The Newtown Pentacle

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My beloved Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting thing about night time tripod based photos, which take fairly long intervals to capture, is that you become quite familiar with traffic patterns on area bridges. One was out fairly late on a Sunday night recently, shooting from the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and attempting to execute the shot above in between traffic light signal rotations. Finding a twenty five second interval, even forty minutes after midnight on a Sunday night, in which a heavy truck or MTA Bus is not crossing the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and causing it to shake, vibrate, or heave… is a challenge.

There were about six shots on my camera card previous to the one above which were ruined by the sudden appearance of a speeding garbage truck, bus, or oil delivery semi and their somewhat seismic effect on the bridge. Such is life, I suppose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Things were a bit quieter back on Greenpoint’s Apollo Street, the titular epicenter and official discovery point of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. Once upon a time, this was the dividing point between two of Standard Oil’s refinery facilities (both of which later became a part of Mobil), but today it’s just a wasted little street end defined by a former BP Amoco and now Kinder Morgan petroleum distribution tank farm. The eastern side of the street is owned by the Manhattan/Empire Beverage Distribution company, a warehouse based operation that accomplishes the holy task of stocking NYC’s bars and liquor stores with product.

I’ve never met the Empire Beverage people, but I’d personally like to thank them for facilitating my life long love of degeneracy and for several besotted episodes of happiness that have punctuated my otherwise miserable existence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, at night, the sections of the Newtown Creek industrial zone where you’d expect things to be buzzing 24 hours a day are rather quite peaceful. It’s basically you and hundreds of feral kitties back here. There are weird moving shadows you’ll spot out of the corner of your eye snaking along the rooftops, which are often accompanied by a chittering sound that I do not like, but the less said about that the better.

There are some things you do not want to say too much, or know anything about, quite frankly.


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Arrrrgh!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has been chasing a shot for quite a bit of time now, one which has eluded me with all the skill of a Bigfoot. I’ve gotten high in LIC looking for it, spent a lot of shoe leather wandering around Newtown Creek in a safety vest at night, and have even spent time in the Shining City during the quest. Frustrating is this particular pursuit, as although I’ve captured some nice imagery, “the shot” still remains elusive.

Above, looking eastwards from Manhattan at the notorious Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s a matter of perspective, you see. I need to attain some altitude in order to get the right POV, a high rooftop or windowed enclosure in the east 20’s of Manhattan which will allow me to capture the Newtown Creek in some detail and provide a 3/4 down view of the waterway. Empire State Building would be perfect, but there’s all sorts of rules involved with shooting from up there (at night) which negate  that possibility. They ban the use of camera supports like tripods or stands up on the observation decks (which is reasonable, I suppose), but unfortunate for the shot I need to pull off would involve all sorts of “kit.”

I’ve asked everyone I know if they know anyone at the Empire State Building, which has received a consistently negative reply. I’m sure I can talk the ESB people into letting me have literally ten minutes up there with my setup if I had the chance, but…

Arrggggghhhh!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I will, somehow, get that shot.

Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. So, again, I’m putting out a clarion cry… If you are reading this and have access to a high vantage point on the extreme east side of Manhattan anywhere between 14th and 34th street (preferrably around 23rd street) and would be willing to let me roll by with camera and tripod on a clear night – I will be in your way for a maximum of fifteen minutes. Contact me at newtownpentacle@yahoo.com if so.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

contradictory reports

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I haven’t seen daylight for a while now.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself hanging in the sky seems to no longer be a prerequisite for a humble narrator to get busy, huh? Darkness has always been my preference, as a note, which is why one greedily clutched at opportunities to work night shifts in the salt mines of the advertising industry over the years.

I’m not a morning person. I am a mourning person, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned last week, my infinitely winding pathway towards dissolution and an unhappy ending found one wandering along the coastline of the shining city of Manhattan with camera in hand recently. It was quite a chilly night, and the filthy black raincoat was fastened tightly against atmospheric entropy. I’ve always been a believer that he’ll isn’t hot, instead it’s freezing cold, and that there are probably cynical efforts underway to build “affordable housing” underway all across the landscape of the Fimbulvetr.

