The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Long Island Railroad

stout pillars

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DUPBO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin with, when I was on site in Long Island City’s DUPBO section shooting these photos the other night, something so unique and novel occurred that I’m doubting the experience, so I’m going to be heading back sometime over the next few days when it’s light out to “get scientific” about the matter, and I’ll report it to you after a second observation and proper photo cataloguing but for now let’s just leave it hanging.

Mundane and material, that’s a late model Long Island Railroad engine sitting on a siding of the Lower Montauk tracks, awaiting orders.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the spot I was in when the weird thing happened, a location I found myself in due to the attentions of an over zealous and probably bored security guard who decided that my activities were impeding on the grounds she protects. I wish she’d spend some time on the illegal dumping, homeless camps, or the flotilla of RV’s serving as domiciles here in DUPBO, but focusing in on middle aged men with cameras and tripods standing in a parking lot is clearly at the top of her threat chart.

This shot is looking northwards, towards the LIE and Queens Midtown Tunnel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shlepping towards HQ, and exiting the industrial area in pursuit of getting to the train station, the 19th avenue footbridge carried me over the LIRR tracks leading from Hunters Point into the Sunnyside Yards and then under the Long Island Expressway. This is quite a well used footpath, as a note, which connects Borden Avenue with 49th or Hunters Point Avenue where a stop on the #7 train can be accessed.


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Upcoming Tours and Events


Thursday, July 11, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

“Infrastructure Creek” Walking Tour w 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 (which we will probably encounter at a crossing), 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.

Click here for ticketing and more information.


Saturday, July 13, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

“Exploring the East River, From General Slocum Disaster
to Abandoned Islands” Boat Tour w NY Adventure Club

Onboard a Soundview route NYC Ferry – Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Click here for ticketing and more information.


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.

when shouldst

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So what’s with all the weird stuff this last week?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ten years ago this week, a humble narrator was pooping his pants out of nervousness and anticipation, as the Queensboro Bridge Centennial event was about to play out and I was transitioning from being a passive participant to becoming one of the people at the front of the line talking to the crowd. My pal Bernie Ente has dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the spotlight for this event. He asked me, roughly a decade ago today, what website I intended to tell “the audience” to visit. On May 29 of 2009, a purely text post was offered titled “what is the Newtown Pentacle,” which was followed by a couple of staccato postings. I like to think that I’ve stayed true to the outline in that post, despite being carried far afield by opportunity. Everywhere I go is someplace that the Newtown Creek has led me to.

What I consider to be the actual “first” post at Newtown Pentacle was offered on June 3rd of 2009. That was 2, 275 posts ago.

I began hanging around with the Working Harbor Committee, and with Newtown Creek Alliance. The first time Captain John Doswell handed me the Circle Line microphone on a boat tour I stuttered and sputtered, but the Captain had faith in me and with some coaching I developed into a fairly decent narrator.

NCA believed in me too, and we began doing walking tours around the Creek. Atlas Obscura started up in Greenpoint about that time, and soon I found myself working with them as a paid guide and event host. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve brought to Newtown Creek, or out on a boat tour of NY Harbor at this point. There’s been literally tens of thousands; including college students, professional urban planners, activist organizations, environmental officialdom, and most importantly – ordinary New Yorkers. There’s also been dozens of classroom lectures, but that’s a different banana. I’ve published two paper books – “Newtown Creek, for the vulgarly curious” and a recent photo book “In the shadows at Newtown Creek.”

Ten years later, I’m a steering committee member at Working Harbor and I just joined the board of the Newtown Creek Alliance. I was also invited to join Astoria’s Community Board 1 quite recently.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Pentacle has been visited more than half million times in the last decade, and my Flickr account has seen nearly six million views. I’ve been profiled in dozens of news reports in the last decade, most notably in a NY Times piece back in 2012. When I say “google me,” I’m not kidding or being vainglorious. I’ve made some great friends who are engaged in similar pursuits to mine, like Kevin Walsh from Forgotten-NY, Nate Kensinger from Curbed, Joseph Alexiou from the Gowanus community. I’ve lost some great friends too; Bernie Ente, John Doswell, John Skelson. Our Lady of the Pentacle (my wife Cat), and my buddy Mai Armstrong, have been with me every step of the way and none of what’s happened to me over the last decade would have gone as well as it did without their counsel and help. I also have to tip my hat to some of my NCA peeps who have always been in my corner – Mike Heimbinder, Katie Schmidt, Kate Zidar, Will Elkins, and Lisa Bloodgood. Another person of note is WHC’s Meg Black, who has handed me the mike more times than I can count on boat tours of Port Newark and Kill Van Kull. Oddly enough, some of the other friends I’ve made are in elected office here in LIC, notably Cathy Nolan and Jimmy Van Bramer. It’s an honor to know and interact with all of you fine folks, and thank you for tolerating the presence of this bellicose kid from Brooklyn in your lives.

