The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s Australia Day, in the Commonwealth of Australia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m likely the only person in Astoria, Queens who exclaims “Hey, that’s the DEP” when he hears a random series of clinks and metallic groans coming from outside. I’m also likely to be the only person who grabs his camera and gets in on the action. It was the eleventh of January, a Wednesday, when it all started – a brand new Astoria Hullabaloo, and the first one of 2017, too. It was unseasonably warm that day in Astoria, and sunny.

Me? My names Mitch. I’m a shmuck with a camera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Astoria’s Broadway in the shot above, in the 40’s. It’s a shopping strip, with tracks of the NYC Subway’s IND Queens Blvd. line running beneath it. The subway stations hereabouts opened on the 19th of August in 1933, and were paid for (in part) by money sent from the Federal Work Projects Administration during the New Deal. The modern day, as in 21st century, designation for the lines that pass by underneath are the “R” and “M.” In the recent past, the “V” and “G” lines used to service these stations as well.

The tracks have to be a good thirty to forty feet down below the roadway and housed in a cut and cover tunnel. The intervening void between the tracks and the asphalt hosts a heterogenous collection of wires, electrical equipment, concrete vaults, and lots of pipes. The pipes are why the DEP were on scene, but more on that in a moment.

Personally, I had to exit the area to attend a meeting, but later when I got home…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on the corner of Broadway and 45th street, here in Astoria, water was observed bubbling and spurting out of the street. A completely different DEP crew had shown up and they were settling down into the task of digging their way into the asphalt. They had all sorts of lovely equipment with them, which normally makes me jealous. What didn’t make me jealous was the fact that the temperature had dropped and there was now a slow drizzle of rain falling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was also positively ecstatic that a jackhammer was being used just one block from my house, at night, but what are you going to do? Water main breaks have to be addressed.

BTW, whereas I’m actually quite adversarial with the people in the fancy suits that run the DEP (Newtown Creek makes you mean), I’ve got nothing but praise for the “dirty fingernail” folks who do the actual hard work which keeps NYC both wet and dry. Never met a DEP worker I didn’t like, in fact. I’ve met a few Commissioners and other brass who I’d like to feed head first into a pit of zombies, but the workers are generally “A-OK.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Thursday the 12th of January, one had a bit of a busy day. A few errands in the neighborhood were accomplished before I had to go and take a picture of something for someone, and I noticed that several fire hydrants had been fully opened and were discharging into the gutter. This aroused no end of curiousity and amusement on the part of the neighbors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fun part was watching people who had their noses deeply buried in their phones suddenly realize that they had walked into several inches of water running towards the sewer grates.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m surmising here, but what I think was going on was that the DEP crew needed to empty the water in the affected pipe over on 45th street and did so by opening the fire hydrant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Good news is that the streets around here have never been cleaner than they were on the morning of Thursday, January 12th.

When the Department of Sanitation, which I believe was originally styled as the Dept. of Street Cleaning at its creation on May 30,1881 (but didn’t do a very good job of it until Col. Waring took over in 1894), this was actually how they did their thing. Those old school sanitation workers with the brushes and pails that had wheels? Yep, they’d open Manhattan’s hydrants up and use their brooms to move all the trash either towards the sewers or down to the rivers, which were and are essentially the same thing. They started calling it the Department of Sanitation in 1929, if you’re curious.

This is about NYC DEP, though, a municipal agency which was created in 1983 out of multiple City agencies that governed water supply and sewerage, amongst other things.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One sped off to my aforementioned appointment, pointed my camera at the intended target, and then headed back to Astoria later that afternoon. Hoping to see more of the Hullabaloo, one walked up 45th street towards Broadway and found that the DEP crews were still hard at work on solving the case of the Astoria Water Pipe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon arriving at the corner, one discovered that they had dug quite a hole, having brought in lots more labor and some heavy equipment. They had encountered a snag apparently, discovering that whoever had installed the damaged pipe (which could have been anytime between about 1875 and now, actually) had done so in an incorrect fashion.

They had to dig their way into the concrete barrel vault of the sewer in order to repair the leaking water main.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was one heck of a prodigious hole, however, and I complimented the foreman on his crew’s efforts. Funny thing was that he asked me who I was after noticing the camera hanging by my side, and seemed to recognize my name. That was sort of weird.

I asked if I could get a couple of shots of the hole, and he offered no objection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They were all gone the morning of Friday the 13th, the street was patched with fresh asphalt, and garbage was again building up in middens along the curbs – normal, in other words – for Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yet another Hullabaloo, here in the ancient village.

One gathered up my little dog Zuzu for her constitutional stroll, and as we wandered down the pavement, I was wondering “Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there,” while Zuzu the dog grew apprehensive as the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself began to drop away. She sniffed something on the air she did not like.

It was Friday the 13th eve, after all.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 26, 2017 at 11:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. Mitch, your neighborhood is always so-o-o exciting. I just love reading about it. One doesn’t have to travel far afield for adventure! . . .BTW in the distant past, the subway line running under Broadway was once called the GG and ran into Brooklyn.

    georgetheatheist . . . nod to nostalgia

    January 26, 2017 at 1:05 pm

  2. The GG ran on the same track as the current R and M. The G, I believe, starts its run into Brooklyn in the Court Square area. The GG plowed deeper into Queens than the current G.

    Plus it was always fun to say “GG”…reminded me of Maurice Chevalier

    georgetheatheist . . .nod to nostalgia

    January 27, 2017 at 1:58 am

    • it does now, but even in my time here in Astoria – it was still running on bway

      Mitch Waxman

      January 27, 2017 at 2:09 am


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