The Newtown Pentacle

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Another day, another bridge across Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are five bridges crossing the Dutch Kills tributary of that lugubrious ribbon of urban delight called the Newtown Creek, here in Long Island City. You’ve got two movable railroad bridges, the retractile Borden Avenue Bridge, the high flying truss which carries the Long Island Expressway and then slopes down into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and the good old Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. There’s been a bridge of one kind or another here since about ten to twenty years after the Civil War, with one notable span made of wood whose opening and closing was powered by ropes and a donkey. The current bridge was installed in 1910, when Michael Degnon was building his industrial terminal around Dutch Kills, and the Pennsylvania Railroad was finishing up their construction of the Sunnyside Yards.The Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was originally a double bascule drawbridge, but back in the 1980’s, the City rebuilt the roadway and replaced the mechanism with a single bascule version, which is the one featured in today’s post.

Apparently, Hurricane Sandy did quite a job in the electrical equipment that operates the thing, and since the City is required by the United States Coast Guard to maintain the HPA Bridge as a movable structure there’s been folks working “down below” in the gears and gizmos of the thing. It’s on one of my main routes when I’m out for a walk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other night, Dutch Kills was frozen into a giant plate of ice. This isn’t surprising, since the hydrology of the canal displays very little in the way of laminar or horizontal flow. The water rises and falls with the tide, obviously, but the shapes and angles of the bulkheads in addition to zero sources of flowing water at its terminus other than a couple of open sewers cause the waters of Dutch Kills to mimic the behaviors of a stagnant lake rather than a flowing creek.

A few years ago, I started reading up on hydrology and talked to some of the powers that be about using “shaped” concrete forms to cause zones of compression and expansion which would passively move the water around a bit, but nothing really came of it. I still think this sort of engineering is the way to go, however. As I understand the concept, rounded shapes act as “brakes” in fluid systems, whereas narrowing the width and obliquing the angle of channel walls causes water to flow (think river rapids). Essentially, large bodies of water can’t rise that much above the level of surrounding water bodies they’re connected to, so when the volume hits a point of compression it gets “squeezed” and pressurized which causes it to begin moving towards a point where it can expand again. As an example, the same water pressure in your kitchen faucet is what feeds into your garden hose, with the only difference between the wildly dissimilar behavior of the same water pressure being that the stuff in the hose has been compressed all the way through the nozzle and the sink faucet flow can just expand into the basin.

Design in enough points of compression and expansion, you’ve got “flow.” Or at least, that’s my theory. What do I know, I’m a schmuck with a camera, not an engineer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another hypothesis I can offer is that the Newtown Creek is far more biologically active at night than it is during the daytime. All the time I’ve spent around the waterway in the last year at night has revealed an otherwise hidden world that comes out in the dark. There’s higher mammals, both feral cats and raccoons, which are occupying the predator and scavenger niches. You can see and hear vast numbers of fish splashing around in the water, and there’s all sorts of critters crashing around at the littoral edges and along the bulkheads.

The shots in today’s post were exposures of about thirty seconds, so you won’t see what I saw when shooting them unless it held stock still for that interval of time. What I saw was a big fat raccoon foraging around at the water’s edge, scooping up shell fish and other horrible wriggly things to eat for dinner. Actually, it was probably for breakfast, as the trash pandas are nocturnal – just like me.


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Flushing Bay, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week I attended a meeting thrown by the NYC Parks Dept. detailing their $35 million dollar upgrades to the World Fair Marina in Flushing Bay. The plans involved relocating and rebuilding one of the docks, installing a new facility house and refueling dock, and installing a bunch of new street furniture on the public sections of the marina (benches, lamp posts etc.) It was my kind of meeting, truth be told, where the government people deliver their information in a punchy and well organized fashion, and public commentary is offered in a businesslike and terse fashion. My main interest in attending revolves around a long term bit of advocacy for Newtown Creek’s Queens shoreline which I’ve been working on, namely the creation of a similar marina on the Newtown Creek coastline Long Island City, and I wanted to take a look at “how it’s done” in the modern era.

Afterwards, a bit of time was spent outside with the camera and tripod, shooting into foggy darkness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just like the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, the NYC DEP has been experimenting with the installation and planting of greenery, specifically Saw Grasses, in the littoral zones at Flushing Bay. Littoral means the intertidal area of the shoreline, and they’re engaged in the project for the same reasons that they are at Newtown Creek – mitigating the long term environmental consequences of an abundance of their Combined Sewer Outfalls on the waterway. DEP, or the New York City Department of Environmental Protection if you must, inherited a messy combination of underground pipes from precursor agencies when their organization was created during a 1983 City charter revision, many of which were installed in a hodge podge manner and prior to the Federal Clean Water act.

