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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circumstance which

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Feasibility, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you’re reading this, in the filth choked furnace rooms and dark satanic mills of the NYCEDC, acolytes of the Real Estate Industrial Complex are working feverishly on the feasibility plan for the decking of the Sunnyside Yards. Syncopated, hammers are smashing out imperfections in the armor plating of their unholy works. Armies are at work, happily consuming the roughly two million dollars which have been allocated to their studies. At the end of the process, hordes of their making will emerge from the EDC’s subterranean vaults, proclaiming that a new order has been achieved, and all of New York’s problems will be solved by the fruits of their labor.

Housing will be made affordable, transit and other municipal services will be abundant and available, and the children of Queens will be assured a bright future. A great darkness will be conquered, and prosperity will spread through the land. In their keeps and towers will wizards and oligarchs rejoice, for Queens will be saved by those for whom the warren of lower Manhattan is a paradise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The grand obfuscation, of course, will arrive when the Mayor’s office announces that the feasibility study of the EDC has made recommendations that City Hall must follow. The inheritors of Tammany will omit the fact that the NYCEDC, or New York City Economic Development Corporation, is not some independent or autochthonous entity. Pretense that the board of the EDC is not composed entirely of political appointees from the Mayoral and Gubernatorial mansions, or that it’s ranking staffers are not in fact just awaiting their turn at either electoral or corporate fortune, will be offered.

Not mentioned either will be the fact that the current so called “Progressive” Mayor of New York City has merely adopted the policies and projects of a predecessor whom his fringe coalition demonized, and that the decking over of the Sunnyside Yards was and is the personal passion of Michael Bloomberg’s “aide de camp” Daniel Doctoroff.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The coming of the darkness, an era when Sunnsyide will be referred to as “Shadowside” nears. One has been vocal about the opinion that sometime during the 21st century, at least some portion of the gargantuan rail yard found here in Western Queens will likely be decked over. The despoiled bureaucrats of Lower Manhattan have indicated to me, and others, that the decking will likely happen in three stages – a sort of creeping metastases which will begin with the section between LIC’s 21st street and Queens Plaza. This is the narrowest part of the Sunnyside Yards, incidentally, a part of the project which will be cheaper to accomplish than the sections abutting Northern Blvd. and Sunnyside.

During this last Summer, a meeting with the crew of loathsome sentience who are conducting the study began with a humble narrator slamming a box of donuts down on the table in front of them. I stated “when somebody comes to my house, I serve cake.” They did not know what to make of this, nor the unremitting hostility with which they were greeted. At one point during the meeting, I asked a high ranking member of the team to stop smiling, as it was freaking me out and there is absolutely nothing worth smiling about regarding this existential threat to the health and well being of Queens.

To their minds, the decking of the Sunnyside Yards represents a solution. To those of us who live in, and love, Western Queens – they are the coming of darkness and destruction, a barbarian horde sent to loot our communities and whose mission is to steal the sky and blot out the sun itself.

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marvels unspeakable

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A possessed train?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, your humble narrator has a somewhat encyclopedic knowledge of the location of every single hole in the fencing surrounding the Sunnyside Yards which is large enough to stick a camera lens through. The Amtrak people patch these lapses all the time, but others will just spontaneously appear. It’s kind of a cat and mouse situation, but given that the Yards sit between HQ and My Beloved Creek, one spends a lot of time walking back and forth past the titan facility and I do so enjoy taking pictures of rolling stock.

One particular chunk of our national railroad infrastructure caught my eye the other day – specifically Amtrak engine 631, which seemed to be possessed or something. It’s actually a bit of newish kit for them, btw. God help me for the fact that I know this.

from wikipedia

The Siemens ACS-64, or Amtrak Cities Sprinter, is an electric locomotive designed by Siemens Mobility for use in the northeastern United States. The first 70 locomotives built are to operate on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and the Keystone Corridor, replacing the railroad’s existing fleet of AEM-7 and HHP-8locomotives. The first Amtrak ACS-64 entered service in February 2014; deliveries will last until 2015. SEPTA Regional Rail will receive an additional 13 locomotives for commuter service in 2018.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Notice how its “eyes” seem to glow red with fiendish intent? How the engineering of the thing’s leading edge seems to suggest angry eyes? Imagine having this thing bearing down on you while it was thundering down some lonely trackway in the woods of upstate NY. Something wicked this way comes, indeed.

