The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC

rolling hills

with 5 comments

Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Union Station in Washington D.C. is where Amtrak is headquartered, and is their second busiest train station with just under 5 million riders passing through it every year. It’s the southern terminus for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, and also handles several commuter rail lines as well as municipal Streetcar and Bus operations for the City of Washington D.C. (local, as opposed to the Federal side of things).

In the late 19th century, Washington was a real mess. Separate rail yards, including ones on the site of what’s now the National Mall, were operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In 1901, Penn RR and B&O RR announced that they had arrived at an agreement to partner up and build what would become Union Station. As part of their agreement, they would abandon and remove the tracks and depots which they had piecemeal installed over the last 50-70 years in Washington. The abandoned land became the National Mall which was partially described in last week’s postings here at Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Union Station was built under the supervision of Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. Congress got involved, and “S. 4825 (58th-1st session) entitled “An Act to provide a union railroad station in the District of Columbia” which was signed into law by 26th President Theodore Roosevelt on February 28, 1903. The Act created a Washington Terminal Company (jointly owned by the B&O and the PRR-controlled Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington Railroad) to construct a railroad station “monumental in character.” The budget was $4 million (roughly $98.3 million in modern valuation) but Washington is no different now than it was then, so in the end it cost $5.9 million to build the thing. Grade crossings in the City were also eliminated, which cost the taxpayers about $3 million additional smackeroos.

A bit of trivia encountered while reading up for this post is that the neighborhood that Union Station was built in used to be called Swampoodle, and it was a “lawless shanty town populated by Irish, Italians, and Negroes” where public drunkenness and other licentious behavior was common. There were livestock pens, and a collection of shops that housed tin smiths. By October 27, 1907, Swampoodle was gone, as that’s when Union Station opened for business and the B&O’s Pittsburgh Express first arrived, to much fanfare.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m told that there are 32 station tracks at Union Station. 20 of them enter from the Northeast, with the remaining 12 entering the facility via a tunnel under Capitol Hill. I’m sure there’s a lot of nuanced commentary that could offered by a rail historian or dedicated rail fan, but one prefers not to dwell too deeply on such matters unless he’s forced into it. Unlike Sunnyside Yards, I do not want to be in a position to tell you who the field engineer for the Pennsylvania Rail Road was.

It’s during the time period that this station was built that the America we know in modernity was being created. Petroleum was replacing coal, cities were enacting sanitary and health codes, foreign military adventures had become normal, and the idea that a non European country might be able to single-handily dominate and control an entire hemisphere of the planet had emerged. It was during the interval of Union Station’s construction – in 1903, specifically – that the Wright Brothers began flying. The Civil War was a bad memory that fathers and grandfathers told their children about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1971, the private capital version of rail road companies in the United States collapsed into bankruptcy, and President Richard Nixon nationalized the assets. Conrail was created to handle freight, Amtrak to handle inter city passenger travel, and the inner city and commuter rail businesses were allotted to a number of regional authorities – MTA, SEPTA, and so on. In the case of Union Station, the Federal Department of the Interior was put in charge of the place. Badly maintained, by 1983, it became apparent that a change was required if Union Station was to be saved. The Reagan administration transferred joint ownership of Union Station to Amtrak and the Federal Department of Transportation.

Far more renovations and rethinkings of the space occurred for me to pass on, but suffice to say that a significant and very expensive amount of work occurred here, resulting in gorgeous public areas like the grand hall – pictured above – being returned to their (somewhat) original glory. Union Station as you see it above reopened in 1988. There’s still work to be done, in both operational capability and the historic preservation spheres, and Amtrak keeps on talking about a fairly expensive vision for the future.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Great Hall/entrance is meant to be a waiting room, and when it’s time to start moving towards your train, you enter the concourse. That’s where the Amtrak counters are, as well as a series of shops and restaurants.

