The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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palpably diabolic

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Being stressed out is a crutch, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was scuttling along on a recent afternoon, marveling at the wonders of Queens. My day’s photographic targets having been captured, and fully entranced by one of my favorite HP Lovecraft audiobooks (The Horror at Red Hook, read by Wayne June), the path I was on had been chosen to get me home to Astoria from Newtown Creek as quickly as possible via 39th street in Sunnyside. There’s bunches of lovely residences along this stretch, but my visual instinct is generally unexcited by homes and gardens. Nevertheless, the camera is always ready to click and whirr should something interesting pop up.

I am, it should be mentioned, fascinated by the concrete clad topography of Western Queens. The “lay of the land” as it were. There’s all sorts of elluvial hillocks and ridges hidden beneath all the asphalt and brick, and when you walk these streets a lot, you can easily discern where water once flowed or pooled prior to the massive land reclamation and drainage projects of the early 20th century. These projects, and the concombinant political corruption involved with the execution of them, ended the careers of several of the early Borough Presidents of Queens in court.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

File the shot above under “you don’t see that every day,” and even for a humble narrator who has become jaded by the wonders of municipal industry, it isn’t every day that you see a heavy tow truck clad in FDNY trade dress towing an ambulance. I’m sure that the combination was ultimately heading for Maspeth, where the Fire Department maintains a couple of vehicle maintenance facilities.

After capturing the shot, I offered the driver a friendly wave of the hand. He smiled and waved back. Only employees of the FDNY seem to do this, amongst all the City agencies. Cops and Sanitation workers just kind of glare at me. I figure anything that a City employee is driving is partially owned by me anyway, so click and whirr.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from a different afternoon, the day that the Bicycle Fanatics came to Sunnyside to stage a protest. I took a bunch of shots of their “human protected bike lane” hooey, but do not wish to inflate their egos or cause any further than necessary. Accordingly, the crepuscular rays dancing about the Sapphire megalith and the ominous mestastase of the LIC skyline are presented instead.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 14, 2018 at 12:00 pm

spent potential

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Are those drums I hear?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Western Queens is under assault by the powers that be in Manhattan. Blissville gets a homeless shelter population which outnumbers actual residents by more than two to one? Check. The LIC Core rezoning is on the way, which will extend the residential towers of Hunters Point and Queens Plaza all the way up Northern Blvd. to Steinway Street? Check. Traffic on the highways – namely the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, Long Island Expressway, Grand Central Parkway – higher than ever? Check.

Did anyone in Queens ever ask for any of this, or is it just the dream of people who work in Lower Manhattan office buildings and at Columbia University?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Do we receive literal mountains of garbage and recyclables curbside collected by DSNY on a daily basis? Check. Do the truck fleets of both DSNY and private carters transverse our residential neighborhoods on a daily basis? Check. Do we host power plants, and sewage plants, and waste transfer stations? Check. Is our transit system failing? Check. Did the Manhattan people export Fed Ex Ground and other truck based businesses to Western Queens the last time they decided to deck over a rail yard at Hudson Yards in the City?

Check. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYC EDC is moving forward with their quixotic plan to deck over the Sunnyside Yards, lords and ladies.

EDC has told me in the past that bringing construction materials in by rail is not an option, to a rail yard, which means it will be trucked in. Is that through Manhattan via George Washington and then Triborough Bridges? Midtown Tunnel? They do not intend on building new hospital beds, nor expanding fire and police service, or new transit stops and lines while installing half the population of Boulder, Colorado into our neighborhoods.

Have I mentioned that Sunnyside Yards has been added to the list of “PRP’s” or Potentially Responsible Parties in the Newtown Creek Superfund? Check.


Upcoming Tours and Events

May 12th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

May 17th – Port Newark Boat Tour – with Working Harbor Committee.