It would be chilling, I would imagine, having those red demon eyes fix their gaze upon you as it races through the North East Corridor at 125 mph.

from wikipedia

The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is an electrified railway line in the Northeast megalopolis of the United States. Owned primarily by Amtrak, it runs from Boston through New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to Washington, D.C.

The corridor is used by many Amtrak trains, including the high-speed Acela Express, intercity trains, and several long-distance trains. Most of the corridor also has frequent commuter rail service, operated by the MBTA, Shore Line East, Metro-North Railroad, New Jersey Transit, SEPTA, and MARC. Several companies run freight trains over sections of the NEC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amtrak’s Acela Express engine 2000, in comparison, seems like it would be quite a friendly locomotive, although it’s general outline is somewhat reminiscent of the Toho studios “Kaiju” monster and frequent Godzilla sparring partner that is called Mothra (while still in its larval phase, of course).

from wikipedia

The Acela is certified with a top speed of 165 mph (266 km/h) and reaches a maximum of 150 mph (241 km/h) in regular service. The Acela Express is the only service in North America that exceeds the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 125 mph (201 km/h) definition of high speed rail. The Acela achieves an average speed (including stops) of 81.7 mph (131 km/h) between Washington and New York, and an average speed of 66.9 mph (108 km/h) from Washington to Boston.[68] The average speed from New York to Boston is a slightly faster 69.8 mph (112 km/h). The average speed for the entire length excluding stops is 84 mph (135 km/h). Its maximum speed limit is 150 mph (241 km/h) on three sections of track totaling 33.9 mi (55 km) in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lamentably, there is a lack of folkloric tale telling about the various light and heavy rail lines that transit through Western Queens. Other parts of the country tell richly ornamented tales about ghost trains and haunted rail cars. Along the Metro North tracks that feed into Manhattan via the Spuyten Duyvel bridge, there are stories of a ghostly steam locomotive, for instance.

You seldom hear tell of a haunted Subway or station, although some describe the appearance of the 7 along the elevated tracks in Sunnyside with hushed voices and describe it with an air of dread expectation.

from wikipedia

On June 13, 1915, the first test train on the IRT Flushing Line ran between Grand Central and Vernon Boulevard – Jackson Avenue, followed by the start of revenue service on June 22. Over the next thirteen years, the line was extended piece by piece to its current form between Times Square and Flushing – Main Street, after the former opened on March 14, 1927. Express service started in 1917. The service on the Flushing Line east of Queensboro Plaza was shared by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation from 1912 to 1949; BMT trains were designated 9, while IRT services were designated 7 on maps only. The 7 designation was assigned to trains since the introduction of the front rollsigns on the R12 in 1948.

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defined apprehensions

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Twirling, ever twirling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The affability of recent climate has seen me visiting old haunts and novel locale alike in recent weeks, which might be described as having been a somewhat pleasurable set of experiences. That would mean, of course, that your humble narrator was actually capable of experiencing a sensation called “pleasure.” A series of dull events punctuated by occasional gastro-intestinal distress, all sorts of bacterial and viral infections, and the oft bizarre actions of others is the way one such as myself describes “Life.”

One bright spark in the otherwise gathering clouds of existential horror which plague me are unexpected moments of serendipity.

A train passing by can excite one endlessly, and reminds that “you have to appreciate the little things.”

In my case, it’s big things that go “thruuummmm thruuuuuuummmm thruuummmm” or “claaacckkclaaacckkclaaacckk” as they pass by, but I’m all ‘effed up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Good days are ones where I’m not walking to go anyplace in particular. Days when I leave the house and decide only which compass point to walk toward. For some reason, its not east that often, as that’s usually looking into the light. Instinct always points my path towards water, no matter where I am. It was kind of interesting finding myself in Queens Plaza, which I used to inhabit back in 2009 and 2010 during the Queensboro Bridge Centennial period but which I mainly cross through these days on my way to someplace in Brooklyn or Hunters Point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, Our Lady of the Pentacle had agreed to visit the Brooklyn Grange roof top farm here in Astoria with a friend of ours who subscribes to their CSA program and I tagged along. While they picked up some quality produce, I got busy with the camera. Serendipity at work, when I woke up that morning, seeing this vista overlooking the Sunnyside Yards and the Shining City of Manhattan was not on the menu.

