The Newtown Pentacle

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After an interminable number of days wherein a late July into early August heat wave saw me sheltering in place at HQ, August 10th saw atmospheric temperatures and humidity drop to comfortable levels. Thereby, off I went on a walk. After all the sitting around at HQ, my joints were creaking from a lack of exercise, and the camera was anxious to capture images of the wonders of Western Queens once again.

Alright, the Q66 bus ain’t exactly a “wonder,” but it’s still pretty cool. There’s a real disconnect in Queens regarding the bus system for a lot of people, and it’s one of those places where you encounter the “economic and cultural privilege divide” thing that the kids talk about. Neighborhoods where the primary form of transit service takes the from of Subway Train Lines are generally richer and more gentrified than those that are served primarily by buses. Buses, therefore, are fascinating to me as they represent a clear borderline between the social and economic classes. Personally, I make it a point of using all forms of available public transit, which – as my mother would have pointed out – “you’ve already paid for it with tax, don’t be an asshole.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve famously been riding around the northeastern United States on Amtrak, since getting vaccinated for Covid, but I haven’t ridden on their “high speed” Acela service. I’m not in that big of a hurry to get somewhere to justify their premium pricing and ride the slower and cheaper service, and am entirely satisfied to just grab shots of their Acela trains at the Sunnyside Yards.

As stated hundreds of times, the 183 square Sunnyside Yards coach yard and rail complex is a few blocks from HQ, and sits squarely betwixt a humble narrator and his beloved Newtown Creek. I cannot resist utilizing the multitude of federal fence holes to record the elaborate heavy industrial ballet that is observable below.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Railroad was rather busy on this particular evening, but then again I was passing by “hole reliable” about 6:30-7:00 p.m., and that’s literally LIRR’s busy time – so…

This was going to be a relatively short walk for me as I had an early morning assignation the next day, and the plan was to wander towards the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek and eventually end up at the 7 train at Hunters Point Avenue. My habit these days is to use the 7 to get back to Queensboro Plaza, and then transfer to an Astoria bound N or W. It’s more efficient for me to take the 7 to 74th street in Jackson Heights and then transfer to the downstairs R or M lines which offer a stop just two blocks from HQ. Saying that, I really don’t mind the ten blocks or so that I have to walk from 31st street after riding on that line.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always wondered about “hiding” something by attaching it to a train. You build a train car that’s securely lockable, paint it up to look like any other bit of rolling stock on whatever line you’re going to use, and the thing just travels from place to place and never stops moving. You want to fully fund rail travel in the United States, you say?

Here’s what you do – prison cars. You lock your felons up in locomotive passenger cars that are set up internally with jail cages, and then they spend their sentence traveling the country in a windowless steel box. How’s that for an abrogation of civil rights? Got to be cheaper than the current prison system we already have. I have several other suggestions for the sort of authoritarian dystopia that seems to be just over the horizon, many of which involve reclassifying “child labor” as “mandatory national service.” How’s that for cruel and unusual?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the authoritarian future, I favor Dante’s Inferno style punishments that are designed to be cruel, ones which are also inherently ironic in nature. You’re a drug dealer? Then your sentence involves Pfizer and Eli Lilly testing out new drugs on you without repercussions to their stockholders. Home invader? Well, my dear fiend, your mailing address is now a Rotary Jail. Capital crimes would be punished in a specifically cruel and unusual fashion – mobs of crazed Chimpanzees come to mind for pederasts. Americans would happily tune into to watch the Chimps dismember thought criminals and child diddlers, so there’s profit to be had in selling ad space on the broadcast to Taco Bell or Coca Cola. The ancient Persians reached great heights in this sort of arena – “The boats” torture comes to mind. Come on, America, we can do worse if we try.

In this near future of unfettered and profitable cruelty, men will become wild and free, and unattached to any previous morality. Society will learn new ways to enjoy itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sigh…

One continued his scuttle, and since the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was hanging pregnantly in the western sky, headed over to Queens Boulevard where shelter from the emanations of the vast radioactive fireball would be shielded by the aqueduct veranda of the 7 line subway tracks.

More next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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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.

