The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘newtown creek

scarcely be

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The world is an increasingly scary place, stay home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunday nights, and in particular the hours directly before the midnight boundary with Monday is breached, are the only time that the Newtown Creek industrial zone slows down and takes a breath. For a few hours the constant river of vehicular traffic, industrial activity, and omnipresent noise ebb. Any other day or time, and you literally would not have the thirty seconds required for some of these night shots at the Grand Street Bridge to be recorded, due to the vibrations of passing traffic shaking and cavitating the 115 old swing bridge.

The shot above looks southwards towards Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking roughly westward, you can see the glowing eidolon known as the new Kosciuszcko Bridge about a mile away, the crane district of Maspeth on the right, and the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek’s intersection with the main waterway and the East Branch tributary at center and left. At the bottom of the shot, in the unnaturally green waters of the East Branch, a tepid current was pulsing out from under the bridge which was – from an olfactory point of view – obviously carrying sewage towards the main stem of the Creek.

As a note, the water is lit up at the bottom of the shot by the street lamps of the Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As intoned in a previous posting, concern about just how bright the light from the new Kosciuszcko Bridge is has been a subject of conversation of late – and more than once – amongst the Newtown Creek crowd. Light pollution, as it’s known, is meant to confuse the heck out of migratory birds. There’s actually initiatives at the “big” environmental groups to get Manhattan office buildings to dim their lights during certain times of the year in response. Given that Newtown Creek is part of the Atlantic flyover migratory route… well… who the hell cares – it’s Queens.

I guess we’re just going to wait and see what sort of evidentiary observations emerge regarding its effect.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Pentacle HQ is about two miles away from where the new K bridge crosses the water, and I can see this pillar of purple light punching into the clouds from there. I’ve seen reports on social media outlets proclaiming “lights in the sky” from Bushwick and Vinegar Hill and even Manhattan. Nobody in Queens can be bothered to pick up the phone and call either 311 or 911, as somebody else will do it or they just don’t want to get involved. Admittedly, these reports were offered by people who thought they were seeing UFO’s, but…

Just saying… if I don’t know what something is and it’s flying, it’s a UFO. I’d suggest an Internet rabbit hole term for you to follow, by the way, which are “USO” or “unknown submersible objects.” Seriously, google that. Hours of fun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I’ve always gravitated towards more home grown and provable horror. Like the mugger gang that used to operate at the Brooklyn side of the bridge back in the 1910’s, using black jacks and billy clubs to induce unconsciousness in their victims. After emptying the stricken of the contents of their pockets, the gang would toss them into the creek. This is the 1903 version of the Grand Street Bridge pictured above, which the gang is associated with. This bridge replaced earlier models, as discussed in this post.

In 1896, the cops found a Catholic priest name Leonard Syczek floating in the water alongside the 1890 version of the bridge, and wearing the sort of full ceremonial vestments required for conducting a Mass. There’s a story there which has never been fully revealed to me, but I suspect some sort of exorcism related tale will emerge eventually. Or, at least I hope one will. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to my weird imaginings and remembered tales, a growing state of panic set in and I realized that one of my spells was coming on. Drops and spikes in cerebral dopamine levels began to occur, and suddenly I had to pee really bad. My feet grew cold, my nose flushed full with snot, and a single tear formed in my left eye bitterly.

While composure was still mine, a phone app was engaged, and a driver was dispatched to shepherd me back to a place where doors can be firmly locked and vouchsafed against the outside world. I left my shoes in the hallway that night, lest I track something in which I had picked up along the banks of the Newtown Creek on a foggy and unusually warm night in February.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 20, 2018 at 11:00 am

so shunned

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Like sand through the hour glass, so too are the sewers of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finishing up the presentation of several long exposure shots gathered around a foggy Newtown Creek, on an uncharacteristically warm February night following a soaking two day rain event, today’s post finds a humble narrator at the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens at the Newtown Creek tributary known as the “East Branch.” For two thirds of the walk, my colleague Will Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance was hanging out with me, but he had to split and a humble narrator found himself in a familiar territory known as “alone.”

