates in your area “hockey sticking” then this is a pretty lousy time to hang around in bars.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back on land, I spotted the “T” – Pittsburgh’s light rail train – entering a tunnel cut through the base of Mt. Washington. Signage indicated that this tunnel was exclusively for the use of mass transit, which also included buses.

We were heading up to the top of Mt. Washington, where a rented AirBNB apartment was our home base for the weekend. We also planned on getting dinner up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A quick ride on the Monongahela Incline carried us up and over. By the time we reached the top, the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself had slipped away and twilight consumed Pittsburgh.

Now, my plan for this weekend involved doing some night time shooting – using tripod and shutter release and all the usual bells and whistles. Saying that, Our Lady of the Pentacle was going to be flying home a day earlier than I. I wouldn’t be boarding the Amtrak train back to home sweet hell until Monday morning, whereas Our Lady was leaving on Sunday evening. My plan was to spend the alone time shooting, but more on that particular disaster next week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few hand held shots would have to do for now. We were hungry, she was cold, and both of us were a bit tired after having shlepped around as visiting tourists all day. It was time for a beer, and meal, and a good night’s sleep.

More tomorrow at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“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

January 20, 2022 at 11:00 am

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hereditary castle

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself enjoyed an early December visit to Pittsburgh, and we decided to buy tickets for the Gateway Clipper boat tour. If you find yourself in this area, I highly recommend the experience. Pictured above is the Smithfield Street Bridge, designed by Queensboro Bridge designer Gustav Lindenthal.

Also mentioned, since I had taken the same boat tour back in September, this time around I was shooting for details and playing around with a longer zoom lens than the one I normally use.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Reason being is epitomized by the shot above and the two below. I heard a freight train nearing before I saw it, and because the camera was outfitted with “reach,” I was ready.

The boat we were on was pretty crowded. A Pittsburgh Steelers game was scheduled for the next day (these were captured on Saturday) and lots of people were in town for the game. Bars and restaurants were busy, and money was being spent. Given the way NYC’s stadiums are sort of intentionally “separated” from the City surrounding them (except for MSG and Yankee Stadium, I guess) you really don’t see the “local economic multiplier effect” of hosting an NFL franchise in your town in New York City. I mean, the bars are a bit more populated around the garden, yeah, but I don’t see “multi generational family destination travel” and spending as observed in Pittsburgh. Interesting.

We ate dinner at some restaurant up on Mt. Washington that night, where what had to be four generations of a family, all wearing Steelers swag, were seated. They were all staring at their phones and not talking to each other, but that’s another story.

As a note, the burger there was decent. Not great, decent. Restaurants that label themselves as a “Gastropub” are just fancy pants versions of diners with a beer license – who overuse and overstate the value of bacon – and are nothing special except for being 25% more expensive than they should be, if you ask me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s that freight train I heard coming, running through Downtown Pittsburgh, behind a CSX engine. A humble narrator is trying not to go all “historic granularity” right about now, so I’m not going to deep dive into the specifics of this track on the Mt. Washington side of the Monongahela River. I probably could, mind you, but I’m actively resisting the urge to do so. Anything railroad is inherently complicated, and easy to get wrong, thereby requiring serious research and multiple source fact checking. The train was towing minerals (probably coal, based on what it looked like, but what do I know), containers, and tanker cars.

Frankly, I’m not willing to spend the time on researching the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie, or the Monongahela Connecting Railroad… or B&O becoming… or Conrail… no… not doing it… I will… resist… for now.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Freight rail traffic, in my limited observation, is pretty frequent here in Pittsburgh. This is the “leave behind” of the heavy industry that was once based here, obviously. This part of Pennsylvania seems to have deeper economic and cultural connections to western Ohio and northern West Virginia, in terms of its supply chain and “sphere of influence,” than with any of the four mega cities in its larger region (NYC, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia). Pittsburgh also seems to not be a node of the East Coast megalopolis – the urban zone that extends from Boston to Washington D.C. with NYC and western New Jersey at the center. I might be wrong about this, however. As mentioned – limited observation.

That’s very, very interesting to me. Megalopolis wise, I mean.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Gateway Clipper excursion boat turned onto the Allegheny River, just as sunset began to see the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself descending. One thing about this particular weekend away that was revelatory is the fact that the aforementioned solar orb doesn’t actually tuck itself into a cavern in New Jersey, and instead disappears into the ground somewhere west of Pennsylvania, perhaps in Ohio or Illinois. More research is required, obviously.

Ignorance is a wonderful sensation for me, given the “I can see through time” level of experiential knowledge I have for NYC. It’s wonderful seeing things and places which you haven’t learned everything about. As an example – the Empire State Building is clad in ten million bricks, and uses 8 million feet of electrical wiring to govern its elevators. This is the sort of useless knowledge which I can offer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle had become so chilled from the December air by this point that she had taken up station within the cabin of the Gateway Clipper.

I had switched lenses, from the long reach 70-300mm zoom lens to the 24-105mm one. As has been the case with all of my travels in 2021, I was wearing my “full pack.” That’s two camera bags – a knap sack which my tripod and an umbrella were externally strapped onto, and which internally held batteries and memory cards and all sorts of handy gewgaws and camera lenses. A sling/messenger bag was also worn side holster style, so it hung down on my right hip. It’s a pain in the neck to use the knap sack when rapid lens changes are required, or to grab a len cloth or whatever, so I use the sling bag for stuff I anticipate using a lot during a particular adventure. The sling bag is also where I store the two prime lenses I carry everywhere these days – a 35mm f1.8 and an 85mm f2.

More tomorrow at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“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

January 19, 2022 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

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