The Newtown Pentacle

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curling tighter

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You won’t need a sweater today, as today is a sweater.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Uncharacteristically, one doesn’t have too much to say today. It was a fairly busy weekend, which included doing a well attended tour for Newtown Creek Alliance on Friday night (this one is called Infrastructure Creek), drinking about thirty gallons of water on Saturday and then hanging out with my friends and neighbors in Astoria on Saturday night, and then waiting for the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself to attain the right position in the sky about six o’clock for a photo expedition to industrial Maspeth and Newtown Creek on Sunday.

You’ll see those Sunday night shots later on this week, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, with all of the rain during the last couple of weeks, Newtown Creek is positively boiling with bacteria. Additionally, it’s boiling from the heat wave. This kind of heat reduces the amount of oxygen in the water, allowing anaerobic bacterial specie their season. The rainy weather means that the combined sewer system is carrying a lot of the fecund foodstuff that these anaerobic bacteria feed on into the tepid water. Their digestive exhalations are rich in hydrogen sulfide compounds, which means that “Eau de Creek” is staining the air column for blocks and blocks around the waterway.

There’s also a lot of floatables (plastics, garbage etc.) and sheens of various oils and greases visible in the waters of Newtown Creek. I hate you all, accordingly, but it makes for good photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been contracted to conduct a boat tour at the end of the month commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal, which will involve the Gowanus area in South Brooklyn. I’ll post ticketing links next week, but August 30th is the date for the thing, which will leave from Lower Manhattan. Most of what I’m going to be narrating about is already in my quiver, but I’m going to be heading over to South Brooklyn a few times this month to “get granular” about the grain terminals and former NYS Barge Canal properties around Erie Basin and Gowanus Bay which will be part of the “speechifying.” 

Additionally, I’m looking forward to the opening of the new NYC Ferry route to Sound View in the Bronx. Of all five theme parks in NYC, the Bronx (or Frontierland) is the one I’m least acquainted with.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 6, 2018 at 11:00 am

last cleaning

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Utopia, along the East River?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had an interesting but short chat last night, with the always interesting and sometimes chatty Robert Singleton of Greater Astoria Historic Society, about a piece he had recently written for a magazine about colonial era Maspeth and how he framed his tale around the desires of those long ago and far away colonists seeking “utopia” in the so called “new world.” I haven’t read Bob’s piece yet, but I’m sure it matches up with his normal high standards (Bob is who I publicly call “the acknowledged expert” on the subject of colonial era history in Western Queens). It did spark a few thoughts in my mind though, on the utopian eidolon which drew so many of our ancestors to what would become the United States. For native born 21st century citizens of the United States and Canada, “freedom” is a fairly abstract idea, but to our predecessors who undertook the dangerous journey from Europe to North America it was crystal clear what they were trying to leave behind.

It’s hard to imagine in modernity – the iron grip of the Hapsburgs, the Tsars, the Ottomans, the Popes, even the relatively “liberal” enlightened despots and parliaments of Western Europe – maintained a choke hold on thought, science, business, religion, and dissent in their lands. Especially after the French Revolution, and the appearance of Napoleon the antichrist, these governments maintained networks of domestic spies and employed forces of “Secret Police” to maintain their franchised version of “order and stability” at all costs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Utopia is what Americans, and New Yorkers in particular, have been chasing since the first Dutchman cut down a few trees in what was once a forest that stretched from coast to coast, to began clearing a spot to build a house. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and prosperity? That’s the American Dream, right? The pursuit and concept of “utopia” in the years leading up to the Civil War of the 1860’s eventually morphed into “progress” in the late 19th and entire 20th centuries, and is currently being conceptually framed as the quest for “equity” and “fairness.” Translating that for those of you who aren’t wise to these DEP currents: ‘Murica.

