The Newtown Pentacle

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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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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Stage one of my September travels, accomplished using Amtrak to get from place to place, saw Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself entering Moynihan Penn Station early on a rainy day. This was actually the first time I’d stepped foot inside of the new facility and it was pretty impressive. I plan on going back sometime soon just for photos, but given that I was burdened down with luggage and my entire camera setup was on my back…

This journey was on a train line that Amtrak had recently reinstated after several years, “The Vermonter.” Our final destination was meant to be Essex Junction, which is a town neighboring Burlington in the state of Vermont. The announcement signaled it was time to board and we left the bright cavern of Moynihan Station and descended into the stygian darkness of Penn Station.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that the way Amtrak works involves you telling the Conductor where you’re going and then you get directed into one of the several cars on their train. They seem to group travelers together by destination, which – as it turns out – is a fairly prosaic practice. Once onboard, you’re adjured to use the luggage racks and reminded about wearing a mask. After the train leaves the station, conductors move through the line checking tickets and answering questions from the riders.

There were a surprisingly substantial number of people on the train, which I wasn’t expecting for a mid week and fairly long distance trip. Turns out that this route travels through coastal Connecticut for much of the run, and that a lot of people get to and from there by Amtrak rather than commuter rail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Vermonter exited the East River tunnels, rode through the Sunnyside Yards, and surmounted the Hell Gate Bridge heading north. My original intention was to be productive on this trip, but honestly I ended up staring out of the window for most of it. Some of my homemade camera equipment was utilized, a foam collar for the lens which allowed me to cancel out reflections and shoot cleanly through the window.

I’ve got a couple of image sequences which I’ll be offering at some point in the future, but for today it’s just static ones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is vastly more comfortable to travel using Amtrak than it is to fly. “Vastly” is actually an understatement. The car that Our lady of the Pentacle and I were traveling in was mostly empty, whereas other ones were well populated. Again, this is where that system they use comes in. There were a bunch of stops along the way where the doors to our car didn’t even open.

There’s a cafe car, which was at the rear of the train on this journey, and I ate the Amtrak microwaved hamburger. I’d describe it as “modern day soldier food” and it really wasn’t terrible. Better than McDonalds? Let’s put it in the same range, although Amtrak doesn’t have pickles or special sauce. Point is that it “filled the hole” and I can now say that I ate an Amtrak Burger.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In New Haven, Connecticut, they switch out the electric engine for a diesel one and there’s a short layover wherein you’re allowed to exit the train and stretch your legs. They also changed crew there. Observationally speaking, they seem to change crews more or less when the train is crossing state lines. Must be a union thing, I guess.

At any rate, after they attached the Diesel unit to the front of the train, we continued hurtling northwards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Vermonter was an all day trip, and we arrived at Essex Junction well after dark. Luckily, they use ride share services up there too, and a quick cab ride got us to the hotel. We settled in and grabbed a meal and a couple of drinks at the hotel restaurant and then went to sleep. An early alarm was set, as adventure awaited us the next day.

More to come tomorrow, from the Socialist Paradise of Burlington, Vermont.

As a note, with all of the missed sleep and weird schedule I’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks I’m completely divorced from my normal schedule. Going to bed late, waking up in the afternoon, not normal. It’s going to take a few days until Newtown Pentacle, thereby, returns to its normal schedule.


“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

September 27, 2021 at 2:00 pm

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