The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Subway

stymied appetites

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It’s National Seafood Bisque Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One loathes the fact that the Queens Cobbler, a probable serial killer operating on both sides of the Newtown Creek who leaves single shoes behind as a taunt to both community and gendarmes alike, left this stiletto heeled shoe behind at the very same Astoria saloon at which a humble drinks his troubles away. Just last weekend, on a night when I had brought my little dog Zuzu out with me for an evening of commiseration with the neighborhood commentariat – as I was walking my trusty canine around the corner to allow for a moment of her lavatorial relief – this scene was encountered.

Should you find a singular size 11 Merell hiking boot displayed prominently somewhere in North Brooklyn or Western Queens, that means the Cobbler has finally zeroed in on me and that you’ll need to find a replacement for this – your Newtown Pentacle. If you see a headline saying “blogger catches killer” then it’ll mean I got the best of him or her.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been working on a Newtown Creek event, one which is not public facing I’m afraid, assiduously over the last couple of weeks and is highly distracted. Due to this – and other obligations – one hasn’t had a lot of “me” time. One of those many obligations recently saw me attending a rather contentious meeting with environmental officialdom in Sunnyside, where I noticed some fellow doing his job in the rain at a local tire shop on 39th street.

The “G” bomb, which is the term I use for the unfolding wavefront of so called “gentrification” has observedly hit the street side auto industry hardest in recent years. Gas stations, taxi yards, tire shops, mechanics – have all been disappearing at a rapid rate in recent years. They occupy large lots and generally have shallow pockets, a pair of factors which are quite attractive development opportunities for the Real Estate Industrial Complex.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A Subway conductor recently told me that MTA employees absolutely hate it when shots like the one above are captured. They are especially enraged when their faces are recognizable. One plans on continuing to photograph the men and women who operate the system, however. Just last night, when a token booth worker at Fulton Street made me miss two trains so that he could complete a phone call with his wife before performing the transaction to charge up my Metrocard, I didn’t take his picture as I was particularly “geared up” with a tripod and bag of lenses and my hands were full.

Another reason for me to enjoy enraging the MTA workforce with photos captured involves the weekend habits they employ, announcing that a train is going express to some extant locale just after the subway doors close at Queens Plaza, negating any chance of not visiting Forest Hills or Briarwood.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm

flowing ichor

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It’s National Vodka Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the moment, one is not even sure what day it is, due to multitudinous “things I have to do” which have played out over the last two weeks. A lot of these have involved leaving the house before the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has risen and arriving back at Newtown Pentacle HQ after it has occluded itself behind New Jersey. It is impossible for me to focus on or make “small talk” at the moment, as a tidal force swirls behind my eyes and between my ears.

In short, I’m pooped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tomorrow, hopefully, I’ll have another set of Koscisuzcko Bridge shots ready for you which I captured yesterday before having to utterly change gear and put on a suit to go to a fancy pants gala dinner over in the city. Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen was a speaker, and in pursuance of not heckling her, I went outside instead and chatted with a lovely fellow who had spent 28 years in the NYPD who was sharing some of his war stories with me.

I really cannot stand listening to any member of the De Blasio executive team blowing their own horns.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think that’s a Monarch Butterfly in the shot above. It’s kind of a pretty shot, I think, which is made interesting by the fact that the flowering plants the butterfly is inspecting are growing at a sewer plant in Greenpoint, and that the water forming the background of the shot is Newtown Creek.

Never know what you’re going to see along my beloved creek, so it’s best to always carry a camera whe you’re there, otherwise no one will believe what you tell them without some sort of photographic backup.


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Saturday, October 7th, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Hidden Harbors Of  Staten Island Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee – Sunday, October 15th, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

A very cool boat tour that visits two of the maritime industrial waterways of New York Harbor which adjoin Staten Island and Bayonne in New Jersey – The Kill Van Kull and the Arthur Kill. There will be lots of tugboats, cargo docks, and you’ll get to see multiple bridges from the water – including the brand new Goethals Bridge. I’ll be on the mike, narrating with WHC board member Gordon Cooper details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm

walled gardens

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It’s National Raspberries and Cream Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s almost as if the Apple corporation had designed the modern day Subway system. Interoperability between distinct devices is painful to achieve without spending a ridiculous amount of treasure and time, and legacy equipment is likely to be “bricked” every time the system software is updated. The fact that – after nearly fifty years of being run by a common management team – nobody has come up with the bright idea of creating a common operational standard between the IND and IRT lines… it boggles.

