Greenpoint, October, 2015

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

SubTalk & SubWalk

In anticipation of the upcoming MTA campaign against "manspreading," "door-hogging," "pole-hugging," and other breaches of subway etiquette, I am rerunning this BTB post from December 18, 2011. Scroll down for a possible mascot for the new campaign!

This is the time of year tourists visit our fair city en masse. Since many of them are unfamiliar with our subterranean lifestyle, I thought it would be helpful to provide a little primer on subway ways. (This might be a good refresher for all of us. Clip it out and put it on your fridge!) I've boiled it down to five essential tips, organized into a handy ABC mnemonic:

A little Alacrity goes a long way! Yes, it's right and proper to let people off the train before you get on. But de-training passengers, you too need to shake a leg and clear the train promptly. Otherwise it's gridlockistan.

Your are Bigger than you think! That backpack is taking up my space! Take it off and hold it by your side. As for bicycles: use the first or last cars of the train, which are typically less crowded; better yet, ride them on the street. (Don't complain, in Warsaw, you'd be charged an extra ticket for big bags or bikes.)

Jiri Kovanda, Prague
Put a Cork in it! The subway is loud enough. Please avoid shouting, loud laughter, and hooting!

Do the right thing. When using the stairs, use the righthand side for going up or down. Just like you drive back home. When using the escalator, stand on the right so that people can pass on the left. (We're not bastards, mostly, just in a hurry!)

Eat your heart out! But don't eat lunch on the subway (or bus). If not for other passengers' sake, for your own dignity (not to mention health)!

Thanks, Cardvark!
So enjoy your time in New York City, spend a lot of money, don't be afraid to ask directions, and tell everybody you learned your NYC ABC's from Cardvark!

(JirĂ­ Kovanda is a Czech artist who performed various "actions" in the early 1970s, including standing backwards on Metro escalators and looking into the eyes of riders behind him. Not recommended in NYC.)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fun on Boxing Day

There are several accounts of how Boxing Day (December 26) gets its name. Putting things in boxes (and bags) and taking them to the dump (transfer station) seems as good a version as any.
Here is your correspondent's brother Tony beside the well-stuffed Subaru (which doubles in summer as a beach wagon) at our parents' place in Westerly, RI.
No need to separate bottles, cans, papers, and cardboard these days.
We had no paints to recycle, but if you do, the Westerly dump is well organized and equipped to handle it, along with televisions, electronics, propane tanks, dry wood, sheet rock, and much more. (Official site here.)
Clean as a whistle. For some reason, the next generation has not enthusiastically embraced this Boxing Day tradition. Perhaps it didn't grow up on "Alice's Restaurant," as ours did.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Lights

The 7 local adds a festive green, don't you think?

Merry Christmas from BTB and all the boys and girls in the Research Bureau.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Merry in Maspeth

Holiday greetings from the Plain People of the Maspeth Plateau. 69th St. and L.I.E.
(Photo: F. Allen)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Bag It

As everybody knows, the Kosciuszko Bridge and environs are getting a full-out repaving, with the work being conducted between 10 P.M. and 5 A.M. Which means there are times when there is no roadwork ahead to alert drivers to. The DOT has a high-tech way to handle that situation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hands Free, Heart Pounding

Westbound on the Gowanus Expressway at 11:15 a.m. I had just reached the split with the Belt Parkway. It's a bit hard to describe, but this is the point where the two righthand lanes continue on to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and Staten Island, the center center-left lane dips down to feed onto the Belt Parkway, and the lefthand ("zipper") lane curves up and around and eventually rejoins the Gowanus Expressway headed towards S.I.--except when it is carrying traffic in the opposite direction.

Of course, I chose the single "zipper lane," which had just opened to westbound traffic. As soon as I did, I spotted something dark in the roadway, about two feet in from the lefthand Jersey barrier. At first I thought it was a piece of fabric or carpet or a garbage bag (pretty common sights on the BQE). As I got closer, I realized it was a rectangular manhole cover that had somehow been jarred open, one of its corners angled up at oncoming drivers. It wasn't difficult to avoid, but my stomach churned as I thought of somebody hitting it.

I dialed 911 on my cellphone and chose "Hands-Free," not something I do often or well. The operator's voice came through but faintly. For some reason, the music I had been listening to didn't cut out the way it is supposed to. And I couldn't figure out how to make it shut off or turn it down without losing the call volume. To hear the operator, I had to turn up the volume--and with it the music, which happened to be Dwight Yoakam singing "Long Way to Go" (from the fine 3 Pairs album).

911. Are you reporting an emergency?

Wishin' is only wishin'

Uhm, no. A highway hazard.

Till my only thought's the wish to be with you

Go ahead sir.

It's on the BQE. I mean, it's on the Gowanus Expressway.

"I've got a long way to go before I get there"

What exit number?

I don't know. 19, I think. Just after the split with the, what's it, Belt Parkway. There's a manhole cover open.

I've got a lot of field to hoe with the sun so high

So that's the Gowanus Expressway near Exit 19?