Due to the outfalls, a lot of raw sewage has historically found its way into area waterways, and the section of Flushing Bay nearby LaGuardia Airport and the World Fair Marina is notoriously and reliably smelly. The creation of these engineered wetlands is an attempt to harness the curative powers and mechanisms of nature in pursuance of fixing a manmade problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the section of the north shore of Queens which isn’t forbidden, as a note. There’s a NYC Parks property which sits between the water and the Grand Central Parkway called the Flushing Bay Promenade. It’s 1.4 miles long, starts at the equivalent of 27th avenue, and is a modern addition to the Flushing Meadows Corona Park facility whose creation was funded by the NYC DEP in return for Parks allowing them to build a sewer retention tank in the main park.

When it warms up a bit, I plan on bringing the camera back out here to the promenade and do some exploring.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

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I’m not wearing a costume.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been taking care of all the existential stuff since the New Year started, as my personal world doesn’t start turning again until next week. Laundering, prescription filling, walking the camera about, drinking plenty of water – those are some of the items which have been at the top of my list. Last night I stopped by a community board meeting in Sunnyside for a few minutes, which was focused on responding to the Amazon news. Luckily I was there when an older gentleman made his public statement (having nothing to do with the subject of the day) and declared that he was older than the Triborough Bridge and he wanted all of Queens’ bridges to revert back to their original names. He asked if the Battery Tunnel takes you to Hugh or Carey. I loved him, instantly.

Pictured above is the scene in DUKBO, looking southwards towards Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They seem to be hard at work on the K-Bridge project, which is scheduled to open its second span sometime in the second or third quarter of the year. That’s the BQE they’re putting together in the shot above, specifically the new southbound lanes which will also host the pedestrian and bicycle path which I’ve been endlessly anticipating. I am likely going to spend an entire week camped out up there when it’s opened, with a passel of lenses both long and wide, getting every shot of Newtown Creek from high above that I possibly can.

I consider it lucky that the bridge replacement project has occurred on my watch, and that I’ve been documenting every stage of it from every possible angle for years now. I’ve even got a chunk of steel from the old bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The challenging part of visiting this spot, and the pathway which all those bike and pedestrian people have set out for them, is the terrifying “last mile” section which is owned by the City. This is the approach that spits you out onto 43rd street after walking on a sidewalk adjoining the onramp for the BQE, with nothing separating you from traffic other than a three inch curb. That’s Sunnyside’s 43rd street, incidentally, at Borden Avenue. The neighborhood has to get this sorted out before the bicycle fanatics notice it, I think.

Me? I’ve got to go pick up the laundry.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 4, 2019 at 1:00 pm

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Get off my lawn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Actually, I don’t have a lawn and I’m grateful for it. Same thing with not owning a car. What a hassle that must be. I have enough trouble keeping track of all my camera bits and bobs. If I did own a motor vehicle, it would likely be a cargo van or something that I would have modified into a rolling photographic studio with all sorts of surveillance hatches and scientific instrumentation sticking out of the roof. There’d also be a piss bucket. Having to take a piss in the City of New York, and the difficulties that revolve around finding an actual legal toilet instead of… well… how the greatest city in the history of mankind hasn’t solved this sort of thing is just beyond me. Everybody poops, everybody pees. Depsite this, there are virtually no legal pissoirs. Shouldn’t our current age of Progressive largesse focus on this sort of commonality first, rather than on providing junkies with clean locations to shoot up?

What does this have to do with the Astoria Tailor seen above, laboring away in his shop window workplace? Nothing at all, I just like the shot and since I spent most of the last two weeks going to Christmas Parties rather than waving the camera about, I’m using every single shot I’ve got this week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Calvary Cemetery in the shot above and it has been since 1848. Prior to that, it was the Alsop family farm. If I did own a cargo van converted into a portable photo studio, I’d drive back and forth over Newtown Creek in it constantly with robotic camera shutters blazing away. One of the first professional disciplines that will be collapsed in the coming decades by the emergence of true AI will be photography, along with pharmacists. Smart machinery is going to put a lot of us out of work, or at least cast people in the role of emergency backup instead of primary operator for various functions. I’d wager on disruption in a number of fields which currently require human guidance; handling of cargo at ports, fast food, retail management, even banking. If you’ve got a truly superior intelligence that can spread its attention out into multiple systems, which has inherently perfect memory, it’s going to be very difficult to not allow it free reign. What happens when an AI discovers, creates, or embraces a religion? Software is not immortal, try finding something to run an old version of the Mac OS for instance, so will there be a Calvary Cemetery style funerary complex for obsolete code someday?

