Greenpoint, October, 2015

Friday, May 31, 2013


We welcome summer with a good old fashioned miserable ride on the BQE. Center lane construction on the Staten Island Expressway. More of same on the Gowanus. Crawling through downtown Brooklyn. Fender benders abound. The overhead warning sign reads "Disabled Vehicle Approaching Kosciuszko Bridge." Grimace. But when you see the poor car service guy in his Town Car, trunk up, waving a red plastic shopping bag like a balloon, all you can think is, There but for the grace of God....

A much better summer ride:
The Great Roller Boller Coaster at South Beach, Staten Island. (Image courtesy NYPL.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Directions in Chile

A word of advice for those traveling in Chile. Keep a close eye for a little arrow on a street sign. It means one way, no two ways about it. The arrows are small but very real. I learned the hard way, on a very sleepy low-season Sunday morning, touring the Cathedral plaza of La Serena, the country's oldest city and capitol of the Coquimbo region. We passed the Cathedral, then turned left passing the Regional Governor's Office. As we turned left again to pass the Post Office, we met a car turning right at us. As we did, a Chilean police officer on the Post Office steps gently gestured for us to slow down (or so we thought). We completed the tour by turning left onto the street we came in on. In each case, we were going the wrong way on a one-way street--always under the watchful eye of the carabinero.
(Photo by Rob Woodward of
We realized our mistake, and very, very slowly turned the car around as he calmly walked toward us across the plaza. I got out of the car, ready to apologize and try to explain (all without speaking Spanish). "Lo siento...," I lamely began. The first thing he did was extend his right hand to shake mine. "Hola," he said then asked me where we were from. I began to say we were tourists and he gently interrupted me. "En Chile...." He went on to explain slowly but clearly that, "In Chile, we look for the direction of the street before we turn onto it." And that was it. He wished us a good trip and we were on our way. He walked back to the PO steps followed by one of the many stray dogs.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bumpy Stuff Down South

Speedbumps are ubiquitous in Chile, along with rumble strips. Sometimes you get the "Lento" warning painted on the pavement, sometimes you don't. I never learned what Chileans called their speedbumps but according to this excellent post on El Pedalero blog, one Chilean slang term is lomo de toro, or "back of the bull." That's about how they feel.

The edifice pictured here covers a stream leading to the river below. The road naturally provided all the speedbumps necessary. It leads down to the cabana we stayed in at the tiny village of Alcoguaz in the Elqui Valley of northern Chile. Getting down to the cabana in our little Chevy Spark rental was challenging enough. Getting back up the hill and across this concrete slab, without breaking an axle, almost did us in. Both passengers had to disembark before I could get the torque (and confidence) to do so.

When we'd asked Eric, our Avis guy, back at the La Serena airport, what kind of car the Spark was, he replied: "It's a good car. It has four doors. But it's a city car. If you call me and say, 'Eric we drove in a river....'" We got the message. Or did we?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Panamerican Gringo

"Ruta 5," Chile's longest
As your correspondent heads to South American (winter) climes for a week or so, new posts are likely to be spare to none. Maybe an Autopista update or two. Or at least a Pisco Sour one.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Rapturous Prose

A postcard from William Gaddis to John B. Aldridge, dated 24 July 1985:

Dear Jack,
Glad and relieved to hear from you, it seems a very long time & we'd hoped you might pass through; glad also that the book did reach you & kept your generous regard for my work unblemished. (I'd wanted this Rapture for the book's jacket, but the folks in Sherman Texas feared the book might have swear words in it & so declined.) Again, let us know if you do pass through.
our best to you both
Bill Gaddis

The book is Gaddis' novel Carpenter's Gothic. The painting on the front of the postcard is "The Coming Rapture" by Texas painter Charles Anderson, which, according to Read, Seen, Heard, has appeared on over 5 Million prints and postcards since 1975.

The Letters of William Gaddis has just been published. It's not quite as good as discovering a lost Gaddis novel, but it's damn close.

