The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Taxi

purple hills

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It’s Sepandārmazgān, or “Women’s Day,” in Zoroastrian Iran.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A shot of a Taxi Garage on Roosevelt Avenue today, but only a single one – as I still haven’t dug myself out of a hole which I currently find myself in. FYI, a humble narrator is involved in that most harrowing of all projects which an artist of any stripe can venture into – the creation of a portfolio to showcase past work and procure future employment. This is a vast endeavor, ripe with psychological recrimination and personal ennui. It’s also “all consuming,” but I should be done with the meat of it by the end of this week at which point postings of a more substantial sort will be coming your way.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

overtones of

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Another random series of shots, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Greenpoint, a line of empty taxis parked on Provost Street, across the street from the sewer plant.

It’s actually meant to be pronounced as “Provoost” despite being spelled as “Provost.” The Provosts were one of the original five families of Greenpoint, along with the Bennets, Calyers, Praas, and Messeroles. These five Dutch families dominated Greenpoint politically for nearly two centuries, owned most of the land, and only began to recede into history when Neziah Bliss married into the Messerole clan. Bliss laid out the modern street grid, erected the first bridges over Bushwick and Newtown Creeks, and is the father of the modern community.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The IND R train entering into Queens Plaza. Queens Plaza’s IND service opened for business on August 19th in 1933, but back then there was only express service between Manhattan and Queens. It wasn’t until 1955 when the 60th street tunnel opened that the Queens local trains began to travel back and forth into the Shining City. I work on getting this shot every time I’m there, and you have to time it just right to catch an arc flash that the train sets off as it comes to the station tracks grade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s amazing how many manhole cover types there are, a subject which has been discussed endlessly at this – your Newtown Pentacle. The story of municipal consolidation can be read in the screeds embossed onto these iron discs, and the one pictured above was once the property of the “Bureau of Water and Sewers” which is now part of the NYC DEP and can be observed at the border of Sunnyside and Blissville in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is a “Brooklyn Department of City Works” access cover, which was found back in Greenpoint. DCW is also now a part of the consolidated DEP.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in Queens, on the “carridor” of Northern Blvd., a puzzling bit of signage has emerged on one of the enormous advertising bill boards found on the corner of 38th street. The easterly facing side says “Stay Calm” with a screed reading “-Peter.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The westerly facing side says “Don’t Panic,” and also has the “-Peter” signature. Dictionary definitions are superimposed on the block print messaging, this one bears the definition of courage. I’ve looked around for what these signs are meant to be selling or saying, but haven’t been able to find out much. If anybody knows what’s up with these messages, please share in the comments.

Either way, they are reminiscent of the sort of things Rowdy Roddy Piper observed in the John Carpenter film “They Live.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A gorgeous bit of hand painted signage adorns the back of a NYCHA emergency truck back in Greenpoint, and is pictured above.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

cracked vision

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Like the cops, you can never find a Taxi when you need one.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

With great interest has a humble narrator been following the dire news which the owners of Taxi fleets have been opining concerning the state of their industry. The first dagger in their hearts were the Boro Cabs – the now familiar fleets of green Taxi’s which are generally operated by independent owners which are forbidden from picking up passengers in Manhattan but can freely ply their trade in the other four boroughs. For one such as myself, the Boro Cabs have been a boon, as I seldom use a cab in the City, but often find myself short of time and needing to move between Greenpoint and LIC in a hurry.

The metered trip, combined with a guarantee that gear allowing the use of a debit or credit card in lieu of cash is onboard and in working condition, have vastly improved hiring a car in the outer boroughs and curtailed the old system of illegal street hails for private car services. The gypsy cab guys would always size you up and try to hit you with an outlandish fee for a trip of a mile or two (any further than that and I’m on the train or bus, yo). Boro Cabs are a giant “yes” check mark on the Michael Bloomberg Mayorality’s “How’d I do” list, IMHO.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always been interested in the Taxi business. A favorite Uncle actually drove a Checker Cab, having bought his medallion with his discharge money from the military after WW2. Tales of driving a cab in New York were always gladly related, and as I grew up in a fairly suburban and automobile centric part of Brooklyn (the Canarsie/Flatlands/Old Mill Basin section) there were lots of people I knew who plied the trade. Two close friends of my parents were dispatchers at a taxi company that transformed itself into a corporate “black car” business in the 1980’s as well. My next door neighbor Charlie, he drove a taxi. I even had a couple of friends during college who paid off their tuition by driving cabs on a four p.m. to four a.m. shift. A humble narrator is… shall we say… familiar with the industry – at least by association.

A bit of NYC trivia for you: medallion cabs were mandated to be painted yellow back in 1967.

Suffice to say, the Taxi biz prior to the 1980’s wasn’t exactly lucrative, but you’d make a decent wage. Only, that is, if you owned the Cab’s medallion and the car itself. If not, and all you had was a hack license, you had to work for one of the Fleets, and then as now – you got screwed daily.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s 62,000 yellow cabs in NYC, and according to the 2000 Census, some 82% of the drivers were foreign born.

Notorious scoundrels whose business practices and treatment of its labor pool are reminiscent of the sort of stuff you’d read about in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” the Taxi fleets are essentially holding corporations with deep pockets that would instantly bid as high as they need to whenever one of the limited number of taxi medallions comes up for sail. They can afford to pay whatever it takes, and roughly half of all the medallions in the City are in the hands of just a few wealthy people. Wealthy people who make a lot of campaign donations.