Sort of like that tree in the shot above, looking north down Metropolitan Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The East Branch is, to say the least, environmentally compromised. The sidewalk I was standing on is actually a walkway, slung atop a seven vaulted open sewer, the twentieth largest in terms of materials vomited into the water in the entire City of New York, called “CSO NC-083.” This pipe allows somewhere’s in the neighborhood of 586 million gallons of untreated sewage egress into this shallow industrial canal annually. You should see it during the day at low tide, I tell ya.

Across the yard is a large lumber yard whose street address is along East Williamsburgh’s Grand Street, and I literally had one foot in Brooklyn and another in Queens while recording its presence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets were deserted of all but occasional vehicle traffic. Because of the fog and the absence of people in what is normally a bustling and fairly dangerous to move through traffic corridor, a real sense of “spooky” permeated the air. An occasional passerby would stumble past me, offer a nod or some throaty greeting sound, and move along shaking their heads.

What? It’s not normal to be standing on a giant sewer in an industrial zone, along a Federal Superfund site in the middle of the night, taking pictures in the dark? Sheesh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was set to a higher sensitivity in terms of aperture and sensor ISO than the others in this post, as a note. I’m sort of interested in the light gathering power offered by allowing the camera to stare for long periods of time into darkness. Unlike the high ISO shots, however, there could a Bigfoot walking through the shot and the camera wouldn’t record it unless said Sasquatch was to stand stick still for around 35-40 seconds.

I’d recommend using a flash for Bigfoot photos, anyway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I got creeped out by a carload of teenagers at one point and hid behind a mailbox before cutting through a parking lot to get to the other side of the East Branch without having to walk back into Brooklyn where they were headed. Welcome to Queens, by the way. If you head up the hill to the right, you’re going to Ridgewood, stay on Metropolitan to the left and you’re heading towards Maspeth.

Those kids were scary. Teenagers… brrr…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After cutting through my little shortcut over to Grand Avenue (it’s Grand Street in Brooklyn, Grand Avenue in Queens). The final spot I wanted to shoot from was arrived at, the 115 year old Grand Street Bridge.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 19, 2018 at 11:00 am

present quarters

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No dumping allowed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in 1919, Brooklyn Union Gas moved from the Gowanus Canal to Newtown Creek, creating a 115 square acre Manufactured Gas Plant called the Vandervoort Street Facility, with a farm of cylindrical gas holders. BUG would eventually be purchased by Keyspan Energy, which would itself later be acquired by National Grid. This is where the so called “Maspeth Holders” were imploded in 2001, and the property is generally referred to – in modernity – as the “National Grid Site.” They don’t manufacture gas here anymore, instead they store and process “LNG” or Liquified Natural Gas, which is brought out of its cryogenic status through some arcane technological wizardry for pipeline delivery to the ovens and furnaces of Brooklyn.

At least a third of their property is relict, and seemingly abandoned. Along the chain link fences of Vandervoort Street, you’ll notice that they’ve allowed a small lake to form in the footprint of some long ago industrial structure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While out the other night on my “night shot” walk, mounds of dumped garbage were noticed around the edges of the small lake on the southern or Vandervoort Street side of the National Grid Site. I guess it’s their property, they can do what they want with it, but personally speaking I try not to poop on my living room carpet.

I also try not to poop where a passing photography enthusiast might notice it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were a couple of these mounds, which looked to be commensurate with what you expect to be able to pack into a medium sized truck. Not sure how long this has been here, as I haven’t wandered past this particular spot in a couple of months.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ll be sending this post over to the National Grid people and asking what’s going on here. If I get an answer from them which I can share, then you Lords and Ladies will certainly be the first to know it.

