The Newtown Pentacle

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leaden jars

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Failure is often the only option, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been on a holy tear of late on the real estate development and gentrification situation here in Western Queens. I’ve been pissing off a bunch of people I know in government by doing so, and have received the usual “who do you think you are?” accusations and chides. My standard response is “I’m a citizen, and how dare you act like some sort of landed gentry towards me when ultimately all you’ve got is a government job.” It was common sense when I was growing up that taking a government job (as opposed to working for a corporation) was all about the security and pension benefits. What you didn’t get in terms of annual salary today, you’d get back in the long term during retirement. In my neighborhood – DSNY was considered a good career bet, as well as becoming a teacher, as they had the strongest Unions with the best “bennys.” My pal “Special Ed”‘s dad told us all that we should seriously consider becoming court bailiffs.

Of course, that’s my “working class” outlook at work, and back then the gub’mint wasn’t the pathway one took in pursuance of eventually securing a high paid corporate consultancy job.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Something happened during the Bloomberg era, however. “Gubmint” jobs suddenly accrued a new status and the suits from corporate America began to talk about “service.” They took the pay cut, accepted a position at this agency or that, and began applying the rules of business to government policy. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are pretty clever folks and the amount of brain (and Rolodex) power they brought with them to lower Manhattan is impressive. Problem being, they have an inherently profit based modus operandi due to their experiences in the “real world.” The “Gubmint” ain’t supposed to turn a profit.

Thing is, most of these “Gubmint” people aren’t from “here,” and they seem to regard New York City with a thinly veiled disgust.

For example – remember when Dan Doctoroff described the Sunnyside Yards as “a scar” he saw from his office window in Manhattan a couple of years ago? Mr. Doctoroff was born in Newark, but grew up in Birmingham, Michigan and then attended Harvard University. A suburb of Detroit, the demographics of Birmingham are 96% Caucasian (according to the 2000 census), and a mere 1.6% of the population of Birmingham lives below the poverty line. The median income for a household in that city in 2000 was $80,861, and the median income for a family was $110,627. Not exactly East New York, or the South Bronx, or Astoria. Mr. Doctoroff is famously Michael Bloomberg’s right hand man and the fellow who ran Bloomberg LLC while his boss was Mayor, and is accordingly quite affluent. He’s the very definition of the “one percent” and a leading member of the “elite.” I don’t imagine Mr. Doctoroff goes fishing in his penny jar for bagel money when it’s the Thursday before payday, has never had to “borrow from Peter to pay Paul,” or lived in financial fear that the City DOB might impoverish him with an unexpected order to repair or replace his concrete sidewalk.

In other words, what in hell does Dan Doctoroff know about life in working class Queens?

Doctoroff and his cohorts created the term “affordable housing” which the current Mayor has made his own. The question often asked is “affordable by who”? The Citizens Budget Commission boiled that down in this post from last year. The upshot of it is that in order to create this so called “affordable” apartment stock, which is unaffordable to the low income people it’s meant to serve, the rent on “market” rate apartments actually has to go up to cover the cost. This redistribution of wealth hits the middle and working class on two fronts – higher monthly rents, and the application of their tax dollars to subsidize the real estate development which reluctantly includes the so called “affordable” units.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personal experience from having actually grown up in NYC suggests that whomever the politicians and planners set out to “help” end up getting hurt.

Having grown up in what would be considered a “low income” family under modern terms, we members of the Waxman clan migrated to the outer edges of the City (Brooklyn’s Canarsie section) where housing was found that we could afford. That’s where relative affluence and dire poverty comingled, and created a culture. This was possible due to a preexisting infrastructure of subways and highways that allowed egress to and from the commercial center in Manhattan, but there were still plenty of jobs to be had locally. Manufacturing, commercial, shops. If you played your cards right, you could earn a living and never once have to go into the City. That’s changed, and the ongoing loss of this manufacturing and commercial side of the working class economy is excaberated by this affordable housing craze which perceives any large footprint lot as being a potential development site.