The current plans which are being offered by political operatives of all stripes as a “fix” for MTA is simply to pour more money on this trash fire of a management team so that they can continue doing things EXACTLY as they’ve been doing them for a century, rather than planning for a future state of good repair and regular service. I argue that this strategy is analogous to paying August’s rent for your drug addict brother without some sort of commitment that he enter rehab. We’re just maintaining the current dysfunction without doing anything about the core issues that cause the problem. We, the public, are the MTA’s management team’s co-dependent.

How do you change a light bulb in a ceiling lamp when you’re sitting in a chair? The MTA’s answer would likely be to appeal for funding to lower the ceiling, whereas I say that you should think about standing on the chair instead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

IND and IRT subways are contained within the same system, but have distinct hierarchies of management and procurement. There’s also the Long Island Railroad, Metro North, NJ Transit, and PATH systems which operate in vertical silos. None of these distinct commuter railways operate in a manner which would allow interoperability or the sharing of resources between them. The only thing they share, operationally, is track gauge (the rails themselves).

Going back to the Apple analogy, which is designed to rake as much cash out of the customer as possible – “Sorry, your older iPad can’t talk to your new iPhone after that last software upgrade, unless you also buy an iWatch, so you should just buy a new iPad which won’t be able to sync with your iCloud until you buy a new MacBook and you’ll need to buy an overly expensive dongle cable to connect it to the new iPhone with.” 

You can’t get better service on the subway until we expensively modernize the… (sound familiar)? Once we install those new digital CBTC switches… That’ll fix everything… or it’ll just kick the can down the road. Just pay your brother’s rent so he has a safe space to shoot up, otherwise he’ll end up on the street…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Right now, we have to pay the rent for our junkie brother, just to keep the system rolling. What I’m proposing though, is that we need to start thinking about the NYC transit network of fifty years from now. As it currently stands, what would be rolling through the (probably flooded by sea level rise by 2067) MTA tunnels will look surprisingly like what’s there now. The MTA needs to start thinking about a long term plan, instead of just responding to this emergency or that one.

The Dope from Park Slope wants to tax millionaires, the Governor wants to tax everybody. Joe Lhota says that he needs close to a billion dollar’s worth of band aids just to keep the system running. They all want to fund a junkie, or just replace their old iPhone and hope it works better than the last model.


Upcoming Tours and events

Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour, with Working Harbor Committee – Saturday August 12th, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Explore the coastline of Brooklyn from Newtown Creek to Sunset Park, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman, Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours, and Gordon Cooper of Working Harbor Committee on the narrating about Brooklyn’s industrial past and rapidly changing present. details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Sunday August 13th, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Two Newtown Creek Boat Tours, with Newtown Creek Alliance and Open House NY – Wednesday August 16th, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek are home to the densest collection of these garbage facilities anywhere in the city and collectively, the waste transfer stations around and along Newtown Creek handle almost 40% of the waste that moves through New York. Join Newtown Creek Alliance’s Mitch Waxman and Willis Elkins  to learn about the ongoing efforts to address the environmental burden that this “clustering” has caused. details here.

DUPBO Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with NYCH20 – Thursday August 24th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Explore Greenpoint and Hunters Point, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 7, 2017 at 11:15 am

glowing ember

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It’s National Lollipop Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the shots from my latest adventure are still deep in the developing process, a single shot greets you today, at this – your Newtown Pentacle. Depicting the IRT Flushing Line – or 7 train – approaching the Roosevelt Avenue stop in Jackson Heights, I got this one while on my way to Flushing last week. A humble narrator stands by the oft repeated assertion that the troubled 7 line is the most photogenic of all of NYC’s subway trains.


