The Newtown Pentacle

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last stop on my Amtrak adventures was, as the old vaudeville joke offers – 4th prize – a visit to Philadelphia. Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian Line service carries you from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia’s 30th street Station, after a fairly long journey through mostly rural areas. For this leg of the journey, I only had about 4 hours to get busy, and an hour of that was spent inhaling something that they call “pizza” in Philadelphia but isn’t, and a couple of pints of Yuengling beer.

30th street Station is found along the Schuykill River, which figures prominently in today’s and tomorrow’s post. It seems that every time I had a beer in the state of Pennsylvania on this trip, it seems that it was a Yuengling – which is the oldest brewing company in the United States – operating since 1829 in Pottsville, at the other side of this River. Coincidence? Hmm.

Idiot man child, with a camera, wandering abandoned waterfronts and junk yards, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Schuykill River is a tributary of the larger Delaware River, traveling from Pennsylvania’s Pottsville to Philadelphia, where it joins with the larger Delaware River nearby the former Philadelphia Navy Yard. Its drainage shed is about 200 square miles, and it’s fed by multiple upland tributaries that are largely in “coal country.” A large and expensive project was undertaken in Pennsylvania – just after the Second World War in 1948 – to clean up the islands of coal dust silt that had formed in the Philadelphia stretch of the Schuykill River due to upland industrial and mining activities, interfering with its navigability.

Due to my limited time here, I never got too far away from 30th street Station and the Schuykill River. Luckily, there’s a series of interesting bridges and other attractions right in this area, which I’m told is the transition point between “proper” Philadelphia and “University City.” These posts are all from the same West Philadelphia border zone with University City, which is home to six colleges or university level learning institutions including the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel. Accordingly, there’s a whole lot of youngsters milling about. They seemed nice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given the brevity of time spent there, I couldn’t do my usual “talk to strangers” deal and learn the local lay of the land. Instead, it was just me and Google maps. This shot was captured from the busy Walnut Street Bridge, looking towards the Chestnut Street Bridge.

That’s the second Chestnut Street Bridge, actually. The first one opened up in 1866, and was constructed from cast iron. The modern iteration was opened in 1957, and has been receiving a refurbishment due to its age since 2019. Construction was only meant to last a year, but Covid.

Walnut Street Bridge, which I was standing on, is of 1990 vintage and replaced an earlier 1893 version demolished in 1988. The masonry piers of the 1893 version support the modern bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The PennDOT maintains the Schuykill Expressway, which I’m led to believe is colloquially referred to by locals as “The Skook” and or the “The Surekill Distressway.” It’s part of Interstate 76 and concurrent with US 1 in Philadelphia, and is a primary traffic corridor leading into Philadelphia from points west. It opened in 1959, and is representational of the mistake that an entire generation of Robert Moses inspired urban planners made in the post World War 2 era, creating high speed roads along waterfronts (like NYC’s FDR Drive) that isolated both public and business from the City shorelines. About 163,000 vehicle trips a day travelled this route, pre Covid. That makes it the busiest road in all of Pennsylvania. There’s a modern day Schuykill River Trail for bikes and pedestrians on the parallel bank.

There’s meant to be quite a bit of “new economy” action happening on that side of the Schuykill River, but again – I was here for 4 hours so I’ll take your word for it. I was mainly busy trying to get a few shots before I had to get back on the Amtrak to NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you’ve likely discerned by now, I had set up the camera for longish exposures with the ND filter that I’ve been mentioning. That’s “Neutral Density” for those of you who aren’t photography nerds, and it’s a disc of glass which appears black to the naked eye. This particular model is “10 stops,” which translates to “ten stops of light” being held back from the filter. Simply, it’s a monocular sunglass for your camera.

What this thing does is allow me to expose for 15-30 seconds at a narrow aperture in broad afternoon daylight. It allows me to make a series of creative decisions as to how much texture you see in the water, or how blurred and “streaky” the automotive tail lights you see on the off ramp of the Schuykill Expressway are. Options.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s my duty as a New Yorker to shit talk Philadelphia. Boston? Yeah, it’s “less than” but it’s alright, and actually a hell of a town if you know the right crowd. You gotta respect Chicago, period. Fuck Los Angeles, it’s a god damned shopping mall with houses, like Atlanta and Miami. Denver is evil incarnate. Never been to Toronto or San Francisco, can’t comment. Philadelphia? Phillie? Pfah.

That’s my rap about the major U.S. cities of English speaking North America.

Truth be told, given the slide back towards “dystopian shithole” that NYC has been on for the last decade or so, Phillie is looking good to me. At least the rent is a bit lower, as are the taxes. When you’re comparing your home base in NYC with… Philadelphia… and saying “meh, it’s better in some ways,” maybe… things have arrived at a pretty bad juncture moment in New York City.


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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

November 15, 2021 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

Tagged with , ,

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