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

August 3rd marked the beginning of a protracted heat wave here, in a City that never sleeps but certainly appreciates the value of a quick nap. Having seen the dire predictions of a week long spell of heat coupled with sky high levels of atmospheric humidity, one desired to get one walk in before things got truly life threatening. I also wanted “something to do” while waiting out the weather, and since I enjoy developing photos…

Saying all that, the dew point when I was shooting these photos was up in the high 60’s and it was truly a shvitzy night. The “urban heat island effect” coupled with high humidity levels – even at night – is an absolute killer and super difficult to do anything during. Accordingly, I opted for a short walk, one which carried me past “hole reliable” at Sunnyside Yards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I got fairly lucky. They’re doing all sorts of track maintenance further east of Sunnyside Yards, the Long Island Railroad people are. That means that the train dispatchers are grouping east and west bound traffic much closer together than normal, in order to maximize the length of the intervals between, when the track workers can do their thing.

Normally, it’s one train every twenty minutes or so. On August 3rd, there was a gaggle of traffic flowing through the Harold Interlocking.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Difficult and technical, that’s how I describe my methodology for getting shots at “hole reliable” at night. The train is cooking along at a good clip, it’s dark, and where the scene is bright – it’s super bright.

F2, ISO 256,000 (!), and 1/125th of a second is the formula I used for these. As usual, you shoot for the edit, and I noodled these a bit during the developing process for contrast and managed to gain back about a stop of light by being careful with how the contrast ended up in the final render of the camera’s RAW file.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m quite happy with the way that the light from the train showed up in the gravel surrounding the tracks. I’m also pleased as punch that you can see the engineer driving the train behind the windshield.

The shot above was composed with the idea that “you need to do a few that leaves room for setting type into, for presentations and videos.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The heavy industrial ballet just kept on coming, and as LIRR 421 was leaving the frame, another train appeared and was making its way east.

Sometimes you get lucky, even when it’s a steamy August night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rest of my walk was pretty uneventful. I scuttled up the hill to Queens Boulevard, hung a left, and then walked back to HQ in Astoria along 43rd street. These were the last shots I accomplished before the heatwave set in and the 85 degree temperatures at midnight began for a week. I hate “reverse blizzards,” so I hung around the air conditioner for several days.

Something different 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.

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The weather forecast on August 1st wasn’t promising anything pleasant for the days immediately following it, and there was a lot of fog and mist in the air…

How can a humble narrator be expected to ignore atmospheric diffusion? Pfah. One shlepped over to the N train, and away I went.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At Queens Plaza, I transferred my allegiances from the N to the 7, and took that line two stops to Hunters Point Avenue.

I had a plan in mind for the foggy afternoon, one which would find me over in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp – was part of my plan. In the late afternoons during weekdays, the Long Island Railroad people deploy a train set about every half hour from the Hunters Point Yard. The trains move under the Pulaski Bridge, cross Borden Avenue, and then go off to parts that are unknown but fairly guessable.

My plan involved crossing the Pulaski Bridge on foot, of course, but I wouldn’t be “me” if I didn’t crack out a few shots of a passing locomotive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Y’know, I know – intellectually – that they’re going to blow the train horn when they approach a grade crossing. Doesn’t change the fact that I’m startled by the sound each and every time they do it.

It’s what’s known as an autonomic reaction to environmental stimuli.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After getting my LIRR shots, and then inspecting the waterside area under the bridge, I headed over to the steep and well traveled stairs of the Pulaski Bridge.

I guess that about 20 minutes had elapsed while I was wandering around down there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as I got to the top of the stairs, a second train was released into the wild by the LIRR an I was lucky enough to get another shot.

Pedantic? Maybe? Fun? Yes.


“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.

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My plan for avoiding a series of thunderstorms on June 1st involved placing myself in areas which host some sort of structure above. The Pulaski Bridge just happens to be one of those structures. While waiting for a Long Island Railroad train to pass by, some bloke struck up a conversation with me. Turns out he was a homeless veteran who is residing at the Borden Avenue Men’s Shelter a few blocks away, and he described conditions there as being fairly grim. He was the kind of Vet who still dresses in his army uniform – khaki BDU’s and a boonie hat, long hair and a beard. Nice enough guy.

We seriously have to do better by our veterans.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Vet guy offered aid to a different homeless fellow that suddenly appeared, and agreed to walk him to another homeless shelter which is found in Greenpoint at Clay Street on the other side of the bridge, and they set off for Brooklyn together. I bid them good luck, and continued to use the Pulaski Bridge as a grandiose umbrella while photographing LIRR trains transiting to and from along the siding found under the bridge.

