The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for August 8th, 2011

sinister exultation

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a mid summer day in the city, July 24th to be exact, and the kind of weather which feels like one has been wrapped in hot barber shop towels was upon us. Occluded by a humid and occasionally precipitating mist, the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself was absent from the scene, but its influence was seen and felt by everyone here in this old section of Long Island City once known as the Degnon Terminal.

While marching down Skillman Avenue, your humble narrator could not help but notice a not so minor conflagration at the nearby Hunters Point rail station.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that an Amtrak engine, part of a problematic series of units employed by the rail conglomerate which are known as being given to sudden and unexpected events of immolation (or so my rail fan contacts tell me) had caught fire.

It was no surprise that the only camera on the scene was my own, as there are few in the Greater City who care for Queens and it’s burdens. FDNY (which does care about Queens) was on scene in great numbers, including members of several units which the Manhattan Political Elites had recently attempted to close due to budget issues.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The engine seemed to be suffering from an electrical issue, which was anecdotally confirmed by one of the fire department commanders who was gracious enough to discuss the issue with me. Frustration was evinced by this veteran of New York’s never ending war on combustion that the spot which the engine had halted at was beyond the reach of his hose lines, and that they could only put band aids on the fire using hand held extinguishers.

There were literally dozens of fire team specialists in full tactical gear and several mobile command posts arrayed at strategic spots around the rail yard, but their ambitions were stymied by security fence and distance from hydrants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The commander, a lanky Irishman of solid build whose height easily passed the six foot mark, next informed me that their plan was to bring a second engine in from the nearby Sunnyside Yard complex and hitch it to the back of the train.

This second unit would then tow the burning engine and it’s passenger cars back to the titan Sunnyside Yard where both equipment and resources to combat the blaze would be available and abundant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the last few years, of course, your humble narrator has discovered or happened across every possible vantage point large enough to stick a camera lens through around the fenced off and often carefully obscured rail infrastructure which weaves through Western Queens and knowing FDNY’s plan, moved into a more propitious spot to record the event.

One must be careful when photographing trains and trackways, lest one accidentally step onto federal or state property and violate not just homeland security regulations but archaic laws which have persisted since the early days of the iron road, many of which carry mandatory sentences.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The irony of these so called regulations, of course, is that whether it is because of expedience or carelessness, many of the employee entrances to the rail yard are often left ajar and unguarded. Was this to occur in Manhattan, there would undoubtedly be a series of broadcast and print media articles and investigations, followed by political posturing and a spate of sham regulations.

Since this is Queens, where the Borough motto should be “welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself”, nothing will happen and the issue will never be discussed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The smell of burning insulation and plastics mixed freely with the humid air, and a monstrous storm was building in the milky sky. Far off thunder to the south indicated that a storm was coming. Your humble narrator, not too far from home however, persevered and dared the weather to do it’s worst.

Besides, the reason I was on Skillman Avenue in the first place was that I had to meet some guy to talk about a thing down here, and I caught this whole event simply because Queens wanted me to witness her burdens again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps it’s the impending anniversary of the September 11 attacks, or merely the normal late summer ennui which always darkens my mood, but the notion that the FDNY hasn’t got fire hose lines long enough to put out a train fire here- at so critical a spot in the infrastructure of the Megalopolis, and that an ordinary civilian like myself can so easily gain visual and physical access to all this- worries me.

In my travels across the concrete desolations of the river communities of North Brooklyn and Western Queens, there are so many of these unguarded and strategic points which have presented themselves that frankly- I don’t like taking the Train or Ferry anymore. When I point these vulnerabilities out to associates who are employed by government agencies or elected officials, they roll their eyes and tell me not to worry.

Same thing they used to do when I wondered out loud back in the 90’s about whether or not the United States had a system of air defenses protecting the defacto capitol city of North America.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm

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