The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

swelled alarmingly

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Three in the morning is exactly when Penn Station is at its best, I believe. The adjoining streets are populated by background extras from the movie “Taxi Driver,” and the cops randomly close several of the entrances to the train station because “because.” After stomping around with about 25-30 pounds of gear, and a week’s worth of clothing, one finally found an entrance which I could enter through after stepping over a few unconscious lunatics and an inebriate or two. I had a date with Amtrak, one which would culminate at 3:30 a.m.

The phrase “dystopian shithole” kept on going through my mind, as well as an accounting of the roughly thirty eight cents of every dollar I earn, disappearing into the black hole of New York City and State’s municipal coffers. Tax breaks for Billionaire Real Estate developers are clearly the logical thing to spend my tax money on, rather than a functioning transit system or a functioning social welfare network or a functioning Police force or a functioning anything. If you solve the problems, what are you going to run on in the next election cycle? Priorities.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Late night, they don’t use the sparkly new Moynihan Station for Amtrak, instead they use crappy old Penn Station. The first leg of my travels rendered a humble narrator sleep deprived, but the world doesn’t run on my scheduled comforts. The electronic boards didn’t tell me that the train was boarding, in fact, they didn’t tell me much of anything. An Amtrak employee suddenly materialized and began shouting out the number of the train and its destination. Indications were offered as to which staircase to descend, which led to the tracks below.

Shit. It’s all shit. We pay forty cents on the dollar for shit, and are told we should be lucky we got that. I’m so tired of fighting it at this stage of the game. Why, oh why does everything in NYC just suck?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Descent into the stygian depth of Penn Station found me boarding my appointed train. Settling into the seat was easily accomplished and the train was about half full (see, I’m an optimist). Fatigue would be my traveling companion for much of the next four days, but nevertheless I was quite excited to be finally embarking on this long planned trip around the northeastern United States.

At the beginning of the summer of 2021, an Amtrak rail pass had been purchased, which allowed me thirty travel segments. All told, I ended up using 22 of them over the next week (two of the segments were used on the Burlington trip). I was also traveling solo this time around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train began rolling, and I cracked out one shot of the part of Penn Station you don’t get to see. I tried a few shots from the moving train on the other side, but it was just too dark to get anything worth talking about. For the first, and not the last time, on this odyssey – I nodded out and fell asleep.

For those of you who know me, the idea that I fell asleep in public is surprising. It’s surprising for me as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train arrived at its destination at 7 in the morning, where I had planned about a seven hour layover into my schedule. I had lunch plans with an old friend at 12:30, and the interval would be filled with photographic pursuits.

One had roughly planned out an intended path, and given the amount of time allotted to this leg of the journey – needed to work quickly and efficiently to capture some images.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Day one – and Washington D.C., beckoned.

More tomorrow.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


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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

October 13, 2021 at 11:00 am

untellable secret

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The next excursion on my September list of places to go involved a wedding in Watertown, New York. Watertown is in the same neighborhood as West Point, and my pal Hank the Elevator Guy was also invited to the affair, so we arranged to meet up with him and he drove Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself there. The trip was pretty straightforward, and once we cleared the 7 or so miles it would take us to get the hell out of NYC, was fast moving.

Triborough to Cross Bronx to George Washington Bridge to Palisades Parkway – I think that’s the basic route. Hank was angrily jumping around in his seat while driving through the choke points leading out of the City. Our Lady was playing with her phone, and I was shooting from the open windows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Upstate” and heading towards the AirBNB lake house we had rented for the weekend. The fellow getting married is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Jim and I misspent a lot of our youth together at biker bars. We used to be fixtures at Coyote Ugly, Hogs and Heifers, Village Idiot and too many irish bars along Third Avenue to mention. For at least half of the stories I tell about those years, Jim is one of the main players. My buddy.

As a note, I believe that’s the Bear Mountain Bridge, crossing the Hudson River.

Jim left NYC a few years ago, after a stint working as a Union Iron worker, after he met his future bride. He’s been living in Watertown for a while now, and is a volunteer fireman in his off hours. Good guy, Jim is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When we arrived at the lake house, it was discovered that the lake it adjoined was a bit more of a marsh or swamp than it was advertised as being. This is Beaver Dam Lake, which is in the next town over from Watertown – New Windsor. It’s an artificial waterbody, which was created by a dam to act as a water reservoir, in the 1870’s, for an outfit called the “Arlington Paper Mill.” A few years ago, it seems, it was determined that the dam needed to be rehabilitated to insure against catastrophic failure and consequent flooding so the lake was drained and it became a meadow.