This is an “at street grade crossing,” which is fairly rare in NYC. Robert Moses spent a lot of time and treasure reducing the number of these during his decades in power.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rain began to intensify, and a humble narrator deployed his actual umbrella while beginning to head back towards “civilization.” Once again, I took up station on a foot bridge over the tracks, and this time around it was the Long Island Expressway which offered me a “rain shadow” to shoot from. Rain shadows are caused by structures. If you know your zone well enough, you know exactly where to walk to stay mostly dry. There’s also wind shadows. Dry patch of pavement during a thunderstorm? Rain Shadow.

One of the problems with “modern design” construction, the sort that sends mirror box rhombuses thrusting rudely at the sky, is that they create strong wind currents at sidewalk level and they rob pedestrians of comfort. I’m of the belief that this is part of their design – to make the urban environment around them hostile so as to discourage loitering, and to encourage you to buy a luxury condo just to get out of the turbulence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rain I was experiencing was just the leading edge of a stronger system of storms heading into the area, so after a few more shots of passing LIRR trains, I shot back under the LIE and started heading back towards the subway in case I need to duck and cover.

As it turned out, just as I got back to Hunters Point Avenue and the 7 stop found there, it stopped raining. Hooray.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As long as I was there, and it was now right about the height of what used to be called rush hour, it would have been silly not to get some shots of the trains heading out of Sunnyside Yards and towards the City.

That’s a New Jersey Transit train, for the curious. They spend their days in Queens at Sunnyside Yards, in between rush hours.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An Amtrak unit or two came rolling by as well, and I decided that I was pushing my luck – weather wise. The scuttling continued, and rather than getting on the 7 (which I would have taken to Jackson Heights and then transferred onto an R or M) I’d instead take the chance and walk over towards Queens Plaza for a connection to the R at the downstairs IND station.

More on that tomorrow.


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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.

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July 6, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the 1st of June, two things were annoying me. Well… lots of things were annoying me, but leading the parade were an ominous weather forecast and a bit of lower back pain. I had stupidly deleted an entire folder of photos by accident the day before, and lost several nice shots so I was also really annoyed at myself. I decided on a pathway for the day’s effort which would involve constant access to areas that could offer me shelter from the prophesied thunderstorms and rain when they arrived.

Luckily, half of Western Queens is located underneath a highway overpass or an elevated subway line. Off to 31st street did I scuttle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A quick walk to the N line at 31st street saw me boarding a train and heading towards Queensboro Plaza. The N is an IND train, like the R and M, but it operates out of the IRT station at Queensboro Plaza.

Queensboro Plaza (IRT) is the one “upstairs,” whereas Queens Plaza (IND) is the one “downstairs.” How dysfunctional is the MTA? They still maintain an inter operational distinction between the two systems after nearly six decades of operating them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moving through the transit system and seamlessly transferring from line to line is what makes you a New Yorker. My “don’t get wet” plan involved – as stated – staying close to areas of cover for when the sky broke open and rain started pissing down. Yeah, I could’ve just stayed home, but after accidentally deleting an entire “roll” of shots I had a fire in my belly to do some work.

Exultant, that’s how I felt when the 7 line arrived. One boarded the train and set off for my next destination.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hunters Point Avenue 7 Station was where I debarked, and where the plan for my day continued. I got a couple of shots of a Flushing bound 7 on the other side of the station heading towards Court Square before scuttling up the stairs to the street.

I love the esthetics of this particular station, and will reiterate my statement that the 7 is the most photogenic of all the subway lines.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Up on the sidewalk, there’s a hole in the fence I like to use when passing by, and luckily for me – the 7 line service is so frequent after its painfully long to install CBTC upgrades – another Manhattan bound train was already on its way into the Hunters Point Avenue station on the truss bridge over Sunnyside Yards which connects to the Court Square Station after traveling over Davis Street.

Yes. Nerd. Me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My next stop was a few blocks away, in DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp. There’s a Long Island Railroad siding hereabouts. If you’re in the neighborhood – usually weekdays between 4 and 6 – there’s a very, very good chance you’ll get to see something like the shot above playing out.

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

July 5, 2022 at 11:00 am

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