As a note, the preceding shots were handheld, breaking with the tripod ones for a hot minute,

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once I turned onto Metropolitan Avenue, however, I got busy with the cable release and tripod action again.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 16, 2018 at 11:00 am

last message

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Night shots from the Penny Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the brand new Kosciuszcko Bridge in the shot above, which has recently replaced a 1939 model that was originally christened as the “New Penny Bridge.” The shot was gathered at the surviving masonry of the 1894 model Penny Bridge, aka the Meeker Avenue Street End. I’m increasingly concerned, incidentally, at how bright the decorative lighting of the new bridge is. Light pollution is a “thing,” after all.

On cloudy nights, you can spot the column of light rising from it miles away, back in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The LED lighting the NYS DOT installed for the new bridge is weird and unnatural, which spews out artificial looking wavelengths of unbelievably saturated purples and blues bouncing all over the place. The good news about this odd ambience is that I’m able to focus in on that unmarked sewer which drains Calvary Cemetery over on the Queens side, but I wonder what the long term effects will be on critters living in the water column and on migratory birds.

When the second bridge opens and doubles the illumination, it’s going to look like a comic book around here at night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A longer shot, both in terms of exposure and camera sensitivity, again looking towards the Queens side of the former Penny Bridge. The mirror like quality of the water isn’t due solely to the long exposure, it was positively still out. Unseasonably warm, there was virtually zero wind or breeze.

You could actually discern changes in air pressure just by paying attention to the behavior of your ear drums.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 15, 2018 at 11:00 am

living possessor

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The nighted Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, wanderlust invited one out into the foggy night along Newtown Creek, once it stopped raining on Sunday last. I packed up my tripod and other night kit gear, starting at the DUGABO area in Greenpoint. My walk carried me up the Brooklyn side of the middle Creek. I hit all of my “spots” along the way, in pursuit of some long exposure night photography. Along the way, I hit what seems like an occasional light drizzle, but it was just precipitation from the mist rather than actual rain.

The shot above looks west, roughly across the route.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s lonely along the Newtown Creek at night, but luckily my buddy Will from Newtown Creek Alliance was similarly bored after enduring the rain soaked weekend, and he came along for part of the walk. It’s nice having somebody around to watch your back when you’re literally focused in on the camera tasks at hand. My habit, when doing tripod shots, is to use narrow apertures. That’s why you’re seeing that starburst pattern around the bright lights, which is literally formed by the shadow of the aperture blades within the particular lens I was using.

If the lens was “wide open” you’d see more of a ball shape.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wasn’t just shooting the water, as a note.

One is possessed of a firm conviction that NYC is never as beautiful as it is when it’s just stopped raining and everything is covered in a sheen of moisture. Of course, it takes a particularly perverted sense of esthetics to describe these industrial zones found in North Brooklyn as “beautiful” but that’s just me.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 14, 2018 at 12:00 pm

brief note

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Fog? Rain? Newtown Creek at night? Yep, that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunday last, one was just itching to get out of HQ and go shoot some pix. Unfortunately, the soaking rain that permeated the daylight hours precluded this sort of pursuit, so around eight o’clock when the storm had transitioned from precipitation to a precipitating mist – one headed out for Greenpoint with the night kit and got busy.

My first stop was at the hidden cul de sac formed by the terminus of Kingsland Avenue and North Henry street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a minor tributary of Newtown Creek found here, which is called “unnamed canal” on navigational maps. My colleague Will Elkins (project manager at Newtown Creek Alliance) prefers the friendlier sounding “no-name canal.” There’s a defunct DSNY marine transfer station here, and the point of view it offers looks across the main body of Newtown Creek towards Long Island City and the Sapphire Megalith.