I’ve made some great enemies as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, why all the reflection and the bizarre POV stuff that’s been presented this last week? Short answer is that I’ve been holding that stuff back, editorially, for a while and just wanted to give myself a little freedom this week – get it off my chest, as it were.

What’s next? Good question, that.

There’s going to be a few changes coming, notably I’m going to be figuring out how to excise all those annoying ads which WordPress has been inserting into my posts of late. I’m also going to be opening up a few new channels as we move through the summer and into the fall, evolving things as it were. Ultimately, I’m going to continue trying to answer the one great question, which is the only question which matters.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?


“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

May 31, 2019 at 1:30 pm

vital nature

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Engine 400? New toys at NY&A?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, after a series of puzzling moments over on the Newtown Creek side of industrial Maspeth, a humble narrator decided to begin the journey back to HQ and headed northwards. Often have I described how ridiculous I look when I’m out night scuttling – as the usual filthy lack raincoat has a yellow reflective vest draped over it. In addition, I’ve got the tripod, camera, and a knapsack full of camera stuff. I’m the lone pedestrian you see when driving down the truck routes and waterfront edges, and it’s not unknown for me to walk for hours at night around the Creek without seeing another living soul. Not Monday.

Just as I got to a particular intersection near a certain burnt out diner that I used to frequent, a New York and Atlantic train set rolled by on a spur of the Lower Montauk tracks. I asked one of the crew who was working the signals if he anticipated that the train old be coming back anytime soon and he indicated that it indeed would be. I inquired as to a safe spot to stand and shoot from that wouldn’t interfere with their operations, and in the zone indicated I found a relatively photogenic spot, and began to set up for my shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This section of Maspeth was once like Chicago, with lots and lots of rail customers amongst the industrial powers back here. These days, there’s still industrial freight clientele around these parts, but the rail spurs (secondary tracks) that serve these businesses are largely inaccessible without straight up trespassing through all sorts of property – government, private, you name it. While I was waiting for the train to return, a van with MTA branding on it pulled up next to me and the two Cops inside inquired as to what I was up to. “Nothing sinister, I assure you” was my reply. I explained my purpose, identified myself without being asked, and offered the two badges a short history lesson about the Long Island Railroad in Maspeth and described my night photography project to them. They said “no problem” and explained they had to inquire as it looked odd seeing someone take pictures in the dark around the properties they patrol. They drove off and the train rolled in. Not a problem.

I offered part of the above missive to some friends on Facebook, and was surprised at their sentiments towards the cops. Speaking strictly as someone who expresses his First Ammendment rights regularly, I full throatedly say that I bloody well want the cops inquiring when they see some weirdo in a black raincoat and safety vest standing near a rail line in the middle of the night with a tripod setup in NYC. They didn’t interfere with me, or even get out of the van, just were asking what was up and why I was there. As a counterpoint, the MTA’s Security Guard/Rent A Cops at the nearby Grand Avenue Bus Depot are aggressive and have chastised and interfered with photographers – including me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NY& A folks had seemingly visited another customer on a hidden spur found to the west of the intersection. The signal arms went up and I crossed the tracks over to the north side of the street. The signal arms triggered again and I got into position for one last shot as they descended.

So, I’m going to be conducting a free walk in LIC on the 30th of March, it would seem. The Sunnyside Yards project has roared back to life in the aftermath of the Amazon debacle, and since the Manhattan people are going to all sorts of effort to get this thing done… Click here for details on the “Skillman Corridor” walk.


“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.

unforeseen hitch

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One of those days…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

October 29th is one of those days on the calendar when things just seem to happen. In 539 BC, Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and sent the Jews back to their homelands, whereupon they came up with an official version of what we call “The Old Testament.” In 312 AD, fresh off his victory at the Milvian Bridge where he claimed to have seen visions in the sky and swore to make Christianity the official religion of the Empire if he was victorious, Constantine the Great entered Rome as the Emperor of the Roman Empire. In 1390, Paris began holding witch trials, signaling the beginning of a European Witch Panic which would ebb and flow for centuries. Over in Geneva, in 1863, the International Red Cross was formed. In 1914, October 29th is the entry date for the Ottoman Empire into the First World War, and since things went very badly for the Ottomans in that conflict it also happens to be the day that the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923.

