The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh

Fort Pitt Bridge, part 1

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A man has to have a code, I opine. One of the many points in my personal credo involves getting out every other day to point the camera at things and walk around. Back in NYC, when a spell of ugly weather was being described by the meteorological enthusiasts, I’d often say to Our Lady of the Pentacle that “I’m going to go ride the trains” and I’d take off for the 7 line, and spend a few hours hopping on and off of the train getting shots of NYC’s most photogenic subway. Not an option, now, of course.

Amongst the many other bits of wisdom my code offers is “it’s better to regret something you’ve done than something you didn’t do” and that “if you regret something you’ve done, you can’t take it back or apologize to the party you’ve wounded so don’t feel guilty, just don’t do that thing again.” Also – “stop fucking up.” I do realize how sociopathic that sounds, but it’s true.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Nothing matters and nobody cares” was added into the code during the COVID period. “Don’t skimp on shoes, hats, or eyeglasses” is another bit of sage wisdom I can offer. One of my big revelations from the last year involves a concept I call “the conservation of energy.”

Expending energy into fixing a closed system is a waste of effort. You could put all the effort into it you want, but if a closed system is designed to fail, expanding the system with an input of energy isn’t going to change that. Sometimes it’s just best to do or say nothing at all. One of my “things” these days is to listen to people arguing about some hot button political topic of the day and then announce “I’ve got an opinion about that,” whereupon I leave the room without sharing it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Fort Pitt bridge in Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is quite material and doesn’t require a personal code of conduct other than not vandalizing or jumping off of it. The bridge dates back to 1959, and connects downtown Pittsburgh to its southern surroundings via Interstate 376 which is carried on its two decks. The pedestrian walkway is attached to the lower deck, overlooking the confluence of the three rivers. Interstate 376 traffic moves to and from the Fort Pitt Tunnel (opened in 1960) which is punched through the base of Mount Washington. A notable destination on the other side of the tunnel for some of this traffic flow is the Pittsburgh International Airport. This is the third bridge to span the Monongahela River in this spot, and the first one was erected in 1877. According to 2018’s official numbers, the bridge handles about 150,000 vehicle trips a day.

Since I’ve been living here in Pittsburgh, walking over this one has been on my to-do list.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you can see, zero effort was made to clear the walkway of snow and ice by its stewards, and the footing was quite treacherous. Couple that with waist high fencing along the drop to your death side of the path, and I made it a point of sticking close to the girders that support this double decked steel bowstring arch bridge should a handhold be required.

My plan for the day, which was mentioned in yesterday’s post, was to leave the car back at home and use the T light rail to get to and from HQ. After crossing the bridge, I’d head towards another stop on the T that’s less than a mile from where the pedestrian walkway would return me to Terra-Pennsylvania.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While you’re walking along the path, just over your shoulder is an interstate carrying hurtling vehicles. As I’ve mentioned in the past, driving here is very, very different than it is back in NYC. I’ve got a practiced advantage when it comes to merging lanes, parallel parking, and a general obeisance to traffic law. Pennsylvania drivers seem to believe that the speed limit is a mere suggestion, or perhaps a starting point. I’ve driven this path before, and had people shoot past me at 70 while trying to handle a three lane merge within a few hundred feet. Brrrr.

Another one of my sage bits of wisdom is “you’ll get there when you get there, what’s the rush.” I should mention that I’m not at all naturally wise, instead there isn’t a mistake you can make that I haven’t already made. Remember rule number 4 – “stop fucking up.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This particular section of the walkway, leading down and away from the bridge towards the Duquesne Incline, was a positive skating rink. Hard packed ice with a layer of dry powder snow sitting loosely atop it. Luckily, I’m used to dealing with uneven, unmaintained, or challenging terrain.

More tomorrow at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 7, 2023 at 11:00 am

Etna my heart out

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A last stop on my Allegheny River wanderings – after having visited Lock and Dam 2, Highland Park Reservoir, and Sharpsburg – was in Etna. Named for the Italian volcano, Etna was a steel town until 1953. My interest in the place was piqued by the promise of a waterfront trail with an attached parking lot. It took me a minute to find the parking lot, but after doing so, I left the Mobile Oppression Platform behind and headed for the water.

Check me out, a troll who can always be found under a bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the 62nd street, or Senator Robert D. Fleming Bridge, pictured above. It’s a 1962 vintage truss bridge which connects south side’s Morningside and Lawrenceville to north side’s Sharpsburg and Etna. It overflies a set of railroad tracks and the entrance to the waterfront public space is found right alongside of it.