Yes, it's the lane on the far left, just after the split with the Belt.

Got a lot of miles to roll

And there is a manhole cover open?

And the next few only show

Yes, it's sticking up. If someone hit it...

That there's still such a long way to go.

She took my name and phone number, and gave me her operator's number. I didn't try to remember it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

High Desert

Inch by inch we achieve the point at which the Gowanus Expressway becomes the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Only to stultify high above the Gowanus Canal. Our neighbors heading towards the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel have better luck.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Luxury You Can Afford

Nothing says luxury like Rolex. Unless it's the stretch of the BQE between the Kosciuszko Bridge and the Queens Boulevard exit.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gnarly Marly

Making the Marly sign in Greenpoint, on any given night, is a good sign. You are on the bridge (Koscisuzko, of course), and so practically home free. On a snowy Wednesday night, with rubbernecking caused by an accident on the other side--some poor bastard in a Sentra merged with a Department of Corrections bus--I finally had a chance to photograph it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Everybody Needs a Shovel

Resurfacing the Kosciuszko Bridge is a big job. And it calls for big machines. During the day, for the last several weeks, this monster has sat idle on 65th Place just beyond the BQE off-ramp.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Steam Mayor

From the Behind the Water Tower blog (a BTB favorite):

Wolsztyn elects new mayor
Monday, 24 November 2014 by 
Wojciech Lis
Wojciech Lis, the newly elected Mayor of Wolsztyn.
Photo Wojciech Lis.
The recent local elections have seen a change in leadership in Wolsztyn.
The new Mayor is Wojciech Lis, known to many for his factual and regular updates on the Wolsztyn steam scene through his website, which he has operated for well over a decade.
It is clear that since the suspension of the regular scheduled service, the town has been substantially quieter.  It is hoped that such an openly pro-steam mayor will vigorously push for the reinstatement of the daily steam services.
Behind the Water Tower congratulates Mr Lis on his election, and wishes him well for his tenure.

...and from Flann O'Brien (another BTB favorite):

For Steam Men

I took a trip to Belfast the other day on business of a kind that cannot be discussed here or elsewhere. I was not five minutes in the train until I realised that the engine-driver belonged to the 'full regulator, short cut-off' school. In my own railway days I used to work the locomotive as a high pressure simple (indeed, the design of the steam chest made no other course feasible) with cut-off as high as 60 per cent. That was before the days of the de Glehn compound or the Walschaerts gear. (I knew Walschaerts well, he was the best of fellows and a prince among steam men.) I am not criticising the G.N.R. driver. He knows his 'car' better than I. It is true, nevertheless, that the modern low pressure cylinder is not there for nothing. Where you have 'hard steaming', short cut-off with full regulator will nearly always lead to disparity in pressure readings between boiler and steam chest. They tell me that modern research at Dundalk has show otherwise, but that is all my eye and Betty Martin.
     At Belfast I noticed that the valve rod had lost adjustment and nobody was less surprised than myself. I hate to see machinery tortured.

-Flann O'Brien (Myles na Gopaleen), from The Best of Myles

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ramping Up to Red and Green

I took these photos a few weeks ago when I was wandering around Snug Harbor on Staten Island's north shore. I posted one I took from the top of the ramp leading down to a disused and broken landing dock and pathway along the Kill.
It was only later that I noticed that the couple shots I have looking up the ramp were timed to catch a green light and a red light on Richmond Terrace. Green in sunlight, red in shadow.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Staten Island Expressway from Victory Boulevard.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Begob, Here's Me 'Bus

Sixth Ave. and 35th St., Monday after a Thanksgiving weekend. Mild temperatures and... what's that parked along the curb by Macy's?
Bus #9098 from the NYCTA's (now MTA) vintage bus fleet. Just sitting there, front door wide open, no driver in sight. A paper sign taped inside one of the passenger windows helpfully informs us that this two-tone green GM Model 5106 was purchased along with 120 others in 1958. It was in operation from then until 1972 on Brooklyn and Staten Island routes. Not a bad run. Here's the view from the driver's seat.
Looking back: How many New Yorkers have claimed one of those wraparound fiberglass seats?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sun Dial

A mechanical Sun God blasted against the sky. Below the headless mortals toil.

ConEd at work on Victory Boulevard, S.I. (Nov. 2014)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Making Tracks

Early afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving. I had East Beach in Charlestown, RI, practically to myself. A 4WD's  tracks (they're legal here in the off-season) suggest that somebody beat me to it. A solitary fishing boat on the horizon, heading in.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ramping Down

Across busy Richmond Terrace from Snug Harbor, a path leads down to the waterfront. Here, I suppose, the old salts came down to gaze wistfully at the ships plying the Arthur Kill. Or not. Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your grog.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

You Bet

Old-fashioned, small-scale, low-altitude billboards still adorn rooftops of a few buildings near the BQE in Greenpoint. This one seems to have been stripped down to an older message: "New Casino." Business name? Political statement? Art project? Ironic comment on the neighborhood?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Secaucus Sunset