If a building went up in the 1970’s or 80’s, which included low income housing, that had a separate entrance or “poor door” there would have been bloody riots.

The reason for that is the City planners and “Gubmint” officialdom were mostly native New Yorkers who lived in and were loyal to the neighborhoods they oversaw, and who understood that “it’s not all about Manhattan.” Doctoroff and his acolytes see the City as the solution and not the problem. The looming infrastructure crisis this rapid development is causing will impoverish the City. A century ago, when the newly consolidated City of Greater New York was being similarly developed – the politicians built the subways and sewers first, then they sold off or awarded the adjoining properties at bargain prices to their cronies like Cord Meyer and Fred Trump.

The infrastructure investments made between 1898 and 1940 allowed NYC to grow beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Unfortunately, these days we are doing the opposite, and allowing the buildings to be erected first. The bill for all of the municipal machinery will come after the population loading is finished.


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lurking place

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It’s all so exciting, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The funny thing, for me and perhaps for you, is that today and tomorrow’s posts aren’t the ones I originally intended to present. There are two perfectly fine posts in the unpublished folder which are completely written and formatted and ready to go, but for some reason I just didn’t want to release them into the wild this week. Really can’t tell you why, other than they continue a recent theme rattling on about “the looming infrastructure crisis due to real estate development” which has been explored in recent weeks – so instead – a few pix from a recent walk around LIC. I need a vacation, I really do.

That’s an “at grade” crossing of Borden Avenue which the Long Island Railroad has been using since the 1870’s pictured above. There are just a few of these “at grade” interactions between automotive traffic and rail in NYC, and the Queens side of Newtown Creek is where you can find several of them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cupola of LIC’s sapphire megalith was just peeking out over a couple of squamous warehouse buildings on Borden Avenue, a bit further to the east. Despite the unlikely presence of some inhuman “thing” up there, which greedily stares down upon the world of men with a three lobed burning eye, I often utilize the megalith as a navigation tool while moving through some of the distaff areas surrounding the Newtown Creek.

You can easily see this building from as far away as Staten Island. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Throwing my feet around in the area I have christened as “the empty corridor” beneath the Long Island Expressway, which is observationally and historically a fine choice for illegal dumping, this somewhat adolescent cat greeted me recently. One of the interesting things I’ve been noticing of late is that site managers all over the Creek are setting up shelters for the ferals and encouraging them to hang around.

I’ve inquired with a few people on this subject and the reasoning behind the effort boils down to that hiring an exterminator to control rodents is quite expensive, and encouraging a “staff” of onsite 24 hour exterminators to take up residence isn’t. Same logic that farmers use, actually.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 13, 2016 at 11:01 am

fear him

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Remember, remember the fourteenth of September.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One word before I delve into the usual narrative here – I was attacked by friggin Grasshoppers while in pursuit of some of the images in today’s post. Grasshoppers, as in a biblical plague like swarm of giant bugs flying at me with murder on their minds – a gang of grasshoppers in friggin Long Island City.

It occurs, since these shots were largely collected on the 11th of September, that there are certain calendrical markers which loom large in the collective mind. Unfortunately, these events tend to reflect recent history, whereas other moments which were once considered to be of maximum importance are forgotten. September 11th will be remembered for the events of 2001, of course, but what about September the 14th?

On this day in 326 A.D., Emperor Constantine the Great’s mom Helena (Helena was the Augusta Imperatrix) is said to have recovered a piece of the True Cross in Palestine, as well as finding the site of the burning bush and a few other odds and ends. She’s a Saint now, the Augusta Imperatrix.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even on the day of the attacks, I mentioned to the little gaggle of refugees who had gathered at my home office in Upper Manhattan that it would be just a matter of two to three decades before Sept. 11th became a legal holiday of national remembrance like Labor Day. Within five to six decades, it would lose its significance, like Labor Day or Veterans Day have. Future generations would figure their vacations around the week between Labor Day and what will likely be called Remembrance Day, and there would be sales at retailers. It’s crass, but that’s the American way.