On a personal note, man oh man was I tired at this stage of the game. It was about three in the afternoon, and I had left HQ in Astoria at 2:30 in the morning for a 3:30 a.m. train to D.C. I had wandered out into the National Mall at just after 7 a.m. and began shooting with the characteristically brutal “hot” of Washington oppressing me. I got pics of several interesting POV’s while engaging in a frustrating Covid era search for something to drink and a place to… ahem… use the toilet. I made it all the way down to the Potomac and then had to meet up with an old friend for lunch. Sleep deprived doesn’t begin to describe my state.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was thereby pretty loopy by the time this shot was taken. Honestly, I almost forgot to take it. The next leg of my September travels would involve a 7 hour and 40 minute Amtrak ride, and I’d be getting off the train at 11:44 p.m. Before boarding, I had slurped down a huge cup of coffee at Union Station, and my intention was to use the travel time to offload the Washington shots from my camera onto the very heavy laptop I was carrying with me. There’s a whole process to this – focus check, is it worth keeping, horizon straightening, cropping, key wording – before I even start to address what the color and tonality of the final shot will be. About one out of ten shots makes it through this process, and maybe one out of five of those makes it here.

Truth is that I fell asleep about a half hour after boarding the train, and remained passed out for about six hours. Sleeping in public is so outside of my ordinary mindset that I’m still shocked about it.

Human, all too human.


“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

October 18, 2021 at 11:00 am

Posted in AMTRAK, railroad

Tagged with , ,

hovered about

leave a comment »

Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Washington D.C. was hot and overcast when I visited. I was in town for a rail layover, the interval between NYC and my next destination, and I had about five hours of photo time to “do my thing.” As mentioned yesterday, I had “stock shots” in mind. Saying that, I also had “serendipity” figured in. What that means are unplanned shots that just jump up and say “take a picture.”

Things were starting to go south for me physically due to sleep deprivation, hunger, and thirst. There was literally no place to pee other than directly on National Monuments, which really isn’t an option for me since “respect.” Luckily, I was thirsty and sweating so profusely that having to pee stopped being a problem about two hours into the excursion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The World War 2 monument in Washington D.C. hosts a fine fountain. As mentioned yesterday, for some reason or another I was very interested in photos of fountains on this particular morning. Maybe it was the thirst.

Maybe it was that I was able to stand in the shade while taking this shot. It was HOT, I tell you, HOT! Seriously, I left NYC where it had been about 65 degrees and stepped into an 87 degree Washington D.C. super humid/sun on my back morning while I’m carrying 25-30 pounds of back packs kind of deal. Uggh. I had three bags, two camera and one full of travel luggage stuff – clothes, toiletries, all that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One continued slouching roughly towards the Potomac River and across the Federal Mall after spending some time with the WW2 monument’s fountain. This monument is a fairly recent addition to the scene hereabouts, having been created in 2004.

Jeez. The last time I was in Washington was probably thirty five years ago. I needed a shot of Congress as reference for a comic book I was drawing, and drove through with a Kodak disposable camera on my way home from a comic convention in Virginia. This particular comic, which I also wrote, centered on an invasion of Washington by a group of Aztec supervillains (they had been hiding since 1520 in Venezuela and plotting their revenge on the Europeans under the tutelage of an immortal Wizard) which was countered by an army led by an American Battle Android which ended up housing the mind of President George H.W. Bush after the Aztecs speared him one through the chest.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The physical suffering was getting pretty awful by this point, and I had descended into bargaining with myself. One more shot dude, just one more.

It’s hard to describe the weird physicality side of photography, which can often involve being on your feet for 8-12 hours at a pop. I’m always outside, whether it’s hot or cold, raining or during snow. You end up squishing yourself into all of these uncomfortable yoga poses to get behind the camera to catch some uncommon angle, or spend all your time doing calisthenics while dropping to one knee for the shot. There’s also the carrying of the gear. That camera is always in my hand. Even if I’m not shooting, I’m ready to do so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I liked the shot of the fountain at the Museum of the American Indian presented in yesterday’s post best, as my “shot of the day.” The runner up is the one above, depicting the Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool. It was shortly after finishing up this one that I broke down the tripod and returned to hand held shooting mode.