Closer to home – in 1929, October 29th was a Tuesday, and is known to history as “Black Tuesday” as it’s the start date for the Great Depression. In 2012, October 29th is the day that Hurricane Sandy blew through NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was out and about shortly after the flood waters receded in 2012 (on the 30th), accompanying a pair of scientific researchers who were collecting samples of the muck and mire deposited around the neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek. The LIRR tracks in LIC, pictured above, were littered with all sorts of junk – including a sizable portion of FreshDirect’s truck fleet. The nearby Queens Midtown Tunnel was literally flooded with water from the Dutch Kills tributary of the Creek, which rose over its banks. Friends who were shepherding maritime vessels in the harbor described the swell from Sandy as being less of a tide and more of sudden rising of sea level. The waters rose vertically, and one of them said that his biggest challenge that night was maintaining a position on the Hudson River which wouldn’t find his vessel grounded on the West Side highway the next morning.

This sort of thing did happen on Staten Island, as a note, and a ship was found sitting somewhere along Richmond Terrace which should have been in the Kill Van Kull.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The MTA proved itself criminally unprepared for an event like Sandy, and the Subway system suffered massive amounts of damage from flooding in the deep.

Personally speaking, Sandy didn’t affect me terribly much, but I’ve always looked at old maps when choosing a place to live and make it a point of living where the Dutch did. The Dutch were, and are, brilliant when it comes to this sort of thing whereas the English speaking world isn’t. I had power and water here in Astoria, but not too far from HQ the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant and LaGuardia Airport were pretty much put out of business by the coastal flooding for about a week. Our Lady of the Pentacle was away on a trip, which became extended by about three to four days due to not being able to fly home, which made my little dog Zuzu quite pensive.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 29, 2018 at 1:00 pm

apotheosis delayed

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Things to do, here in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Next week promises to be chock full of interesting meetings with Government employees who already know what it is that they want to do, but are obliged by custom and law to at least feign engaging with the public.

The Bicycle fanatics have lately set their sights on Northern Blvd., and since the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) seems to be willing to be led like a mewling lapdog by this small but influential group of paid lobbyists and their Twitter mobs, there’s going to be a public meeting discussing traffic, life, death, and bicycles on Northern Blvd. at 6:30 p.m. on the evening of Monday the 22nd of October at PS 151, the Mary D. Carter School, found at 50-05 31st Ave here in Astoria. #carnage

I’ll be there, since what else do have to do? #nolife

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Tuesday the 23rd of October, the New York State Department of Transportation will be holding a meeting at Sunnyside Community Services, 43-31 39th St, Sunnyside, NY 11104, at 6:00 p.m., to discuss and receive input on the two new parks which they will be constructing in Queens as part of their ongoing Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project. These two properties in question are found on a section of 43rd street which would have been familiar to depression era Yeshiva students, or modern day customers of the Restaurant Depot company, and sit at the veritable border of Blissville and Maspeth. It’s still quite early in the process, concerning the build out of these two parcels, so they’re looking for community input for the design process and are calling the meeting a “charette.” I’m sure you can just show up, but they’re asking for RSVP’s to this email address. #parkland

Similarly to the NYC DOT event, what else do I have to do, so I’ll be there. #ineedahobby

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally, on October 24th at 6 p.m. at LaGuardia Community College’s atrium of Building E (31-10 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101), the NYC Economic Development Corporation will be holding a public meeting to discuss the quixotic dreams of our Mayor to build the Death Star a deck over the Sunnyside Yards. The Dope from Park Slope himself won’t be there, but he’s sending his chief Gentrification Officer and Deputy Mayor, Alicia Glen, to Queens. They’re asking for RSVP’s and claim that the event is already full up, but I’d suggest that anyone who can should show up and let the Manhattan people know what you it is you think of the idea of the City borrowing $18 billion to build a deck over a rail yard in LIC in order to allow a well connected group of campaign donors and real estate developers the chance to exploit an 183 square acre parcel and move 100,000 people onto it. #landgrab

The so called “man of the people” doesn’t want to borrow $18 billion to fix NYCHA, or MTA, or fund any of the “progressive” stuff he claims he’s all about, I’d point out. He’s perfectly happy to saddle the City tax payers with this debt for us to pay off for decades, however, long after he’s gone on to play his (self designated) rightful role as the king of the lefties. #dontdeckqueens


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quickened force

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Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Towards the end of last week, a humble narrator found himself over in the Shining City of Manhattan. I had business to discuss with somebody, mainly creating a new walking tour route, and we actually stomped out one of my proposed routes (Wall Street to 23rd street via the “East River Greenway”) after which one found himself at the NYC Ferry dock at 34th street. A quick journey across the river to Long Island City, as the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself slipped behind New Jersey, soon found me scuttling about in a Long Island City which was cloaked in preternatural darkness.

