The Newtown Pentacle

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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

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

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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

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

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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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incoherent falsetto

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody has a dream. Mine is to maintain zero stock in my underwear or sock drawers, and instead have Amazon deliver fresh underclothes to me everyday. Imagine it – my skivvies get freshly manufactured in east Asia, then flown into NYC on a cargo jet, and delivered by truck to my house for usage every 24 hours. At the end of the day, I’d layer the soiled garments – along with all of the one time use plastics which I consumed sugar water from that day – on an automobile tire, in a bike lane. Then I’d light the whole thing on fire and watch it all burn away in a blue gray cloud… sigh… I can dream, can’t I? I think that I could personally warm the atmosphere by a degree or two within a few years by spewing carbon into the air thusly, hastening the arrival of environmental collapse and the end of life as we know it. That’ll show ya.

Pictured above is the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh, as seen from the waterfront nearby the municipality’s convention center.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first weekend of December saw Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself visiting this fine place. This was my second visit to Pittsburgh in 2021, and the circumstance of these shots being gathered revolved around Our Lady of the Pentacle discovering that a craft fair was being held at the aforementioned convention center. Our Lady likes arts, she enjoys crafts, and loves fairs that combine the two. Suffice to say that I had about an hour and change to kill while she was within.

I did a fairly exhaustive series of posts after my September visit to the Steel City. Granular descriptions of infrastructure and circumstance were offered in multiple postings back in October and November. Truth be told, I never really left the center of Pittsburgh during that excursion or on this one, but there you are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pittsburgh postings from my autumnal visit, listed in chronological order – Great Elms, Gnarled Orchards, Ancient Walls, Lower Meadows, Choked Fissure, Human Clothing, Other Constellations, Certain Circumstances, Terrestrial Gravity, Needed Form, Without Dissolution, Calculations Would, Grave Doubt, Luckily Obtainable, Abnormal Toughness, Prodigious Time, Unexampled Flight, Earthward Dreams, and finally Bacterial Agent.

I should also mention that I have no special knowledge of the place, I just find it fascinating, and think that Pittsburgh is a bit of a gem in the northeastern United States as far as “post industrial usage” goes. They do and have done a lot more, with significantly fewer resources, than NYC does, plans to do, or has done to accept and adapt to the changing climatological conditions of the 21st century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are multiple possibilities in Pittsburgh for super villains and mad scientists to set up lairs. A notable location on Liberty Avenue is the Keenan Building, with its crown shaped cupola. I’m not the only one to have thought “super villain,” incidentally. Check out this post from the Pittsburgh City Paper for more on the lair.

I had walked Our Lady of the Pentacle around some of the scenic areas which were visited back in September, and we had purchased boat tickets on their version of the Circle Line – called the Gateway Clipper – so we headed over to the docks and got on board for a bit of sightseeing. Really, don’t be afraid to do tourist things when traveling, not everything needs to be “bespoke.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that I had ridden on this boat tour the last time I was here, when and whereupon I did my usual “catalog” shooting, the focus was on details this time around. A long lens was attached on the camera, and I made it a point of zooming in on things that piqued my interest. I’m not sure what or who is housed in the building pictured above, but that sky lobby/atrium caught my attentions. That’s some Avengers/Justice League kind of action right there. Maybe even Fantastic Four.

Look, if you’ve got villains living in crown shaped cupolas, you’ve got to have somewhere to house the heroes too. This is, I’m told, the 33 story “Tower at PNC Plaza,” a 2014 building that is designed with environmental benefit in mind. Seriously, click that link, there’s some cool technology incorporated into this tower. It’s the sort of thing that would be possible in NYC if our government wasn’t owned outright by big real estate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, I caught a shot of the Pittsburgh “T” light rail exiting the city center, and crossing the Monongahela River over to the Mt. Washington side of town. There was a Steelers game scheduled for the next day, and the City was positively overrun by folks wearing black and gold shirts and hats. In fact, the boat we were on was fairly packed with Steelers fans, whom, despite the fearsome reputation this particular group of sporting enthusiasts have – were really nice.