According to Crains, Gehenna is the next up and coming neighborhood in Brooklyn, and there are serious real estate opportunities for the early investor. Follow the artists, they say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Williamsburg Bridge as seen from Corlears Hook, looking towards the realized dreams of avarice over in Brooklyn. I could not help but muse, as the camera did its work, how visiting this spot during the 1980’s at night would have been an akin to visiting a war zone and a serious risk to life and limb. The cops would have just been shaking their heads while staring at your shattered form, wondering why somebody would have been stupid enough to think they wouldn’t get jumped coming here at night with a camera. Alphabet City, that’s what it was called, the extreme east side of the City between Delancey and 14th streets.

As we used to say: Avenue A? Ay, you’ll be ok. B? Better be careful. C? Can’t go there. Avenue D? The “D” is for dead.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 10, 2018 at 2:00 pm

disordered nerves

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Moonscape, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the larger properties found along the Newtown Creek is the National Grid site. It’s a bit of black box, Nat Grid, and appropriately a high security “Marsec 1” zone. Marsec 1 is the same security level as the runway of an airport or the bulkheads at a cargo port, and that means a lot of paranoia on the part of those employed in the business of keeping the place secure. The street facing sections of Nat Grid are designed to look like a military base with double layers of fencing topped with razor wire and an obvious series of security cameras pointed at them. There’s also guards patrolling the area.

All of this is actually a good thing, as those two white tanks you see above are cryogenic storage units for “LNG” or Liquefied Natural Gas. In the past I’ve indicated that were these things to explode, it would take half of Brooklyn and Queens with them, but the Nat Grid folks have since told me that’s impossible. Were a rupture to occur, they say, it would near instantaneously freeze the surrounding air due to the extreme cold temperatures of the LNG inside and seal the breech. I don’t argue with engineers, as that’s usually an argument you will lose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lombardy Street is another one of those byways in the Creeklands which is entirely contained by them, and “cul de sac’d.” It starts at Kingsland Avenue a few blocks to the south, and terminates at the water’s edge of Newtown Creek. For most of its course, it defines the western border of Nat Grid’s property line.

The Nat Grid property was originally owned by Brooklyn Union Gas, a corporate entity formed in 1825 which consolidated the gas lines of the City of Brooklyn and parts of Queens under single ownership by 1895. By 1910, BUG was operating something like 2,100 miles of metered pipe and manufacturing the gas they sold at a smallish property along the Gowanus Canal in South Brooklyn. By 1928, BUG was pumping some 22 billion cubic feet of gas through their network. They needed to expand their operations, and their source of supply, so in 1929 the Gowanus plant was shuttered and they relocated their facilities to a new 115 square acre property along Newtown Creek in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The BUG people built a manufactured gas plant here, which burned fuel in low oxygen furnaces called “retorts” designed to encourage the fuels to smolder rather than combust. The gases released by the retort were then separated chemically, in pursuit of the manufacture of Methane or “Natural Gas.” There were all sorts of corollary chemical compounds, some commercially desirable, that were released from the fuel. A lot of waste came along with it as well; coal tar, ammoniacal liquors, arsenic compounds. Manufacturing gas can get messy.

BUG called this site the Vandervoort Street facility, and it was designed to manufacture 200 million cubic feet of gas a day. Through corporate mergers and stock market acquisitions, BUG ended up becoming a part of the Keyspan Company, which itself was acquired by National Grid at the start of the 21st century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lombardy Street in eastern Greenpoint/Western Bushwick (depends how you define the areas, by whom, and when) is less than friendly to the itinerant pedestrian under the best circumstances. It’s a heavy trucking backwater, used to avoid getting hung up in traffic on nearby Meeker Avenue. The street itself is an atrocity, missing sidewalks distinguish most of its length, and the vehicle lanes which you’re forced to walk on are so chewed up that it would be quite an easy thing to snap an ankle while scuttling along it.

That’s something I can personally attest to, incidentally. Came within an inch of cracking a bone one day a couple of summers ago on Lombardy. If I wasn’t wearing my trusty Merell hiking shoe which offer ankle support…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a gas flare tower at the National Grid site which always draws my attention.