Chasing the utopian ideal in the United States has actually resulted in and spawned a modern day dystopia, with a government that maintains the status quo with a domestic spying network and literal armies of police – both public and secret – who are tasked with maintaining order and stability at all cost. Ironic, isn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, I’ve had friends who espouse all sorts of solutions and often radical visions of how to “fix” America. Socialist and Communist leaning folks want to institute a one size fits all approach with a super powerful central authority that dictates behavioral and social norms via the redistribution of private wealth through the “state,” not realizing that at no time in history has this not resulted in the appearance of an “elite” group of administrators and politicians that resemble nothing other than “born to the manor” nobility. Business and militaristic focused people want a system of lassez faire government whose only role is “ensuring the general welfare” and national defense, which historical precedent suggests as resulting in the subjugation of individual liberty and fostering military adventurism and leads to the formation of an elite group as well. Both are extremes, neither results in “utopia.”

What’s the way forward then? What can we do to answer the dreams of our forebears? Do we launch colony rockets into space, hoping some future version of the Pilgrims or Waloons can figure it out? What is Utopia?

As mentioned, a chat with Bob Singleton is often interesting and thought provoking.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Friday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – Infrastructure Creek – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade, a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Tix and more deatils here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 31, 2018 at 1:00 pm

fear distorted

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One of those days, man, one of those days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day – July 18th – in 1290 A.D., Edward the 1st of England signed an Edict of Expulsion for the 16,000 or so Jews who lived in England at the time. In 1870, the Vatican Council introduced the concept of Papal Infallibility to a gullible public. In 1925, Adolph Hitler saw his “Mein Kampf” first published to a similarly gullible public. In 1937, Hunter S. Thompson was born (to tell the public how reliably gullible they actually are) and then in 1954, gangster Machine Gun Kelly died of natural causes at Leavenworth Penitentiary after 21 years in prison.

On July 18th in 1984, the so called and notable McDonalds Massacre occurred in San Ysidro, California, during which 21 people were shot and killed (mass shootings were still fairly uncommon then).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If everything went to plan this morning, as you’re reading this I’m returning from a mid morning photo project. I’m attempting to catch a certain angle of light, at a certain place which I’m not 100% familiar with, so it might have been a frustrating morning but hopefully I made the best of it. An educated guess is being made, I’ll show y’all what I got later in the week.

Luckily, after having a killer schedule to get through last week, a bit of time to pop my headphones in and wander about seems to be coinciding with a period of tolerable temperatures and humidity this week. Looking forward to getting a bit of work done, and getting out of the Astoria/LIC/Greenpoint/Newtown Creek neighborhood for a few day trips. Hoping to be able to maintain an early schedule for this, seeking out propitious atmospheric lighting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The most important thing at the moment, for one such as myself, is solitude. I really cannot stomach the thought of having to explain either myself or my actions to one more person than I actually have to at the moment, and have grown quite unwelcoming towards advice emanating from friend and foe alike. The idea of losing myself into the bowels of the City for a little while, looking at it through the isolated safety and emotional distance offered by a camera lens… is both nirvana and nepenthe. 

Look for me, scuttling along the side of the road on the eastern side of the Newtown Pentacle. I’ll be the weird looking guy with a camera.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 18, 2018 at 11:00 am

quarters elsewhere

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Scenes from a summertime Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is only one safe harborage for one such as myself, a single place on this planet where a humble narrator has any sort of worth. Luckily, over the weekend, I got to share this place – the Newtown Creek – with literally a couple of boat loads of people for the City of Water Day festival. When conducting Newtown Creek Boat tours, the program involves me narrating humbly about the East River specifically and NY Harbor in general from the point of embarkation – in this case Pier 11 in Manhattan – until the boat navigates into Newtown Creek. One continues with descriptions of the waterway’s long and intricate history and the environmental problems found in the present day due to its heavy industrial past and present. When we reach the spot where we have to turn around and head back for the pier, the mike gets handed to my colleague Will Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance and he discusses the various plans for remediation of the waterway’s woes. In short, I talk past, he talks future.

Since I effectively have no future, I get busy taking photos while Will’s on the mike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NJ based NY Waterways outfit generously donated the usage of their Henry Hudson ferry boat to City of Water Day, and the Waterfront Alliance organization handled the nitty gritty of getting us onboard. Luckier still, when the boat arrived, the Captain was a fellow named Chris Costa whom I’ve worked with before and have managed to strike up a friendship with. Capt. Costa managed to get us all the way back to Maspeth before we had to reverse course and head back to Lower Manhattan. The first shot in today’s post depicts Allocco Recycling hard at work in Greenpoint, the shot above shows the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant from a spot on the water found between Meeker Avenue and Apollo Street in the Brooklyn side.