One was really hoping for a train to roll by. These tracks are Norfolk Southern ones, same line as those carried by the decaying rail trestle mentioned yesterday. Denied, however, on the locomotive front.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bridge is a bit over 1,000 feet long, I’m told. I won’t be offering any shots of the trail itself today, since that’s not what I came to Etna to do. Honestly, I had been running around all day at this point, and Etna had already been decided on as my last stop before heading back to HQ.

As is the case with most of the public spaces I’ve visited in the area, there was a Porta Potty set up for public usage. Imagine that? An acknowledgement of human biology.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m definitely going to come back here sometime, and bring a folding chair. This will be a great spot for a railroad photo, something which I haven’t even gotten started on yet. As mentioned, nearly everything I’ve done behind the camera since getting to Pittsburgh in mid December has been basic scouting. Learning the lay of the land, and all that. Where’s what, why is it there, how did it get built, and when. That sort of thing.

Ignorance really is bliss, incidentally. Back in NYC, when I looked at street signage that carried somebody’s name, I could often picture the face of the actual personage (photos, yes, but also paintings and etchings) that the City named the street for. Farragut Avenue, anyone? How about The Bronx?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As always, my odd appreciation of the elegant curves and supremely utilitarian nature of freeway on and off ramp architecture was particularly piqued here. As mentioned endlessly – scouting. That shot above? It’s a morning thing, and now on my list for a day when I went out before dawn for a sunrise and will need something to shoot during the breakfast part of the day. I’m planning to zoom in a bunch, towards the area nearby the do not enter sign, and frame the ramps up with the brightness of the morning sun lighting up the hill behind it. Should be sweet.

That’s the problem with the remote scout stuff, using Google maps and whole other bag of tricks, you don’t know what it looks like – really. Sometimes you get there and decide it’s best not to get out of the car. That’s the other thing which digital research can’t tell you – vibe. Instinct is something which is honed, and especially so after all those years walking around Brooklyn and Queens’ “picturesque” areas – Newtown Creek, LIC, the Happy Place, Skelson’s Office on Staten Island, industrial Greenpoint and Bushwick, Sunset Park and Red Hook, the Gowanus, several random but picturesque docks and abandoned railways, all those bridges, etc.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On my way out of Etna, I spotted this absolute unit of a Roman Catholic Church. It’s the 1856 vintage St. Mary – Christ the King Parish church, I’m told. Wow.

That’s it for this week, from Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh.


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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

February 3, 2023 at 11:00 am

Highland Park Resovoir

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the 117 million gallon ‘Reservoir One’ pictured above, at Pittsburgh’s Highland Park. The region’s water and sewer people style themselves as pgH20, and they’re the Pittsburgh equivalent of NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection – or DEP – whom long time readers have endured multitudinous descriptions delineating both the infamy and charm of that organization here at Newtown Pentacle.

For you New Yorkers – the DEP is annually budgeted at $1.6 billion, and is committed to spend some $24.3 billion on capital improvements to their system on top of that, just in the next decade. Pay attention to this “black box,” somebody.

The reservoir, here in a suburb of Pittsburgh, is surrounded first by a walkway and then by a large park which also incorporates the city zoo and aquarium. The enveloping neighborhood is, I’m told, also called Highland Park and boy oh boy is this a pretty town, with gorgeous housing stock surrounding the park. This is literally just up the hill from the location on the Allegheny River which started up yesterday’s post about Lock and Dam 2. Of course, when I say “just up the hill” in Pittsburgh, we’re talking Mayan pyramid up. The reservoir is at an elevation of 1,030 feet above sea level, and the lock and dam I visited was at an elevation of 721 feet, so that would be about 25-30 building stories differentially.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were all sorts of humans milling about, in their impermanence, so to remove any sign of life from these shots I set myself up for long exposures and got all artsy fartsy. That’s how you get those long mirror surface reflections, with long exposures of at least 20-30 seconds. Also, unless one of the humans stands stock still like a statue they disappear.