Work on the dam was finalized, and the lake/meadow was allowed to flood again. As the water level goes up, the shoreline vegetation will alter, but for right now there’s this weird swamp along the waterfront.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that it’s impossible for me not to photograph everything I see or experience, an alarm was set for early in the morning so I could feed the mosquitos while setting up the tripod and camera.

Another couple from my friend group arrived at the lake/swamp house, and after us getting all “faputzed” we attended the wedding – which ended up being quite the bacchanal. Wouldn’t expect anything different for my buddy Jim’s big day, actually. What surprised me was that nobody rode a Harley in and onto the dance floor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Seeing the way that the evening was proceeding, I made an early decision not to drink too much. The role of custodian for drunken friends is one that I often found myself in back in the old days, given my particularly high tolerance for intoxicants of all kinds. I’m one of the two people who “talked to the Cops” back during college, thereby, promising the gendarme that I’d get the subject of their ennui home safe and keep them from doing anything untoward on the way. Really – getting me drunk – drunk requires voluminous amounts of booze. I can out drink a Russian if I have to. It’s a life skill. When I get drunk, it’s usually an accident.

A recent example of this sort of accident involved me losing count of how many Gin and Tonics I had quaffed at an Astoria bar, and starting to nod out. It turned out, according to my bartender’s recollection the next day, that I had drank more than a half gallon of Gin and Tonics over a three hour period. Woof, accident. Thing is, with the crowd that I used to run with back in the old days, that sort of volume is considered to be “just getting started” on your weekend.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We left New Windsor the morning after the wedding, and Hank the Elevator Guy returned Our Lady and myself to Astoria. Relaxation was not on my to do list for this Sunday afternoon, however, as I had to prepare and pack for a week long trip on Amtrak which I would be embarking on early Tuesday morning. I would have to get ready for a long photo oriented solo trip, one which would start at 3:30 in the morning on Monday night/Tuesday morning. Batteries to charge, lenses to clean, how many pairs of socks would I need to take with me?

The adventures continue tomorrow – 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

October 12, 2021 at 11:00 am

white fungi

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All pleasant things must end, and at the end of all things is New York City. Exit 1 on most highways is NYC, and nearly every set of train tracks in the country ultimately resolves either in NYC or Chicago. After a greedily consumed 72 hours in the Socialist Paradise of Burlington, Vermont – Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself made our way to the neighboring community of Essex Junction to meet up with Amtrak’s “Vermonter” line, which we would spend the next seven and change hours riding on back to Moynihan/Penn Station in Manhattan.

Sounds onerous, doesn’t it? Seven and change hours. Why not fly?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To start, flying blows. You need to be there two hours in advance for security theater, then you’re stuffed into a tiny claustrophobic seat which you’re encouraged not to get out of during the flight since you might be a terrorist, treated like a disobedient child by the sky waitresses… and all for top dollar. On the other side, there’s no way you’re getting out of the airport in less than 45 minutes – and that’s just with carry-on luggage. In the end; you saved yourself around two hours on a trip like this, were presumed to be and treated like an international criminal, sat in an extremely uncomfortable and tight chair for the trip, and then…

Amtrak on the other hand… their website and ticket booking apparatus is horrendous – closest analogy I can offer is trying to get something done at the Brooklyn Department of Motor Vehicles. Once you’re ticketed, however, Amtrak is silk. The seats are gigantic, comfortable, and there’s an incredible amount of leg room. Unlike flying, if the guy in front of you reclines his seat, you don’t spend the entire trip staring at his bald spot. You can get up and walk around the train as well. There’s also the scenery rolling past.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had put a bit of thought into the scenery thing before leaving for this trip. I created a foam collar for one of my lenses made of the insulation strips you can get at Home Depot for when you install an air conditioner. That cancelled out reflection issues, as the foam was charcoal gray and I dusted it with some Krylon Matte Black spray paint. I set the camera to (autofocus) f1.8, shutter speed at 1/8000th of a second, and had the ISO to “auto.” Even though the Amtrak train was hurtling along at 50-75 mph (occasionally) the fast shutter speed froze the scene. I thought that these images would have an 80-90% failure rate, which backfired on me when I began processing them as the failure rate was more like 10-15%.

