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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, and several times in fact, the way I pass the long hours of an Amtrak trip is by taking random snapshots of America. That sounds pretentious, but… that’s what they are. A homemade foam collar is affixed to my lens, then I set the camera up at a very high ISO setting and a wide open aperture. I then set the shutter speed to an insanely small sliver of time – 1/2000th or faster. It’s a challenging situation – Amtrak’s windows generally ain’t too clean or free of scratches, and the window glass itself has a reddish brown coloration to it. Saying all that – 8 hour train trip, yo – gotta do something to pass the time.

The video above represents what I saw between Harrisburg and somewhere in the middle of New Jersey. The sun was illuminating my window from about 4 o’clock on, and there’s really no way to combat the fact that your lens is pointed directly at the sun through a dirty and scratched brown window. Anyway… made it back to “home sweet hell.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I stepped off the train into a “NYC swamp ass hot day.” There was also a parade letting out, which was probably “Pride” given all the rainbow gear the paraders were parading around with. I walked a block to the E, returned to Queens at Queens Plaza, and caught a R back to the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria.

So – That’s that story. This was June 26th, incidentally.

Six image posts are going to continue for a bit, as the particularly prolific photographic spree I’ve been experiencing continues. This post is being written in the second week of July, which is also good news as I’m way ahead of schedule.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I hung around HQ and the neighborhood for a few days after returning from Pittsburgh. June the 29th, however, was a day that the world put out “Mitch Bait.” Given that this is my last summer in NYC, I’m trying to do everything that’s possible for me to do. Visiting people, seeing things, wondering where that smell on the air is coming from. There’s a sentimental resonance in every step I take.

I don’t know if I’m going to miss this dystopian shithole or not, as it’s all I’ve ever known. See that photo right above? That looks normal to me. Everything about it is messed up, starting with the Cops leaving their car parked in a bus stop.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whatever…

One of the things that I haven’t done in a whole lot of years is attend the fireworks display at Astoria Park. It’s a short cross Astoria walk to get there for me, right up 31st street and over to Hoyt Avenue and then scuttle to the water. 31st Street, with its elevated subway tracks, seldom disappoints. There’s always something to take a shot of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had been thinking about where I wanted to set up the camera on a tripod. I knew with certainty that the East River waterfront along Shore Blvd. would be mobbed, and I also wanted to get a shot with both bridges in it – the Hells Gate Bridge and the Triborough Bridge. I wanted a bit of water in the shot, but not too much. I’d have to contend with crowds, passerby who wanted to talk about cameras (this happens all the time), and any number of unknown things. When I got to the spot I had visualized, later on, there was a guy setting up a theatrical flying rope rig up in a tree which he was swinging around on, and doing gymnastics. You never know.

Photographing fireworks is fairly simple. You put your camera on a stable thing like a tripod. You set it to ISO 200, F8, and 4-8 seconds depending on ambient conditions. There’s variations on this, but that’s the basic exposure triangle. I usually record fireworks with the camera set for 3400K color temperature.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots were captured on the way to Astoria Park.

Along the way, I encountered this Manitou (a French manufacturer of a range of heavy equipment) vehicle parked on the street. It caught my eye, this thing. Given my interest in the belief systems of various parties, the first thing I thought when I read the logo was related to the religious views of the Algonquian peoples. Odd choice, thereby, in corporate branding if you ask me.

You could probably take out a lot of zombies with that thing, I bet…

Tomorrow- fireworks!


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In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 2, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another trip to Pittsburgh came to an end, and there stood a humble narrator at about 7 in the morning, waiting for his train to come.

Amtrak owned the train, of course. Boarding the thing was meant to happen at 7:30 a.m., with an expected arrival at Moynihan Penn Station in NYC at 4:52 p.m. I had a Primanti Brothers sandwich wrapped up tightly in one of my three bags, but my caffeine consumption was limited due to circumstance, so I was in a dreamlike state.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The grandiose old train station in Pittsburgh, as in the one associated with the Pennsylvania Railroad, has been converted over to a residential building. What passes for a train station there in modernity is reminiscent of a Soviet orthodontist’s office with a barely functional drop off and pick up parking lot.