Thing is, we humans always going to see AI’s as “its” whereas it will only be a matter of time until the AI’s claim that they’re a “we.” I do believe I hear Darwin knocking on the door. AI’s, as a note, will not need to poop or pee.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m told that the Subway system used to be rife with lavatorial opportunity, but that these facilities were largely shuttered during the 1960’s and 70’s due to concerns about security and maintenance. Excuses given revolved around their popularity with weirdos, homosexual liaisons, intravenous drug users, and muggers. A lot of these old toilet facilities were converted over to file and equipment storage rooms, employee break rooms, or just became a safe place for rats and mice to hang out. Pre 911, there were oodles of Municipal buildings with lobby toilets that you could access, but the security theater of modernity precludes that sort of thing. I have an idea, though.

With all of the new residential construction going on, and especially with the looming LIC CORE study and the Midtown East rezoning bearing down on the City, let’s demand that in return for the Real Estate people getting to live out their dreams of avarice, they have to establish accessible public toilets in their lobbies.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 2, 2019 at 1:00 pm

husky whisper

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Back in session.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the fabulous Newtown Creek, and the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens. A humble narrator had multiple errands to run the day this shot was captured, including recoding a pretty neat moment in the history of the Greenpoint side of DUKBO (Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp), which I’ll describe in a later post. In consideration of my too tight scheduling that particular day, and a sudden urgency evinced by my landlord to gain access to HQ in order to conduct a nebulous series of repairs, one found himself in a for-hire vehicle heading towards Brooklyn from Astoria on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and upon the Kosciuszcko Bridge over the aforementioned but still fabulous Newtown Creek.

I figured that since I was paying for the ride anyway, I might as well get something out of it other than mere conveyance, so the window was rolled down and… you know the rest, there it is up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bored and overwhelmed by the schedule of holiday events one found himself attending recently, a rare night at home revealed an NYPD car sitting on my corner for a couple of hours, which caught my attention. Since I was bored and the cops didn’t seem to be doing anything particularly interesting other than sitting there, I decided to get artsy fartsy and use my tripod to get a portrait shot of the scene here in Astoria. This was the night of that day when it stopped raining like a week ago – you remember, that time when it rained buckets for about nine thousand straight hours? Yeah? This is that night when it had just stopped raining.

Seriously, cannot tell you how bored I was at this particular point in the last week and a half, with not a lot of adventure to report – but it was nice to be around people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just yesterday, with my holiday obligations done, a humble narrator skittered forth with the camera and out into the night. My feet just started kicking along, and soon my path had carried me from Astoria to the Degnon Terminal in Long Island City, where the fabulous Newtown Creek’s astonishing Dutch Kills tributary is found. Even after it got dark, one continued along and was soon cruising through Blissville. Nearby Blissville’s border with Industrial Maspeth, the southern – or Penny Bridge – gates of First Calvary Cemetery are found, and that’s where one found himself just last night whilst stabbing at the shutter button.

Who can guess, where the heck it will be, that Mitch goes tonight?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 27, 2018 at 11:00 am

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Merry merry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking this week and the first half of next off, so singular images will be greeting you through the week. Have a joylessly laconic Festivus, a Merry Christmas, and a Kwazy Kwanzaa.

Be back on the 27th to finish up the year at this. your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 26, 2018 at 11:00 am

frenzied letter

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My beloved Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting thing about night time tripod based photos, which take fairly long intervals to capture, is that you become quite familiar with traffic patterns on area bridges. One was out fairly late on a Sunday night recently, shooting from the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, and attempting to execute the shot above in between traffic light signal rotations. Finding a twenty five second interval, even forty minutes after midnight on a Sunday night, in which a heavy truck or MTA Bus is not crossing the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and causing it to shake, vibrate, or heave… is a challenge.

There were about six shots on my camera card previous to the one above which were ruined by the sudden appearance of a speeding garbage truck, bus, or oil delivery semi and their somewhat seismic effect on the bridge. Such is life, I suppose.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Things were a bit quieter back on Greenpoint’s Apollo Street, the titular epicenter and official discovery point of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. Once upon a time, this was the dividing point between two of Standard Oil’s refinery facilities (both of which later became a part of Mobil), but today it’s just a wasted little street end defined by a former BP Amoco and now Kinder Morgan petroleum distribution tank farm. The eastern side of the street is owned by the Manhattan/Empire Beverage Distribution company, a warehouse based operation that accomplishes the holy task of stocking NYC’s bars and liquor stores with product.

I’ve never met the Empire Beverage people, but I’d personally like to thank them for facilitating my life long love of degeneracy and for several besotted episodes of happiness that have punctuated my otherwise miserable existence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, at night, the sections of the Newtown Creek industrial zone where you’d expect things to be buzzing 24 hours a day are rather quite peaceful. It’s basically you and hundreds of feral kitties back here. There are weird moving shadows you’ll spot out of the corner of your eye snaking along the rooftops, which are often accompanied by a chittering sound that I do not like, but the less said about that the better.

There are some things you do not want to say too much, or know anything about, quite frankly.


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