The tripod was deployed and a humble narrator got busy with the camera, which seemingly generated much interest for both private security personnel and ordinary passerby. Click, whir, click. That’s a LIRR train idling at the Hunters Point Avenue station, if you’re curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The crap hole security fencing around the Sunnyside Yards doesn’t do much to actually secure the railyard, but it does get in the way of your shots. In many ways it’s a metaphor for the entire MTA. Pictured above is a long exposure of the 7 line subway exiting the Hunters Point Avenue station, and climbing onto its elevated course towards the next stop – which is the Court Square station.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another long exposure shot, this time from the 54th avenue footbridge over the tracks, looking westwards towards the Pulaski Bridge and the Queens Midtown tunnel. I would have waited for a train to roll by, but on my way to this spot, two LIRR units had just transited by (see below). Like a lot of the shots recently presented here, this is a narrow aperture and low ISO sensitivity photo with an exposure time of about thirty seconds.

That’s where all those light trails come from. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was on Borden Avenue, and heading for the 54th avenue footbridge, when the signal arms came down and the parade of LIRR rolling stock began. As a note, the shots above and below are handheld exposures, unlike the ones above.

One thing about all this night shoot stuff I’ve been up to lately is the need to be able to switch back and forth between the two strategies utilized for low light shots. In the case of these passing trains, I wanted to “freeze” the moment, so they are wide aperture and high ISO shots representing about 1/200th of a second, give or take.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Proponents of the proposed “BQX” trolley line really should spend some time on Borden Avenue at rush hour to observe what an “at grade” crossing looks like on a well trafficked arterial street. Vehicle traffic backs up for blocks and blocks, and any traffic lanes which might intersect with the arterial begin to feel the effect of it within minutes.

As Robert Moses might have opined, it’s not about about the traffic, it’s about the flow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tracks which the LIRR units are heading onto in this series are the ones you saw in the tripod shot from the 54th avenue footbridge. They lead into the Sunnyside Yards and the trains are going to be heading eastwards, I’m told, towards first Woodside and then Jamaica and then out to Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After unit 414 completed its journey past Borden Avenue, number 420 began its own trip. A humble narrator was squealing with glee, as a note, because simple things make me happy. After a day spent in Manhattan, which has become the most boring place on Earth, LIC welcomed me home with this grand parade?

I missed you too, Queens.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 22, 2018 at 11:00 am

uncanny library

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It’s National Breadstick Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is an example of the ultimate reason as to why the proposed BQX trolley line is infeasible, what with the blinking signal arm barriers and the train horn blowing – which rail is required to do at grade crossings such as the Borden Avenue location adjoining the Pulaksi Bridge and Queens Midtown Tunnel pictured above in LIC. One doesn’t want to deep dive on that topic today, however, as thinking about the Mayor depresses me and I don’t want to be “blue.”

A humble narrator was on his way to a “thing” in LIC when this train began to move across Borden Avenue, an occurrence which caused him to utter something which sounded like “squeeeee,” drop to one knee in the middle of the street, and laugh maniacally while waving the camera around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Railroad uses their nearby Hunters Point Yard to stage train sets for rush hour duty, and the tracks lead across Borden Avenue over to the Hunters Point Avenue stop at the southern extant of the Sunnyside Yards. From there, the trains head into the City and Penn Station, before heading out to Woodside, Jamaica, and then Long Island.

At least, that’s what I think happens. I’m not a rider of the LIRR except for rare occasion, and mainly I just like taking pictures of trains moving around in crowded urban settings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now that tour season is just about over, and my weekends are my own again, plans for how to spend my time are being laid. I’ve got more than a few things to shoot on my list, which I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to.

It really bakes my muffins when I don’t get to regularly wave the camera around at cool things, and despite the amazing places I’ve been this summer, I’ve generally been the tour guide or if onboard a vessel – on the mike – and I’ve barely been able to “do my thing.” I’ll sneak the occasional photo in when conducting a tour, but it’s a snapshot, not a photograph (there’s a difference).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Good news is that the weather is finally in the “filthy black raincoat” range of temperatures, and since I don’t have to maintain my summertime “early bird” schedule quite as stringently – late night shooting is back on the menu.

Where will I go first? Things to do, things to see, people to avoid – here in the great metropolitan city…


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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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