Upcoming Tours and events

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 20, 2017 at 12:30 pm

finest effects

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It’s National Daiquiri Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of those new “wifi kiosk” thingamabobs that have been turning up all over Queens recently flashed a bit of NYC trivia at one as a humble narrator scuttled past its screen recently, proclaiming that “15,152 forms of life have been detected on the NYC Subway.” That’s 15,151 non human critters, lords and ladies. One is positive that the vast majority of those are bacteriological, viral, or some other microscopic entity – but it does cause one to wonder… and more than wonder…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in January of 1905, it was discovered and reported on that a “Subterranean Dog” had taken up permanent residence at the Bleecker Street station.

  • “BELEAGUERED DOG IN A SUBWAY STATION; Animal Firmly Intrenched in a Pipe Gallery. HAS LARGE STORES OF BONES Army of Trainmen Makes Afternoon Attack, but Fails to Dislodge Determined Garrison.”

Check out a 1905 NY Times article about encountering “Subterranean Dog” here.

This one discusses the capture of the outlaw pup.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I mean… yeah… we’ve all seen, critters that the subway has carried. I can attest to dogs, cats, iguanas, snakes, rabbits, rats, mice, and all manner of birds, with critter either accompanied by a person or just out on their own for a ride. There’s probably raccoons, possums, it’s likely that all sorts of higher mammals have wandered onto a train during the last century and ended up in Hicksville, Armonk, or Bay Ridge. No doubt there’s all manner of flying insects, worms, and beetles who regularly commute as well. A while back, MTA found a dead shark onboard one of their trains.

Just last year, Gothamist reported on an N train car that was full of live crabs.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?


Upcoming Tours and events

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

ghostly side

with one comment

It’s National Chocolate Pudding Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one enjoyed a pleasant evening on a boat tour offered by the Open House NY outfit which explored the City of Greater New York’s solid waste disposal system. The boat was one of Circleline’s smaller vessels (Circleline Queens) and the speakers were Sanitation historian Robin Nagle, SimsMetal’s Tom Outerbridge (who is also a board member at Newtown Creek Alliance), and some fellow from the Department of Sanitation whose name I didn’t catch. It was coincidentally the date of the summer solstice, the light was fantastic (from a photography POV), and it was the longest day of the year.

It certainly felt like the longest day of the year once the boat docked at west 42nd street, and the time came to make the journey back to Astoria, on the landward side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s no secret that I believe Manhattan, particularly the west side of midtown, to be a cautionary tale for urban planners. Some see midtown west, with its recent construction of gigantic residential towers and the nearby Hudson Yards project, as a modern day success story. The urban renewal engineers of the Bloomberg era captured a gritty section of the City which both housed and employed those at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum – a problematic population, from the municipal point of view, who consumed far too much in the way of City services – and converted it over to a neighborhood of “pied a terre” and upper middle and management class dormitories.

They forgot, as is the usual case these days, to think overly about transit and supermarkets and places people can gather without permits or permission. In my eye, they made a bad situation worse, in a neighborhood west of the Port Authority bus terminal. What are you going to do though, Manhattan is ruined and has been for twenty years. The junkies are still here, but instead of being able to return to some tenement squat at the end of the day, today they’re just living on the crowded streets and sleeping in the waterfront parks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is what the ridership numbers on the Queensbound E line look like at about 9:30 at night, and you should see what sort of crowding occurs on this line at rush hour. Just a few years ago, at a similar interval, the train population would have been not even half of what you see in the shot above. Why the crowding?

Simply put, not many actual New Yorkers can afford to pay the three to four thousand dollars a month in rent which a one bedroom in this hellish midtown area will cost. The Real Estate Industrial Complex’s dreams of avarice have caused a migration from this so called center out to the so called outer boroughs. It seems that they either never checked with the MTA about ridership capacity, or didn’t bother to care.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For one such as myself, who is lucky enough to live in Astoria, the E is merely a link in the chain of my commute. Once upon a time, my habit was to find a seat on a local train back to Queens and use the time to read, draw in my sketchbook, listen to an audiobook, or just blankly stare off into space.