For an exciting adventure, go behind the scenes of the bustling Port of NY & NJ on our Hidden Harbor Tour® of Port Newark! Get an insider’s view of the 3rd largest port in the nation, where container ships dock and unload their goods from around the world. See how the working harbor really works and learn about what all those ships and tugs do. See giant container terminals, oil docks, dry dock repair, and more! Tickets and more details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

childish eyes

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Opposites can repulse or attract, no matter what Paula Abdul said.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Laboriously explained over the last few weeks of night shooting, the tripod technique one has been exploiting involves using small apertures, low ISO camera sensitivity, and long exposures to gather images. It’s rather the opposite of my normal shooting procedure. Out for a scuttle one recent afternoon, a humble narrator decided that since it was incredibly bright out he’d do the opposite of that normal procedure for daylight shots – wide open aperture photos with a shallow depth of field.

That’s the Harold Interlocking pictured above, at the Sunnyside Yards. A night shot from the same vantage point was offered in last Friday’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that I was pointing the camera into a scene full of reflective surfaces which the sun was setting behind, and the aperture was set to f1.8, I had to reduce sensor sensitivity down to ISO 100 and use a shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second to control the light. 1/8000th is as fast as my shutter will flip, I would mention. That’s fast enough to freeze a bee’s wings mid flap, or to render an in flight helicopter blade static.

It’s kind of thing with me… when it’s not a shot “I have to get,” I like to experiment and see what the capabilities of the capture device are at their extremes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wandered around a bit with this particular set of settings, which is something else I force myself to do periodically. There are days where I leave my camera bag and zoom lenses at home and go out for a stroll with just a 50mm lens attached and the camera settings locked. The “nifty fifty” as its called, offers an aperture range between f1.8 to f22, with its only real limitation being that it’s a prime lens and fixed to its singular focal range. That means I need to either get close or go further away from a subject.

There’s a reason for this, which is to keep on my toes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Limiting yourself can sometimes force you to get a bit more creative, or just deep dive into the inner workings of the camera. The shot above won’t be finding its way into National Geographic, for instance, but it was a fine balancing act challenge – exposure wise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Be back tomorrow with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 8, 2018 at 11:00 am

after action

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It’s National Have a Bagel Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Encountered at the corner of Hunters Point Avenue and 36th street, which is at the “angle” between the Blissville and Sunnyside sections of LIC here in Queens, this formerly cool car appears to have suffered through some sort of catastrophic event. You’ll notice that there’s more than few odd things about this scene. My reckoning, at least, is that I can’t imagine that this immolation of an expensive auto was desired by its owner – but who knows?

Kids these days. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This was a fairly thorough fire, by all appearances, but one that was quite selective in terms of what it consumed. Little green cards with NYPD logos on them were visible on the heap, instructing “Do Not Tow” and proclaiming the wreck as being “evidence.” The vehicle is of the Mercedes sedan type, or at least it was. This puppy is likely going to be seen somewhere along Newtown Creek in the coming weeks, squished into a pile of castoff vehicles at one scrap yard or another.

Anybody out there missing a black Mercedes sedan?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That had to be some sort of super hot fire, in my eyes, to have melted away the engine bonnet.

Apparently, though, that’s what happened. In some ways, it visually reminds one of that mysterious phenomena called “spontaneous human combustion.” That’s the one where a body is found that’s been partially burned all the way to ash but the flames were super selective, leaving behind a hand or foot that is otherwise unharmed, and with little damage to furniture or wall hangings in proximity to high temperature combustion. To get human flesh to ash, crematoriums create fiery environments that are 1,400 to 1,800 degrees fahrenheit. How can something anywhere even close to an environment of that temperature not get scorched?

I mean… this blaze was hot enough to melt the engine hood, parts of the engine, and the entire interior cabin – but the tires are perfectly intact? Weird.

Steel melts at 2,750 degrees fahrenheit, I’m told.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 4, 2017 at 11:00 am

cryptic formulae

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It’s National Bavarian Cream Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Pentacle in back in session.

Aimless, a wandering mendicant found himself recently at a juncture. It’s always been my practice to follow instinct when out on a photowalk, but during those times when my schedule is tightly packed, the efficiency of a given route often trumps the voice of that little birdy that instructs one to turn left or right. Binary logic trees tumble forth from out of these choices – if I go left it takes me towards… – if I go right, I’m heading for… – and so on. Recent interludes have allowed one the temporal freedom to acknowledge and follow the advice of the voices in my head, which is how I ended up on the 7 train one recent afternoon.

