Greenpoint, October, 2015

Friday, March 30, 2012

Next Stop, Trees!

Welcome to Warsaw
There are many wonderful things about the Warsaw Metro. One is that it took 70 years from when it was first proposed until it actually opened in 1995. Of course, there were a few calamatious regional and world events that got in the way, including the destruction of 90-plus percentage of the city during WWII, economic collapse in the 1970s, and Martial Law in the 1980s.

Another wonderful thing about the Metro is how quiet it is--not only the trains entering and leaving the station, but the people waiting for them and riding them. At least when I lived there, riders treated time on the Metro a little like being in Church. How appealing is that from a New Yorker's perspective?

Yet another wonderful thing about the Metro is its automated station announcements. First you hear a "bahhp...bahhp...bahhp" tone, then a soothing male voice intones "Następna stacja" [next station], followed by the station name. Listen to this announcement for Pole Mokotowskie (a large park below the city's center).*

But my all-time favorite wonderful thing about the Warsaw Metro is that you can take it to the forest. The last stop on the first completed line, which runs north-south, is Kabaty. A few minutes' walk from the station begins Las Kabacki, a 902-hectare national reserve mostly made up of forests. Of course, the reason for extending the Metro beyond the city's developed neighborhoods was to promote or accommodate the development that has been steadily encroaching on the forest. I hope the forest will always be the end of the line.

(*If you're interested in how announcements work on the undergrounds/metros/subways from cities from around the world--and who wouldn't be?--visit this incredibly informative site. Who knew that in Cologne there is no sound; each set of doors has sensors and closes when no one is between them? So subtle!)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It Took Some Digging...

But I finally found a worthy adversary for The Cardvaark. Who could this upstart be? Why, it's a mole decked out as a digger for the Warsaw Metro. The first (north-south) line of Warsaw's Metro system has been operational since 1995. A second, intersecting east-west line is still under construction, thus our shovel-ready friend. (But that's not the 'hole' story, as we'll see.)

In case you've forgotten about Cardvaark, here's a reminder below. And much more here. Much as it pains me to admit, I think you've got to give hand it to the Poles on this one.

"I Coulda Been a Contender"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In a Мосва State of Mind

Nods from the Underground
If there's anything that can make a New York City subway rider feel better (besides that they're not on the BQE), it's a peek at life on the Moscow subway. In winter. This shot comes from a remarkable series of photos by, as far as I can tell, a Russian blogger who goes by the handle h2o. For more of his or her work, go here. Spasiba!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

For Coffee Achievers Only

Is that 24 hours?
Yesterday, I saw this van on the BQE. It raises a very important question: What constitutes a coffee emergency? I can think of a few possibilities:

  • Decaf coffee served surreptitiously
  • Instant coffee (beware of Latin American countries in which Nescafe is considered a luxury!)
  • Weak coffee (Polish has the word lura, sometimes rendered as "cat-lap," for weak tea or coffee)
  • Coffee that tastes bad (there was a chain in RI that I could swear used cigarette ash in their grounds)
  • No coffee.

But there must be more. In any case, it is reassuring to know that the men and women of Vassilaros are on the job.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

When Adequate Was the Best

Rubber Soul Survivor? (E. 28 St.)
The high water mark of mid-20th century business technology? The IBM Selectric II typewriter, a classic to be sure. The Xerox photocopier--I suppose we all remember the first time we enlarged something on its glass plate. But what of the humble rubber stamp? New York City used to be awash in businesses that specialized in making rubber stamps of any size, with any rubric or motto (fit or unfit) to print. And to think, they would do it within two or three business days!

I suppose the crowning glory of my editorial career in the mid-eighties, at one of the last family owned publishing houses in midtown Manhattan, was the stamp I had made for tracking the zillions of pieces of manuscript paper through the editing, proofreading, cross-referencing, and indexing stages. I went to Adequate Rubber Stamp Co., somewhere in the west 30s (there were a few stamp makers on the block). I was so pleased with the result that I went back and ordered one as a gift for my senior editor, who was notoriously territorial about her books: "HANDS OFF, A.W." A year or so later, we bought our first PCs (Kaypros!) under my direction. The future of the rubber stamp industry was, well, stamped on the wall.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Inclined to Luxury

You can see a lot of vintage automobiles on Staten Island. Unfortunately, they're most often seen on a flatbed truck being transported to somewhere else. My nephew identified this one from the photo as a Rolls Royce Phantom. No doubt he's right. You never know more about cars then before you actually start to drive them.

I asked my undergraduates--for purely pedagogical purposes, of course--how many had learned to drive on a standard transmission, and only one hand went up (besides mine). A lost art.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

High Fog or Low Cloud?

On an early summer day, I spotted this fogpatch ahead on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

Moments later, I was in the soup.

But only for a moment. Strangely enough, just a few hours before I had been walking down West 120th St in Manhattan, under the clearest of blue skies, when a light rain began to fall. Strangers looking up, making meaningful eye contact, like we were in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

A lot of weather for one day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Blue. Period.