In 1741, George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” was completed on this day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I was out wandering around on the 11th in Long Island City, it was somewhat forefront in my mind that I wanted to get an uncommon shot of the Freedom Tower from Newtown Creek, which is why I was wandering around in spots which are normally avoided due to fear of arrest for trespassing. The shot above overlooks the DB Cabin railroad bridge and the mouth of Dutch Kills, incidentally.

In 1812, an antichrist named Napoleon marched the Grand Armée of France into the City of Moscow on September 14th.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Have to admit – I was actually enjoying the day, and the solitude, for once. I love conducting my Newtown Creek tours on the weekends, bringing people to the crazy places I know around the Creek and reciting the historical trivia, but it does get in the way of me doing “my thing” with the camera. Having a Sunday off for once, the headphones were stuck into my ears and I spent several happy hours listening to my collection of HP Lovecraft audio books. In particular – the Horror at Red Hook, The Outsider, The Thing on the Doorstep, and The Shunned House were in rotation last week. Pictured above is the Cabin M rail bridge over Dutch Kills.

In 1901, President William McKinley died. The President was shot by an anarchist on Sept. 6th, and it was gangrene that ended up doing him in. McKinley’s Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded him.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was while I was crouched down to get the shot above that the Grasshoppers grew angry at me, and hundreds of chitin clad bullets suddenly erupted from the brush. While I was flailing about in the buzzing crowd, a cramp developed in my left arm and one of my “spells” came upon me. I must’ve been laying on the tracks crying for a good half hour, cursing the fact that I hadn’t decided on studio photography rather than urban landscape. The horror…

On Sept. 14th in 1959, a Soviet built probe called “Luna 2” crashed into the moon, making it the first man made object to reach the satellite.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scarred by the insect attack, I decided “enough” and headed for home back in Astoria. I was hungry, desired an alcoholic beverage to steel myself after the grasshopper incident, and was working out how to exact my revenge on the horde of exoskeletal bastards who had harrassed me. Astoria? Only primates, dogs, cats, and rats live in Astoria. Ok, we’ve got possums and raccoons too, but you catch my drift. We ain’t got grasshoppers.

In 1715, the French monk Dom Pérignon died on September 14th, and in 1836 – so did Aaron Burr. In the United States, September 14th is “National Eat a Hoagie day.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Be back tomorrow with some other drivel and a bunch of pix.

If you’re not doing anything after work tomorrow, I’ll be narrating on the Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour for the Working Harbor Committee, along with Capt. Maggie Flanagan of Waterfront Alliance. Come with? We’re boarding at Wall Street/Pier 11 at 5:30 and the weather is meant to be bloody brilliant. Link below for tix.

Upcoming tours and events:


“Brooklyn Waterfront – Past & Present” boat tour
with Working Harbor Committee, Thursday, September 15th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“13 Steps around Dutch Kills” walking tour
with Atlas Obscura, Sunday, September 18th from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


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black coat

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Back in session.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news about my recent two week break is that it allowed an interval in which a humble narrator could really drill down and focus in on how lousy a human being I am. Lots of 3 a.m. staring into the bathroom mirror, accompanied by vast introspection and self loathing, has been accomplished.

Unfortunately I didn’t get much done, in terms of getting “out” and doing my “thing” for a variety of reasons. A few Newtown Creek oriented meetings were attended, however. Notably, I was at one with some high ranking DEP officials at the sewer plant in Greenpoint, where presentations on the final stages of construction of that mammoth facility were offered (I also went to the Bronx Zoo, but that’s a different story).

It seems the Nature Walk phases two and three, which will create a corridor between Kingsland Avenue and the current entrance to the NCWWTP Nature Walk on Paidge, are slightly delayed but funded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP reported to the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee – which I’m a member of – that “NCMC” (as it’s called), will continue to exist throughout these final stages of Nature Walk construction and that DEP has renewed the contract for our technical advisor and community liaison – a wonderful and quite clever guy named Steve Fleischacker. This is great news. The DEP then moved on to report on the “Waste to Energy” project they’re doing with National Grid.

