The Newtown Pentacle

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possible reinforcements

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Block by block in LIC, from grave to rail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In a post last week – I mentioned that shortly after visiting the Kosciuszko Bridge construction site, the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself had managed to burn off the atmospheric gray miasma which had occluded it. As I moved inexorably northwards back to Astoria, via First Calvary Cemetery, the sky – and light – seemed to get better and better.

Pictured above is the skyline of the Modern Corridor of LIC, rising beyond the tombstones set into what those who lived during the colonial era would have called Laurel Hill. Note the change in elevation. The flood plain of the East River and the Newtown Creek is what they’re built on. Back here in Blissville, the ground begins to rise as you head eastwards towards the start of the terminal moraine of Long Island in Maspeth, and the bluff which gives Ridgewood its name.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the main gate of Calvary Cemetery above, stout ironwork which is decorated with the fasces of the Romans. Obviously, leaving Calvary is a privilege, as most who enter it stay there forever. In the distance, beyond the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the world’s longest parking lot – called the Long Island Expressway (in hushed whispers) – is the Degnon Terminal. The former industrial park adjoins LIC’s tributary of Newtown Creek, called Dutch Kills.

The street closest to the gates is Greenpoint Avenue. To the left, or south – is the infinity of Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The LIE arrived in Long Island City as the same time as the Midtown Tunnel, and a year after the Kosciuszko Bridge opened. It cut LIC in half, but when you’re in the “House of Moses,” that’s a typical and oft repeated story. An argument I often end up in is with those who have grown up in Western Queens who tell me that they don’t live in LIC. They’ll claim Sunnyside or Astoria are distinct, separate, and that LIC is “over there.”

If you live in a zip code that starts with “111” you live in Long Island City. That’s the code associated with the municipality’s former holding by the United States Post Office. Using the example of the “Miracle on 34th street” movie, if th USPS says it – it’s true. I win.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This used to be Hoffman Avenue, in a time during which virtually no one currently alive would remember. It’s in Sunnyside, which is the name assigned to the neighborhood surrounding Queens Blvd. shortly after the IRT Flushing Line was built and opened. The so called “Philadelphia plan” rechristened the north/south “named” streets of “Long Island City” heights, later Sunnyside, with numbers instead of names like “Bliss” or “Lowery” or “Laurel Hill Blvd.”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An east/west avenue, Skillman is named for an old farming family and provides the century old southern border for the Sunnyside Yards. There used to be a “Pest House” nearby, during colonial and early 19th century times, where sick and dying residents would be quarantined away from the rest of the population to avoid the spread of epidemics. Skillman Avenue is built on a bluff, or ridge, that used to look down on the pestilential swamps that sat between it and through which Jackson (modern day Northern Blvd.) Avenue was built.

All of that changed with City consolidation in 1898, and the later construction of the gargantuan Sunnyside Yards by the Pennsylvania Railroad company at the start of the 20th century. Robert Moses renamed the stretch of Jackson Avenue that goes from 31st street to Flushing as Northern Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, I can describe where you’ll find every single hole in the fencing surrounding the 180 plus acre Sunnyside Yards complex is located, and the one which provided vantage in the shot above is one of my favorites. It overlooks the Long Island Railroad Main Line, which has been carrying commuters from east to west, and back again, since 1870.


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unctuous haggling

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Banal pedantry, Northern Blvd., and the carriers of cars – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering about in the dark along the Carridor, or Northern Blvd. as most people call it, one was recently contemplating his place in the world and the meaning of everything. Given that any long hard look in the mirror only depresses a humble narrator, I tend to avoid turning my famously incisive vision upon myself for fear of what I may see in a pane of silvered glass. I’ve taken to wandering about in the dark these days, suffering the lapsing of the lonely hours one must endure before the beckoning of the grave becomes irresistible, and in darkness so as to spare others a chance meeting with one so aberrant.

