The Newtown Pentacle

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risible talisman

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It’s National Blueberry Muffin Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

July 11th, 1936. That’s the day that the Triborough Bridge was dedicated and opened for business. The favorite child of Robert Moses, this was the epicenter of the master builder’s early empire of highways, bridges, and parks. It’s the main room in the “House of Moses,” and the center of a web of concrete and steel that extends for hundreds of miles in all directions. All of Moses’ many roads ultimately lead to the toll booths at Triborough.

The bridge serves as a backdrop in tens of thousands of family photos found in the Astoria section of Queens, but there’s only a handful of living Astorians still left above the ground who can recall a time before there was a Triborough Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Caro, who wrote the definitive biography of Robert Moses, described the bridge as a “traffic machine.” Caro was being critical (as in the bridge generates and amplifies traffic congestion rather than solving it), of course, but I think Moses (who often opined that without high speed roads, the traffic would still be there but moving along local streets instead) would have had an affinity for the term.

There’s an exceptionally brief and easily digestible history of the Triborough Bridge (more accurately the Triborough Bridges and Highways complex) in this 2006 NY Times piece, for the curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Moses is famously and rightly associated with the Triborough, but it was Mayor Jimmy Walker who turned the first ceremonial shovel of dirt in Astoria Park on October 25 in 1929.

The bridge was conceived of, designed by, and it’s construction overseen (during most of construction) by the Chief Engineer of the NYC Department of Plant and Structures, Edward A. Byrne (who is coincidentally the fellow who did the Hunters Point Avenue and Borden Avenue Bridges over the Dutch Kill tributary of, and the vanished Vernon Avenue bridge at, Newtown Creek). Byrne became the first Chief Engineer of Moses’ Triborough Bridge Authority in 1933, but a silly political conflict forced him to resign and retire in 1934.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Reliable government source numbers I’ve reviewed, referring back to calendar 2015, inform that the Triborough Bridge hosts about 92,000 vehicle trips a day. That would shake out to something close to 33.6 million vehicle trips per annum.

Maybe “traffic machine” is the right description? 

At any rate, Happy Birthday to Mighty Triborough, from here in Astoria, Queens.


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

country seat

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It’s National Turkey Neck Soup Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Racing thoughts, cold sweats, night terrors, or existential anxieties notwithstanding – one is happy to report that the Hell Gate Bridge Centennial has been marked. Last weekend, one attended a walk conducted by the estimable Richard Melnick of Greater Astoria Historical Society celebrating the event. Mr. Melnick was joined by Dave Frieder, a photographer and bridge expert, as well as around fifty enthusiasts. For me, it was nice just to be around people who weren’t chasing or deriding.

Pictured above, a CSX freight train heading eastwards over the bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While following our course, the usual grand panoply of sights were encountered along the east river, including the transit of an articulated tug and barge – the Bouchard corporation’s “Evening Star” tug towing a fuel barge… It’s all so depressing, really.

As always, one reminds that whether they’re pulling or pushing, Tugboats are always “towing.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate bridge overflies Astoria Park, of course, and one spotted the curious tableau seen above while there.

I’ve been warning all of you about Lovecraftian phenomena occurring in Queens for years, and now at last I can demonstrate the presence of the Shoggoths amongst us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This looked like the kind of fun I would have enjoyed having as a child, in those halcyon days before my soul had been blackened to a crisp by the unrelenting fires of adulthood. Life – it’s become a neutral gray for me nowadays – banal, ashen, joyless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greater Astoria Historic Society has a full calendar of Hell Gate related programming coming up, and this summer the folks who live in “Astoria, Astoria” or plainly Astoria’s north side are planning a few summertime celebrations for Lindenthal’s triumphant arch bridge over the East River.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 30, 2017 at 1:00 pm

narrow slits

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It’s National Black Forest Cake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst shlepping about in Astoria, Queens – one often encounters cool cars. The one pictured above was a highly customized Chevy pickup which drew more than one admiring glance from both myself and some other bloke who was dressed as a butcher. I’m pretty sure he actually was a butcher, as after we compared notes on our admiration for the thing, he went into the butcher shop on the corner of 38th street. That would also explain the giant clots of blood I observed on the apron he was wearing, but you don’t ask too many questions about blood stains in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over by the NYCHA Astoria Houses, found to the north and west of that cool car mentioned above, one observed a group of workers building a dock to accommodate the Citywide Ferry service which is meant to be kicking into gear this summer. One advised everyone that would listen not to put it here, but nobody ever listens to little old me.

When a ferry leaves its dock in NY Harbor, regulation and custom demands that it signal its departure via the usage of a particularly loud foghorn. These horn toots are a regular complaint offered by the Manhattan people, who have docks near their homes along the Hudson, in the tony section called Battery Park City. Wonder how the Latin Kings of the Astoria Houses will react to it blowing outside their windows at seven in the morning.

