The Newtown Pentacle

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pittsburgh! After an epic drive from NYC to the Paris of Appalachia, my pal Max and I were desirous of a hearty meal. Luckily, a previous trip here had revealed a good spot for dinner and beers, so we left the car in our rented AirBNB’s driveway and shlepped over to it. Burger, Yuengling, yum.

We were going to be spending the last week of the summer out here exploring the greater Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area, a process which I had begun back in June on my last trip to this “zone.” One is beginning to develop a geospatial awareness of this place, but a rudimentary one and I’m often lost about something as elementary as the cardinal directions. I’m also trying very, very hard – and often failing – to not look at everything through a NYC filter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The place we were staying in was on Mount Washington, in one of the several charming but quite hilly neighborhoods found upon the prominence. I’ll often offer the phrase “pretty city of Pittsburgh” when describing this place. One thing I’ve learned, and this is entirely informed by my life long residency in the dystopian shithole of NYC, is that what looks like a nice neighborhood to me will often be considered a slum by the people who have spent their whole lives in the region. That’s the NYC filter rearing it’s ugly head again.

I don’t necessarily recognize the threats here, since I haven’t yet developed a sense of syntax for the local culture and can’t spot a hero or villain from 1,00 feet away like I can in NYC.

As an example of what I mean, an anecdote: since returning to Astoria from this excursion in late August, I noticed that a neighbor colloquially known as “Johnny the Junkie” seems to be experiencing one of his periodic downturns, and has been stealing the electric bikes used by the Deliverista guys to fund his hobbies. He’s been selling the purloined vehicles to a local e-bike shop through the back door, something I know because I’ve seen him pushing locked bikes in and walking out with a wad of cash. “Fortune teller Mitch” will describe the severe beating that Johnny will inevitably receive when the Deliveristas figure out who’s getting in the way of them earning a living. Prior witnessing of other applications of street justice by this group suggest that Johnny the Junkie will be beaten to within an inch of his life with bike chains that have steel locks deployed on them. Nice guy, Johnny is, except when he’s dope sick. He crashes and burns about once every 8-9 months, does a hospital stay, is sober and putting on weight for a few months and then…

That’s what I mean by “syntax” – understanding what’s happening just by looking, and knowing will likely happen, because the milieu is so long observed and familiar. I don’t possess this sort of societal prescience in any way for Pittsburgh yet, which means I’m in an extremely vulnerable position until I do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The neighborhood which our Airbnb was in seemed to be fairly quiet and what I’d describe as “middle class.” Everybody had a car, it seemed, and the streets were very quiet after about 8 o’clock. The rented space we were staying in had a second story patio outfitted with outdoor furniture. On our way back to the space, after having eaten dinner, we stopped off at a shop and bought a couple of six packs of beer, some water, chips, pretzels and other comforts. We quaffed said comforts on the second story patio. My pal Max and I discussed our journey from NYC, and organized a fairly broad set of destinations for the next week.

The weather was good.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying all that, one of the interesting things about Pittsburgh is that due to the topography of the place, even if something wild and loud is happening less than a mile away (as the crow flies) from where you are, it’s still wildly distant because of the deep valleys and hills which separate the various neighborhoods from each other even in the center of the city.

The photo above was taken about a mile from the titular center of the City at Point State Park, depicting the front yard of the AirBNB we were rooming at, and all I could hear was the sound of crickets and cicadas.

Day one of the latest visit to the area played out thusly: Long drive, dinner, drinks. Time for bed, as we were going to be following my normal “away game” schedule of getting up early and out of the house by 8.

I favor a heavy breakfast while traveling, as it makes the pooping schedule a bit more predictable and thereby you don’t find yourself needing a toilet suddenly the next day. I’ve been told that you Goyem don’t think about such things, and that it’s “eminently Jewish” to worry about where and when you’re going to be when the food you just ate comes back out. Ever wonder how we Jews managed to survive having everybody wanting to kill us? Planning ahead, that’s how, and sweating the small stuff. What? You’re not going to have to go?

4,000 years of contemplation about the availability of clean bathrooms… all I’m gonna say on that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We encountered a foggy morning once we exited Mount Washington’s tree lined streets on the next morning, which was Sunday the 28th of August. We were going to be moving around on foot in the Downtown area for this particular day, so we left the car behind and used a ride share to get us to our first destination. A greasy spoon diner in a neighborhood called the South Side Flats was where we were heading, and where I ordered the “lumberjack” with eggs, bacon, potato, and a short stack of pancakes.