This is also when I spotted – after something like three hours – an open shop selling refreshments. I inhaled an entire bottle of yellow Gatorade in two big gulps, sucked about two pints of water out of a bottle in three gulps, and also managed to score a large cup of steaming hot black coffee. As far as needing to urinate, let’s just say that where I found myself had very few national monuments and lots of bushes. Sorted!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the bank of the Potomac River, you encounter the Arlington Memorial Bridge leading out of the Federal District and into Virginia. As the name implies, this bridge leads the Arlington National Cemetery. Despite its appearance, this is a fairly modern structure, having been built in 1932.

My time had run out, as far as the allotted period for this leg of my trip. A quick ride share trip took me to the Georgetown section of the greater Washington metro area, where a reunion with an old and dear friend occurred over a luncheon. I guzzled water, and a Bloody Mary, while we quaffed cheeseburgers and talked about Amtrak, Washington, and also caught up on where our lives were going. He eventually offered to give me a quick automotive tour of the surrounding area, with the proviso that I needed to return to Union Station for my assignation with Amtrak.

More next week, at your traveling 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

October 15, 2021 at 11:00 am

Posted in Photowalks

Tagged with

slackened speed

with one comment

Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There will be a post later on in this series that focuses in solely on Washington D.C.’s Union Station, pictured above, but for today’s post – that’s what it looks like at about 7 in the morning. I was told by a friend who lives in the area, later on in the day, that the City of Washington distributes camping tents to homeless folks – which is why you see those tents in front of the station. That’s some basic humanity at work, I would offer.

Most of the street people I’ve known over the years, which is a considerable number – incidentally – worked assiduously towards ensuring their unfortunate circumstance. Addicts or Alcoholics, plain crazy or “bad crazy,” unlucky or unskilled. There isn’t a single “homeless problem,” rather there’s thousands of individual problems with the single commonality of living rough. No answer fits all of their questions.

Saying all that – empathy and kindness, and don’t judge them. Thank your lucky stars that your life has worked out differently and remember that “but for the grace of god, there go I.” Imagine walking around having to take a dump and not being allowed near a public bathroom, as a member of this proscribed class. Imagine being thirsty, or just wanting to wash your face, and seeing municipalities getting rid of public drinking fountains. Imagine living in a world where all that matters is money, and you have none. That’s what it’s like, with the extra layer of not being able to bathe and being surrounded by other people in the same circumstance who are equally desperate and hungry. So… we’re supposed to be a Christian morality influenced nation, right? Empathy. Kindness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My goal for the morning – I had about five hours of photography time planned in before meeting up with my old friend for lunch at 12:30 – was to walk the National Mall in the direction of the Potomac River. Unfortunately for a sleep deprived but quite humble narrator, I was shlepping a week’s worth of clothing and a full camera bag. Having learned my lesson on the Burlington leg of my travels, a laptop computer had been added into the mix, which unfortunately also added about ten pounds of weight to my pack.

It was characteristically hot and humid in Washington, and the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was staring directly at my back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My plan for the excursion didn’t involve trying to find some unique view or anything. This is probably one of the most photographed places in human history, after all. Back in NYC, I generally don’t take the lens cap off when I’m anywhere near my alma mater, the School of Visual Arts on 23rd and 3rd. SVA has a world class photography program, and a saturation of street and architectural photos radiate out from their buildings.

Mainly what I was going for were the “stock” shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I made it a point of getting fancy pants with the tripod and filters at the reflecting pool leading towards the major Presidential monuments, but right about the moment I was taking this photo is when I started to physically crash. Having left Astoria at 2:30 in the morning, and boarded an Amtrak at 3:30 which I managed to nap for about 90 minutes on, then walked out into the bright and hot environs of Washington with all of the gear I was carrying… that’s where Covid ended up biting me in the butt.