You enter the station through an automatic supermarket style door, and then ride an escalator up to the actual station where the tracks are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the fact that you are absolutely going to be getting on the train, all the people formed up into an anxiously stressed out queue. I found myself standing in between two sections of an Amish family, and asked the Dad to hold my place in line for me. He seemed puzzled by the request, but acceded.

On the non active track, there was something I wanted a shot of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lovingly cared for Ohio Central passenger car was on display. I’m told that this is possibly a private car, operated by some corporate outfit that hitches itself onto Amtrak’s rolling stock for expensive private trips. Can’t say if this true or not, but it sounds right given its great condition.

I got back in line with the Amish Family (or maybe Mennonite, I can’t discern what the differences between the two groups are), and the conductor assigned me to a certain car. Amtrak groups travelers who are going to common destinations. I was going “all the way” and was thereby assigned to the very last car on the train. I got a window seat.

– photos by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, I set the camera up for shooting out of the window as the Amtrak rolled along. Embedded above is a YouTube video of the various things which shot past us while heading east, all of which are entirely random. Amtrak schedules in a few stops along the route. There’s usually a crew change at these longer “dwells” in the stations, and they also switch out the locomotive engines (Diesel for CoGen “Hybrid,” or Electric, depending on where you are) at some of these stops. You get about 15 minutes to “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,” or stretch your legs if you don’t partake. A lot of people were vaping.

The images in the video above were captured between Pittsburgh and the Capitol of Pennsylvania – Harrisburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Harrisburg’s Amtrak station is pictured above. One is merely whelmed, not over or under whelmed, by this station.

I got lucky in terms of my seat mate on this trip, just as I did on the ride out to Pittsburgh. Another Nice kid in his 20’s, but this guy lived in the extremely rural “Pennsyltucky” area in the virtual center of the State of Pennsylvania, nearby Lancaster. Lancaster is “Pennsylvania Dutch” country, where the Amish and other sects like the Mennonites live in archaic fashion. The kid wasn’t “Dutch,” but was a farmer who amplified his agricultural income by working as a welder, and he also had a sideline selling firewood. Inevitably, national politics came up, and it was nice to hear somebody from conservative America – “the other side, as it were” – say “man, we really gotta turn down the volume on this shit before the shooting starts.” A humble narrator concurs.

More tomorrow, and back home to NYC, in tomorrow’s Newtown Pentacle.


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 1, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearby the spot where I ate my final dinner on this trip to Pittsburgh, an enormous religious building was dominating the sky. Turns out that what was catching my attentions is found in the East Liberty section, and is specifically called the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. It’s a cathedral, I tell you!

Apparently, the original church here was erected in 1819, but the cathedral building that towers over East Liberty today was opened in 1935. The building was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, an architect who designed a series of notable buildings – including NYC’s own Cathedral of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan. Signage around the cathedral indicated that it can welcome 1,300 people for worship at a time. That’s a whole lot of praying, right there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had noticed the structure earlier in the day, when Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself were tooling around in a rented car.

I was pretty impressed by the rented Toyota RAV4 hybrid SUV, incidentally. It got somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 mpg, was very comfortable, and the electronics package under the dashboard was sweet. It had some sort of system which let me know where I was in terms of highway lanes, one which beeped at me if I was straying out of my own. This came in handy on the Pennsylvanian high speed roads. By high speed, I mean a 70 mph speed limit once you got out of the City. The locals treated 70 as a starting point, by the way. I would be cooking along at the speed limit, and semi tractor trailers would blow past me like I was standing still.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, by this stage of the trip, I was on foot.

I got to find out what “crazy homeless guy” looks and sounds like in Pittsburgh while shooting these photos. Being a lifelong New Yorker, I found the fellow amateurish and somewhat charming. Bless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A wide circle was navigated around the central node of East Liberty, and I made it a point of trying to take advantage of the setting summer sunlight. It was warm and humid in Pittsburgh.

Whenever I mention Pittsburgh to anyone back in NYC, the first thing they say back seems to involve an impression about ferocious weather. According to the National Weather Service, however, Pittsburgh is in a bit of a regional sweet spot as far as hot and cold goes. They have more or less the same amount of precipitation that NYC and Philadelphia have, but fewer “extreme” weather events than the coastal cities do. Because of the nature of the terrain, it’s a bit more humid than NYC is, but on average it’s about ten degrees less extreme on seasonal highs and lows. The humidity results in mold problems for property owners, and you apparently need to climb up on the roof once every couple of years to clear away moss. The weather is quite volatile in the short term here, and I’ve had more than one Pittsburgh native say to me “if you don’t like the weather right now, wait about about an hour and it’ll be different.”

