The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Taxi

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

writhing mass

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In today’s post- a vehicle accident in DUPBO, LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happily perambulating upon Jackson Avenue in venerable Hunter Point recently, a cacophony of automotive horns heralded my arrival in DUPBO- Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp- at the corner of Vernon and Jackson. I have actually used Vernon Jackson as an alias, in the past, it should be noted. To my ears, Vernon Jackson is an extremely credible sounding name, the sort of handle which a bounty hunter or hard hitting journalist might be blessed with.

At any rate, there was an awful traffic tie up, and even the legendary patience of the Queens driver was wearing thin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Motorists in Queens, it should be pointed out, drive angry. The slightest transgression- not immediately hitting the gas at the precise second which a red light turns green, slowing down for any reason, allowing a passenger to debark the automobile- is greeted by an enthusiastic usage of the horn. There is also a societal taboo against going around an obstacle, and one is obliged to sit and honk at an obstruction until it is cleared away. In the case of this particular tie up, it seemed that an “accidental” had occurred.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Such “accidentals” are common, here in this place where highways and rail systems converge upon and feed into those narrow corridors which allow egress to the Shining City. Literally hundreds of thousands of vehicles cross western Queens on any given day, the odds that collisions wouldn’t proliferate would be astronomical. When I say “collision,” it is because I presume that both of the unfortunate conveyances found at the center of this scene were in motion.

Were one of them static, it would instead be an “allision.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The honking continued as I wove my way though tangle, on my way to Greenpoint. During my walk from Astoria, a roughly one and one half mile saunter accomplished in roughly forty minutes, I observed two vehicle accident scenes like this. One wonders if there is some database out there which describes the quantity of vehicular incidents in any given neighborhood?

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Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull– Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 29, 2013 at 12:15 am

sufficient accuracy

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A week of darkness was promised you, lords and ladies, and this Friday posting provides a neat bookend.

Long Island City is one of the most difficult spots in New York City to hail a cab, precisely because so many Cab companies are based here. Drivers don’t want to pick you up if they’re in the neighborhood, as Cab Drivers are generally heading here to drop off the car and end a shift before they get hit with a penalty for being late.

The reverse of “bringing coal to Newcastle”, it would seem, is in effect.


Many taxicabs are used by two drivers a day, each working a 12-hour shift. To ensure that each leg is equally attractive, taxi owners schedule the shift change in the middle of the afternoon, so each shift gets a rush hour.

But the switch cannot happen too early, either: a 2 p.m. changeover, for instance, would require a day driver to start his 12-hour shifts in the wee hours of the morning. And cabbies say the midafternoon offers brisk business not evident 12 hours later, when fares mainly consist of late-night revelers.

Hence the 5 p.m. compromise. When the changeover became standard, its timing did not pose a big problem for passengers. Many taxi garages were situated on the Far West Side of Manhattan, requiring cabs to make only a short trip to 11th Avenue before heading back to Midtown with a fresh driver.

But in the 1980s, as commercial rents rose, taxi fleets began migrating across the East River, particularly to Long Island City, Queens. The 5 p.m. shift change now included a journey over the often-packed Queensboro Bridge, not to mention the return slog to the city. Drivers started going off duty between 4 and 4:30 p.m., to ensure that they had enough time to make it to the garage; even today, tardy cabbies can be hit with a $30 fine.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is an interesting sight, seeing hundreds of Taxis arrayed about their dispatch and maintenance yards in the wee hours of the morning. Taxi’s are not unlike Police cars in this manner, inasmuch as they seem to be in perpetual motion and always in gear.

Drivers have described the system to me, shift work accomplished in long stretches behind the wheel during which they struggle to first pay the day’s lease on the car and then the fuel bill. Once this sum has been reached, whatever is left over is theirs to keep. They are functionally without a union, and vulnerable to the whims of politician and businessman alike. The overnight drivers also describe having to deal with cleaning up a lot of bodily fluids, the product of nightlife and its revelry.

from wikipedia

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) was established in 1971 with jurisdiction over the city’s medallion (yellow) taxicabs, livery cabs, “black cars”, commuter vans, paratransit vehicles (ambulettes) and some luxury limousines. The TLC was founded to deal with the growing number of drivers and to address issues important to both the taxi and livery industries. Its predecessor was the New York City Hack Bureau, operated under the aegis of the New York City Police Department. TLC Inspectors are New York State peace officers who carry batons, pepper spray, and handcuffs.

In the 1970s and 1980s both the unofficial livery services and the medallion taxicab companies began finding more and more of their drivers in the growing populations of black, Latino, and middle eastern immigrants to the city as the previous generation of cabbies retired and moved out of the city. Crime in New York City had become severe at this point, and cabbies were often the victims of robberies and street crime.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a different note, a distinct point of interest is the Court Square Diner, which is a completely different structure at night than during the day. On this particular morning, despite my screaming desire for a cup of joe, the place was passed by and merely photographed. The whole “shooting at night” thing was produced by a bout of insomnia, after all, and the last thing that the sleepless needs is the sort of hot brown jet fuel sold at Court Square.


Court Square Diner was built in 1946. Since then it has only had three ownerships.