Good honest graft, as it was known, has always ensured that they’d be able control and rig the game they played via political connections. Additionally… well, let’s just say that this used to be an all cash business which operated in a version of New York City that was fictionalizationed in films like Donnie Brasco and Goodfellas. There’s a reason why news stands, candy stores with comics racks, and coffee shops used to exist too. Cash businesses were good for business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the late 70’s, real estate in what is now called Chelsea and Soho began to heat up and the real gangsters from Wall Street and the Upper East Side were involved. The Taxi fleets which used to operate out of these post industrial neighborhoods were priced out of their traditional homes. A migration began to Long Island City and North Brooklyn, where most of the fleets are based today. The Bronx was never a good choice, although one or two yards are there, as it was considered too far from Midtown Manhattan. LIC, in particular, was a perfect spot, with the Queensboro Bridge and Midtown Tunnel close by to allow a fleet’s quick trip to the happy hunting grounds of midtown.

An all cash business, and one which trafficked in small denominations for that matter, was welcomed by the unofficial economy hereabouts as well. Large specimens of currency could easily be exchanged for “clean” money. Not saying that’s what happened, by the way, but that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve always been told, by a truly odd but direly serious fellow, that he was “working for the United Nations on combatting the gray aliens” so grains of salt are always offered on heresay.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like my uncle, a pretty good number of the old Checker drivers seemed to be of the Jewish ethnicity. Always a working class job, “outer borough ethnic white guy” was the fellow who drove a cab when I was a kid. Sort of fellow who said things like “terlet” and “boid.” Despite their abundant populations, there seemed to be few Black or Puerto Rican drivers, as I remember it, until the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Presumptive discrimination ended sometime in the middle 1980’s. That’s when the Taxi industry seemed to turn over its entire workforce (it’s also about when my Uncle retired so it might have been a generational thing) and nearly every cab driver seemed to be from the subcontinent. Indians were replaced within a few years by Pakistanis, who have recently begun to be phased out in favor of Spanish speakers from Central and South America. Industry veterans point to this sort of ethnic turnover claiming that it’s all about union busting, and committed in the name of finding new groups of immigrants willing to drive a cab for a few dollars less per shift than the previous generation. Modern day cab drivers have described a pretty miserable set of rules and conditions to me as set down by the fleet owners – which includes a twist on the old “one minute late, you’re docked an hour’s pay” practices – the sort of thing that went out of style in the 1930’s. That’s the reason why you can’t get a cab between three and four in the afternoon – they have to get back to base and exchange the cab with another driver, and if a minute late…

Uber, Lyft, and the rest of the new taxi services have put a serious dent in the yellow cab business recently. The price of Taxi medallions has actually fallen for the first time ever. Again, half of all medallions are in the hands of a few. This is the latest dagger in the Fleet owner’s collective heart, and they’ve used all of their influence to combat the new competitors. As it happens, many of the drivers for these new services are their former employees. Just like the green Boro Cabs, I’ve found these new services to be efficacious. I’ve also noticed that parked in and around the Fleet lots, there are a lot of obviously not road ready cabs on display sans medallions. The Fleets have actually responded to the competition, it would be noted, by creating their own smart phone apps to compete with the new players. They’ve also continued to happily buy up any medallions that become available, the price of which continues to plummet due to the arrival of Uber and the others – they say.

The Fleet owners are fairly disagreeable people, I am told. Mayor Bloomberg is reported to have been particularly peeved by them – “Bloomberg famously told one of the industry’s more notorious barons that he would “destroy” his “ fucking industry” upon leaving office” as reported by Capital New York.

If business was really as bad as claimed, wouldn’t these cars we see parked on the street be actual ready to work models, rather than dinged up models missing stickers and trimmings? If things are as dire as they are meant to be, wouldn’t the Fleet owners be selling – rather than buying – medallions?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 6, 2016 at 11:00 am

naturally prompted

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Everybody has somewhere they need to go, except me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Traveling back and forth, forth and back, to Greenpoint for meetings regarding my beloved Creek occupies a lot of my time. Along the pathway which leads from blessed Astoria to the “garden spot of the universe” one encounters a whole lot of taxi cabs along the way. Their presence causes shame to blossom within my breast, as the urgency which would justify the usage of such conveyance is not something which currently drives my days. I’ll get there when I arrive, as no matter where you go, there you are.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Complaining about my near daily pilgrimage to Brooklyn is usually greeted with “you should buy a bicycle” by the drinkers of expensive coffee who dwell there. Simply put, I have nothing against cycling. In fact, I used to be a avid bicycle enthusiast, when I lived in my native south east Brooklyn. Problem is that you are moving too fast to actually notice anything, as you are effectively a vehicle. Want to see something cool? You need to walk, not ride. Also, cameras and bicycling do not exactly get along.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve noticed increasing numbers of these new lime green “Boro Cabs” turning up of late around the neighborhoods in Western Queens, by the way. Another change in the landscape, and alteration of the firmament, here in the Newtown Pentacle. Hopefully, this metered fare will alleviate the whole scale rape which local car services perpetrate upon the populace currently. Recently, a private car service driver quoted me a $30 fare to go from Astoria to Meeker Avenue in Greenpoint- a roughly 15 minute trip.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday- September 21, 2013
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Saturday- September 28, 2013
Newtown Creek Boat Tour with the Working Harbor Committee- tickets on sale now.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 19, 2013 at 10:51 am

tightly packed

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Just a short one today, got to catch a cab.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An uncanny valley of off duty cabs, called Skillman Avenue in Queens.

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 5, 2013 at 7:30 am

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