The “Waste to Energy” thing, in a nutshell, boils down to DSNY collecting organic (food waste) garbage then delivering it to a waste management facility over at the tripartite border of Greenpoint, Ridgewood, and Bushwick for processing into a “macerated slurry.” This slurry will then be trucked over to the sewer plant, where one eighth of the total capacity of the sewer plant has been committed to the production of methane gas – which the National Grid people will incorporate into their system and then sell to their customers.

Of course, that’s when the lying started, but if you walk out of a meeting with DEP and they haven’t fibbed at least once – then you know something is really wrong. DEP claims that there will only be six truck trips a day between the Waste Management facility and their own, but didn’t count the DSNY truck trips through Greenpoint. When I asked them to define “truck,” they all started leaning in and whispering to each other, and finally admitted that by “truck” they’re mean a semi tractor trailer pulling a massive 50,000 plus gallon tank through mostly residential streets.

That’s for Month one of the “waste to energy” project, by month twelve, they anticipate doubling the number of truck trips. They also haven’t done the math on months thirteen to twenty four yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DEP, which manages both the sweet (drinking) and tainted (sewerage) water systems for the megalopolis, is the very definition of the “permanent government.” There’s a hidden world of “lifers” and bureaucrats who actually run the agency, but the commissioner levels of management are directly tied to the political vagaries of NYC. In the last ten years, I’ve seen four executive teams come and go. They all make promises and commitments to the community, but when a new political order is decided on at City Hall and the Mayor moves someone new into the job – they are not obliged to honor the commitments of their forbears.

The DEP officials assured me that as long as the current Mayoral administration is in place, their promises are exactly that. For what DEP’s promises are worth and the realities of a “politics first” approach to municipal management, and an interesting look at the expediencies of City Hall – I suggest a read of this recent whistleblower NY Times article describing the “Water Tunnel #3” scandal.

Also, tour season is upon us again, so if you want to actually get a read on how repellant a human being I am in person – click the link below and come out to Greenpoint next Saturday for “Obscura Day.”

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April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

occasional indifference

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It’s all so depressing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too much to report to you today, Lords and Ladies. The hermitage season has certainly seen me shooting a whole lot of macro shots of foodstuffs, but otherwise a humble narrator has been stuck in the house nursing a wounded shoulder and disabled right arm. Wish I could describe some outré tale about the infirmity, but just chalk it up to age, and the “pain squirrel.” One has hit that section of life wherein something hurts every day, and whichever branch of the bodily tree that the pain squirrel has decided to inhabit that morning is where you’ll find the offending sensation.

Aches and pains are just a part of life, like taxes and a lonely death, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shoulder thing has been a “mofo” however. I’m right hand dominant, and unfortunately the limb that hand dangles off of is the affected one. My left arm is used as little more than a paper weight, and the right one has been nigh useless for about a week. If this sort of thing was occurring in my left arm, of course, I’d be in a hospital and under the care of a cardiologist. Saying that, this has little to do with the heart and circulatory system, instead it’s a pinched nerve which is slowly unpinching. Opiate pain medications were required just to accomplish a few hours of sleep when the condition first manifested, and one was forced to fashion himself a sling. Shoulder and tricep were dancing around unbidden within the skinvelope, my bicep muscle felt as if it was being eaten by a horde of beetles, and my elbow was reporting back to the brain that it had become hollow. Additionally, my wrist was of the belief that it had become packed in ice.

The dog was quite concerned, but she made a play to assume the alpha/dominar position in our household pack.  What can I say, she’s a dog, that’s what they do when they sense weakness. In the case of my dog, of course, rebellion took the form of her staring at me while she “woofed.” Her play ended when Our Lady of the Pentacle got home, since we all know who’s really in charge around here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, I’ve got zilch as far as new stuff to show you this week. Today, and for the next couple of days, it’s going to be shots from the archives – such as the twilight shot of the Sunnyside Yards above. Pain Squirrel and canid rebellion notwithstanding, the show must go on.