It should have been placed to the south, at the Costco bulkheads where it would have become a viable transportation option for shoppers from Manhattan which would have made it an economically feasible stop and wouldn’t wake up anybody at seven in the morning, but as mentioned – nobody listens to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Traipsing down Jackson Avenue, one discovered that a Union protest of some sort (electricians, I think) was being aimed at the so called “5Ptz Towers” construction site. Personally, I’ve always believed there to be enough rodents of the home grown variety here in Long Island City, but there you go. One of these days, I’ve got to investigate where one would proceed to shop in pursuance of purchasing inflatable rodents. As you can see, there’s a regular and a family size model.


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great bridge

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It’s both National Crabmeat Day, and National Meatball day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happy official anniversary of the first train crossing of the Hell Gate Bridge! Personally, I’m going to attend the celebratory soirée at Greater Astoria Historic Society tonight, where Dave “the Bridgeman” Frieder is going to be talking. Dave Freider is a photographer and historian who probably knows more about this subject than anyone else alive, and he was featured in a recent NY Times article on the subject as well.

I’ve been talking about the Hell Gate bridge since Newtown Pentacle started. This recent post, commemorating the day on which the steel of the bridge was finished, for instance. As an aside, here’s a post on it’s neighbor to the south, the Triborough Bridge, and one of the many where a humble narrator described ships and other vessels passing beneath it. There’s that time I spotted an experimental combat vessel at Hells Gate, described here. The esoteric history of Hells Gate was discussed in this 2010 post, and the largest explosion in human history prior to the atomic era as well as why its called “Hells Gate” was offered way back in this 2009 post, and in this one as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually because of all the rattling on I’ve done over the years about Hell Gate that the decision to largely shut up and let you look at the pictures is offered today. Of course, since I’m a “Chatty Cathy,” that doesn’t mean I’m not going to fill the dead air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mose the fireboy is said to have strangled a sea serpent to death at Hell Gate in the early 19th century, a creature whose skin was draped over the bar at McGurk’s Suicide Palace during the legendary era of the Bowery B’hoys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate Bridge is federal property, specifically Amtrak, who acquired it out of the (then) largest bankruptcy in American history. It was the Pennsylvania railroad that built the thing, which eventually merged with their arch rivals at New York Central Railroad. The combined company, Penn Central Transportation Company (and its assets like Hell Gate), also collapsed into bankruptcy (in 1970) and were federalized by Richard Nixon into Amtrak and Conrail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This bridge is pretty much the only way off of a Long Island and onto the continent for freight rail. There’s a second and quite smaller structure called Little Hell Gate which isn’t not too far away, and that span carries rail traffic into the Bronx and from there all points north and west. On the other side of this connected track system, which is called the New York Connecting Railroad, is the Sunnyside Yard. That’s where the passenger links are, which lead to the east river tunnels, Penn Station, and the Hudson River tunnels.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hell Gate Bridge hurtles over Astoria Park, and fills the background of much of it. It’s a rite of passage for the “utes” of Astoria to find their way up to the tracks, I’m told, and there’s a legend they propagate that there’s a phantom train which emerges along the unused fourth trackway to chase and claim the unwary.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The arches of the NY Connecting Railroad continue eastwards, and as they do, begin to intersect with residential properties. There are dozens of homes in which the back yard plots include geometries formed by these cylcopean structures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria legend also describes a homeless serial killer of children who once lurked within the bridge’s Queens side tower. As the story goes, there’s a room in there where photos of the killer’s young victims are displayed. The 114th pct will deny that such a person ever existed, but will mention the occasional “ultra violence” that happens around the bridge – like the homeless man who had his skull crushed here a couple years back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The New York Connecting Railroad tracks continue on through Astoria, heading eastwards toward the edge of Woodside and then crossing Northern Blvd. Local community organizations sponsor the creation of murals on the street facing sections.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After 31st street, there is naked steel again, with the massive concrete structures giving way to columns and posts. There is still quite a bit of collossal concrete arch and balustrade along the route, of course.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s such a part of the Astoria landscape that seldom is it commented upon, the passing of the railroad.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happy birthday, Hell Gate Bridge. I’ll be thinking of you at Greater Astoria Historic Society’s “do” tonight.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

auto hypnosis

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It’s National Patty Melt Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Y’know, after all this time, it feels like certain sections of my particular oeuvre are running a bit dry. I mean, how much more can I possibly say about First Calvary Cemetery at this point in time. Of course, that’s the way it “feels,” not the way it actually is. Accordingly, I revisit my search parameters periodically and see if anything new has popped up. To wit – this 2016 link from the NY Post.

I say it all the time, you never know what you’re going to find in Calvary Cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One cannot offer you any tales of goblins or phantoms harassing the 1933 vintage Court Square IND station, I just kind of like the shot offered above. I can tell you the place does seem pretty haunted, sometimes, but I know what lurks some fifty stories or so above this spot – in the cupola of the sapphire megalith of LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A shot in the dark, literally, I found a hole in a fence that my camera could rest in for the shot above and pulled off a near total darkness handheld thingamabob. That’s Bushwick Inlet at the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, for the curious. There’s a WHOLE lot going on at the moment, which I’ll be discussing later in the week, so forgive my brevity.