Over the last month or so, this angular cinder block building has gone up in Greenpoint, cheek by jowl with the BQE. In the last few days it's been painted the blue you see here. And now this blue is part of my life. Questions?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Things to Do at Queensboro Plaza

Weekdays only
I saw this sign at Queensboro Plaza while waiting for a train to take me into Manhattan. It brought a host of questions to mind. Here are a few:

  • What would happen if the motorman forgot and stopped at Court Square? (Non-riders FYI: the station is under renovation until sometime in April.)
  • Can you actually "bypass" a station when there is only one track? (Or is this just a fancy way of saying "slow down but don't stop"?)
  • Is this font a variation of the famous MTA Helvetica?
  • Spell out "square." What is true about each of these three words? (*Answer below.)
Fearful symmetry
Coming back from Manhattan, I had time to admire the windows on the lower platform. Why only on the south side, I wondered? Perhaps this explains why, in a normal winter, Queensboro Plaza is so much colder than anywhere else. Are these the questions I will go to my grave with? Cheers, there's my wagon.

(*Answer: They can all function as verbs or nouns. This means you can make a variety of more or less meaningless sentences from them: "Court Bypass Square," "Square Bypass Court," etc. Try it yourself when you're stuck at QP!)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

They Did It So I Don't Have To

Corner of 32 Ave. & 62 St.
Urban walkistas David Kennedy Cutler and Robert Hult hiked the BQE, or as close as they could come to its path on foot, over two days in February. You can follow their passage on the Walking the BQE Tumblr page--actually, 29 pages of clear but undistinguished digital photos, like the ones at right, with minimal commentary. There are also Google Sat images superimposed with a blue line to show their route, like the one below from the first stage of their odyssey (they started at the Queens end). And more than one "piss bottle."

The cumulative effect is depressing but far from enlightening. Haven't we known for a very long time the dehumanizing, depopulating, degrading, denaturalizing impact of inflicting a major artery through a vibrant city? Just ask the Plain People of Pawtucket (R.I.): It creates a wound that never fully stops bleeding.

Still, my hat is off to Cutler and Hult. Somebody had to do it. I'm just so glad it didn't have to be me.
Getting intimate with the BQE isn't easy

Saturday, March 17, 2012

香港 on the Newtown Creek?

Where's Wong Kar Wai?
No matter how often I find myself (who else is looking?) on the platform at Queensboro Plaza, I am struck by how much construction is going on. Entire buildings seem to appear without notice. Last night, as the 7 train pulled in, I had the distinct impression that I was in Hong Kong. Which is odd since I've never been to China.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Sun Sets on the Dinette Set

What's new in Egbertville? Since I reported on the Egbert Square-Triangle controversy, I haven't had much occasion to visit this part of the island. I dropped in yesterday on my friend Ali at the Ali Baba Grill--I highly recommend the hummus. He told me lots of restaurants have been closing and he's barely hanging on. "Maybe next month better," he said as we parted. I was the only customer.

As I was walking to the car, I glanced across Forest Avenue to discover that Orsini Dinettes is gone. Impossible! Where does a new couple go for its first dinette? The 1970s are definitely over, at least in Egbertville.
"It's Orsini or Else!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Red Means Run, Son

A slow crawl from the Gowanus through Cobble Hill. The explanation comes: an accident on the Brooklyn Bridge. Two lanes closed. Heavy delays. Sure enough, when the bridge comes into view, you can see red lights of emergency vehicles punctuating the white lights of the bridge. A lot of them. And still cars are lined up to exit for the bridge, forcing the slowdown on the BQE.

What keeps them from taking an alternate route to Manhattan (the Williamsburg Bridge comes to mind)? Ignorance, panic, stubbornness? Could it be morbid curiosity?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Smug Harbor?

Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress
The St. Regis Hotel, Barcelona, Studio 54. What do these places have in common? They're all settings for Whit Stillman movies (Metropolitan, Barcelona, Last Days of Disco). So imagine my surprise, reader, watching the trailer for Damsels in Distress, the long, long awaited new film from Whit Stillman, transported not to the Sorbonne, Mount Holyoke, or even Cambridge, but to Staten Island. That's right. Whit chose the grounds of Snug Harbor, the "haven for aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors" established in 1801, to film his story of a college recently gone co-ed.

Even if the movie doesn't live up to our outscale expectations--it's been thirteen years since Last Days of Disco--it will be worth seeing for the shots of Snug Harbor alone. I haven't been this excited for a film location since Everybody Wins put Norwich, Connecticut on the map (Director to Norwich Bulletin reporter on his choice: "It just reeks of small city corruption.")

Did I mention, there's also doughnuts? Here's the trailer:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

MTA Standard Time

It's later than you think
When did Daylight Savings Time begin? If you answered 2 A.M. on Sunday, you would be right. Above ground, that is. Below ground, it begins sometime on Friday afternoon when MTA workers reset the clocks before the weekend begins. This has been going on for a long time, though there don't seem to be nearly as many subway clocks as there were when I first lived in NYC and cottoned to the MTA's jump-the-clock game. The photo by Adam Brawerman does a better job than I could of capturing subway time.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I'm Your Puppet

Have you caught the recent Mayflower Movers TV commercial? It's beautifully shot and scored, technically dazzling, and deeply, deeply disturbing. I'm not sure why the Mad Men at Mayflower Movers (damn that's a lot of M's) thought a giant mannequin striding along a desert highway, city streets, and finally into a suburban cul-de-sac would sell moving jobs. But when she sits down on a lawn chair the size of a Taco Bell franchise, look out desperate housewives.