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limned orb

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Seasons Greetings, indeed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first electric Christmas tree lights were displayed back in 1882, by Edward Hibberd Johnson. It just so happened that Johnson was a partner in the Edison Illuminating Company, incidentally. In 1903, commercially available Christmas lights went on the market, and America has been gaga for the decorations ever since. Pictured above is Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint, which like many commercial strips in NYC, has a merchants association that strings lights over the thoroughfare to bring the cheer. Closer to home, the merchants association on Steinway Street here in Astoria, Queens, actually pipes Christmas music onto the commercial strip through speakers. I cannot imagine anything more horrible than living on Steinway Street and having Christmas music playing in a continuous loop outside my window.

Factor in the fact that the vast majority of people who live on Steinway are observationally religious Muslims, and it gets that much more macabre. The neighbors from the Levant seem to tolerate it pretty well, but still…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself would do away with all of these winter holidays and instead create a custom of serious self reflection and ascetic study. I think Voltaire had it right when he suggested that we should all spend more time pursuing our studies, but to each his own. Giant inflatable puppets it is.

Idiots and demagogues claim that there is a “war on Christmas” underway in our society, which causes me to retort that Christmas is a actually illegal in the nation of Brunei, and that the Sultan who rules that country was a dear and personal friend of Ronald Reagan.

This usually rubs those idiots and demagogues the wrong way, which is my intention.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For myself, when I want to see red and green lights, I head over to the Sunnyside Yards. You don’t have to wait for December, which is a plus.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 21, 2015 at 11:00 am

impolite exclusions

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It’s horrible to be me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor found me wandering amidst the Degnon Terminal in Long Island City during a light drizzle, which for one such as myself indicates that’s it’s time to start recording the things I see. Above, the off ramp of the Queensboro Bridge that doth feed traffic unto the Thomson Avenue Viaduct.

As I’ve stated in the past, NYC never looks as good as it does when it’s raining.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was on my way to attend a meeting for the group that’s sprung up around the abandonment of the Montauk Cutoff tracks by the MTA, a project which was described at this – your Newtown Pentacle – recently. The meeting of the so called “Cut off coalition” was taking place over in the former Waldes Koh I Noor complex in the Degnon Terminal, and since it was raining I used the subway to get there rather than my usual methodology of walking in pursuance of not getting drenched.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Degnon Terminal, just in case you’ve missed the thousands of times I’ve referenced it, is an industrial park which was built in the early 20th century by a fellow named Michael Degnon. Degnon and his team land filled a famously honerous swamp fed by Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary at around the same time that the Pennsylvania Railroad was busy building the Sunnyside Yards railroad complex. Degnon’s project took advantage of the yards, and provided for a “ship to rail” link at the head of Dutch Kills.

“Progress” was a pretty big concept back in the early 20th century, and the Degnon Terminal saw some of the first poured concrete mega structures in the United States rise from the reclaimed wetlands of LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Loose Wiles bakery, Eveready Battery, American Chicle and other large manufacturers based themselves here and provided tens of thousands of jobs, which drew the immigrant masses out of Manhattan and out to LIC and its environs. By the 1930’s, this section of LIC had become a vast industrial sector.

After the Second World War, when manufacturing in the northeastern United States began to decline, the buildings were left behind and nobody was quite sure what to do with them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the early 1990’s, it was decided to demolish a hospital to make way for the new, and the Citi building megalith was erected. The first of the glass and steel skyscrapers in LIC, this malefic eidolon used to be a singular tower. That has changed in the last ten years, as multiple high rise residential buildings have risen around “court square.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Pearson street off of Skillman, in the Degnon Terminal, the four building Koh I Noor complex found profitable life after splitting the property up amongst smaller tenants. The Waldes company manufactured milliners and tailoring supplies – it’s said that they invented the metal zipper, for instance. Warehouse businesses, printers, and small manufacturers have taken up residence here in the 21st century.

None of them utilize the rail, nor the maritime connections, and are instead truck based businesses.

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