I suddenly had to contend with something like 6,000 shots just from the ride home. Uggh. What a road block this became.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Amtrak route goes through Holyoke, Massachusetts – a town which I was completely ignorant of before passing through it and one which I intend to visit in the near future. Holyoke is one of those early 19th century second Industrial Revolution New England towns you read about in 2nd grade history class. That enormous building pictured above, which caught my eye, is the 1869 vintage Albion Paper Mill, designed by the “Paper King” – architect David Horatio Tower.

Holyoke is also “Lovecraft Country” as well, so spooky too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As they did on the way north, the Amtrak people switched out the locomotive engine on our train at New Haven in Connecticut. This is about a 15 minute layover, during which they also change out the crews. Observationally speaking, this must be a union thing, as more or less every time Amtrak crossed state lines (this was only the first of several excursions on the service which I enjoyed in the month of September) a new staff would appear. The “tell” was when they closed the Cafe Car.

That’s a Connecticut Rail train pictured above. Can’t tell you much about it. It was well lit… that’s all I got.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Amtrak journey to and from Burlington was coming to an end as we were crossed the Hell Gate Bridge into Queens. Switching issues and heavy traffic on the NY Connecting Railway tracks leading into Sunnyside Yards and ultimately into the East River tunnels leading to Moynihan/Penn Station delayed us slightly, but we arrived within ten minutes of the published schedule. Why there isn’t a stop in Queens…

Of course, once we were back on the streets of the dystopian shithole that is NYC, we were accosted by the madmen and drug addicts which the NYPD herds towards Penn Station to keep them away from Times Square and its absent tourists. It seemed that our plan to complete the journey back to Astoria by Subway was an impossible “ask,” as the trash fire that is the MTA was in full melt down. As the task of operating mass transit into Queens was beyond that political patronage mill’s ability, we attempted to get a cab. Since the trains weren’t running, ride share services had instituted their sliding fare scale, and LYFT was telling us it would cost more than $80 to go four miles into Queens. After about an hour of useless anger, we finally got into a cab and returned home. Everywhere I looked, the streets were covered in garbage and filth, and lunatics owned the night.

Someday, a real rain is going to fall…


“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

October 11, 2021 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

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new equilibrium

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A final post from a 72 hour visit to Burlington, Vermont. When we were looking for a place to shelter from a passing storm, I spotted this Vermont Railway facility, and an associated waterfront pathway leading to the “Roundhouse Park” and “Pine Street Barge Canal.”

That’s a railyard, a sewer plant, and a rail road transfer crane for me. I’d already been in two cemeteries and on a boat as well. Serendipity and Joy!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sky started getting pretty interesting about an hour before sunset. When you see beams of light emanating from the clouds, and Charlton Heston isn’t walking around in woolen robes and wearing a beard, it ain’t god – instead it’s an atmospheric effect called “Crepuscular Rays.”

One made his way down to the waterfront, deployed the gear, and got busy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The waterfront paths I was shooting from were created beginning in 1981 under the leadership of then Mayor Bernie Sanders. The intent of the municipality was to convert the abandoned industrial waterfront over to something more natural and ecologically sound. At the same time, the post industrial waterfront’s building stock was either demolished or converted to other uses. Burlington used to be a major player in raw timber.

The iron road was (and sort of still is) located right on the shoreline. A large amount of money is currently being spent on renewing the Lake Champlain trackage and I keep on finding mentions of the intention of reactivating and routing Amtrak service to Burlington proper, rather than to Essex Junction.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Rutland Railway is remembered largely for the curious case of Phineas Gage, whom we’ve seen a photo of at one time or another. Gage is the railroad worker who had a crowbar blasted through his head in Cavendish Vermont, and lived. He’s still discussed by neurologists and other medical people, and his case revealed a lot to their forebears about how the circuitry of the human brain actually operates. Who knew?