How’s that for holiday season depression? Pretty good, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This section of the Northern Blvd. Carridor is distinguished by gargantuan used car lots, and the biggest one is owned and operated by Major Auto World. There’s a couple of smaller players, but if you’re between 43rd and 47th streets and spot a car lot, the odds are that the auto retailer is owned or franchised by Major.

The good news is that unlike Northern Astoria or Maspeth, no mob of torch wielding peasants has ever chased me around these parts. A monster does have feelings, y’know.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One became fascinated watching the dark of night show as multiple car carriers disgorged their cargo to the various car lots for display and eventual sale. Car Carriers are endlessly engaging and curious vehicles to me, although the ones I’m truly occupied by are the ones that carry trucks to the car lots. The whole idea of a truck which carries trucks appeals to me, but – after all – I am an idiot.

At any rate, the ones spotted recently at the Carridor were carrying cars, not trucks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The amazing part of all of this action on Northern Blvd. – to me – was the haphazard manner in which it was conducted. Spending as much time as I do around union guys – my neighbor Mario sets up safety cones when we BBQ – it is startling to see the car carriers unloaded right into the middle of oncoming traffic with nothing more than the truck’s hazard lights to indicate to oncoming traffic that a sticky situation is about to be entered.

What do I know, however? It’s all banal, isn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The trucker unloading this car carrier rig noticed me taking pictures and shot me what would have been called – in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn – as the “hairy eyeball.” Not really caring too much, and hoping for some sort of antagonist provocation to break through the numb pedantry of my daily round, I kept shooting.

Nothing happened, though, and it was decided that my existential boredom hadn’t peaked yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One last shot, captured whilst scuttling away to the west.

The whole “night photography thing” continues to excite me, as you may have noticed. A couple of new “digital darkroom” tricks I’ve worked out and have begun to institute in pursuance of conquering the digital “noise” inherent in lowlight shots are also proving highly interesting.

Saying that, I’m still not exactly in love with my results, but I’m starting to get close to where I want to go.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To wit, this shot from Greenpoint, which is the sort of “range of human vision” effect that I’m pursuing.

Something to do in the dark, I guess. It’s all pretty depressing, though.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

certain amount

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Holiday traditions, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday, like every other history geek in Queens, I found myself at Queens Plaza waiting for the MTA’s annual “Holiday Nostalgia Trains” event to start. I missed the first roll through, as I was up fairly late the night before, but got there in time for the second showing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Nostalgia Trains are late model subway cars maintained by the transit museum that are still quite functional. They make a round trip from Queens Plaza to the City’s Second Avenue stop on what’s normally the “F” line.

As an aside, my railfan pals can cogently argue that the subway cars which the modern day F is using could qualify as museum pieces, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the Nostalgia Trains run several models of car which would be familiar to New Yorkers of the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s and so on. Some of these units were online as late as the 1970’s, I’m told. Back in the day (as late as the 1980’s), as it were, the L or Canarsie line had incredibly low ridership by modern standards, so MTA used some of these antiques to service it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One missed last year’s Nostalgia Trains, for a variety of reasons, but after the long holiday weekend – Our Lady of the Pentacle suggested that I get out of the house for a while. I ran into a number of people I know onboard, and met a few new people – including a Subway Historian named Andrew J. Sparburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MTA is going to be running the Nostalgia Trains every Sunday during December, and the link below offers a bit of nitty gritty about the eight historic examples of their rolling stock, and a schedule of when and where you can board and ride.

from mta.info

Seven of the cars on the “Shoppers Special” are nearly identical except one: No. 1575, which appears much more modern than the rest of the consist. No. 1575 is the prototype for the subway car class that followed the R1/9, with amenities such as fluorescent lights and smaller ceiling fans. Customers can visit the train year-round at the Transit Museum, though it sometimes makes guest appearances for special occasions such as anniversaries and the holidays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does wish that MTA had preserved just one of these historic units in the actual distopian condition which distinguished the NYC Subways during the “bad old days.” Graffiti, mess, etc. It would be great if they hired a professional junkie to pass out on the rattan seats as well. Spray some piss scented air freshener around, hire a couple of thugs to menace the crowds, etc. Poop on the windows… y’know – New Yawk, Fun City.