The good news is that by the time we returned to the rented rooms at the end of the day, we’d walked about the place for nearly 8 hours and I had fully earned the entirety of that meal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The last series of posts from this area published here, at the start of the summer, proffered the fact that I had developed a desire to examine – in some granular detail – the Smithfield Street Bridge, in a photographic sense. Built on foundations laid down by John A Roebling for a predecessor span, this extant lenticular truss bridge over the Monongahela River was designed by Queensboro Bridge designer Gustav Lindenthal.

As you’ll see soon, when I declared that I was going to photograph this bridge, and every single rivet holding it up, it was no idle boast.

More tomorrow.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 27, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another trip to Pittsburgh came to an end, and there stood a humble narrator at about 7 in the morning, waiting for his train to come.

Amtrak owned the train, of course. Boarding the thing was meant to happen at 7:30 a.m., with an expected arrival at Moynihan Penn Station in NYC at 4:52 p.m. I had a Primanti Brothers sandwich wrapped up tightly in one of my three bags, but my caffeine consumption was limited due to circumstance, so I was in a dreamlike state.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The grandiose old train station in Pittsburgh, as in the one associated with the Pennsylvania Railroad, has been converted over to a residential building. What passes for a train station there in modernity is reminiscent of a Soviet orthodontist’s office with a barely functional drop off and pick up parking lot.

You enter the station through an automatic supermarket style door, and then ride an escalator up to the actual station where the tracks are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the fact that you are absolutely going to be getting on the train, all the people formed up into an anxiously stressed out queue. I found myself standing in between two sections of an Amish family, and asked the Dad to hold my place in line for me. He seemed puzzled by the request, but acceded.

On the non active track, there was something I wanted a shot of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lovingly cared for Ohio Central passenger car was on display. I’m told that this is possibly a private car, operated by some corporate outfit that hitches itself onto Amtrak’s rolling stock for expensive private trips. Can’t say if this true or not, but it sounds right given its great condition.

I got back in line with the Amish Family (or maybe Mennonite, I can’t discern what the differences between the two groups are), and the conductor assigned me to a certain car. Amtrak groups travelers who are going to common destinations. I was going “all the way” and was thereby assigned to the very last car on the train. I got a window seat.

– photos by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, I set the camera up for shooting out of the window as the Amtrak rolled along. Embedded above is a YouTube video of the various things which shot past us while heading east, all of which are entirely random. Amtrak schedules in a few stops along the route. There’s usually a crew change at these longer “dwells” in the stations, and they also switch out the locomotive engines (Diesel for CoGen “Hybrid,” or Electric, depending on where you are) at some of these stops. You get about 15 minutes to “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,” or stretch your legs if you don’t partake. A lot of people were vaping.

The images in the video above were captured between Pittsburgh and the Capitol of Pennsylvania – Harrisburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Harrisburg’s Amtrak station is pictured above. One is merely whelmed, not over or under whelmed, by this station.

I got lucky in terms of my seat mate on this trip, just as I did on the ride out to Pittsburgh. Another Nice kid in his 20’s, but this guy lived in the extremely rural “Pennsyltucky” area in the virtual center of the State of Pennsylvania, nearby Lancaster. Lancaster is “Pennsylvania Dutch” country, where the Amish and other sects like the Mennonites live in archaic fashion. The kid wasn’t “Dutch,” but was a farmer who amplified his agricultural income by working as a welder, and he also had a sideline selling firewood. Inevitably, national politics came up, and it was nice to hear somebody from conservative America – “the other side, as it were” – say “man, we really gotta turn down the volume on this shit before the shooting starts.” A humble narrator concurs.

More tomorrow, and back home to NYC, in tomorrow’s 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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August 1, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearby the spot where I ate my final dinner on this trip to Pittsburgh, an enormous religious building was dominating the sky. Turns out that what was catching my attentions is found in the East Liberty section, and is specifically called the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. It’s a cathedral, I tell you!

Apparently, the original church here was erected in 1819, but the cathedral building that towers over East Liberty today was opened in 1935. The building was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, an architect who designed a series of notable buildings – including NYC’s own Cathedral of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan. Signage around the cathedral indicated that it can welcome 1,300 people for worship at a time. That’s a whole lot of praying, right there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had noticed the structure earlier in the day, when Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself were tooling around in a rented car.

I was pretty impressed by the rented Toyota RAV4 hybrid SUV, incidentally. It got somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 mpg, was very comfortable, and the electronics package under the dashboard was sweet. It had some sort of system which let me know where I was in terms of highway lanes, one which beeped at me if I was straying out of my own. This came in handy on the Pennsylvanian high speed roads. By high speed, I mean a 70 mph speed limit once you got out of the City. The locals treated 70 as a starting point, by the way. I would be cooking along at the speed limit, and semi tractor trailers would blow past me like I was standing still.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, by this stage of the trip, I was on foot.