The brightest part of my life involves sewage and garbage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the “Green Asphalt” operation at work on the Queens side in Blissville. Their role in our commonly held municipal “thing” is to recycle excavated road surface asphalt and prepare it to be reapplied to to NYC streets. Can you believe that – prior to the 2010 Solid Waste Management Plan – they used to just bury this stuff in landfills? 

This is where I belong, which is about as far away from other people as I possibly can get without leaving NYC.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 16, 2018 at 11:00 am

some length

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Happy Birthday, Marine Parkway Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a short break this week, and single images will be greeting you through the July 4th Holiday week while I’m out shvitzing and photographing things.

Today is July 3rd, and just like the rest of the calendar, there’s always a series of events that occurred over the centuries which seems to suggest that history might not be all that random. Alternatively, it probably is, and it’s the nature of human beings to attempt to form ordered patterns out of chaos.

  • 1775 – American Revolutionary War: George Washington takes command of the Continental Army at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • 1819 – The Bank of Savings in New York City, the first savings bank in the United States, opens.
  • 1863 – American Civil War: The final day of the Battle of Gettysburg culminates with Pickett’s Charge.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, July 3rd is the start of the Dog Days of Summer.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 3, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Brooklyn

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Williamsburg Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a short break this week, and you’ll be greeted with single shots when visiting this – your Newtown Pentacle. Trust that I’m out and about gathering new tales to tell and photographs to display.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – 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.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 22, 2018 at 11:00 am

venous dissections

with one comment

Beginning, middle, end.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I always like to remind people that there’s a bridge on both sides of Flatbush Avenue. You’ve got Leo Moiseff’s showstopper on the north side spanning the East River – the Manhattan Bridge – but everybody always forgets about the one on the south side – the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. Given that the latter was a particular “feature” in the old neighborhood, as it allowed us Brooklyn hooligans access to Queensican Riis Park and the Rockaways, since it spends its time spanning Jamaica Bay.

I tell everybody I’m from Canarsie, because that’s a place most people have heard of in southeast Brooklyn. Technically speaking that’s true, I went to high school on the western fringe of Canarsie, but where my parents put down roots was actually an “angle” between neighborhoods called Futurama. Yes, Futurama.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Flatbush is the Brooklyn neighborhood everybody has heard – or hoid – of. Pictured above is the graveyard of the Dutch Reformed Church, which HP Lovecraft vandalized, at Church and Flatbush Avenues. In the background is Erasmus High School. To the south and east of this spot in Flatbush is Flatlands. If you made a left or eastbound turn on Flatlands Avenue, you’d have Crown Heights to the north (or left) until you got to Ralph Avenue. At Ralph, looking to the south (or right) you’d find the neighborhoods of Futurama, Georgetown, Old Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, and Mill Basin. Once you cross Ralph Avenue and continue eastwards on Flatlands Avenue, you’re in Canarsie until you get to Pennsylvania Avenue near Starret City and then you’re in East New York.

Futurama was a housing development built in the late 1950’s on landfill surrounding Paerdegat Basin and Jamaica Bay, as are the neighborhoods of Georgetown and (new) Mill Basin. The particular spot which my parents chose to settle was equally distant from the terminal stop of the L line at Rockaway Parkway and the terminal stops of the 5 and 2 Lines at Brooklyn College. It was a good two to two and a half mile walk in either direction for the subway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The southern end of Brooklyn, and of Flatbush Avenue, is at the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. It’s a vertical lift span installed over the water at the behest of Robert Moses back in July of 1937. When it opened, it was the largest specimen of this sort of bridge on the planet. Just over the bridge on the Queens side is Breezey Point and Riis Park.

As mentioned, there’s two bridges on Flatbush Avenue.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 9th – 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

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 16, 2018 at 11:00 am

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