The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for July 2022

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearby the spot where I ate my final dinner on this trip to Pittsburgh, an enormous religious building was dominating the sky. Turns out that what was catching my attentions is found in the East Liberty section, and is specifically called the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. It’s a cathedral, I tell you!

Apparently, the original church here was erected in 1819, but the cathedral building that towers over East Liberty today was opened in 1935. The building was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, an architect who designed a series of notable buildings – including NYC’s own Cathedral of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan. Signage around the cathedral indicated that it can welcome 1,300 people for worship at a time. That’s a whole lot of praying, right there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had noticed the structure earlier in the day, when Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself were tooling around in a rented car.

I was pretty impressed by the rented Toyota RAV4 hybrid SUV, incidentally. It got somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 mpg, was very comfortable, and the electronics package under the dashboard was sweet. It had some sort of system which let me know where I was in terms of highway lanes, one which beeped at me if I was straying out of my own. This came in handy on the Pennsylvanian high speed roads. By high speed, I mean a 70 mph speed limit once you got out of the City. The locals treated 70 as a starting point, by the way. I would be cooking along at the speed limit, and semi tractor trailers would blow past me like I was standing still.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, by this stage of the trip, I was on foot.

I got to find out what “crazy homeless guy” looks and sounds like in Pittsburgh while shooting these photos. Being a lifelong New Yorker, I found the fellow amateurish and somewhat charming. Bless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A wide circle was navigated around the central node of East Liberty, and I made it a point of trying to take advantage of the setting summer sunlight. It was warm and humid in Pittsburgh.

Whenever I mention Pittsburgh to anyone back in NYC, the first thing they say back seems to involve an impression about ferocious weather. According to the National Weather Service, however, Pittsburgh is in a bit of a regional sweet spot as far as hot and cold goes. They have more or less the same amount of precipitation that NYC and Philadelphia have, but fewer “extreme” weather events than the coastal cities do. Because of the nature of the terrain, it’s a bit more humid than NYC is, but on average it’s about ten degrees less extreme on seasonal highs and lows. The humidity results in mold problems for property owners, and you apparently need to climb up on the roof once every couple of years to clear away moss. The weather is quite volatile in the short term here, and I’ve had more than one Pittsburgh native say to me “if you don’t like the weather right now, wait about about an hour and it’ll be different.”

As it turns out, we were in town for what the TV weatherman described as “the hottest day in the last four years.” It was 86 degrees, with a mid 60’s dew point. Warm and uncomfortable yes, but compare that to the end of July and beginning of August in NYC when that forecast would be a relief from the dog days of summer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation – Photo License Center, East Liberty” is what this domed building is called these days. The structure was erected at the start of the 20th century between 1898 and 1900. When it first opened, the building was used as a market, but it was focused instead on the emerging automotive market in time.

It was called the Motor Square Garden when it opened in 1913, and this section of Pittsburgh was associated with the automobile business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apparently, the usage of this enormous structure over the last century has involved auto shows, boxing matches, basketball games, and in modernity – it’s the home of Pennsylvania’s local Department of Motor Vehicles operation, I’m told. I was drawn in by the enormous steel and glass dome on its roof, frankly.

More next week, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 29, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle headed back to NYC in the same manner that she arrived, by airline. I dropped off the rental car at the airport and headed back into the City of Pittsburgh in a cab, as I would be heading home the following morning via Amtrak. As a note – I don’t have a phobia about flying, instead I just don’t like it. I hate being treated like a criminal, and detest the depersonalization you experience at airports. I don’t enjoy sitting in a claustrophobic space for multiple hours, nor sitting in close personal contact with anyone. Conversely, I enjoy having long hours of travel which offer me time to think and consider, and there’s always the “taking photos out of the train window” thing that I enjoy.

The cab picked me up at the Pittsburgh International Airport, and I headed back into the City in pursuance of getting back to the rented AirBNB space back in the Bloomfield section. The cab went through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and I finally got to experience the “grand entrance” to the city that everybody talks about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On foot again, after what was essentially a week long road trip, that’s how my Saturday night was going to be spent – as a pedestrian. My first trip to Pittsburgh saw me staying in the direct center of the downtown area, literally within the so called Golden Triangle. My second trip here last winter saw me staying in rented rooms on Mt. Washington nearby the inclines. This time around, we rented rooms in Bloomfield on the south side and then Brookline on the northeastern side.