As opined yesterday, one remote scouts using Google maps’ satellite views to look for interesting things and locales which might be within reach of a humble narrator. In this case, it was a “what the hell is that” followed by “hey, there’s a parking lot.” Now that I’m a car guy, having a safe and legal spot to park the Mobile Oppression Platform has become part of my deal. Luckily, Pittsburgh doesn’t pretend that bike lanes can fix the universe nor do they opine that cars are the reason that housing is unaffordable. Instead, there’s places to park your car which adjoin safe and maintained trails for recreation and exercise.

Distributed load multi modal transportation network is the term you’re looking for. So’s acknowledging that people have kids, or mobility issues, and that public infrastructure like parks HAS GOT TO BE ACCESSIBLE BY PEOPLE WHO AREN’T NECESSARILY ABLE TO WALK OR RIDE A BIKE. You need to have places to bring and park vehicles. There is no one size fits all answer to anything when you’re discussing access to a public place.

Sorry, still scarred from being the Transportation Chair of a Community Board in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spent about a half hour at the reservoir, pulling shots from various angles. The locals were wandering about on bikes and on foot, and I even spotted a couple of other blokes tugging their cameras about, but they were preparing to do some sort of portrait shoot with a video component from the look of their gear. We chatted briefly, Sony shooters.

A humble narrator has long used little strips of gaff tape to cover up the bright white Canon logos on my camera, ever since I had to retouch the reflection out of the eyes of somebody I was taking a picture of. Also, the evil people are clever, and also have google on their phones and can thereby figure out what your gear is worth and if you’re worth robbing. Why not camouflage that Canon or Nikon logo?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were several signs forbidding certain things on the walkway – litter, smoking, dogs – all of which were prosaic cautions given this reservoir is full of what’s going to be used as drinking water. Where HQ is found in Dormont, the water system has been privatized and is controlled by a corporate entity called “American Water” which is apparently a fairly large corporation that I never heard of before moving here.

Pennsylvania politics flips hard “Red” or hard “Blue” during the various election cycles. Currently it’s in a blue phase. The reds ok’d fracking and a bunch of other ugly stuff, whereas the blues… man… this sort of thing really sounds like the last days of the Roman republic doesn’t it? If memory serves, for them it was Blues and Greens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, I’ve managed to avoid having just about any political conversation at all so far. Let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time until I blunder into some sort of situation where I find myself in a “political room” but I really want to stay the hell out of all that until I have to. I’ve had enough of that for a while. You should see the look on the Pennsylvanian’s faces when I mention that my Congress member used to be AOC, back in Astoria.

At any rate… Highland Park in Pittsburgh…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On my way back to the MOP, I cracked out this shot of the Highland Park’s formal entrance with its columnar accoutrements.

In yesterday’s post about Lock and Dam 2, I mentioned that a diversion of about an hour occurred in between my circling of the river infrastructure. Highland Park reservoir was where that diversion occurred.

Tomorrow, more from the corridors of the Allegheny River.


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February 1, 2023 at 11:00 am

Snow, rain, snow

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The best way to describe the previous week’s weather here in Pittsburgh is simply “last Tuesday was the day it didn’t rain or snow.” Saying that, a humble narrator was busy with mundanities so it wasn’t too much of a deal. One thing I can report to all of you back in Fun City is that I drove over to a local variant of the Department of Motor Vehicles, dubbed as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or “PennDOT Driver’s License Center” to transfer my New York State Driver’s License over to a Pennsylvania one in accordance with local statutes. Based on years of experience with NYS’s best analogue of a Soviet toilet paper distributorship, I figured my DMV or PennDOT experience would be miserable and frustrating.

45 minutes later I was walking to the Mobile Oppression Platform with a freshly printed Pennsylvania driver’s license in my wallet. Just had to fill out a few forms, pay a $36.75 fee, and done. The people working there were nice, helpful, and the process clear.

Y’know, when you’ve been drinking dirty water your whole life and somebody hands you a glass of crystal clear earth juice instead…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hung around HQ during the inclement weather, mostly. A friend from New York was in town on Monday last and I got to spend a bit of time with a familiar face, which was nice. One day, after a particularly heavy wave of precipitation blasted though, the double rainbow pictured above was observed over Dormont, where HQ is now found.