As it turns out, we were in town for what the TV weatherman described as “the hottest day in the last four years.” It was 86 degrees, with a mid 60’s dew point. Warm and uncomfortable yes, but compare that to the end of July and beginning of August in NYC when that forecast would be a relief from the dog days of summer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation – Photo License Center, East Liberty” is what this domed building is called these days. The structure was erected at the start of the 20th century between 1898 and 1900. When it first opened, the building was used as a market, but it was focused instead on the emerging automotive market in time.

It was called the Motor Square Garden when it opened in 1913, and this section of Pittsburgh was associated with the automobile business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apparently, the usage of this enormous structure over the last century has involved auto shows, boxing matches, basketball games, and in modernity – it’s the home of Pennsylvania’s local Department of Motor Vehicles operation, I’m told. I was drawn in by the enormous steel and glass dome on its roof, frankly.

More next week, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 29, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle headed back to NYC in the same manner that she arrived, by airline. I dropped off the rental car at the airport and headed back into the City of Pittsburgh in a cab, as I would be heading home the following morning via Amtrak. As a note – I don’t have a phobia about flying, instead I just don’t like it. I hate being treated like a criminal, and detest the depersonalization you experience at airports. I don’t enjoy sitting in a claustrophobic space for multiple hours, nor sitting in close personal contact with anyone. Conversely, I enjoy having long hours of travel which offer me time to think and consider, and there’s always the “taking photos out of the train window” thing that I enjoy.

The cab picked me up at the Pittsburgh International Airport, and I headed back into the City in pursuance of getting back to the rented AirBNB space back in the Bloomfield section. The cab went through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and I finally got to experience the “grand entrance” to the city that everybody talks about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On foot again, after what was essentially a week long road trip, that’s how my Saturday night was going to be spent – as a pedestrian. My first trip to Pittsburgh saw me staying in the direct center of the downtown area, literally within the so called Golden Triangle. My second trip here last winter saw me staying in rented rooms on Mt. Washington nearby the inclines. This time around, we rented rooms in Bloomfield on the south side and then Brookline on the northeastern side.

On this trip, we visited several of the outlying areas which are economically and culturally connected to Pittsburgh. This included McKeesport, Latrobe, Youngstown, Butler, Kittanning, and Wheeling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Fort Pitt Bridge leads to the Fort Duquesne Bridge, which allows access to the high speed roads found on the north side of Pittsburgh.

As you can guess from these shots, I was holding the camera on the roof of the car, and blindly pressing the shutter button. This is where that hard rubber foot which I’ve mentioned manufacturing came in handy once again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a hot afternoon in Pittsburgh, and I had decided to just chill out for a few minutes before heading out to find someone to sell me dinner. Bloomfield, pictured above, used to be considered “Little Italy” back in the Steel City decades. The housing stock is really attractive. Not sure how I’d describe the architectural style.

A quick bit of Google maps study revealed an evening’s path to me, and I gathered up my camera and kit and headed out on foot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Quirky. That’s how I’d describe the building stock in this part of Pittsburgh. I’d seen real estate listings for this sort of setup that called the structures as “Victorian” but I’m not sure what that’s supposed to indicate other than a very, very long historical period.

Quirky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found an outpost of the ubiquitous Pittsburgh restaurant “Primanti Brothers” about a mile away. One had to be concerned with ensuring that I had at least one meal tucked away in a bag when I boarded Amtrak at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, so I ordered dinner and luncheon on the same check. A couple of pints of Yuengling Beer were also quaffed.

After dinner, and with tomorrow’s lunch tightly wrapped up for transport, I got busy with the camera nearby the Morningside section of Pittsburgh, in a zone called “East Liberty.”


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 28, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few more shots from West Virginia’s Wheeling today, and offered above is one from the walkway of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, which is said to be the oldest bridge of this type still standing in the United States. Although I did offer a few observations in yesterday’s post which were colored by the political tides of the present day, that’s a subject which I assiduously avoided while “in country.”