The rain had decayed into what my Grandmother would have described as a “shpickle” by this point, with occasional droplets forming out of the fog and hitting the water. The air temperature was quite warm, atypical for this time of year in fact, and since the waters of the Newtown Creek are still at near freezing – there was quite a bit of mist in the air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My decided upon path would carry me eastwards along the Newtown Creek, from the area I call DUGABO (Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp) which is where you’ll find the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant pictured above, to the one which I have assigned the name DUMABO (Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp). It was serendipity that the cool atmospherics coincided with a Sunday – the one night of the week when the 24/7 industrial and trucking activity along the Creek is at low ebb.

Nevertheless – I had one of those reflective “construction guy” safety vests on, worn over the filthy black raincoat, as I headed towards into darkness towards DUMABO.


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safe arrival

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A visit to Sims Metal Management over in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All summer long, one has a tendency to lead walking tours of the neighborhoods surrounding the fabulous Newtown Creek. There are boat tours too, but these walking and boat excursions are generally public facing tours that visit public places. My job is to provide historic context for wherever we happen to be, and describe the various issues each particular area is facing. There’s one spot along the Newtown Creek, however, which I only bring college or graduate student groups to. That’s Sims Metal, in Long Island City, and I brought a college group there last Saturday.

There’s a million reasons for this restriction, and number one is not wearing out my welcome.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number two revolves around the very busy schedule of this waterfront business. Luckily, Sims and its management are anxious to spread the word about their recycling operations. Their Sunset Park facility was actually purpose built with visitors in mind and they maintain an education center at that site. The Newtown Creek operation is different, and is a very busy industrial site.

When I can get a group in here, the entire operation pretty much shuts down in the name of safety. The working guys love it when they see me walking a group up the road, I think, as they get to take a coffee break.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number three is a safety issue. Several of the times I’ve been here, just on my own – it’s been strictly hard hats and steel toe boots, gloves, glasses, the whole “working guy” uniform. With a largish group of students, this isn’t realistic, so the site manager tells his crew to take a break and then carefully guides us around the site’s edges and discusses the services which the company offers.

Those services include the receipt and initial sorting of the “MGP” (metal glass plastic) and cardboard/paper materials collected by the Department of Sanitation’s curbside recycling program, which is what’s going on in the first photo of this post. All of this municipal contract material will be barged out of the Creek and sent for finer levels of sorting and processing at the Sunset Park facility.

I got to visit the operation in Sunset Park last summer, and did two posts about it – “Noxious Mysteries” and “Unusually Worried“. The latter one details the actual process of sorting recyclable garbage, if you’re into that sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other side of Sims’ operations here at Newtown Creek revolves around commercial customers. If it’s made of metal and you’re disposing of it, Sims is one of the larger players in the recycling business. Materials like the mountain of rebar pictured above get shipped here by truck from upland sources, then are loaded onto barges and sent off to be processed at another Sims facility.

My understanding is that material like that rebar in the shot above will be sent off to Jersey City and fed into a shredder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “big show” at Sims on Newtown Creek always revolves around the stacks of automobiles and trucks which they process. All the fluids, batteries, and various onboard tanks have been removed from these vehicles before they get trucked in. The discarded or junked vehicles are trucked into Sims and then stacked for eventual placement on a barge. That barge will be escorted by a tugboat over to another Sims facility in New Jersey where they’ll be fed into a shredder.

I’m told that said shredder will reduce a car to metallic toothpicks in a few seconds, but no matter how many times I ask, the Sims people say it’s just too much of a safety risk to let me close enough to photograph that part of the process.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The academic group I was shepherding around last weekend were urban planning students from MIT, and were in town to study the industrial zone in Long Island City. I’ve also had Robin Nagle’s NYU class back here, as well as a group from a Dutch university who make an annual visit to Newtown Creek. We only ask Sims to open their gates to us for academic groups, as a note.

The mission of the Newtown Creek Alliance is to “reveal, restore, revitalize” Newtown Creek. Bringing student groups to Sims Metal is part of the “reveal” side of the job. You should see what my colleagues are up to on the “restore and revitalize” planks, which you’ll have ample opportunity to do this summer.


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