Today’s post breaks format a bit, with a three photo post. Tomorrow, we go back to the usual vulgarity with six shots. As mentioned, the weather has been… well… not fierce, but I’m still not at all used to driving out here on these crazy serpentine roadways with their steep hills and especially so when it’s icy. Take an inch of snow, pour a few hours of rain on it, then drop the temperature below freezing – that’s how you get me to stay home and not drive around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pittsburgh is actually deficient at this moment, in terms of its annual averages, for snowfall but it has been fairly chilly. It is, after all, January. As you’re reading this, one is likely behind the wheel of the MOP, heading towards the bureaucratic entity that handles car registration and license plate issuance in Pennsylvania. As soon as that bit of business is handled, the entire “escape from New York City” process will have wound down and can be declared accomplished. There’s still a few things to do, notably rebuilding my office workstation which died a few years ago at the start of Covid. I’ve been working off of a fairly underpowered laptop the last couple of years, which has been sufficient but just so.

Tomorrow, I’m taking you along with me on another scouting mission, this one along the Allegheny River. Remember how I said I was “kvelling” to get a look at one of the several lock and dam locations operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers? Well…


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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

January 30, 2023 at 11:30 am

Investigating the GAP, part three

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Mon Valley Works – Edgar Thomson Plant. That’s what the U.S. Steel outfit calls this steel mill, parts of which date back to 1875 and Andrew Carnegie. It’s where the United States’ first Bessemer Converter was installed, and is a cornerstone of our American story.

Having never witnessed this sort of thing in person before, the Mon Valley Works absolutely blows my mind. Wow. I’ve seen Battleships, and Air Craft Carriers, and mega massive sewer plants, and power generating stations, and petroleum refineries, and waste transfer stations, and port infrastructure – but I’ve never seen anything like this before. Blown.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had carried all the gear I use with me onto the Great Allegheny Passage trail, and got busy with the tripod and everything else as soon as a decent point of view of the Mon Valley Works appeared. Next time I visit the GAP, I’m planning on entering the trail from the Duquesne side to explore what you can see from that set of angles.

I’m also going to return to this position for early morning and late afternoon light when it warms up a bit, but I fear that spring and summer will create problems for me due to the vegetation being clad with leaves.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even across the Monongahela River, and pretty distant, the Mon Valley Works are loud. Massive fans are at work for the heat exchangers, and the furnaces also are beaming out vibration and sound. The plant is also pumping out a terrific amount of sulfur dioxide, as it runs off coke and coal, so there’s a smell of rotten eggs which is omnipresent in the air.

I’m told that air quality in the Pittsburgh area can be awful, largely because of these coal fired heavy industries. So much so that there’s a website which tracks the plumes of pollutants that the three big steel mills pump into the atmosphere. Prevailing wind and economic geography decide who gets to breathe the stuff in. These steel mills, however, form and produce the building blocks for other industrial sectors, and always have. Somebody always pays the price for “progress.” It’s something to remind yourself about as you consume new manufactured products in the manner of a raging wildfire.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the side of the Monongahela River that the GAP trail follows, you’re a pretty decent distance away from the shoreline. I did a wide shot to illustrate that, and to pass on the advice that if you want to get shots of the plant, bring a zoom lens with a not insignificant range.

As mentioned, those trees are going to block out the view during the warmer months. This was my turnaround point for this walk, as I’d have about another 4 miles to walk to get back to the Mobile Oppression Platform (my nickname for the car) which was parked at the Homestead Pump House. How did I come up with “Mobile Oppression Platform”? First, I owe a debt to the writers of the Futurama cartoon, secondly… have you ever talked to the bicycle people in Queens? Ever heard a car described as a two ton murder machine? I have, and took inspiration from the bellicose posturing they offered. If “two wheels good, four wheels bad” is your motto, I figured I’d give my car a name to piss you off. I’m a Dick like that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s so many things I want to get close up to in the shot above, including the Army Corps of Engineers lock and dam at the right side of the shot. After a disastrous flood in the 1930’s, the USACE installed a series of locks and dams on the rivers leading to Pittsburgh to control the waters. There are multiple USACE lock and dam facilities in the Pittsburgh area which I’m “kvelling” to get closer to.

I packed up my more esoteric gear after this one, reverted back to handheld shooting mode, and started retracing my steps back to the Mobile Oppression Platform in Homestead and my ride back to HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On my way, I cracked out a few more shots, and was passing by the defunct Carrie Furnace just as the light became a bit kinder. As mentioned in the first of these posts, it was fantastic to walk a fairly long distance again. It’s been a couple of months, what with the move and the setting up of housekeeping and all that, since I’ve had the chance to just scuttle about and see these sort of things.

Next week, something different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“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

January 27, 2023 at 11:00 am

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