The current owners, Steve and Nick have been in operation since 1991. When they had first purchased the diner, it was mainly a small diner for breakfast and lunch. In 2009, the Court Square Diner was renovated with an all new retro look. Now it is a full service 24 hour seven day a week successful diner complete with breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner. The delivery service is 24 hours a day seven days a week. All the baking for the diner is done on the premises.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 15, 2013 at 12:15 am

strange region

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearly have I sorted out the various electronic issues caused by the lightning strike which sundered my links with the far flung interwebs, however, the last and greatest hurdle is before me.

The thundering incompetency and bureaucratic nonsense of the Time Warner cable empire awaits. Long has it been since I severed my relationship with them regarding the delivery of televisual and telephonic service, a second rate and badly delivered suite of offerings at best, but they remain the only game in town as far as high speed Internet (at least in my zip code).

Yes, smaller operations exist, but they largely piggy back onto the Time Warner system in Astoria.

Today, I must hie to Manhattan and company headquarters in order to exchange a lightning damaged cable modem. The customer service operator offered me an in home appointment on August 8th, some 14 days from now, so the only way to get this dying elephant to perform its most basic function in a timely fashion is to visit its house and kick it in the trunk.

I would point out that DirecTV was here within 24 hours to assess the situation, and had their replacement equipment up and running within 48 hours of the lightning event.

Hopefully, by tomorrow, the entire system back at Newtown Pentacle HQ will be functionable again- but this is probably vainglorious hope speaking. With luck, I will be able to start doing “my thing” again within a day or two.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tonight, however, diversion can be obtained at the Flux Factory in LIC. Kate Zidar of Newtown Creek Alliance will be joining Dr. Eric Sanderson for an interesting presentation.


Flux Factory presents…Newtown Creek: Past, Present, Future – JUL 26

Flux Factory is pleased to present the third workshop in a yearlong initiative, The Future of Your Neighborhood: Who Decides?

Newtown Creek: Past, Present, Future

July 26th, 7 pm – 9 pm

Flux Factory

39-31 29th Street, Long Island City, NY 11101

The July workshop will focus on Newtown Creek: one of the most polluted industrial sites in America, bordering Flux Factory’s Long Island City neighborhood. Eric Sanderson of the Mannahatta Project will share historical research he’s collected on the Superfund site, with the aim of making information available to artists, designers, city planners, and other interested parties for widespread use in restoring its original splendor. Kate Zidar, Executive Director of Newtown Creek Alliance, will present information on the current state of the creek, including how community members can participate in materializing visions for its future.


Upcoming Walking Tours:

July 28th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk- This Saturday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kill Van Kull, or tugboat alley as its known to we harbor rats, is a tidal strait that defines the border of Staten Island and New Jersey. A busy and highly industrialized waterfront, Working Harbor’s popular “Hidden Harbor – Newark Bay” boat tours provide water access to the Kill, but what is it like on the landward side?

Starting at the St. George Staten Island Ferry terminal, join WHC Steering Committee member Mitch Waxman for a walk up the Kill Van Kull via Staten Islands Richmond Terrace. You’ll encounter unrivaled views of the maritime traffic on the Kill itself, as well as the hidden past of the maritime communities which line it’s shores. Surprising and historic neighborhoods, an abandoned railway, and tales of prohibition era bootleggers await.

The tour will start at 11, sharp, and you must be on (at least) the 10:30 AM Staten Island Ferry to meet the group at St. George. Again, plan for transportation changes and unexpected weirdness to be revealed to you at

for July 28th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

August 5th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman will be leading a walk through the industrial heartlands of New York City, exploring the insalubrious valley of the Newtown Creek.

The currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, and the place where the Industrial Revolution actually happened, provides a dramatic and picturesque setting for this exploration. We’ll be visiting two movable bridges, the still standing remains of an early 19th century highway, and a forgotten tributary of the larger waterway. As we walk along the Newtown Creek and explore the “wrong side of the tracks” – you’ll hear tales of the early chemical industry, “Dead Animal and Night Soil Wharfs”, colonial era heretics and witches and the coming of the railroad. The tour concludes at the famed Clinton Diner in Maspeth- where scenes from the Martin Scorcese movie “Goodfellas” were shot.

Lunch at Clinton Diner is included with the ticket.

Details/special instructions.

Meetup at the corner of Grand Street and Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn at 11 a.m. on August 5, 2012. The L train serves a station at Bushwick Avenue and Grand Street, and the Q54 and Q59 bus lines stop nearby as well. Check as ongoing weekend construction often causes delays and interruptions. Drivers, it would be wise to leave your vehicle in the vicinity of the Clinton Diner in Maspeth, Queens or near the start of the walk at Grand St. and Morgan Avenue (you can pick up the bus to Brooklyn nearby the Clinton Diner).

Be prepared: We’ll be encountering broken pavement, sometimes heavy truck traffic as we move through a virtual urban desert. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking, closed-toe shoes are highly recommended.

Clinton Diner Menu:

  • Cheese burger deluxe
  • Grilled chicken over garden salad
  • Turkey BLT triple decker sandwich with fries
  • Spaghetti with tomato sauce or butter
  • Greek salad medium
  • Greek Salad wrap with French fries
  • Can of soda or 16oz bottle of Poland Spring

for August 5th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 26, 2012 at 10:52 am

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