This section of the glorious IRT Flushing – or 7 line – was built in a few distinct stages, here in Queens. It wasn’t until 1928 that the line reached its modern terminal destination in Flushing. The stops between LIC and the City (Grand Central Station in Manhattan, Hunters Point Avenue, Court Square, Vernon Jackson, and Queensboro Plaza) having opened in 1915. The second section to open was the QB Plaza to 103rd st./Alburtis Avenue section, and that happened on the 21st of April in 1917. I helped organize the centennial event for that anniversary, btw, with Access Queens and the NY Transit Museum.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A productive habit one has acquired over the years, while researching and writing about the garlands of municipal wonder stitched large across the geographies of the Newtown Pentacle, is to take note of historic anniversaries recorded in the historical record and then to set up a calendar item on my phone which repeats annually. After all this time, I seem to have developed the beginnings of an “On this day in NYC history…” database. So much of what we think of as “nyc” was built or created in the 1900-1940 era, one predicts that attending centennial celebrations are about to become quite a common experience.

I’ve been lucky enough to be at the center of several of these sorts of events over the years. I worked on the Queensboro Bridge and Madison Avenue Bridge centennials, was a parade marshall for the Manhattan and Hunters Point Avenue Bridge events, and as mentioned – helped organize the Access Queens IRT Flushing Line Corona Extension event.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Digressions aside, my impulse to climb up the stairs to and purchase a ride on the 7 train towards Queens Plaza allowed a visual vantage point to photograph the Sunnyside Yards, which is always a plus. Often, when riding elevated lines, I’ll pick out the cleanest window on the side of the subway which is shadowed by the sun and set the camera to an infernally fast shutter speed and narrow aperture (with commensurate compensation for ISO, of course) for a “spray and pray” series of shots recording whatever is passed by. Adoption of a weird physical posture is called for, during which one’s body is used as little more than a shock absorber and camera support. The particular one used by a humble narrator usually results in more than a little discomfort in the lower back and the beginnings of a cramp in my right foot.

Most of what you get are throwaway shots, incidentally, but with digital photography you’ve got no reason not to experiment constantly except when available card memory is short or battery life is limited.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a few shots in today’s post, notably the first and last, which were “experimental” in terms of using a newly acquired bit of kit. In recent years, work on developing the skill set, and collecting the “bright” lenses, to negate the necessitude of using camera supports like tripods has been undertaken. One has been somewhat successful in this endeavor, so a minor investment at a recent camera show resulted in the acquisition of a truly transportable tripod. This sturdy gizmo barely qualifies as a “tabletop” unit, but it weighs virtually nothing and can be carried around in a coat pocket. Despite its dimunition; the unit has a ball head, supports the weight of my standard carry around lenses, and sets up rather quickly.

As mentioned above – the Newtown Pentacle is, indeed, back in session.


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 27, 2017 at 11:00 am

systematic collection

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It’s National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So – last week I had a few things to do over in the Hunters Point section of LIC on a particular afternoon. A short and rapid scuttle ensued, one which saw a humble narrator hurtling south towards Skillman Avenue in a staggering pursuance of arrival in certain points found westwards of the almond eyed Astoria he calls home. Avoidance of perambulatory transit through Queens Plaza has become a “thing” for me, as the alternative route – using Jackson Avenue – is less visually interesting, and is also a somewhat harrowing journey on foot due to omnipresent construction and heavy vehicular activity.

Besides – I have zero opportunity to shoot shots of trains using the Jackson Avenue route, and I know where just about every hole in the fenceline along the Sunnyside Yards can be found. I always advise those dear to me to “stand behind something” while waiting for the traffic signals to change and allow access to cross this Northern Boulevard, I would mention, so in the interest of practicing what I preach – one ducked down and cowered behind a fire hydrant (pictured above). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

OK – Steinway Street in Astoria is analogous to 39th street in Sunnyside, and the two are connected by one of several truss bridges that span the Sunnyside Yards. It’s actually fairly “good cardio” walking over the 39th street span if you lean into it and push towards the apogee of the thing. At the top of the arch, there’s a worker access road that would carry Amtrak and other railroad employees down into the railyard, and that’s where I spotted a percussionist practicing his craft.