The battle of Queens, I’m afraid to say, is finally afoot.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

open window

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It’s National Police Day in the Arab Republic of Egypt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing a wintry night time walk to Brooklyn, one prepared to surmount the Pulaski Bridge over Newtown Creek. As you’d imagine, one spends quite a bit of his time walking back and forth over this crossing. Not only does the bridge rise to a fairly high altitude which allows for spectacular views of Newtown Creek, East River, and the skyline of the Shining City of Manhattan – the Pulaski Bridge walk is actually pretty good cardio.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mentioned in yesterday’s post was the fact that I was employing my “night kit” lenses. Longtime and frequent commenter Georgtheatheist inquired as to the specifics of my kit, and wondered why I carried both the Sigma 50-100mm f 1.8 and a Canon 50mm f 1.8, given that they replicate each other’s range. Accordingly, I’m “lifting the hood” on today’s post, and talking a little bit about how the engine runs here at your Newtown Pentacle.

Short answer is this – the Sigma lens is BIG, and incredibly heavy. Being a large lens, it gathers a lot of attention to itself, which can be problematic when encountering baser members of the street population – that’s part of it. The other is purely ergonomic – as mentioned above it’s quite heavy, and gets in the way when I’m walking along at my usual brisk pace. George asked why I don’t just use an “extender” on the 50mm prime lens, and part of the answer is that I’d have to sacrifice some of the light gathering wide apertures of the lens if I did. The other is that I’ve timed myself and I can do a lens swap, from in the bag to triggering the shutter, in around 15-20 seconds.

There’s also a difference in the esthetic quality and rendering of the shots, as captured by the individual pieces of glass. The first shot in today’s post was captured using the aforementioned 50-100, while the one above was gathered using a wider angle Sigma lens – the 18-35 f 1.8. The one below is from the Canon 50mm. There are minor differences in exposure times on them, but shots 2 & 3 are within 1/75th of a second of each other, with identical ISO sensitivity and aperture. Just because two lenses have the same specifications doesn’t mean that the shots gathered with them look the same.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The whole point of what I’ve been working on for a while now is to capture a reasonable amount of image fidelity and quality in low light situations without using camera supports like a tripod. These are all hand held shots, gathered in the same manner which I would employ when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is bobbing around in the vault of the sky.

That “manner” is basically me walking along and saying “wow, look at that.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where things get weird with this whole night shooting business is in an area described as “color temperature.” The new LED luminaire heads that NYC DOT has been installing around NYC throw off a bluish light that’s officially “4300 Kelvin” but which the camera will render as orange if you set it to that. In Canon camera world, that 4300K is best reset to about 3100K. If you’re in an area which has a monotypical series of these LED’s, the developing scenario is simple.

It’s when you see the old school sodium lamps on the same street as the LED’s that things go “ass over tits.” Check out the blue LED light meeting the orange sodium lamps in Greenpoint’s DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A digital image is composed of three “plates” which mix and form a color image. RGB as the color space is known, the Red and Green plates are supplying most of the color information to the image above, and the Blue is where the shadows are being formed. Because of the orange sodium light mixing with the “Pulaski Red” paint color of the bridge, when this image came off my camera card it was practically flourescent.

A problem inherent with high ISO images, this one is 6400, is image noise. It’s produced by the sensor itself during the gathering process, and most of it manifests on the red and green plates. Finding the right balance between color temperature at the time of capture versus the time of developing the digital negative – or RAW format – file is important. Beyond the technical stuff, it’s also important to remember what the subject actually looked like while you were shooting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, depicting a NYC DOT truck parked under the Pulaski, was a difficult one. It’s a yellow truck, bathed in orange sodium light, with blue LED street lights peeking in from behind the fences. The original RAW file was basically a study in orange and black. The color temperature was adjusted down, as was saturation and half a dozen other developing options.

Back tomorrow with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 25, 2017 at 1:00 pm

abominations and blasphemies

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Fight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gaze upon the Newtown Creek. Currently an EPA Superfund site. Is it going to be one for long? Will there be an EPA this time next year? Would this be a good place, instead, to site a black and gold casino? I’ve been considering the Trump victory, and its implications. I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff written by people like myself, who thought the Presidential Election would be a logical slam dunk in favor of the more qualified candidate. All of us “lefties” have had to admit that we were wrong in our assumptions that our fellow Americans would actually vote in their own economic and cultural interest.

C’Est la Vie. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Early thoughts on the “new normal” involve trying to take advantage of it, which is the American Way. Should Mr. Trump make good on his promise to build a wall across the narrow part of the North American Continent, rebar and Portland Cement futures look like they’ll be a promising investment. Also, I’m planning on finding out who the leading players in immigration law are, and whether or not they are publicly traded companies.

It’s the EPA thing that we’re all talking about on the Creek, I would mention.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s going to be a very interesting few years, I think.

Mainly, because the Republican Congress is likely going to eat the new President for lunch. Those are shark infested waters down in the District. Let’s face it though, all that Donald Trump actually wants to do stand in front of the cameras while cutting the ribbon on all the “bridges to nowhere” and crony projects they’re going to be building.

The game just continues. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, and as I’ve often opined – National Politics is way above my pay grade. I’ve got other, more decidedly local problems to worry about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been on a Newtown Creek vacation for the last month, and it’s time for me to get back on the job.


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