Pepsi comes in a blue can, Coca Cola in a red one. Both are chemical concoctions that are really, really bad for your health and actually make you thirstier when you drink them. Water is clear, and when served icy cold, exactly what you need. Drink water to calm down, and avoid both red and blue talk – that’s my advice. Alternatively – take the Pepsi challenge or have a Coke and a smile and argue about which one “tastes great or is less filling” like a pack of lemmings while heading for a cliff.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were several utterly vacant buildings in Wheeling, including this old department store on Main Street. It was recently purchased by a church, I’m told. Apparently, a major project is underway in the City of Wheeling, revolving around the rejuvenation of the downtown area. Were Wheeling in NYC, I’d describe most of the downtown people I’d spoken to as being “hipsters.” Saying that, these were hipsters who owned houses and drove $50,000 trucks.

The sun was absolutely brutal on the day we were there, and the locals seemed to observe what Mediterranean communities call an “intermedio” during this hot part of the day – heading inside for a rest and a meal and then re-emerging after the heat and light subsided.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mad dogs and Englishmen, right? I’m crazy, and Our Lady is British, so…

I was nevertheless still marching around with the camera, capturing whatever glimpses of this little city that I could for the short interval I was there. Fascinating place, this is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not sure what this building was originally purposed for. To me, it looks like there was a shop downstairs and warehouse space above. The windows on the street level had historic photos printed as posters displayed in them. The photos depicted street cars coming off of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, and offered a “once upon a time, long ago” narrative of a thriving industrial city.

The “Rust Belt,” that’s what this section of the United States is called. The decline in manufacturing activity in the Rust Belt is universally described as being caused by NYC’s Wall Street driving corporate consolidations and selling off the assets. 1980 is considered to be the year that this process really kicked into gear. If you want a primer on this process, watch Oliver Stone’s film “Wall Street.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing, politics wise, that I can report to you is that whereas in prior trips to this section of the country I observed a plethora of red MAGA hats, coupled with car flags and lawn signs advocating for the disgraced former standard bearer of the Republican Party, this time around there was barely a red baseball hat to be seen. I wasn’t in the so called “blue state” areas, either, rather I was often moving about in extremely politically “conservative” communities with agricultural based economies for much of the time. What does that mean? Who knows? Nothing matters, nobody cares – remember? Drink water instead of Coke or Pepsi.

On our return from Wheeling to Pittsburgh proper, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself checked into a different AirBNB than the one we had been staying in, this one was in the Bloomfield section. Bloomfield was apparently Pittsburgh’s Little Italy – back in the day. There was a definite “collegiate” feeling to the place, but that’s logical given the nearby Duquesne University and University of Pennsylvania (U Penn) campuses. This section of the City of Pittsburgh was quite “urban” as compared to the somewhat suburban vibe of Brookline, where our first rented room was located on the south side of the City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that my personal frame of reference is NYC based, I pronounced Bloomfield as reminding me a great deal of North Brooklyn prior to the ignition of the gentrification furnaces. Brookline, on the other hand, reminded me a great deal of Brooklyn’s Midwood, or Queens’ Forest Hills. Monroeville and Crandberry Township were not unlike the Nassau County “Five Towns” area, Wheeling felt a great deal like Yonkers or Newark, and Youngstown was reminiscent of the borderlands between Mt. Vernon and the Northern Bronx or the Queens/Nassau County line nearby JFK Airport. Latrobe was eerily similar to the rural counties around Albany and southern Vermont, and both Butler and Bethel Park reminded me of Westchester County’s tony Katonah or Mahopac.

Distance means something very different in this part of the country than it does in NYC. The highway speed limits range between 55 and 70, and a web of high speed roads penetrate even into the city center. “Traffic” is not what a New Yorker would call the congestion encountered on these roads. A “traffic jam” moves along at about 30-40 mph. I was chatting with one of the “Yinzers” about this, and described a recent trip that My Pal Val and I made to get to Fresh Kills on Staten Island from Astoria (38 miles) as having taken nearly two hours to complete. I helped them gather their jaw up off of the bar.

“Yinzer” is Pittsburgh slang for a native of the area.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 27, 2022 at 11:00 am

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