The Newtown Pentacle

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You won’t need a sweater today, as today is a sweater.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Uncharacteristically, one doesn’t have too much to say today. It was a fairly busy weekend, which included doing a well attended tour for Newtown Creek Alliance on Friday night (this one is called Infrastructure Creek), drinking about thirty gallons of water on Saturday and then hanging out with my friends and neighbors in Astoria on Saturday night, and then waiting for the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself to attain the right position in the sky about six o’clock for a photo expedition to industrial Maspeth and Newtown Creek on Sunday.

You’ll see those Sunday night shots later on this week, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, with all of the rain during the last couple of weeks, Newtown Creek is positively boiling with bacteria. Additionally, it’s boiling from the heat wave. This kind of heat reduces the amount of oxygen in the water, allowing anaerobic bacterial specie their season. The rainy weather means that the combined sewer system is carrying a lot of the fecund foodstuff that these anaerobic bacteria feed on into the tepid water. Their digestive exhalations are rich in hydrogen sulfide compounds, which means that “Eau de Creek” is staining the air column for blocks and blocks around the waterway.

There’s also a lot of floatables (plastics, garbage etc.) and sheens of various oils and greases visible in the waters of Newtown Creek. I hate you all, accordingly, but it makes for good photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been contracted to conduct a boat tour at the end of the month commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal, which will involve the Gowanus area in South Brooklyn. I’ll post ticketing links next week, but August 30th is the date for the thing, which will leave from Lower Manhattan. Most of what I’m going to be narrating about is already in my quiver, but I’m going to be heading over to South Brooklyn a few times this month to “get granular” about the grain terminals and former NYS Barge Canal properties around Erie Basin and Gowanus Bay which will be part of the “speechifying.” 

Additionally, I’m looking forward to the opening of the new NYC Ferry route to Sound View in the Bronx. Of all five theme parks in NYC, the Bronx (or Frontierland) is the one I’m least acquainted with.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 6, 2018 at 11:00 am

last cleaning

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Utopia, along the East River?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had an interesting but short chat last night, with the always interesting and sometimes chatty Robert Singleton of Greater Astoria Historic Society, about a piece he had recently written for a magazine about colonial era Maspeth and how he framed his tale around the desires of those long ago and far away colonists seeking “utopia” in the so called “new world.” I haven’t read Bob’s piece yet, but I’m sure it matches up with his normal high standards (Bob is who I publicly call “the acknowledged expert” on the subject of colonial era history in Western Queens). It did spark a few thoughts in my mind though, on the utopian eidolon which drew so many of our ancestors to what would become the United States. For native born 21st century citizens of the United States and Canada, “freedom” is a fairly abstract idea, but to our predecessors who undertook the dangerous journey from Europe to North America it was crystal clear what they were trying to leave behind.

It’s hard to imagine in modernity – the iron grip of the Hapsburgs, the Tsars, the Ottomans, the Popes, even the relatively “liberal” enlightened despots and parliaments of Western Europe – maintained a choke hold on thought, science, business, religion, and dissent in their lands. Especially after the French Revolution, and the appearance of Napoleon the antichrist, these governments maintained networks of domestic spies and employed forces of “Secret Police” to maintain their franchised version of “order and stability” at all costs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Utopia is what Americans, and New Yorkers in particular, have been chasing since the first Dutchman cut down a few trees in what was once a forest that stretched from coast to coast, to began clearing a spot to build a house. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and prosperity? That’s the American Dream, right? The pursuit and concept of “utopia” in the years leading up to the Civil War of the 1860’s eventually morphed into “progress” in the late 19th and entire 20th centuries, and is currently being conceptually framed as the quest for “equity” and “fairness.” Translating that for those of you who aren’t wise to these DEP currents: ‘Murica.