On this trip, we visited several of the outlying areas which are economically and culturally connected to Pittsburgh. This included McKeesport, Latrobe, Youngstown, Butler, Kittanning, and Wheeling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Fort Pitt Bridge leads to the Fort Duquesne Bridge, which allows access to the high speed roads found on the north side of Pittsburgh.

As you can guess from these shots, I was holding the camera on the roof of the car, and blindly pressing the shutter button. This is where that hard rubber foot which I’ve mentioned manufacturing came in handy once again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a hot afternoon in Pittsburgh, and I had decided to just chill out for a few minutes before heading out to find someone to sell me dinner. Bloomfield, pictured above, used to be considered “Little Italy” back in the Steel City decades. The housing stock is really attractive. Not sure how I’d describe the architectural style.

A quick bit of Google maps study revealed an evening’s path to me, and I gathered up my camera and kit and headed out on foot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Quirky. That’s how I’d describe the building stock in this part of Pittsburgh. I’d seen real estate listings for this sort of setup that called the structures as “Victorian” but I’m not sure what that’s supposed to indicate other than a very, very long historical period.

Quirky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found an outpost of the ubiquitous Pittsburgh restaurant “Primanti Brothers” about a mile away. One had to be concerned with ensuring that I had at least one meal tucked away in a bag when I boarded Amtrak at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, so I ordered dinner and luncheon on the same check. A couple of pints of Yuengling Beer were also quaffed.

After dinner, and with tomorrow’s lunch tightly wrapped up for transport, I got busy with the camera nearby the Morningside section of Pittsburgh, in a zone called “East Liberty.”


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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

July 28, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few more shots from West Virginia’s Wheeling today, and offered above is one from the walkway of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, which is said to be the oldest bridge of this type still standing in the United States. Although I did offer a few observations in yesterday’s post which were colored by the political tides of the present day, that’s a subject which I assiduously avoided while “in country.”

Pepsi comes in a blue can, Coca Cola in a red one. Both are chemical concoctions that are really, really bad for your health and actually make you thirstier when you drink them. Water is clear, and when served icy cold, exactly what you need. Drink water to calm down, and avoid both red and blue talk – that’s my advice. Alternatively – take the Pepsi challenge or have a Coke and a smile and argue about which one “tastes great or is less filling” like a pack of lemmings while heading for a cliff.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were several utterly vacant buildings in Wheeling, including this old department store on Main Street. It was recently purchased by a church, I’m told. Apparently, a major project is underway in the City of Wheeling, revolving around the rejuvenation of the downtown area. Were Wheeling in NYC, I’d describe most of the downtown people I’d spoken to as being “hipsters.” Saying that, these were hipsters who owned houses and drove $50,000 trucks.

The sun was absolutely brutal on the day we were there, and the locals seemed to observe what Mediterranean communities call an “intermedio” during this hot part of the day – heading inside for a rest and a meal and then re-emerging after the heat and light subsided.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mad dogs and Englishmen, right? I’m crazy, and Our Lady is British, so…

I was nevertheless still marching around with the camera, capturing whatever glimpses of this little city that I could for the short interval I was there. Fascinating place, this is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not sure what this building was originally purposed for. To me, it looks like there was a shop downstairs and warehouse space above. The windows on the street level had historic photos printed as posters displayed in them. The photos depicted street cars coming off of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, and offered a “once upon a time, long ago” narrative of a thriving industrial city.

The “Rust Belt,” that’s what this section of the United States is called. The decline in manufacturing activity in the Rust Belt is universally described as being caused by NYC’s Wall Street driving corporate consolidations and selling off the assets. 1980 is considered to be the year that this process really kicked into gear. If you want a primer on this process, watch Oliver Stone’s film “Wall Street.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing, politics wise, that I can report to you is that whereas in prior trips to this section of the country I observed a plethora of red MAGA hats, coupled with car flags and lawn signs advocating for the disgraced former standard bearer of the Republican Party, this time around there was barely a red baseball hat to be seen. I wasn’t in the so called “blue state” areas, either, rather I was often moving about in extremely politically “conservative” communities with agricultural based economies for much of the time. What does that mean? Who knows? Nothing matters, nobody cares – remember? Drink water instead of Coke or Pepsi.

On our return from Wheeling to Pittsburgh proper, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself checked into a different AirBNB than the one we had been staying in, this one was in the Bloomfield section. Bloomfield was apparently Pittsburgh’s Little Italy – back in the day. There was a definite “collegiate” feeling to the place, but that’s logical given the nearby Duquesne University and University of Pennsylvania (U Penn) campuses. This section of the City of Pittsburgh was quite “urban” as compared to the somewhat suburban vibe of Brookline, where our first rented room was located on the south side of the City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that my personal frame of reference is NYC based, I pronounced Bloomfield as reminding me a great deal of North Brooklyn prior to the ignition of the gentrification furnaces. Brookline, on the other hand, reminded me a great deal of Brooklyn’s Midwood, or Queens’ Forest Hills. Monroeville and Crandberry Township were not unlike the Nassau County “Five Towns” area, Wheeling felt a great deal like Yonkers or Newark, and Youngstown was reminiscent of the borderlands between Mt. Vernon and the Northern Bronx or the Queens/Nassau County line nearby JFK Airport. Latrobe was eerily similar to the rural counties around Albany and southern Vermont, and both Butler and Bethel Park reminded me of Westchester County’s tony Katonah or Mahopac.

Distance means something very different in this part of the country than it does in NYC. The highway speed limits range between 55 and 70, and a web of high speed roads penetrate even into the city center. “Traffic” is not what a New Yorker would call the congestion encountered on these roads. A “traffic jam” moves along at about 30-40 mph. I was chatting with one of the “Yinzers” about this, and described a recent trip that My Pal Val and I made to get to Fresh Kills on Staten Island from Astoria (38 miles) as having taken nearly two hours to complete. I helped them gather their jaw up off of the bar.

“Yinzer” is Pittsburgh slang for a native of the area.


“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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July 27, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The western edges of the Greater Pittsburgh Metropolitan area are found in states outside of Pennsylvania. In the north, Youngstown is carved into Ohio. Youngstown is in a grim condition, I tell you. You can tell that the citizenry used to experience better times there, but that those times were a very, very long time and multiple generations ago. I didn’t take a single photo in Youngstown since, also as mentioned, I was driving the car. Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself decided to cut our explorations short in Youngstown, and proceeded southwards through Ohio.

Along the way, at a bathroomivation stop, I cracked out the shot above. It depicts a coal fired power plant in Brilliant, Ohio – shooting toxic shit into the sky. It’s called the “Cardinal Power Plant,” and it produces 1.8 gigawatts of electricity. The owners are midstream, in terms of installing equipment to bring themselves in line with EPA standards for emissions, which is an investment that no longer makes any sense since an activist group of judges on the Supreme Court have yanked the rug out from under such regulation. Nothing is better for business than having politics swing like a pendulum every few years, ain’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The southwestern section of the Pittsburgh area we were exploring, and where these shots were gathered, is found in West Virginia’s Wheeling. Wheeling is about an hour’s drive from downtown Pittsburgh and about two hours from Youngstown, and we arrived there in the very late afternoon – probably a little bit after 5. Let me tell you something about the sun in this section of the country, lords and ladies… I now fully understand the Roman’s worship of Sol Invictus, or the conquering sun. Holy smokes, it was strong.

The good news is that the car was parked, and that there are a couple of pretty interesting things in Wheeling to point a lens at.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Boy oh boy, do I love learning new things.

Predicate: The National Road (aka the Cumberland Road) was the first highway built by the United States. 620 miles long, it starts at the Potomac River in Maryland’s Cumberland section, and ends at Vandalia in Illinois (about 60 miles northeast of St. Louis). The National Road was built between 1811 and 1837, and construction stopped when Congress ran out of money to fund it. The National Road is largely carried by Route 40 in modernity, and it touches or travels through Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

The border of Ohio and West Virginia in Wheeling is defined by the Ohio River, which provided an impediment to traffic on the National Road until 1849.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge was thereby erected in 1849 to carry the National Road, and although it’s been improved or reconstructed several times since, this crossing of the Ohio River is the oldest suspension bridge in the country. For a few years, it was the largest suspension bridge that America could boast about as well.

It’s currently closed to vehicular traffic, due to somebody trying to drive an overweight road bus over it a few years ago, and there was a construction project underway at the time I was there to gussy and shore up the roadway. Saying that, the pedestrian and bike paths on it were open. Apparently, the project to rebuild the thing is where Senator Manchin decided to spend his “Biden Bucks” after voting against the infrastructure bill a couple of years ago.

Pork is pork, even in a red state, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

West Virginia is one of our formerly “United” States which I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting, so these photos mark a first for me personally. Wheeling is ancient, by American standards. It was quite an industrial power in the First Civil War era, situated neatly nearby several other large industrial cities in the region like Pittsburgh and Youngstown and Cleveland. Wheeling was called “Nail City” for a while, and there was a thriving series of mills which produced iron products like stoves, boiler plates, and – as the nickname would imply – nails. They were also quite a power in the Tobacco business. In 1899, Wheeling saw the emergence of the National Tube Company, which manufactured iron pipes for plumbing usage. Believe it or not, Wheeling used to be a hotbed of socialist labor movement activity.

Wheeling began to decline as a manufacturing town after the Great Depression. Its downtown area, where we were, hosts a series of delightful late 19th century buildings, many of which are unfortunately crumbling. We found a great Tacqueria in Wheeling, and got to interact with several of the locals. While I was outside shooting a photo, Our Lady of the Pentacle got to meet the Mayor of Wheeling at the Tacqueria, who was coincidentally picking up a dinner order.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mid span on the Wheeling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River, the 1955 vintage Fort Henry Bridge is observed. A “tied arch” bridge, it carries Interstate 70 over the Ohio River. Couldn’t help but crack out a couple of shots of the thing. I’m planning on spending some time in Wheeling in the future, I tell you.

More tomorrow from the great rusty unknown, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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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.

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July 26, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pittsburgh’s Brookline neighborhood is where a rented, via AirBNB, set of rooms acted as a regional HQ for a late June trip to the area. I’ve mentioned the topography of Pittsburgh before as being extremely hilly, and the photo above was captured in pursuit of illustrating that particular point.

Photography wasn’t the primary goal of this outing, and I spent most of my waking hours behind the steering wheel of a rented car, tooling around the region.

Region, you ask?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Day one saw me drive about 50 or so miles north of Pittsburgh to a town called Butler, for luncheon with a friend who’s in the real estate business in the area. Our conversation revolved around property tax and the common business practices that typify the rental market in the area. He recommended that we take a look at a nearby town called Kittanning. We ate burgers at a roadside “local.”

In 1727, this community was a Lenape village, which is where the name Kittanning originates from. The Europeans arrived in the area, and during the French and Indian War period – in 1757 – the community was demolished by a gunpowder explosion at a local armory which was heard in Pittsburgh – 44 miles to the south west. Kittanning was incorporated as a “Borough” in the post revolutionary period in 1803. It sits on the eastern bank of the Allegheny River, and pictured above is their 1932 vintage Kittanning Citizens Bridge. Nice little down on its luck sort of town, which hosts a lot of churches along the waterfront, for some reason.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had been driving since early in the day, and the banks of the Allegheny hereabout offered me a short opportunity to set up the camera and grab a couple of shots. There was a nearby dam which I was desperate to get next to, but there’ll be plenty of time for that sort of thing in the future. This particular trip revolved around getting to know the outlying sections of the “Greater Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area.”

Basically, if it was a named place that’s found on the weather map presented by the local CBS TV affiliate, we were there on this trip. I broke the journey up into the cardinal directions, and this particular day involved north and east. We visited Butler at the North, and Latrobe to the East, and a whole bunch of other places in between. “Reconnaissance” is what the Frenchers would call the effort.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way back into the City of Pittsburgh from Latrobe and a bunch of other communities where Trump held his rallies, I had a pilgrimage to make. One of the suburbs of Pittsburgh is called Monroeville, and they have several shopping malls which can satisfy all the banal desires of those happy to be called “consumers.” There’s one location, however, which I had to visit.

When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth… after all…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the best horror movies EVER made is 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” wherein a group of survivors sit out a Zombie outbreak in a shopping mall. Director George Romero didn’t shy away from critiquing the consumerist culture of the Pittsburgh he lived in, and his movie was filmed at the Monroeville Mall. It’s been profoundly remodeled several times since the movie was filmed here, as you’d imagine.

How could I not? This is part of why I always describe Our Lady of the Pentacle as “long suffering.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We visited several of the towns and villages which comprise Pittsburgh’s greater metropolitan area, trying to get a feel for the various “zones” and their charms or vices. After a hearty meal at a roadhouse in the quite lovely Bethel Park section, we headed back to Brookline and absolutely annihilated a six pack of ice cold Yuengling beers while sitting on the porch at the AirBNB.

That’s the porch view, from Brookline PA., above.


“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

July 25, 2022 at 11:00 am

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