Since the entire concept of finding a seat on the R in Manhattan is now a fantasy, even late into the evening, in recent years one has decided to instead be clever about using the Subway system and be nimble in terms of enacting as many transfers as I can in pursuance of escaping the inhuman canyons of the Shining City and returning to the human scaled locale known as Astoria. Accordingly, I find myself on the platform at Queens Plaza quite a bit these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the work day, until 9:45 p.m. actually, you have a double chance of getting a local here – the R or M lines. MTA, in their infinite wisdom, cuts M service off at 9:45, effectively halving local service in Queens. This tucks nicely within the statement of what I believe to be the borough motto of “welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself,” which multiple elected officials have personally asked me to stop propagating. I believe however, that I’ve discovered part of the disconnect between elected officialdom, real estate industrial complex, and transit.

During conversation with the NYC EDC regarding their Sunnyside Yards proposal, the EDC folks pointed out that the project boundaries are served by “8 subway lines.” They know this because they checked a subway map. They didn’t realize that, because they all live in Battery Park City or South Brooklyn, that in reality it’s only three lines (R, part time M, 7 lines) which can accessed by just three stations (36th street, 33rd/Lawson, 40th Lowery) which can be reasonably walked to from the center of their proposed project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The stretch of Steinway Street pictured above, between 34th avenue and Broadway, sits atop an R/M local station. This would, according to the EDC, be one of the stops servicing what would be roughly half the population of Boulder, Colorado who would be living atop the Sunnyside Yards deck. Again, since they only know this part of Queens from the maps they spread out on polished mahogany desks in the air conditioned offices of lower Manhattan, they don’t realize that the walk from Steinway/39th street at the north eastern side of the proposed deck is nearly a half mile away and would necessitate a hazardous street crossing of Northern Blvd.

Simply put, they want to turn western Queens into the west side of Manhattan. Density is over rated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria is one of the last working class/lower middle class neighborhoods left in the urban core of NYC. Perhaps EDC might want to leave us alone to live our lives the way we wish to, in a human scale neighborhood where the neighbors actually know each other by name. Maybe they’d like to establish a residence nearby and rotate their planning staff into and out of it on a biannual basis so that they could understand what would be lost here.

Perhaps, we should preserve Western Queens as a museum piece of the actual “progressive era.”


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 26, 2017 at 1:15 pm

perfect triumph

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It’s National Pretzel Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Friday, the 21st, was the centennial of the opening of the IRT Flushing line from Queensborough Plaza to 103rd street Corona Plaza. Access Queens, a transit advocacy group which has grown out of the 7 Train Blues Facebook group (which I’m a steering committee member of) produced a celebration for “Our Train” with the cooperation of the NY Transit Museum. Here’s the Access Queens page describing the effort.

It was a very Queensican kind of day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured speaking above are Jodi Shapiro of the Transit Museum, who is curating an exhibit for the museum about the 7 line which will open in late July, and Subway historian Andrew Sparburg. Also present, but out of frame were Subway historian Joe Raskin and Forgotten-NY webmaster Kevin Walsh. The whole Access Queens crew were on scene, as were 40-50 transit enthusiasts.

Our template for the event was found in a NY Times article from 1917, which can be accessed here, describing the events surrounding the opening of the line which built modern Queens. Basically, this boiled down to gathering at the Grand Central platform in Manhattan, boarding the train at two in the afternoon, and then riding out to what was the final stop on the 7 back then – 103/Corona Plaza (or as it was known back then, Alburtis Avenue).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cool bit was that when the NY Transit Museum got involved, they brought their own ride with them. The “Train of Many Colors” arrived shortly after two and we all boarded it. As mentioned above, there was a small legion of folks along for the ride – many of whom were youngsters that were transit nerds who knew more about the system than even MTA employees do – that attended. Everybody expressed their love for “Our Train,” even though the Grand Central Station platform was filling with smoke during the event due to a fire in Queens.

The FDNY who arrived on scene seemed to enjoy the event, at least.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train left Manhattan, and the Access Queens and Transit Museum folks rode it out to 103rd street. Luckily, one of my buddies – Mark Christie from the Hunters Point Park Conservancy – was aboard, and as Corona was where he landed when he originally moved to Queens from Belize – knew where to find the good eats. Mark guided us to a fantastic restaurant thereabouts where an “Al Pastor Torta” was awaiting a humble narrator.

I love it when a plan comes together.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 26, 2017 at 11:00 am

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