Last night, I dreamt I was driving along a blissfully deserted BQE. I glanced out over the guardrail only to see an enormous insensible head and pair of shoulders bobbing along beside me. She turned towards me. No, no, it can't be. It is... a 20 foot tall Sarah Palin! And she's winking at me!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The New Deal?

WMR at the wheel
Here's Mitt with Anne and some of the grandkids looking very presidential I'd say. Just doing what regular folks do on a Sunday, take a drive in the vintage convertible. Well, at least there's no roof to strap the dog to. (BTW, this photo comes from Romney Central, my favorite source for Romney fluff.)

Why is it that, in photographs, Romney always seems to be doing whatever he is doing for the very first time--and is secretly terrified he's doing it wrong? Contrast Mitt above to this shot of FDR in his touring car, specially built with hand controls so that he could drive it himself. Two very, very rich men. Big difference, eh?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

White Out

The medium is the message
That's the billboard you see heading east on the BQE just before the Brooklyn Bridge. It's been owned by the Apple iPad for over a year now. I photographed it because it had been finally "bombed." Compared to the high-flying billboards Rambo has claimed, this seemed like an easy target--the proverbial low-hanging fruit--and I wondered if Apple products for some reason enjoyed protected status among the graffiti artists.

But none of that came out. Only a bright white light. That used to signal you were having a near death or out-of-body experience. Now it just means you're checking your email.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Little Chute?

BQE near Metropolitan Ave.
It's 8:54 a.m. in Brooklyn it's the 28th of July and
it's probably 8:54 in Manhattan but I'm
in Brooklyn I'm eating English muffins and drinking
pepsi and I'm thinking of how Brooklyn is New
York city too how odd I usually think of it as
something all its own like Bellows Falls like Little
Chute like Uijongbu

-from XXXVI (After Frank O'Hara) by Ted Berrigan

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Higher Line

As the weekend shutoff of service between Queens and Manhattan goes into its 15th month with no end in sight--don't be fooled by the posters, the ever-paternalistic MTA chooses to dole out the bad news in two-week intervals--many of you will be spending more time on the platform at Queensborough Plaza waiting for a connection. Ever the optimist, your correspondent has some suggestions on making that time bearable, if not enjoyable.

1) Take an art walk. Perhaps you thought those grayish screens covered with pigeon shit on the north side of the lower platform were merely functional. But no, they are actually silkscreened glass panels, part of a piece called Columns (2000) by Sydney Cash. In the right light, they can actually be quite charming, if not exciting.

2) Do some long-distance window-shopping in the Plaza. Believe it or not, that's a new hipster coffee shop between the MetroPCS and Wines & Liquors stores.

3) Do a head count. See how many fellow passengers amass on the platform before a train comes in to relieve a pressure.

Most importantly, bundle up! Even in this mild winter weather, Queensboro Plaza is a notoriously cold and windy spot. Don't let the MTA give you the flu on top of all its other gifts!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Support the Seventies & WFMU!

As regular readers of the blog know all too well, the official radio station of BTB is WFMU in Jersey City, NJ. It was only through the healing power of WFMU that I was able to simultaneously wean myself from NPR (National Puppet Radio) and master the BQE merge.

WFMU is now in the last day and a half of its annual fundraising marathon (ends Sunday night). If you are a fan of music and freedom--in any combination--consider pledging your support. If you can scrape together 75 bucks, you can get Michael Shelly's premium CD: Super Hits of the Seventies, 22 original 70s classics rerecorded by great contemporary artists including Yo La Tengo and Joe Pernice. Check out the K-tel style TV ad on YouTube. And go to the WFMU site and pledge!

Friday, March 2, 2012

I Give a F*ck About 40

Quaint sign. What does it mean?
Q: What's the speed limit on the BQE?
A: As fast as you can possibly go.

But sometimes, reader, there's a night. Sometimes there's a night, and I'm talking about the BQE here, when you can actually drive, actually get out of second gear. For some reason, the traffic is light. Maybe everybody's stayed in to watch the Michigan primary results. Who knows?

On nights like these, the BQE faithful celebrate. How? By going below the posted speed limit, that's how. And by doing it all lanes, that's how. As I slalom through the Sunday-on-a-Tuesday-Night drivers, my silent message for them is much the same message Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) gives his troops in this scene from The Wire.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Rack

Photo by Christopher Anderson (2008)
And last night I dreamt I was sitting in the back of a black Suburban with Mitt Romney. In the front were two of his advance men. Everybody was edgy. "Put him in the trunk," one of Mitt's stooges said. "No, no, he won't be able to breathe," said his partner. "Well, then let him go." "What, just open the door and just let him run out?" "Why not?" At this point, Mitt finally spoke: "Put him on the roof. He'll be alright." I realized they were all looking at me.