Nothing was open. There were no food trucks or hot dog guys to buy a bottle of water or Gatorade from, no coffee to bolster my fading energy, nada. Nowhere to take a piss, either. Bleh. Regardless, I soldiered on, and thought about the people living in the tents back at Union Station.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian opened in 2004, and the fountain at its entrance is pictured above. The shot above ended being my “shot of the day” in Washington. For some reason, I was really into shooting fountains on this particular morning. I happened across it by accident, as I was mainly looking for a planted area with shady trees where I could divest myself of “my carry” for a few minutes and sit down. “Hot” in D.C. ain’t no joke, yo.

When I do my next bit of traveling, I’m going to be trying to find access to waterfalls in a natural setting. Something is calling me towards photographing flowing water these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the weird things about the National Mall on this particular morning was a nearly complete lack of people there. No doubt due to Covid, but this is normally a very crowded area, even at 7-8 in the morning, with tour buses disgorging thousands of eighth graders from all around the country onto the Mall. There’s also usually a great tumult of other tourists and lookie loos. There were people there, yes, but you could describe them as being in the “dozens,” rather than “hundreds” or “thousands.” That’s why, ultimately, I was “plotzing” for a bottle of water. Why show up to vend, when there’s no one to vend to?

More tomorrow – at this – your traveling 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

October 14, 2021 at 11:00 am

Posted in Photowalks

Tagged with

swelled alarmingly

with 3 comments

Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Three in the morning is exactly when Penn Station is at its best, I believe. The adjoining streets are populated by background extras from the movie “Taxi Driver,” and the cops randomly close several of the entrances to the train station because “because.” After stomping around with about 25-30 pounds of gear, and a week’s worth of clothing, one finally found an entrance which I could enter through after stepping over a few unconscious lunatics and an inebriate or two. I had a date with Amtrak, one which would culminate at 3:30 a.m.

The phrase “dystopian shithole” kept on going through my mind, as well as an accounting of the roughly thirty eight cents of every dollar I earn, disappearing into the black hole of New York City and State’s municipal coffers. Tax breaks for Billionaire Real Estate developers are clearly the logical thing to spend my tax money on, rather than a functioning transit system or a functioning social welfare network or a functioning Police force or a functioning anything. If you solve the problems, what are you going to run on in the next election cycle? Priorities.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Late night, they don’t use the sparkly new Moynihan Station for Amtrak, instead they use crappy old Penn Station. The first leg of my travels rendered a humble narrator sleep deprived, but the world doesn’t run on my scheduled comforts. The electronic boards didn’t tell me that the train was boarding, in fact, they didn’t tell me much of anything. An Amtrak employee suddenly materialized and began shouting out the number of the train and its destination. Indications were offered as to which staircase to descend, which led to the tracks below.

Shit. It’s all shit. We pay forty cents on the dollar for shit, and are told we should be lucky we got that. I’m so tired of fighting it at this stage of the game. Why, oh why does everything in NYC just suck?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Descent into the stygian depth of Penn Station found me boarding my appointed train. Settling into the seat was easily accomplished and the train was about half full (see, I’m an optimist). Fatigue would be my traveling companion for much of the next four days, but nevertheless I was quite excited to be finally embarking on this long planned trip around the northeastern United States.

At the beginning of the summer of 2021, an Amtrak rail pass had been purchased, which allowed me thirty travel segments. All told, I ended up using 22 of them over the next week (two of the segments were used on the Burlington trip). I was also traveling solo this time around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train began rolling, and I cracked out one shot of the part of Penn Station you don’t get to see. I tried a few shots from the moving train on the other side, but it was just too dark to get anything worth talking about. For the first, and not the last time, on this odyssey – I nodded out and fell asleep.

For those of you who know me, the idea that I fell asleep in public is surprising. It’s surprising for me as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train arrived at its destination at 7 in the morning, where I had planned about a seven hour layover into my schedule. I had lunch plans with an old friend at 12:30, and the interval would be filled with photographic pursuits.

One had roughly planned out an intended path, and given the amount of time allotted to this leg of the journey – needed to work quickly and efficiently to capture some images.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Day one – and Washington D.C., beckoned.

More tomorrow.


“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

October 13, 2021 at 11:00 am

%d bloggers like this: