The Newtown Pentacle

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aroused about

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A storm’s a coming.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Depressing, that’s how I usually describe it. Shortly after taking this photo in the Court Square/Queens Plaza area of Long Island City, where the sidewalk was actually blocked off by this enormous midden of residential tower garbage, I sat in one of the high priced cafes installed into one of those residential towers (the kind that offers fare best described as a single perfect tomato served on a big white artisinal plate) and listened to a group of activists telling me that all this real estate development was just peachy and that they’d like to see more of it. My spiel about opposing the Sunnyside Yards fell on fairly deaf ears, and I inquired about how long the folks I was chatting with had lived here in LIC. The answer was pretty much encapsulated by De Blasio’s term in office, and I realized that these folks hadn’t been here for a transit strike, or a blackout, or had the Mayor turn a hotel on their block into a homeless shelter yet. Give it time folks, and remember the Borough Motto – “Welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself.” 

They didn’t mind the fact that they were living on the site of a 19th century chemical factory, and in fact didn’t care.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another sit down with a group whom I would describe as “hard left” was also somewhat dismaying, as their plan for the future involved collapsing one of the legs of the economic stool which the City’s economy stands upon. I’ve said this a million times, it seems, but one is not “anti-development” as macro economic forces such as our current building boom need to be managed, and the job of government is to manage and eke concessions or “buy-in’s” from the real estate industrial complex which both current and future populations will need. Transit improvements, green infrastructure, medical facilities, supermarkets and laundromats, school space, street level urban furniture like benches and garbage cans. Instead, our government still operates as if it’s the 1970’s and they need to beg developers to begin projects in NYC. The Real Estate people are awash in the “LLC” money that often malign foreigners are laundering through our local economy, so let’s demand that they share the wealth just a little bit and design some ameliorations of the City’s many needs into their towers – that’s what I say. It’s called “good old fashioned graft” in case anyone has forgotten that term. Why isn’t there still any place to take a piss, amidst all this new construction?

Is Long Island City going to function as a “city,” or is it instead just destined to be a dormitory for Manhattan’s job base. Why aren’t we talking about office space and commercial construction here? As the old adage offers – if you build it, they will come. That’s how Queens was originally developed a hundred years ago – they built the Subways, and the people came.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking these not so mean streets as I do, I can tell you that vast stretches of Queens are unfriendly, forbidding, and barren of any of the things you’d expect to find in Brooklyn or Manhattan. We’re starved for hospital beds, school desks, street trees. Our commercial strips are bare as far as street benches and everything else you’d expect to find in the “fastest growing community” in the northeastern United States, and Queens has less park land acreage per person than anywhere else in NYC except for Greenpoint in Brooklyn and the South Bronx. 

While all of this is going on, or not going on, everybody continues to snipe and gripe and fight over an ever smaller piece of the pie. They’re fighting battles that they’ve already lost, which seems to be the Queensican way.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

billious congestion

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Friday odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few shots from my travels and travails over the last couple of weeks assail you today, lords and ladies. Pictured above, the NYC DEP has been working on a water main replacement project here amongst the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria for the last month or two, which has necessitated the occasional interruption of residential water service. The access, or manhole (as its called colloquially), cover which one of our municipal heroes is standing upon vouchsafes the subterrene valve which controls such service on the corner that Newtown Pentacle HQ is found on.

Who knew?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That bulkhead collapse on Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary I told you about shifted one of the derelict oil barges, long abandoned, from its decades long position. That’s the black mayonnaise sediment I’m always talking about exposed to the air in the shot above. The particular day I was shooting this was a dicey one due to a heavy rainfall and high atmospheric humidity which caused my camera to malfunction. A few of the mechanical controls on the back of the thing began to “stick,” which made me nervous as heck. Luckily, after returning home and throughly cleaning the device and then leaving it wrapped in a thick and thirsty towel, everything was back to normal the next day. Whew.

Rain + humidity = bad for camera. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is seriously tired of this summer humidity crapola. I do enjoy warm weather, but not when it’s accompanied by dew points in the 70 – 80th percentiles. It’s after Labor Day, and I’m still wearing white? Gauche, I. 

That’s one of the arches of the New York Connecting Railroad leading to the Hell Gate Bridge, which is one of the defining landmarks here in Astoria. HQ is to the south of the rail aqueduct, with Astoria Blvd. with the “Ditmars side” of Astoria found to the north. The rail tracks and the Grand Central Parkway form a physical and social barrier between the two sides of the ancient village.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 21, 2018 at 1:00 pm

increasing pallor

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I like when the DEP brings the show to me, saves a lot of walking.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The neighborhood is abuzz at the moment, here in Astoria, over a water main replacement project which has been going on for a month and change now. There’s been a tearing and a wrenching, lots and lots of noise and activity involving heavy equipment, and a somewhat random series of notices taped to the front door promising that DEP water service will be temporarily interrupted. My block’s turn for the latter occurred yesterday, and just down the street from HQ, the DEP and their contractors (Tully) finally opened up the hydrants and got busy with the underground stuff. 

I was hanging around the home office yesterday, developing shots from last weekend’s Tugboat Race on the Hudson, but found an interval when it wasn’t raining to grab the tripod and get a few shots of the flowing water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The actual construction is “up the pipe” from HQ, thank goodness. You should see what the next block over looks like, they’ll be repaving that for months. 

Ever notice the way that significant road work and infrastructure repairs only seem to happen when Election time nears? I’m told by those whom this tsunami of backhoes and construction workers have already washed over that a second wave of Con Edison gas main contractors followed the water people, and there’s been a protracted occupation by the NYC DOT nearby as well – who seem to be grinding down and then resurfacing the roads. The Zero Vision people can’t be far away, but it suddenly makes sense as to why the Department of Buildings forced all the local property owners to replace their sidewalks in the last couple of years. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a bit difficult to actually lock down on actual government sourced numbers on this, as the DEP continually treats its most mundane capabilities and public facing infrastructure as a state secret. 

There’s approximately 109,000 fire hydrants in NYC which are maintained by the NYC DEP for the FDNY’s usage. There’s also an uncountable number of hydrants maintained by other entities both private and public, and notably the NYC Parks Dept. has a large number of them installed on their property which are connected to DEP’s pipes but are Parks’ problem to maintain. DEP’s system uses two basic types of hydrant, the kind pictured above which is an “O’Brien Style Model, Series S,” and the “Dresser 500 Style.” 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that the hydrant above was left open was to allow the construction crews to bleed out the water flowing through the water main they were replacing. The maximum flow of one these O’Brien models is about 1,000 gallons an hour, I’m told. The water in the hydrants is the same stuff delivered to residences, good old NYC drinking water from the Croton Resovoir system. 

There’s two pipe fittings on the hydrants, one is for normal water hookup by FDNY, the other is for use by their pumper trucks. Since the 1980’s, when DEP shut down the old “High Pressure” network that dated back to the dawn of the 20th century, the hydrants have been installed with a street level flange that intersects them to the main. Prior to this, were a car or truck to back into the hydrant (which was directly connected to the buried pipe) it tended to damage the underground pipe and necessitate a messy and expensive repair job that involved opening the street. The flange connection instead allows the hydrant to get knocked about without the buried main pipe getting damaged. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That 1,000 gallons an hour flow was pouring out all day, or at least from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a couple of coffee breaks and a lunch hour thrown in. Since I had the camera mounted on the tripod anyway, and my block here in Astoria was closed to traffic because of the construction so I could stand in the street without getting squished by trucks, I decided to follow the flow down to the corner where it was all pissing into the drain.

As a note, DEP doesn’t like to use the word “sewer” ever. They call these bits of their system “street drains.” It’s also not “sewage,” it’s wastewater, they say. I’ve been lectured by one of the high muckety mucks over there about this, being told that the word “sewer” or the term “sewer plant” is offensive to modern day “Wastewater Management Engineers.”

I fear that Louie the garbageman is going to want to be called a “solid waste collection executive” or something soon. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gazing into the abyssal “street drain” in the shot above, one wondered how much of this flow was going to the somewhat archaic “Bowery Bay Wastewater treatment Plant” on the forbidden northern shore of Queens and how much of it was traveling down Astoria’s Broadway to 43rd street where an underground intersection is found that feeds directly into the Dutch Kills tributary of my beloved Newtown Creek over in LIC.

Hey, at least it’s clean water flowing into Dutch Kills for a change, a thousand gallons an hour worth. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 12, 2018 at 11:00 am

sallies abroad

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No matter where you go, there you are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spends a great deal of his time gazing in wonder and astonishment at the City of Greater New York, and no place moreso than Astoria here in the Borough of Queens. When I mention Astoria to people who live in other boroughs, they immediately go to the “Greek” thing, but whereas we still have a substantial Hellenic population hereabouts it ain’t the 1970’s no more. In my observation, there really isn’t a single dominant group in Astoria anymore, unless you start lumping folks together into “racial” groupings like “Latino” or “Black” or “Asian” or “European.” It’s a fairly unsophisticated way to look at people, in my opinion, using this sort of categorizing. One such as myself prefers to see people as individuals rather than as part of a cultural or socioeconomic super group, but I am famously not enamored with identity politics.

I guess it’s human nature to try and stick strangers into a tribal box, and define them by where they’re from. For the identity politics crowd, this means that they’re constantly surprised when assumptions about some stranger’s politics or lifestyle don’t turn out to be true. Identity politics are ultimately “nationalism” when you get down to it, just on a different side of the aisle from what you’d normally associate with the term. I find it dehumanizing when somebody categorizes me as “Jewish” or “a Yank,” and try not to do it myself. As I tell people constantly, it’s “way down the list” when I’m describing someone whom they like to noodle with or where their family is from.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Breaking into ever smaller groups seems to be the fashion at the moment, however, and folks do it to themselves. This sort  of fragmentation works beautifully for the political establishment, and allows them to target either the “one legged transgender Peruvians” or “three eyed second generation Lebanese home owners” vote during election season. Are you a white small business owner who fears clear blue skies since you have been selling umbrellas since 1987 on Steinway Street? A woman of color who receives too much mail? A non binary gender neutral hog butcher disturbed about the new LED street lamps? Like riding bikes? How about a shepherd in traditionally male dominated field who has become separated from one of your charges?

Don’t worry Little Bo Peep, I’ve proposed legislation in the Assembly to place a non GMO fed and cruelty free chicken specifically in your pot. Me, I’m a “big tent” kind of guy. What have we got in common, and why is it so hard to resist it when a politician insists on using our divisions to distract and work us?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bah. Old man shakes fist at cloud, right? 

Kids these days.


Tours and Events


Canal to Coast: Reuniting the Waters Boat Tour. Only $5!
Thurs, August 30, 2018, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM with Waterfront Alliance

Learn about the origins of Brooklyn’s Erie Basin as the Erie Canal’s ultimate destination, and its current role as a vital resource for maritime industry on this guided tour of Red Hook’s Erie Basin and the Brooklyn working waterfront, departing from and returning to New York Water Taxi’s Red Hook Dock. Tickets here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 24, 2018 at 11:00 am

terror withheld

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PSA: August 23 is the “Night of the Living Dead.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On 45th street, here in Astoria, a water main replacement project has been playing out. That’s the Tully company at work above, contractors for the NYC DEP, doing the work of trenching and replacing old pipe. There’s been a LOT of roadwork and utility construction work happening in the neighborhood for the last couple of years – replacing gas mains leading to either LaGuardia Airport or Astoria Energy on the forbidden northern shore, Vision Zero oriented work on street corners along 31st street, sewer line repairs along several of the avenues.

It’s never quiet for long around these parts, I tell’s ya.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s been an unusual amount of Police activity as well, here in the 114 pct. Just a couple of weeks ago, the neighborhood along Broadway in the 40’s and 30’s was all abuzz about the Machete Man Bandit, for instance. There there was the Peeping Tomás near by 36th street, and that crazy murder suicide near Hallets Cove which was all over the news.

Even Los Burrachos, the railroad bums that gather nearby the paint shop on 42nd street, have been startled by the sudden appearance of dozens of new homeless inebriates – whom even they look down on. Many have been given nicknames like “Shit his Pants, and American Flag shirt, guy” (which distinguishes this particular fellow from “shit his pants guy”) or “Krustie McGee” and “Surprisingly fat for a homeless guy Guy.” We’ve also suddenly amassed a group of retirement age junkies who have decided to base themselves around the Broadway Branch of the Queens Library and are charismatic but ultimately tragic characters.

Before you ask, these folks are generally what the pros would call “services resistant,” and I reached out to Jimmy Van Bramer about them, and the councilman sent out a DHS counseling crew whom they pretty much ignored. They’re not homeless because of a run of bad luck. Drunks, junkies, bums, street urchins – this is their life and they’re the ones living it, not you. Best you can do by them is to call 911 when you find them passed out on the sidewalk, so they can go sleep it off in a supervised bed, get a shower, and eat a meal on the City at Elmhurst Hospital.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Omnipresent is the thing in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City, gazing down upon the world of men through its unblinking and three lobed burning eye. This thing, which cannot possibly exist, covets. Through its global armies of often unsuspecting acolytes, this thing which does not nor cannot breathe or feel gnaws into the flesh of the world and feeds passively. From the cupola of that sapphire dagger, dug deeply into the heart of Queens, the thing watches men and their folly. It enjoys itself, and plans to someday reveal to mankind new ways for us to revel, and feed, and enjoy ourselves in its manner. 

That last paragraph was just for me, as a note. It’s my birthday, and I’ll cry if I want to.


Tours and Events


Canal to Coast: Reuniting the Waters Boat Tour. Only $5!
Thurs, August 30, 2018, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM with Waterfront Alliance

Learn about the origins of Brooklyn’s Erie Basin as the Erie Canal’s ultimate destination, and its current role as a vital resource for maritime industry on this guided tour of Red Hook’s Erie Basin and the Brooklyn working waterfront, departing from and returning to New York Water Taxi’s Red Hook Dock. Tickets here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

another report

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Dinner and a show!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Friday nights, my neighborhood friends and I regularly gather for a “pub night,” at a bar which is found at the Times Square of Astoria – 42nd and Broadway. Now, since I’m all knowing, I can tell you a few things about this particular corner but for the purposes of this post – the NYC DEP has a storm sewer under the street here which leads directly to Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary. That’s important in terms of the totality of things, but what’s also important is that several of the local sanitary water sewer pipes conjoin into a junction at this corner as well.

Apparently, there was a “priority one” repair order sent out to DEP’s maintenance crews, regarding something involving the storm sewer having developed a leak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our little pub night gatherings involve sitting outside at the sidewalk cafe tables, and as always I have the camera ready and in my hands even when socializing. As the DEP crew got to work, so did I. Here they are noticing me.

Everyone at my table started waving and I started a chant of “DEP, DEP.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unsung, these municipal heroes seemed to enjoy the respect they were being paid as they got busy. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The notoriously impatient drivers of Astoria, who seem to believe that their cars do not have a gear which allows them to reverse, turned the sidewalk into a vehicle lane for a short while. This stopped after a few minutes and presumptively the DEP crew set out cones at the northern corner of the block of 42nd street that they were working on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Being the gregarious fellow I’m known for being, I walked across the street and introduced myself. This fellow was busy digging a hole. The head of the operation told me the circumstance of their tasks, which would involve exposing a broken pipe and replacing a section of it.

I congratulated him on the Friday night overtime, wished him luck, and headed back to my gathering across the street as it started raining.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYPD was called in, and towed a car which was perilously close to the job. The tow truck reparked this car around the corner on Broadway, and my friends and I were anxious to see the confused driver find their car somewhere else than where they had parked it, but alas…

At this point, everyone at my table started chanting “NYPD, NYPD.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Heavier equipment began to show up and set up shop.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the fellow who was digging the hole, and who was now guiding the operator of the excavator.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

More and more DEP crews kept appearing, carrying supplies and esoteric equipment. From what I could discern, one of them was a mobile welding unit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It turned into quite a party, happening across the street from my regularly scheduled Friday night party. Deciding that I couldn’t miss a minute of this, I ordered food and another drink.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rain really set up in earnest at one point, but I was sitting in a carefully chosen spot under one of the pub’s awnings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You really have to hand it to these folks. As much shade as I throw at DEP’s management during Newtown Creek oriented posts and in person at meetings, I have nothing but respect for the folks that do this essential, difficult, and dirty job on behalf of the rest of us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A section of pipe was removed, another one welded in, and then the street was closed back up. Sated with food, drink, and a free bit of municipal dinner theater – a humble narrator then headed home to my little dog Zuzu.

You just have to love it. I do.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Friday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade, a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Tix and more deatils here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 1, 2018 at 11:02 am

Posted in Astoria, Broadway, NY 11103, NYC DEP

Tagged with , ,

always inclusive

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Summer Friday odds and ends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is always puzzled by this sort of sight, when a piece of heavy construction equipment rolls by on area streets. A buddy of mine in construction once opined that some heavy equipment handlers, who are apparently the construction workers you’ll see who wear  brown helmets with a bunch of stickers on them, aren’t allowed to leave the vehicle alone on the job site. They are obliged to use it for transportation from site to site, and even use it if they’re just picking up lunch somewhere. That doesn’t sound right to me, but I only wear a hard hat occasionally and when it’s required for visiting a work site I’m photographing, but the heavy equipment I’m rolling with is a camera.

Still, screw your bike lanes, “I wants me one of dose tings” pictured above. If I couldn’t find parking, I’d be able to dig a hole for it to live in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Next week promises to be more of the same, weather wise, and my schedule is lightly packed. Perhaps I’ll spend some time down in the sweating concrete bunkers of the MTA and raise the suspicions of bored police officers again by photographing trains. I don’t know, I make things up as I go along. One has to be open to serendipity when you’re staring at the world through a camera’s diopter. One has to go the City a couple of times in the coming week to accomplish a few errands, so I might try to find some time to hit the zoo or a museum while I’m in town.

Been meaning to wander around lower Manhattan at night again anyway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my errands is to get a discounted camera maintenance and sensor cleaning session over at Beards and Hats on Sunday, which will eliminate some pesky dust motes that have resisted all my efforts at removal. You can only discern these occlusions in long exposure and tight aperture shots, which are exactly the direction that my proverbial muse is currently pointing at.

It’s always something.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 27, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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