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constantly felt

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All of my trains are filthy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has mentioned the Train Washing Station at the Sunnyside Yard before, in this post from june of last year. Recently, while walking the camera about one evening, happenstance brought me to the Train Washing Station just before sunset as a dirty locomotive arrived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, all I had on me was my wide angle lens (I wasn’t anticipating this sort of thing, instead, my mission for the evening had involved shooting indoors) so these shots didn’t allow me to get right up next to the engine. Normally, I’ve got the equivalent of a 150mm with me all the time, but a humble narrator has been trying to travel a bit lighter this summer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The photo bag has swelled out to outlandish proportion in the last year or two, with multiple lenses and strobes. One enjoys having the widest range of options, of course, but carrying ten pounds of glass across the concrete devastations wreaks havoc upon my fragile spine and aging musculature. Unless I know I’m going to need the full Monty – I leave most of it at home these days, and try to travel about with just one lens.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

There are two Newtown Creek walking tours coming up.

Saturday, July 26th, The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek
With Atlas Obscura, lunch included, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, July 27th, Glittering Realms
With Brooklyn Brainery, lunch included, click here for tickets and more info.

rusty impediments

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Your motive is loco, man.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So few places to go, no one to see. The gray frigidity has me down, lords and ladies, and it is not impossible that over the last few weeks, I’ve watched everything on Netflix- including a couple of episodes of “Power Rangers Jungle Fury.” Playing with the cords on my hoodie, counting the floor tiles, bored. That’s me. Cabin Fever, I think they call it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Been reading lots of good stuff, including a marathon exploration of the dissimilar topics of leprosy and the genetic consequences of multi generational incest- both of which led to the Hapsburgs. None of this relates one little bit to the history of Newtown Creek nor Queens, which actually has been my intention. Little projects like mine tend to drag you down a long drill hole, and you become so focused that you lose sight of the bigger picture… which somehow includes leprosy and incest.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Its cheerier reading than I normally do during this time of year, when my google searches have historically included “stages of putrefaction of cadaver” and “common practices of yeast distillation in 19th century america.” Hey, a guy gets curious about things. Its better to know something, well… some things… than to remain willfully ignorant about unpleasantries.

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augmented party

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Today’s post shows you how to wash a dirty locomotive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hanging about and walking around Queens with a friend one afternoon, our path carried us up Skillman Avenue and past the gargantuan Sunnyside Yards. Luckily, something I’ve been trying to catch as it happens began to happen when Amtrak 934 sauntered into view.

from wikipedia

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) completed construction of the yard in 1910. At that time Sunnyside was the largest coach yard in the world, occupying 192 acres (0.78 km2) and containing 25.7 mi (41.4 km) of track. The yard served as the main train storage and service point for PRR trains serving New York City. It is connected to Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan by the East River Tunnels. The Sunnyside North Yard initially had 45 tracks with a capacity of 526 cars. The South Yard had 45 tracks with a 552 car capacity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that there is an entire industrial sector for whom the manufacture and maintenance of “train washes” is a focal point. It also seems to be the case that having a shiny clean locomotive pays a dividend in terms of aerodynamic drag and that the cleaner your train is, the more efficiently it runs.

from wikipedia

The AEM-7 is a twin-cab B-B electric locomotive that is used in the United States on the Northeast Corridor between Washington DC and Boston and the Keystone Corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. They were built by Electro-Motive Division from 1978 to 1988. In the Boston Mechanical Department of Amtrak they are known as “Meatballs” and in the Washington Mechanical Department they are known as ASEAs since some of their major parts and components were designed in Sweden by ASEA (Allmänna Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget; translation: General Swedish Electrical Inc), which merged with Brown Boveri in 1988 forming ABB. They are also referred to as “toasters” by railfans, owing to their boxy appearance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is informed by railfans that once upon a time, this was a tedious task accomplished by a sizable crew of laborers, who used pole mounted brushes to clean away the grime. The “modern” system (the unit pictured is somewhat archaic by 2013 standards) is far more efficient and highly automated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Fundamentally, its the same thing that happens when you wash your car, except for scale. The train rolls past water jets and a system of rotary brushes which chip away the patina of dead insects and grime which the train picks up during normal operation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This train wash is nothing new, of course, and has been on my radar for awhile. Were my methodology the same that is employed by most, I would have just lingered around this spot until I got my shots, but that’s not how your humble narrator rolls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Instead, if its not happening while I’m passing by, it might not have happened at all for all I care. You can’t force Queens into revealing herself to you, instead, you must trust in serendipity and that she will position you in the right place and at the right time.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull– Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

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