It makes a loud hissing whistle sound (hisstle?) that always pulls me to it, and then there flames… so…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been on the Nat Grid site just once, when the company’s PR representatives consented to my multiple requests to “get me smart” about their operations. Unfortunately the visit took place in an office building way on the other side of the site and involved a slide show presentation about their clean up operations for the place.

It seems the BUG people left behind quite the mess, which is why National Grid is one of the “Potentially Responsible Parties” named by the EPA as being culpable for the Newtown Creek Superfund site.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 6, 2018 at 2:00 pm

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The purple midnight sun of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Y’know, when Governor Cuomo (or Amazon Andy, as the children of Queens now refer to the Dark Prince of Albany) announced that the new Kosciuszcko Bridge over Newtown Creek was going to receive a spiffy lighting package which would be a part of his “Harbor of Lights” concept, a humble narrator experienced misgivings. Here we are a year or so later, and during that interval I’ve described the K bridge as resembling either a modern day Greek Coffee shop here in Astoria or a Flushing massage parlor’s “Come in, were open” signage on more than one occasion. Commentary has also been offered that the light beams of this installation carry quite high into the air, and on cloudy or foggy nights the luminance from them is visible even from HQ in Astoria – which is some two and change miles away. The bridge people have told me that the LED lighting display is shut off at midnight, but wow are these things bright, and garishly colored.

It’s a purple world, after dark in DUKBO, except in the areas directly surrounding the ongoing work site. There you’ve got bright white stadium lighting staring down at the pavement from on high.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ok, usage of the word “unnatural” is a given in any of the neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek, especially the industrial zones of eastern Greenpoint or Maspeth, so it’s a given. At night, it’s pretty much just you and the hundreds of feral cats who populate the shadows around these parts. There was a black cat with blue eyes in the rear wheel socket of the truck in the shot above, but you need to see the shot at full resolution and zoomed all the way in to see the eye shine and hazy outline of the critter. Click through to Flickr and zoom all the way in, if you dare. It’s the corner of Lombardy and Varick, pictured above.

Check out that glowing purple sky! Is it Raganarok, Gö́tterdämmerung, or the long prophecied Endtimes? Can you hear the piper and the drummer?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nope, it’s just the Kosciuszcko Bridge.

When they’re done with the second phase of the project in 2020, which I’m actually pretty stoked for, the plan includes the installation of an additional LED lighting setup on that half of it. Phase 2, as it were, is pretty far along. It’s a second, more or less identical bridge, which will differ from the already open eastern one due to the addition of a bike and pedestrian pathway. If the purple radiation which stains the clouds, as seen above, is doubled…

One shrinks from answers to what that ultra concentration of violet might reveal.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 5, 2018 at 11:00 am

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What I’m doing, while you’re asleep.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given my particularly nocturnal activities of late, it was a shock to the system when I had to arrive at an assignment on the Greenpoint/Williamsburg border yesterday at 7:30 in the morning. It’s been quite common for the last couple of weeks for me to be retiring to the bed at about 4:30-5 a.m. after returning from scuttles about the Newtown Creek with an image packed camera card. Seldom have I been out that late, rather, I’ll get back to HQ sometime just after midnight and then sit down to handle the developing process on the freshly minted pixels.

Pictured above is the Grand Street Bridge as seen from one of the two arms of the East Branch tributary of Newtown Creek. One of the things I find “neat” about these night shots, long exposures all, are details which the limitations of human night vision occluded while in the field. Those whitish gray arcing streaks in the water are reflected light coming from the scales of fishes in the water, which were invisible to the naked eye.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit further up the Newtown Creek, this time along the English Kills tributary, and the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is in focus. This sort of shot is possible only because of my long sought knowledge of every possible point of view on the waterway, which I’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of hours walking around when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is bobbing about in the sky. That’s why I’d recommend not attempting these sorts of shots “cold,” since daylight observations have revealed to me all the spots where various urban snares and dead falls into the water can be found.