Chasing the utopian ideal in the United States has actually resulted in and spawned a modern day dystopia, with a government that maintains the status quo with a domestic spying network and literal armies of police – both public and secret – who are tasked with maintaining order and stability at all cost. Ironic, isn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, I’ve had friends who espouse all sorts of solutions and often radical visions of how to “fix” America. Socialist and Communist leaning folks want to institute a one size fits all approach with a super powerful central authority that dictates behavioral and social norms via the redistribution of private wealth through the “state,” not realizing that at no time in history has this not resulted in the appearance of an “elite” group of administrators and politicians that resemble nothing other than “born to the manor” nobility. Business and militaristic focused people want a system of lassez faire government whose only role is “ensuring the general welfare” and national defense, which historical precedent suggests as resulting in the subjugation of individual liberty and fostering military adventurism and leads to the formation of an elite group as well. Both are extremes, neither results in “utopia.”

What’s the way forward then? What can we do to answer the dreams of our forebears? Do we launch colony rockets into space, hoping some future version of the Pilgrims or Waloons can figure it out? What is Utopia?

As mentioned, a chat with Bob Singleton is often interesting and thought provoking.


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.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 31, 2018 at 1:00 pm

fear distorted

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One of those days, man, one of those days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day – July 18th – in 1290 A.D., Edward the 1st of England signed an Edict of Expulsion for the 16,000 or so Jews who lived in England at the time. In 1870, the Vatican Council introduced the concept of Papal Infallibility to a gullible public. In 1925, Adolph Hitler saw his “Mein Kampf” first published to a similarly gullible public. In 1937, Hunter S. Thompson was born (to tell the public how reliably gullible they actually are) and then in 1954, gangster Machine Gun Kelly died of natural causes at Leavenworth Penitentiary after 21 years in prison.

On July 18th in 1984, the so called and notable McDonalds Massacre occurred in San Ysidro, California, during which 21 people were shot and killed (mass shootings were still fairly uncommon then).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If everything went to plan this morning, as you’re reading this I’m returning from a mid morning photo project. I’m attempting to catch a certain angle of light, at a certain place which I’m not 100% familiar with, so it might have been a frustrating morning but hopefully I made the best of it. An educated guess is being made, I’ll show y’all what I got later in the week.

Luckily, after having a killer schedule to get through last week, a bit of time to pop my headphones in and wander about seems to be coinciding with a period of tolerable temperatures and humidity this week. Looking forward to getting a bit of work done, and getting out of the Astoria/LIC/Greenpoint/Newtown Creek neighborhood for a few day trips. Hoping to be able to maintain an early schedule for this, seeking out propitious atmospheric lighting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The most important thing at the moment, for one such as myself, is solitude. I really cannot stomach the thought of having to explain either myself or my actions to one more person than I actually have to at the moment, and have grown quite unwelcoming towards advice emanating from friend and foe alike. The idea of losing myself into the bowels of the City for a little while, looking at it through the isolated safety and emotional distance offered by a camera lens… is both nirvana and nepenthe. 

Look for me, scuttling along the side of the road on the eastern side of the Newtown Pentacle. I’ll be the weird looking guy with a camera.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 18, 2018 at 11:00 am

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Announcing two free boat tours, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This Saturday is the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, and with NY Waterways, the folks at WA have given me the opportunity to bring two boat loads worth of people to the fabulous Newtown Creek. The tours are free (there is a $5 registration fee during ticketing) and will be 90 minutes long. There’s a ten a.m. and a twelve p.m. tour, both of which will include a fully narrated history of the East River and the Newtown Creek. Navigational issues and timing dictate that we are going to be visiting the first half of the Creek only, which is as far as the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge roughly one and a half miles from the mouth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ticketing links for the tours (as well as a couple of other offerings I’ve got going this weekend) are at the bottom of this post. Sights you’ll see up close from the water include the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant, SimsMetal Recycling, Allocco Recycling, the Pulaski and Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, and the coastlines of Long Island City and Greenpoint. The East River section seen and discussed will be the equivalent stretch from Manhattan’s Pier 11 (Wall Street) to 23rd street. That gives you Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Come with? My colleague from Newtown Creek Alliance – Will Elkins – is going to be sharing the microphone duty with me on the Newtown Creek, exploring the meaning and manifestations of our “Reveal, Restore, Revitalize” motto at Newtown Creek Alliance.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – City of Water Day Newtown Creek Boat Tours – with Waterfront Alliance, NY Waterways, and Newtown Creek Alliance.