Naturally – One did not wish to interrupt his reverie, so I cannot describe who the fellow was, but he was positively “rocking out.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Observedly – It was a three piece drum set which this gentleman had set up for himself, and despite having noticed a humble narrator photographing him, he never skipped a beat.

Y’know – This sort of drum kit is relatively modern in origin, and whereas it is quite familiar to modern eyes, it was only originated in the 1860’s. It’s called a “trap drum” or “double drumming” kit, and prior to the semi modern era, each one of the instruments on view (base, cymbal, snare) would have required an individual musician to operate. The trap drum innovation was conducive to the development of the musical schools of ragtime, jazz, and rock-n-roll, I’m told.

But – I digress.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then – Although I wish I could tell you that one got caught up in the wild al fresco rhythms offered by this anonymous percussionist, as mentioned at the top of the post – I had things to do and places to be. Utilizing one of those aforementioned holes big enough to stick a lens through – in the fences of the Sunnyside Yards – and which I keep a constantly updated mental map of, to capture a shot of Amtrak’s Acela train passing through the Harold Interlocking on its way towards Manhattan. It’s the busiest train junction in the United States, actually, the Harold Interlocking. The Mayor wants to build luxury housing upon a deck on top of it. Please vote for someone else today.

Ultimately – I had places to go, and headed west into the setting sun, scuttling along with a camera in hand.


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Sunday, November 12th, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

stymied appetites

with one comment

It’s National Seafood Bisque Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One loathes the fact that the Queens Cobbler, a probable serial killer operating on both sides of the Newtown Creek who leaves single shoes behind as a taunt to both community and gendarmes alike, left this stiletto heeled shoe behind at the very same Astoria saloon at which a humble drinks his troubles away. Just last weekend, on a night when I had brought my little dog Zuzu out with me for an evening of commiseration with the neighborhood commentariat – as I was walking my trusty canine around the corner to allow for a moment of her lavatorial relief – this scene was encountered.

Should you find a singular size 11 Merell hiking boot displayed prominently somewhere in North Brooklyn or Western Queens, that means the Cobbler has finally zeroed in on me and that you’ll need to find a replacement for this – your Newtown Pentacle. If you see a headline saying “blogger catches killer” then it’ll mean I got the best of him or her.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been working on a Newtown Creek event, one which is not public facing I’m afraid, assiduously over the last couple of weeks and is highly distracted. Due to this – and other obligations – one hasn’t had a lot of “me” time. One of those many obligations recently saw me attending a rather contentious meeting with environmental officialdom in Sunnyside, where I noticed some fellow doing his job in the rain at a local tire shop on 39th street.

The “G” bomb, which is the term I use for the unfolding wavefront of so called “gentrification” has observedly hit the street side auto industry hardest in recent years. Gas stations, taxi yards, tire shops, mechanics – have all been disappearing at a rapid rate in recent years. They occupy large lots and generally have shallow pockets, a pair of factors which are quite attractive development opportunities for the Real Estate Industrial Complex.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Subway conductor recently told me that MTA employees absolutely hate it when shots like the one above are captured. They are especially enraged when their faces are recognizable. One plans on continuing to photograph the men and women who operate the system, however. Just last night, when a token booth worker at Fulton Street made me miss two trains so that he could complete a phone call with his wife before performing the transaction to charge up my Metrocard, I didn’t take his picture as I was particularly “geared up” with a tripod and bag of lenses and my hands were full.

Another reason for me to enjoy enraging the MTA workforce with photos captured involves the weekend habits they employ, announcing that a train is going express to some extant locale just after the subway doors close at Queens Plaza, negating any chance of not visiting Forest Hills or Briarwood.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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