The other thing that the Rutland Railway is remembered for is the bankruptcy that ended its operations in 1963, whereupon the Vermont Railways outfit was opened for business in 1964 which bought the Rutland Railway’s assets. The State of Vermont purchased some of the tracks at the time, which Vermont Railways has since compensated the tax payers for. An intermodal local railway, Vermont Railways does freight, mainly, notably transporting rock and minerals. It’s tracks are used for passenger service by Amtrak. They operate in Vermont, and parts of New York State.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Forty years ago, this area looked like every other post industrial waterfront in America. Abandoned and collapsing docks, industrial gew gaws and leave behinds rotting away, slicks of oil and sewage… basically a smaller version of Newtown Creek or Gowanus Bay.

All it took was will.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our 72 hours in Burlington coming to a close, it was time for a humble narrator to get annoyingly anal retentive back at the hotel. Checklists! Had to pack up the camera, all of the gear associated with it needed to be carefully berthed and tied off, and we had to pack up the clothing and other junk we needed for our trip. Our Amtrak train was leaving from Essex Junction, about a thirty minute drive, at 9:44 a.m.

We grabbed breakfast at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, hoisted our bags on our backs, and we were off for Essex Junction and the long ride down a sloping hill carrying us back to a dystopian hellscape called New York City.


“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

October 8, 2021 at 11:00 am

Posted in railroad, AMTRAK

Tagged with , ,

grew hoarser

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After returning to the Diner we had discovered the day before for another hearty breakfast, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself agreed to separate for a few hours and do our own thing. In my case, that involved going on a photowalk in the downtown Burlington area. After all these years, one has developed a method for accomplishing this sort of task. A quick scan of Google maps revealed a reasonable to accomplish geographic area which I could explore, and I set off.

First thing I saw on my photowalk was the Burlington Fire Dept. returning to their truck. I was tempted to run alongside the truck shouting “firemen, firemen” but I’ve learned to contain these sort of impulses in my dotage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The housing stock of this section of Burlington… there’s no way to describe it other than “quaint.” I’m sure there’s a brutalist nightmare of an apartment building somewhere in the City of Burlington, but I didn’t see any dystopian glass towers or soulless monuments to Jared Kushner anywhere. What I did see were rather large wood frame homes which had been subdivided into apartments. In my experience, the sort of place pictured above is pretty common in Vermont, at least when you’re in Cities or Towns. The population is so low in Vermont – according to the 2020 census there’s only 643,503 in the entire state – there isn’t much call for multi unit dwellings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found myself in Elmwood Cemetery for a short while. Can’t resist a good cemetery, me. There’s some heated local historical community controversy about whether this spot began to be used for internments in 1794 or in 1801, which makes me smile. Either way, this cemetery is about as old as the Nation is and that is just cool by me.

Not wanting to go down the rabbit hole of photographing the monuments, I forced myself to leave the place and keep walking. Very walkable, and very pleasant to walk in, Burlington is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Burlington weather is very, very changeable. It was overcast and cool when we left the hotel for breakfast, and a mere two hours later that had turned into passing thunderstorms and ominous skies. By this point, I had found my way down to the waterfront again, and was specifically in a section called Battery Park. Signage adjured that the area surrounding this park had traditionally been an Italian neighborhood, and was known as “Little Italy” until the age of urban renewal uprooted that community to another part of Burlington.

According to the meteorological sources that I checked, we were going to lose about 90 minutes of our day to a storm, with clear weather getting pulled in behind it. An executive decision was made, and we decided to find a place to grab a drink while sheltering from the rain.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, while seeking out our spot for shelter and then dinner, I spotted something which absolutely needed to be photographed just to the south.

Negotiations began with Our Lady, who allowed me to abandon her for about forty to fifty minutes later in the day when the sun would be setting. She was going to install herself at a bar, and stare at the scene above. She barely noticed it when I was gone, in actuality, as she struck up a conversation with a woman who was also visiting Burlington but whose home town was Anchorage, Alaska. Wow.

I’ll show you the product of that sunset effort tomorrow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rain passed, the check was paid, and we still had one more “fun” thing on our list of “to-do’s” in Burlington. Our Lady and myself are both fans of hard cider, and a local brewery is the HQ of Citizen Cider. Off to the races!

More tomorrow.


“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

October 7, 2021 at 11:00 am

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