I got to find out what “crazy homeless guy” looks and sounds like in Pittsburgh while shooting these photos. Being a lifelong New Yorker, I found the fellow amateurish and somewhat charming. Bless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A wide circle was navigated around the central node of East Liberty, and I made it a point of trying to take advantage of the setting summer sunlight. It was warm and humid in Pittsburgh.

Whenever I mention Pittsburgh to anyone back in NYC, the first thing they say back seems to involve an impression about ferocious weather. According to the National Weather Service, however, Pittsburgh is in a bit of a regional sweet spot as far as hot and cold goes. They have more or less the same amount of precipitation that NYC and Philadelphia have, but fewer “extreme” weather events than the coastal cities do. Because of the nature of the terrain, it’s a bit more humid than NYC is, but on average it’s about ten degrees less extreme on seasonal highs and lows. The humidity results in mold problems for property owners, and you apparently need to climb up on the roof once every couple of years to clear away moss. The weather is quite volatile in the short term here, and I’ve had more than one Pittsburgh native say to me “if you don’t like the weather right now, wait about about an hour and it’ll be different.”

As it turns out, we were in town for what the TV weatherman described as “the hottest day in the last four years.” It was 86 degrees, with a mid 60’s dew point. Warm and uncomfortable yes, but compare that to the end of July and beginning of August in NYC when that forecast would be a relief from the dog days of summer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation – Photo License Center, East Liberty” is what this domed building is called these days. The structure was erected at the start of the 20th century between 1898 and 1900. When it first opened, the building was used as a market, but it was focused instead on the emerging automotive market in time.

It was called the Motor Square Garden when it opened in 1913, and this section of Pittsburgh was associated with the automobile business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apparently, the usage of this enormous structure over the last century has involved auto shows, boxing matches, basketball games, and in modernity – it’s the home of Pennsylvania’s local Department of Motor Vehicles operation, I’m told. I was drawn in by the enormous steel and glass dome on its roof, frankly.

More next week, at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


“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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July 29, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle headed back to NYC in the same manner that she arrived, by airline. I dropped off the rental car at the airport and headed back into the City of Pittsburgh in a cab, as I would be heading home the following morning via Amtrak. As a note – I don’t have a phobia about flying, instead I just don’t like it. I hate being treated like a criminal, and detest the depersonalization you experience at airports. I don’t enjoy sitting in a claustrophobic space for multiple hours, nor sitting in close personal contact with anyone. Conversely, I enjoy having long hours of travel which offer me time to think and consider, and there’s always the “taking photos out of the train window” thing that I enjoy.

The cab picked me up at the Pittsburgh International Airport, and I headed back into the City in pursuance of getting back to the rented AirBNB space back in the Bloomfield section. The cab went through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and I finally got to experience the “grand entrance” to the city that everybody talks about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On foot again, after what was essentially a week long road trip, that’s how my Saturday night was going to be spent – as a pedestrian. My first trip to Pittsburgh saw me staying in the direct center of the downtown area, literally within the so called Golden Triangle. My second trip here last winter saw me staying in rented rooms on Mt. Washington nearby the inclines. This time around, we rented rooms in Bloomfield on the south side and then Brookline on the northeastern side.

On this trip, we visited several of the outlying areas which are economically and culturally connected to Pittsburgh. This included McKeesport, Latrobe, Youngstown, Butler, Kittanning, and Wheeling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Fort Pitt Bridge leads to the Fort Duquesne Bridge, which allows access to the high speed roads found on the north side of Pittsburgh.

As you can guess from these shots, I was holding the camera on the roof of the car, and blindly pressing the shutter button. This is where that hard rubber foot which I’ve mentioned manufacturing came in handy once again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was a hot afternoon in Pittsburgh, and I had decided to just chill out for a few minutes before heading out to find someone to sell me dinner. Bloomfield, pictured above, used to be considered “Little Italy” back in the Steel City decades. The housing stock is really attractive. Not sure how I’d describe the architectural style.

A quick bit of Google maps study revealed an evening’s path to me, and I gathered up my camera and kit and headed out on foot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Quirky. That’s how I’d describe the building stock in this part of Pittsburgh. I’d seen real estate listings for this sort of setup that called the structures as “Victorian” but I’m not sure what that’s supposed to indicate other than a very, very long historical period.

Quirky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found an outpost of the ubiquitous Pittsburgh restaurant “Primanti Brothers” about a mile away. One had to be concerned with ensuring that I had at least one meal tucked away in a bag when I boarded Amtrak at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, so I ordered dinner and luncheon on the same check. A couple of pints of Yuengling Beer were also quaffed.