The problem with museum pieces is often the loving restoration, which belies what their true operational ambience was.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I was rather happy that all of the shooting which I’ve been doing in the Subways over the last couple of years seems to have finally paid off. Practice, practice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The nostalgia trains carried us from Queens Plaza to Manhattan, where a short interval was suffered and the reverse trip was begun. I spent much of the first half of the journey catching up with friends and acquaintances, then got busy on the return to Queens Plaza.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you’re planning on attending and photographing the trains, I’d recommend bringing along a bright lens (f2.8 or better) and shooting at a fairly high ISO speed. Modern subways are quite a bit better lit than these survivors.

The shot above, if you’re curious – was captured at f3.5, ISO 4000, and a shutter speed of 1/250th. It’s also pretty important, when shooting in the “system,” to adjust your color temperature settings. If you’re on AWB or “auto white balance,” you’re going to be losing a whole lot of the image to an orange cast which will increase image noise. I shoot in raw format, and therefore always adjust the color temperature of the shot during the development process, but these were captured under the menu settings for tungsten light and later adjusted to 3750K.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thanking the merciful creator that I didn’t have to spend much time in Manhattan, the Nostalgia trains soon reentered Queens Plaza, where riders were commanded to debark by the MTA personell. It seems they didn’t want us to see the turnaround track, for some reason.

Funny thing is, the crowd who was in attendance at this event seemed to be at least 50% railfan. Railfans will tell you the kind – and exact model – of the screws used to hold the track in place, when it was installed, and where the rails were forged.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train disappeared into the east bound tunnel, whereupon it executed a reversal along the occluded turnaround track, and then picked up another load of lookie loos for the journey back to Second Avenue.

The Nostalgia trains are running every Sunday until the end of the year.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 2, 2016 at 11:30 am

engulfed in

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Stealing the Sky, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one was headed for Queens Plaza and accordingly marched down Jackson Avenue. The startling rapidity of construction going on in the area claws at my sanity, as in nearly half a century spent in NYC, I’ve never met anyone who said “Man, I really want to live in Queens Plaza.” Queens Plaza? Really?

The shot above is from about a week ago, specifically the morning of the 19th of November in 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from June of 2015, and represents approximately the same point of view as the one above – although I was a little further west on Jackson Avenue than I was in the 2016 shot, and the N train is crossing the POV. LIC is one of the few spots in NYC these days where you can produce a “now and then” shot that only covers a 17 month interval.

Woof!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The two furthest buildings are going up on the site of the former West Chemical factory, which is classified as a NYS Brownfield Opportunity Area – meaning there’s a bunch of “yuck” in the ground left over from the age of industry. According to various sources, this construction you’re looking at – in Queens Plaza – will bring something like 1,800 apartments online in the next couple of years, and represents more than a million square feet of development. That’s a lot of toilets flushing into the decrepit Bowery Bay sewer plant, which overflows into Newtown Creek.

Stealing the sky, indeed.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 29, 2016 at 11:00 am

strong nerved

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LIC cat, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m taking a short break this week, and offering single images of the Internet’s favorite critter. These are all ferals, encountered in the nooks and crannies of NYC which I wander through. Have a great Thanksgiving.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 25, 2016 at 11:00 am

blasphemous disturbance

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Evil lurks, in darkness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has long decried the presence of a horde of vampires in Queens Plaza, where they spend their days hiding in the steel of the elevated subways. The presence of the Baltic Strigoi and the Cretan Kalikantzaros in Astoria, the Liches and the syncretic wizardry of South America observed at St. Michael’s Cemetery, the Egyptian Djinn of Steinway Street, those curious Celtic creatures lurking in the post industrial subterrene voids of Blissville, and the unmentionable Dibbuks of the Chabad in Williamsburg have all been discussed in the past. These are all immigrant imps, however, carried to Brooklyn and Queens by the European masses. Supernatural immigrants from old world to new.