As part of the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, I’ll be conducting two free 90 minute boat tours heading to Newtown Creek, leaving from Pier 11 in Manhattan. We won’t be visiting the entire Newtown Creek, as a note, due to time constraints and navigational issues, but we will get a good mile and a half of it in.

Tickets and more details

Ten a.m. departure here.
Twelve p.m. departure here.

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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4th of July fireworks from the Kingsland Wildflower Green Roof in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was lucky enough to have gotten himself invited up onto the green roof at 520 Kingsland Avenue on the 4th of July, and accordingly I showed up with my holsters loaded up. I brought two distinct camera rigs, spent a bit of setup time encoding my “fireworks recipe” into them, and got busy.

The fireworks recipe is anywhere from f.8-11, ISO 200, and 3-5 seconds exposure. You’ll want to preset focus and set your lens to manual focus (remember to turn any lens stabilization off), use a tripod and a cable shutter release, and ensure that the white balance is set to something consistent (I used “daylight” for these during capture, and adjusted the temperature a bit in camera raw during developing). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kingsland Wildfower green roof is a co production of Newtown Creek Alliance, Alive Structures, the Audubon Society, and the Broadway Stages company which owns the structure. The green roof is 22,000 square feet, found at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and is roughly 1.3 miles from the East River where – of course – the annual 4th of July fireworks display plays out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few of the government facilities, like the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, decided to get in on the whole Fourth of July thing. They normally light the digester eggs up with a purplish blue light, this time around it was sequencing through red, white, and blue. I used my iPhone to gather video of it, if you’re interested in checking that out – click here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My main camera, the trusty Canon 7D, was loaded with a lens I refer to as “old reliable.” This is the one I left on autofocus, as I was constantly moving the point of view around and zooming in and out. Normally, the fireworks recipe involves locking in an infinity focus manually achieved, but “old reliable” is a trooper.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lesser secondary camera I brought is a consumer level Canon Rebel. It’s nowhere near as “smart” as the 7d, but it was set up with my second best lens – a Sigma 18-35 wide angle which was prefocused and set to manual so that it didn’t go hunting for focus in between shots. The camera was set up, and the cable release lock button engaged.

It sat on top of its tripod and just clicked away.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east, roughly 3/4 of a mile distant from 520 Kingsland and 2.1 miles from the East River, the new Kosciuszcko Bridge also got in on the light show act. Lit up all red, white, and blue.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 9, 2018 at 11:00 am

some length

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Happy Birthday, Marine Parkway Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a short break this week, and single images will be greeting you through the July 4th Holiday week while I’m out shvitzing and photographing things.

Today is July 3rd, and just like the rest of the calendar, there’s always a series of events that occurred over the centuries which seems to suggest that history might not be all that random. Alternatively, it probably is, and it’s the nature of human beings to attempt to form ordered patterns out of chaos.

  • 1775 – American Revolutionary War: George Washington takes command of the Continental Army at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • 1819 – The Bank of Savings in New York City, the first savings bank in the United States, opens.
  • 1863 – American Civil War: The final day of the Battle of Gettysburg culminates with Pickett’s Charge.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, July 3rd is the start of the Dog Days of Summer.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 3, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Brooklyn

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Williamsburg Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a short break this week, and you’ll be greeted with single shots when visiting this – your Newtown Pentacle. Trust that I’m out and about gathering new tales to tell and photographs to display.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 22, 2018 at 11:00 am

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