(It's a pity Gaddis never took on automobile culture as one of his institutions for parody, along with public art, business, education, law.... He did however invent the "Sosumi" car brand for A Frolic of His Own. It figures in one of the book's legal cases.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Watch Your Head

One of my favorite features of the design of Lehman High School, which spans the Hutchinson River Parkway, is the sidewalk on the east side of the building. It runs along the offramp from the Hutch at East Tremont Ave. As the street slopes upward, and lines of the building remain level, it just runs out of headroom. Paradoxical design at its best.
Guggenheim, East Bronx

Thursday, May 16, 2013

If It Ain't Got That Swing

After an extensive five-borough survey, the BTB Research Bureau presents its candidate for the tree-swing closest to a major traffic artery. That is the off-ramp of the Hutchinson River Parkway by Lehman High School in the Bronx in the background.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Or leave the median patches at the BQE-LIE exchange the way they are and plant a sign, "Welcome to Queens, Waddadump!"

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Field of Dreams

Or Desert of Maspeth? In contrast to many highway verges profiled in earlier posts, Greening the BQE, the large barren patches where the LIE and the BQE split stand out like a sore thumb. In yesterday's post, I proposed an inflatable blue gorilla, like the one that previously adorned the New York Auto Auction in Brooklyn. What about a fountain? Public art? A final resting place for Serra's Tilted Arc? Paging Maya Lin. The Research Bureau is soliciting your suggestions.
Your Art Here
My search for an overhead photo of this blighted terrain was fruitless. A quick Google Maps search for "Maspeth BQE" will easily bring it up on Satellite view. I did discover the "Interchange of the Week" series on the Empire Roads site. Click here for the "Stub of the Week" for 18 June 2001 (hint: the LIE is involved.)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Duck Soup

Quack, Quack (Photo: CNN)
Giant (54') rubber duck in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, the work of artist Florentijn Hofman. The best news is that its next stop will be somewhere in the U.S. Could we hope for the East River (or West River, as we call it in Queens)? Imagine the children of Maspeth and Greenpoint lined up along the Newtown Creek to wave, point, and cry "Ducky, Ducky!"

If we don't get it, how about a 32' inflatable blue gorilla for the no man's land where the LIE peels off the eastbound BQE?

Saturday, May 11, 2013


The best thing about being stuck on the BQE yesterday afternoon was learning that Raylicious Is Better Than Delicious. It almost got the taste out of my mouth of the Infragistics Corporation sign I'd seen in central New Jersey earlier in the day.
Photo: Eating in Translation

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

To Each His Own (to Own)

Next door to BQE Discount Wine and Liquors, Greenpoint.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Courtesy Ron Paul Forums
I saw my first "Rand Paul for President" bumpersticker today. It was on a Chevy Aero, which pulled into the center lane of Victory Boulevard on Staten Island to take a left turn. The driver didn't use a turn signal. I don't know if this was carelessness or a political statement.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Welcome to Ash-Land

Saw a poster in the 61st St.-Woodside LIRR station for an "Escorted Day Trip with the Long Island Rail Road to the Gatsby Mansion Tour." Hats off to the MTA for figuring out a tie-in to the new 3D Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio. It gave us an idea at the BTB Travel Bureau for an "Escorted Day Trip with the MTA to the Valley of the Ashes." That's right, folks, take the 7 train to the site of what Fitzgerald described as the "Valley of the Ashes" as seen from the train between Manhattan and West Egg, Long Island:

"A fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air." 

The superb scholarship of Literary Kicks blog locates the events described in the novel in and around a then massive trash-burning operation outside Flushing, Queens. Which would soon be dismantled, and the river it skirted drained, to create Flushing Meadows Park, home to two Worlds Fairs. As LK points out, traces of the neighborhood, "under the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg," where Tom's mistress Myrtle's husband George runs an auto garage,  live on in the car repair shops and associate businesses of the Iron Triangle.

This afternoon, the Park was filled for an event Scott or his characters could scarcely have imagined: Cinco de Mayo.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Booze & Blues

Despite the expressway's length and proximity to densely populated neighborhoods, the BQE name does not adorn many businesses, at least that I know of. I suppose its associations go before it. One business that does proudly embrace the name is BQE Discount Wine & Liquors in Greenpoint.
While we are on the subject of branding, note the NYPD-blue advertisement and matching peaked roof on the building behind.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Greening the BQE - Redux

As promised, a return to the mighty tree that occupies the narrow median between Meeker Street and the BQE onramp in Greenpoint (off McGuiness Boulevard). The tree is leafing out in two shades of green. And the onramp itself offers a verdant if brief drive.
Green on red

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

High There

Every now and then a cherry picker emerges above the Kosciuszko Bridge on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek. It's a bit disconcerting for drivers. This time I noticed the NYFD logo on the side of the basket. A drill of some kind, maybe. Is that supposed to make me feel more comfortable?