After dinner, and with tomorrow’s lunch tightly wrapped up for transport, I got busy with the camera nearby the Morningside section of Pittsburgh, in a zone called “East Liberty.”


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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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 28, 2022 at 11:00 am

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few more shots from West Virginia’s Wheeling today, and offered above is one from the walkway of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, which is said to be the oldest bridge of this type still standing in the United States. Although I did offer a few observations in yesterday’s post which were colored by the political tides of the present day, that’s a subject which I assiduously avoided while “in country.”

Pepsi comes in a blue can, Coca Cola in a red one. Both are chemical concoctions that are really, really bad for your health and actually make you thirstier when you drink them. Water is clear, and when served icy cold, exactly what you need. Drink water to calm down, and avoid both red and blue talk – that’s my advice. Alternatively – take the Pepsi challenge or have a Coke and a smile and argue about which one “tastes great or is less filling” like a pack of lemmings while heading for a cliff.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were several utterly vacant buildings in Wheeling, including this old department store on Main Street. It was recently purchased by a church, I’m told. Apparently, a major project is underway in the City of Wheeling, revolving around the rejuvenation of the downtown area. Were Wheeling in NYC, I’d describe most of the downtown people I’d spoken to as being “hipsters.” Saying that, these were hipsters who owned houses and drove $50,000 trucks.

The sun was absolutely brutal on the day we were there, and the locals seemed to observe what Mediterranean communities call an “intermedio” during this hot part of the day – heading inside for a rest and a meal and then re-emerging after the heat and light subsided.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mad dogs and Englishmen, right? I’m crazy, and Our Lady is British, so…

I was nevertheless still marching around with the camera, capturing whatever glimpses of this little city that I could for the short interval I was there. Fascinating place, this is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not sure what this building was originally purposed for. To me, it looks like there was a shop downstairs and warehouse space above. The windows on the street level had historic photos printed as posters displayed in them. The photos depicted street cars coming off of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, and offered a “once upon a time, long ago” narrative of a thriving industrial city.

The “Rust Belt,” that’s what this section of the United States is called. The decline in manufacturing activity in the Rust Belt is universally described as being caused by NYC’s Wall Street driving corporate consolidations and selling off the assets. 1980 is considered to be the year that this process really kicked into gear. If you want a primer on this process, watch Oliver Stone’s film “Wall Street.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing, politics wise, that I can report to you is that whereas in prior trips to this section of the country I observed a plethora of red MAGA hats, coupled with car flags and lawn signs advocating for the disgraced former standard bearer of the Republican Party, this time around there was barely a red baseball hat to be seen. I wasn’t in the so called “blue state” areas, either, rather I was often moving about in extremely politically “conservative” communities with agricultural based economies for much of the time. What does that mean? Who knows? Nothing matters, nobody cares – remember? Drink water instead of Coke or Pepsi.

On our return from Wheeling to Pittsburgh proper, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself checked into a different AirBNB than the one we had been staying in, this one was in the Bloomfield section. Bloomfield was apparently Pittsburgh’s Little Italy – back in the day. There was a definite “collegiate” feeling to the place, but that’s logical given the nearby Duquesne University and University of Pennsylvania (U Penn) campuses. This section of the City of Pittsburgh was quite “urban” as compared to the somewhat suburban vibe of Brookline, where our first rented room was located on the south side of the City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that my personal frame of reference is NYC based, I pronounced Bloomfield as reminding me a great deal of North Brooklyn prior to the ignition of the gentrification furnaces. Brookline, on the other hand, reminded me a great deal of Brooklyn’s Midwood, or Queens’ Forest Hills. Monroeville and Crandberry Township were not unlike the Nassau County “Five Towns” area, Wheeling felt a great deal like Yonkers or Newark, and Youngstown was reminiscent of the borderlands between Mt. Vernon and the Northern Bronx or the Queens/Nassau County line nearby JFK Airport. Latrobe was eerily similar to the rural counties around Albany and southern Vermont, and both Butler and Bethel Park reminded me of Westchester County’s tony Katonah or Mahopac.

Distance means something very different in this part of the country than it does in NYC. The highway speed limits range between 55 and 70, and a web of high speed roads penetrate even into the city center. “Traffic” is not what a New Yorker would call the congestion encountered on these roads. A “traffic jam” moves along at about 30-40 mph. I was chatting with one of the “Yinzers” about this, and described a recent trip that My Pal Val and I made to get to Fresh Kills on Staten Island from Astoria (38 miles) as having taken nearly two hours to complete. I helped them gather their jaw up off of the bar.

“Yinzer” is Pittsburgh slang for a native of the area.


“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 27, 2022 at 11:00 am

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