In the case of the shot above, the shoreline surrounding the bridge is decidedly unstable, with soils that are subsiding into the water and held together only by tree roots and subsurface pipes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Safe as houses, that’s how I’d describe the location this (rare for me) vertically oriented shot of the new Kosciuszcko Bridge was gathered, at the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road site. As above, so below, at the Newtown Creek.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve come to detest the LED lighting used on this and many other structures in modernity. This system of lighting creates an out of gamut series of colors, are far too bright, and give an otherwise nicely apportioned bridge the appearance of a garish Greek coffee shop back here in Astoria.


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Grand Street Bridge, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before you ask, no, I won’t be talking about Amazon HQ yet. Suffice to say that everybody I know is talking about the news co-announced today by the Dark Prince of Albany and the Dope from Park Slope that the internet giant will be based in LIC at future superfund site Anable Basin, but at this point in time I don’t have enough information about the plan to speak intelligently about its ramifications. Instead, a few night time shots of the venerable Grand Street Bridge connecting Maspeth with East Williamsburgh/Bushwick are on offer.

People argue with me about the Bushwick thing all the time, claiming that the section of Grand Street between Newtown Creek and Vandervoort Street is either Greenpoint or “East Williamsburgh,” to which I respond that it’s not. East Williamsburgh does have historical precedent, but it’s a term popularized by real estate interests. According to the old Ward maps of pre consolidation NYC (prior to 1898), Greenpoint ends at Meeker Avenue which is nearly a mile to the west of Grand Street. Yes, Greenpoint Hospital is indeed in Bushwick. Remember that “Bushwick” is synonymous with 1960’s racial unrest, 1970’s era riots, and a 1980’s crime hotspot during the Crack Wars to certain generations (Ridgewood residents fought like wildcats to have their own zip code that they didn’t share with their Bushwick neighbors, for instance, as their home and car insurance rates were higher than they should have been due to endemic crime). When gentrification came to North Brooklyn, “Bushwick” was not a “desirable brand,” hence the Real Estate Industrial Complex popularized the “East Williamsburgh” moniker for this area instead. That’s changed now, and Bushwick is now a “hot” neighborhood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is paying a bit more attention to the Grand Street Bridge these days than formerly, as the NYC Department of Transporation has announced their intention to replace it with a more modern structure purpose built to handle current traffic needs. The current Grand Street Bridge is the 1903 model, and the third iteration of a crossing between Brooklyn and Queens on this spot. The section of Newtown Creek it crosses is considered a tributary, and it’s called “The East Branch.”

Once upon a time, the East Branch flowed into Ridgewood, where it was fed by freshwater streams and springs trickling down the “ridge” which you’ll discern when walking along Onderdonk Avenue and other eastern destinations. Ridgewood is the beginning of actual geologic rock formations, with all the land west of it being elluvial fill deposited by glacial and riverine flooding. That’s why the zones around Newtown Creek are so flat, if you were wondering. The actual terminal morraine of Long Island begins a bit to the north east at Mount Olivette Cemetery, in proper Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been attempting to get as much night shooting around Newtown Creek in as possible before the weather turns bitter cold, which is why you’ve been seeing so much of it lately. I’ve been noticed by a few people wandering around the concrete devastations with a ridiculous yellow safety vest draped over the filthy black raincoat, setting up the tripod and all the other necessary gear needed for the pursuit. With the exception of few encounters with bored but zealous security guards, it’s been a fairly solitary pursuit, although in a couple of locations I opted to bring somebody along with me to watch my back. Frequent commenter and persistent curmudgeon Don Cavaioli was with me at English Kills last week, for instance, but for the shots in yesterday and today’s posts I was on my own.

I’ve been asked about personal security by a few people, but it’s not something I worry too much about. My biggest safety concerns have been centered around not getting squished by a truck, or snapping my ankle on a hidden sinkhole or fallen branch while picking my way around in the dark. If I had to call 911 for help in an emergency, I’d likely have a devil of a time describing where I am to them as I don’t think “Maspeth Plank Road” or “former Phelps Dodge” is necessarily reflected in the municipal system. My plan for such an eventuality would actually involve first calling one of my colleagues at Newtown Creek Alliance, beseeching them to aid in sending rescuers to a humble narrator.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

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