The Newtown Pentacle

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so dissimilar

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Places to go, no one to see.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over at Newtown Creek’s LIC tributary, Dutch Kills, a property owner has been clearing away a stand of poison ivy and feral trees which have been occluding views of the turning basin (47th avenue at 29th street). There’s a bit of controversy about the property owner’s plans to erect a fence line here, as it seems to be NYS property, but this is Queens so who cares? If this was North Brooklyn, there’d be hunger strikers and hipster girls would be chaining themselves to the bulkheads. Here, the primary impact on the community is the loss of a good spot for weed smoking used by students from a nearby college and high school.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last weekend, Working Harbor Committee did a tour of the Gowanus Bay and Canal which I was onboard for. Conversation with members of the Gowanus Conservancy allowed me to utter aloud one of the “faux pas” for which I am famous. My statement that Newtown Creek is a FAR bigger problem than their troubled waterway was greeted with “oh, here we go.” I explained that its geography, and that Newtown Creek and its tributaries simply occupy more space than the Gowanus. Closest analogy for the Gowanus, in my opinion, is actually Dutch Kills – multitudes of bridges, overflown by a highway, narrow channel, and abandoned bulkheads.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Got me thinking about Luyster Creek and all the other largely abandoned industrial canals in Queens that never get mentioned, of course. Flushing River, Anable Basin, and the rest seldom receive much notice from regulators. They’ve got the Black Mayonnaise and the VOC’s, the CSO’s and PCB’s. Heck, the entire alphabet can found floating around in New York Harbor. Staten Island’s Kill Van Kull is so rich in pesticides that it could likely wipe out every roach in Manhattan.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm

bottomless pit

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NYC is full of bowels, my friends, full of them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Various travels and tribulations cause one such as myself to appear in different sections of the Megalopolis continually, and sometimes the distance is too great to walk in my allotted time. Luckily, most of my travels involve short hops on the Subway, but occasionally the end of the line is where I’m headed. Never a fan of being confined in a dripping wet concrete bunker full of rats and insectivorous life forms, the same discipline used while sitting in a Dentist’s chair is invoked, and I’m able to endure the experience. I’m sure that you, Lords and Ladies, do the same.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is impossible, however, for my mind not to wander. Great effort is made not to make eye contact with the humans who infest this Megalopolis – they are changeable and can often be dangerous – when intervals of travel in these subterranean aluminum and glass boxes are thrust upon me. Often, my thoughts turn to how easy it would be to conceal unpleasantries down here – in some side tunnel or hidden chamber down here in NYC’s guts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Morlocks, dough colored hairless lemurs, or other extant iterations of the monkey tribe could easily exist down here. The possibility of Rat Kings, basilisks, or even goblins existing in great numbers crosses my mind when on a long subway trip. Those hidden galleries, abandoned platforms, and the blue lit emergency exit points which flash by as the train moves along populate my mind with outlandish possibility.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s at the “end of the line” stations where my apprehension grows to unbearable proportion. Recently, on the 5 train as it neared its final destination deep in Brooklyn, the entire car emptied out. For more than three stops, a humble narrator rode alone, expecting some nightmare entity to board the train who would proceed to masticate and ingest me. Another lost soul, who disappeared after entering the system…

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

There are two Newtown Creek walking tours coming up.

Saturday, July 26th, The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek
With Atlas Obscura, lunch included, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, July 27th, Glittering Realms
With Brooklyn Brainery, lunch included, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 16, 2014 at 11:35 am

from places

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A nap, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This fellow, who was enjoying a nap on the sidewalk of Broadway in Astoria recently, is part of that large group of day laborers who congregate around a paint and hardware store found on the north side of the street between 41st and 42nd. These fellows are just looking to pick up a little work, and many are familiar faces in the neighborhood. Recently, the Salvation Army has been showing up to feed them, which has drawn a few ferals into their group.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s always been a certain “edge” to one or two of these guys, but again, what a man does to earn a living is his own business until it affects me. There’s a good amount of beer (and pizza) consumed by those unlucky enough to have not made the cut who are still on the scene in the afternoon. Old or small or unsavory, these are the guys who weren’t chosen by those passing contractors that employ the group as day laborers, but… working guys default to drinking beer. Some, like this gentleman, prefer the harder stuff and this is becoming an increasingly common sight in Astoria. Some guy passed out on the sidewalk, insensate and with the bottle in his hand, in full view of passing kids.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator is no virgin on the subject of spirits, lords and ladies. One was once able to quaff vast amounts of the stuff, spending entire days in the fog of youthful bacchanal, but not once did I ever find myself unconscious on the pavement (and I really, really tried). The idea of falling asleep on the streets of New York City like this… is terrifying. After capturing these shots, I walked over to the captain of the day labor crew, a fellow adorned with butterfly and “13” tattoos (he acts as translator for the largely Spanish speaking group) and offered “Yo boss, y’all gotta help your man out, he gonna get clipped.” These guys do try to look out for each other, and a couple of them scooped the drunk up and dropped him around the corner, placing him in someone’s driveway so as to provide cover from police attention.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

There are three Newtown Creek walking tours coming up.