More tomorrow.


“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 18, 2022 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

Tagged with ,

cheerful trifles

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing I was saying all summer was this – “if we don’t collectively hit 70% vaccines saturation by late July, Halloween and Thanksgiving will be fine but it ain’t going to be a very Merry Christmas and New Years is going to suck.” Since we didn’t hit that magic vaccine saturation number either locally or nationally, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself scheduled a holiday trip for the first weekend of December under the presumption of rough seas arriving for the holiday week. Of course, we spent Christmas watching tv by ourselves, and regardless of that, we both had a Covid experience for New Years so – “Call me Ezekiel, for I am a prophet.”

We couldn’t agree on our mode of travel for our weekend away – her schedule is far more demanding than mine currently is, so Our Lady decided to fly whereas I opted for experiencing another journey on the Amtrak. I vastly prefer travel on trains as compared to planes, as a note. It’s just a comfort thing, and I hate airports, and don’t mind spending a bit of down time reading or staring out a window.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hopped on the subway from Astoria, and headed over to Manhattan’s Moynihan Penn Station on Manhattan’s west side. Upon arrival, I realized that one of the 2021 resolutions I had made – to explore and photograph the newly opened facility in some detail – has gone undone. It’s the “mask thing” holding me back, ultimately. Give me the choice between being outside and unmasked versus within a structure and masked up…

Generally speaking, I seldom wear a mask when outside – I’m vaxxed, and unless a crowd suddenly forms around me – am not too worried about Covid exposure as long as there’s a breeze blowing. Beyond legal requirements for mask usage inside buildings, it’s fairly prosaic and smart to religiously wear one indoors due to ventilation issues.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The National order for masking up on mass transit is, and was in early December, still in effect. One of the problems with these requirements for Covid era facial accoutrements revolves around wearing prescription eyeglasses, as I do. Getting the mask to sit just right so as to not fog up my glasses has been a struggle for me since March of 2020. I’ve tried anti-fog spray, positioning the thing just right… you name it. The only tip I can offer which has had any sort of positive effect on the fog front involves washing down your eyeglasses with a dot of Dawn dishwashing liquid before heading out into the world. Getting them factory clean and “degreased” with the detergent ameliorates, but doesn’t eliminate, the issue.

Regardless, the Amtrak announcement that my train was leaving the station was received, and I queued up to get onto the locomotive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First stop that the Amtrak people allowed us to get off the train at was in Philadelphia at 30th street Station. A roughly 15 minute layover, this is where Amtrak changes out the actual locomotive engine of the train. Northeast corridor trains operate on electrical power, whereas the ones that will be heading deeper onto the continent generally use diesel. It’s a pretty simple procedure – the Amtrak people disconnect a series of cables and the big steel locket thingamabobs that connect the locomotive to the passenger cars. The original “Cogen” locomotive rolls away and another rolls in, which then has its cables and bits and bobs connected to the passenger cars. There’s a bunch of people wearing overalls who wave lanterns at each other from either side of the train while this is going on.

Finally, bells ring and you’re instructed to get back onboard, or to stay in Philadelphia and get used to eating lousy pizza or cheese steak sandwiches in the City known as America’s consolation prize. Really, as a New Yorker, I’m obligated to shit talk Philadelphia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We arrived at our destination about five minutes late, which really isn’t bad when you get down to it. Four hundred and forty six miles of travel, which ate up about 8 hours of my life. I enjoyed myself immensely doing absolutely nothing. Stared out the window, watching America roll past, that’s what I did.

I also ate the Amtrak hamburger again, as I’m a masochist.

When we were deciding where to go on our weekend away, the travels of September kept on intruding into the story, and since I had such a great time in Pittsburgh when I was there by myself…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Welcome back to the Steel City, lords and ladies.

We were staying in an AirBNB on Mt. Washington this time around, not the downtown area where my lodgings were last time. More tomorrow.


“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 17, 2022 at 11:00 am

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