Traveling by train from Washington to New York. Just outside of Philadelphia we are stopped for 20 minutes while some passengers from a disabled southbound train are boarded into our cafe car. Others stayed on board, waiting for the next southbound train, or a new engine?
In Newark, a parking lot hard by the Passaic.
How many lanes and rails for traffic in this picture? (Even with a couple of the distant Pulaski Skyway shut down for repair.)
The earlier delay has allowed us to be in Secaucus as sunset begins.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Life Span

Happy 50th Birthday to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge!
I won't be on the bridge today. I guess I'll miss the Port Authority cupcakes.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grammar Breakdown

"Disabled truck approaching Koscisuszko Bridge." Begs the question, for how long has that poor truck been approaching the bridge? Syntactically confusing, practically all too revealing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Block of Ice

Unseasonably cold nights, like last night, are generally good for traffic. Or bad for traffic--and good for drivers. Semantics aside, a trip that usually takes an hour plus was done in 32 minutes. I made the light at Roosevelt Avenue, not a car in front of me. No danger of blocking the box.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Rain gear comes in all shapes and sizes. I was behind this guy for half a block before I realized it was a tray of pizza dough he was simultaneously transporting and using for shelter. Headed toward another corner pizzeria--one that probably would be out of business but for its location below one of the busiest subway stations in the entire system (and one that sees very few Italians).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Third and Long Memories

Twice in the past week, I found myself passing the corner of Third Avenue and 51st St., once in a car and yesterday on foot. When I worked at a publishing house on Madison Avenue in the late 80's, my friend Leslie and I sometimes came here for pizza. The pizza wasn't very good, but it was cheap and a good excuse to get away from the office and the blandness of Madison Avenue for a few minutes.
There wasn't much left of the old Third Avenue in those days. Two blocks north, Philip Johnson's  "Lipstick Building" was going up. There's even less now. Just a lonely block here and there of those four-story tenements with first-floor storefronts.
What was the name of that pizza place?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Shades of Time

Best use of a (2013) planning calendar?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Leaf Drop and Lane Drop

Roving repairs to Hamilton Ave. create a moment to contemplate the passing season. From the passing lane.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


A girl and her mother beneath the elevated tracks on Roosevelt Avenue. Seen from a Q33 bus.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

And Paving!

It's hard to believe the ground floor of this Queensboro Plaza building is available, what with its spectacular view of Dutch Kills Green, not to mention proximity to the N and Q trains.

According to the developer, New York City Economic Development Corporation's site, Dutch Kills Green is: [A] sustainably-designed 1.5 acre open space ... part of the $45 million Queens Plaza roadway, pedestrian, and bicycle improvement project that has transformed the primary entry point into Queens. The former John F. Kennedy commuter parking lot has been transformed into a green space that features wetlands, native plantings, artist-designed benches and paving."
(Photo: Finnian Allen)
I'm not exactly sure where the standing stones fit in. The place reminds me a bit of Jewish cemeteries I saw in central Europe. Welcome to Queens!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Elmhurst Noir

Just 17 miles on the Gowanus and Brooklyn-Queens Expressways separate Todt Hill, Staten Island, from the temples and bodegas of Elmhurst.
No turns indeed.

Friday, November 7, 2014

S.I. Noir

Harold Street is my preferred back route from the College to the SI Expressway. With plenty of twists and turns, hills and dales, it dumps you onto the expressway less than a mile from the bridge. A few lights, a few stop signs, a foggy night.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lanes and Lines

The SI Expressway seen from Bradley Avenue overpass.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Get Your Bridge On

As you can see, the Research Bureau has been busy. The question is, what are they doing on the Brooklyn side?

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge: A Round Table Discussion from a Staten Island Perspective
Tuesday, November 4, 2014, 2:30-4:00pm

College of Staten Island
Library Archives, 1L-216

Join us for this fiftieth anniversary observance of the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as three College of Staten Island faculty members present observations and lead a discussion of the meaning of the bridge for Staten Islanders.

Staten Island and the Art of Disappearing
Prof. David Allen, School of Education
This talk explores the representation of Staten Island before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the novels of Jane Bowles and Dawn Powell. In their works, the Island serves as contrast to, even a hiding place from, the social and artistic milieu of Manhattan—a possibility all but eliminated by the opening of the Bridge.

The Demographic Impact of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Prof. Alan Benimoff, Department of Engineering Science and Physics
Utilizing historic maps and GIS mapping techniques, Prof. Benimoff will illustrate the impact the bridge and its network of roads had on populations and land use. Did grass-roots environmental victories lead to traffic and zoning snafus? What would Staten Island look like today had Robert Moses’ vision been enacted?

The Politics of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Prof. Richard Flanagan, Chair, Department of Political Science and Global Affairs
Why was Staten Island and Brooklyn joined by a bridge and not a tunnel? Why did earlier plans to build a bridge fail? What was Robert Moses’ role in the decision to build the bridge? What underlies the bridge toll policy as it applies to Staten Island residents? Prof. Flanagan will explore these and other topics from the perspective of a political scientist.