Sunday, June 21st, America’s Workshop
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

Saturday, June 28th, The Poison Cauldron
With Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, June 29th, The Insalubrious Valley
With Brooklyn Brainery, lunch included, click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 18, 2014 at 10:39 am

old native

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The Carroll Street Bridge, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve said it so many times on the Newtown Creek “Dutch Kills” tours that I’ve conducted – “The Borden Street Bridge is one of just two retractable bridges in NYC, the other is on Carroll Street over the Gowanus.” Then I go on to talk about Chicago and what a retractable bridge does and why its special, but it occurred to me that I’ve never done a post on the Carroll Street span. Today, the remedy.

Also, just as a note, I’ll be repeating the above quotation on this coming Saturday’s tour, see the link at the bottom of this post for details.

from nyc.gov

The Carroll Street Bridge is a retractile bridge crossing the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. The bridge, which was opened to traffic in 1889, supports a 17 foot wide roadway and two 4.5 foot sidewalks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What’s super cool about the Carroll Street span is the wooden road surfacing that allows vehicular egress over this section of the Gowanus Canal. There’s still one more bridge before the Gowanus reaches its inevitable conclusion, Union Street Bridge, but Carroll is where the industrial canal seems to shallow out and is one of the places where its entire “raison d’être” seems to have been forgotten.

from wikipedia

Retractable bridges date back to medieval times. Due to the large dedicated area required for this type of bridge, this design is not common. A retractable design may be considered when the maximum horizontal clearance is required (for example over a canal).

Two remaining examples exist in New York City (the Carroll Street Bridge (built 1889) in Brooklyn and the Borden Avenue Bridge in Queens).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above are the pulleys and gears which provide locomotive force to the structure, and the aperture into which the roadway actually retracts to allow theoretical maritime egress. The Gowanus Dredgers boat club is nearby, and I suspect that they can tell you everything you’d want to know about the mores and habits exhibited by the NYC DOT engineers who care for and maintain the structure. Business has called me to South Brooklyn all year, and one of the more interesting “Gowanus People” I’ve met is a fellow named Joseph Alexiou, who provides a satisfying historical narrative for the Gowanus.

from tedxgowanus.com

A journalist and history buff, Joseph Alexiou is writing a book about the Gowanus Canal. He is the author of Paris for Dummies and contributing author to Frommer’s Paris 2012 and has written for New York, the New York Press,  New York Observer, Gothamist and Paper Magazine.  He is a former associate editor at Out magazine and has a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Somebody else from the Gowanus crew that has impressed the heck out of me is Eymund Diegel. His knowledge of the Gowanus and its hydrology, history, and personality is staggering. Be forewarned and forearmed though, for if you seek his wisdom, bring a notepad or recording device with you – as the cascade of information he offers can be a bit overwhelming.

also from tedxgowanus.com

Eymund Diegel is the chair of Public Laboratory, a citizen science group partnered with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s Grassroots Aerial Photography program, where local citizen’s insights help improve Google Earth and City mapping of the neighborhood. As a Gowanus resident, he also helps out at the Hall of the Gowanus, a community historic research resource. Trained as an urban planner with a focus on watershed and environmental planning, he works with other local residents who have been tying digital cameras to kites and balloons to map and reconstruct the Gowanus Canal’s “ghost stream” network.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

There’s a Newtown Creek walking tour, and a Magic Lantern show, coming up.

Saturday, June 7th, 13 Steps around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura.
Click here for tickets and more info.

Wednesday, June 11th, Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show with Brooklyn Brainery.
Click here for tickets and more info.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

worried faces

with one comment

Would it kill you to smile?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While riding the Subway in New York City, observation of the interesting social behaviors exhibited by the citizenry entertains. There are those who present the “pfft, ain’t no thing” and those who present the “what the hell are you looking at” and also present are the “please, for gods sake, do not notice me” lean. Others pretend to sleep, or stare blankly at the floor (that’s the one which I favor), while a small group of extroverts feel the need to shout and otherwise draw attention unto themselves. Then there’s the buskers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are Mariachi’s, young couples who perpetrate the “gypsy baby” scam, those three kids who dance and perform acrobatics. Worst of all are the religious zealots, whose clumsy attempts at evangelism are enough to drive one into the arms of Satan itself. Skillfully ignoring these buskers and con artists, or not, is what separates the true New Yorker from the tourist. The tourists are the worst, of course, breaking all of the unspoken rules of subway etiquette which “regular” riders subconsciously obey and enforce. Nobody smiles, the MTA has a rule against that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My camera is always at the ready whenever entering these concrete bunkers with their pungent atmospheres, and one of the odd things I’ve noticed in recent years is the reaction some have upon seeing the device. Lens cap on and power switch off, they will stare at the camera in the manner one would watch the countdown clock on a bomb. I don’t understand this. Humans, they’re weird, and need to smile more often.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 2, 2014 at 10:54 am

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