Occluded, however, are the belief systems of the original inhabitants of western Long Island.

from wikipedia

Kishelemukong is the creator god, not involved in the daily affairs of the Lenape. Instead, he directed the manitowak, the life-spirits of all living things, which were created by Kishelemukong. The manitowak were venerated in ceremonies, rituals, dreams, visions, games and ohtas (see below), as well as through the interventions of the Metinuwak, who were healers, spiritual and emotional guides, and religious leaders; they could communicate with the manitowak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Living, as we do, in a time when the 19th and 20th cultures of Brooklyn and Queens are being dismantled and burned away in the crucible of “development,” one has been ruminating of late about the aboriginal cultures which were similarly dismantled by the Manhattan people during earlier eras. The “Lenapehoking” pre conquest era has captured my interest, but I’m dismayed at the primary source materials which I’ve been able to lay my hands on. Unfountuntely, much of the early source material on the subject I’ve scanned propagates the mythology of the “Noble Savage” and what Kipling called “The White Man’s Burden.”

Problem is that almost everything I’ve been able to find on the Lenape – and their various cultural splinters around New York Harbor – was written by the very same people who decimated and conquered them. It’s a bit like reading a Nazi history of the Second World War, or a British history of their empire in the Raj. I’m looking for some guidance on the subject, books to read, scholars to query. I’ve already reached out through my social network to modern day members of the surviving Lenape nation, but that’s a set of relationships I’m just beginning to develop. Any suggestions on “what to read” would be greatly appreciated, if you happen to be clever about the subject, and I’d ask you to share links and suggestions “with the group” by dropping links into the comments link below.

from wikipedia

A noble savage is a literary stock character who embodies the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity’s innate goodness. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden’s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. “Savage” at that time could mean “wild beast” as well as “wild man”. The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This line of inquiry was initiated for me by an argument I found myself in with an academic ignoramus who decided to describe the Lenape to an audience of students not too long ago. Her version of the Native Americans of New York Harbor was a composite of Hollywood representations of the Cree and Lakota cultures, which included teepees and solar worship.

I am quite familiar with the Native cultures of northern and central Mexico, as a note. The Mexica – or Aztec – imperial culture of Lake Texcoco is something which I’ve studied in great depth for instance. I can actually offer quotations of Aztec poetry, speak intelligently about their economy and agricultural systems, and have a more than passing knowledge of the complexity of their religious traditions. If the Mexica Triple Alliance Empire – Aztec is a Spanish word – had another hundred years to develop, the Europeans would have encountered an analogue of Cesarean Rome when they landed at Vera Cruz, and the story of the North American continent would have turned out VERY different than it did.

Wisdom of crowds time, lords and ladies – what and who should I be reading?

from wikipedia

The Lenape (/ləˈnɑːpɛ/) are a Native American tribe and First Nations band government. They are also called Delaware Indians and their historical territory included present day New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania along the Delaware River watershed, western Long Island, and the Lower Hudson Valley.

Most Lenape were pushed out of their homeland during the 18th century by expanding European colonies, exacerbated by losses from intertribal conflicts. Lenape communities were weakened by newly introduced diseases, mainly smallpox, and violent conflict with Europeans. Iroquois people occasionally fought the Lenape. Surviving Lenape moved west into the upper Ohio River basin. The American Revolutionary War and United States’ independence pushed them farther west. In the 1860s, the United States government sent most Lenape remaining in the eastern United States to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma and surrounding territory) under the Indian removal policy. In the 21st century, most Lenape now reside in the US state of Oklahoma, with some communities living also in Wisconsin, Ontario (Canada) and in their traditional homelands.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 16, 2016 at 2:00 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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