Greenpoint, October, 2015

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Something Wild Again

Wait, are you telling me there's a film with John Waters, John Sayles, and the band the Feelies (playing a high school reunion dance)? Not to mention the greatest Melanie Griffith performance ever as Lulu the bejeweled hipster-flapper who (more or less) kidnaps Jeff Daniel's mild-mannered but rebel-at-heart office slave Charlie Driggs?  And a really scary Ray Liotta as the ex?  And you haven't seen it? At least twice? In over a decade? True, it takes place mostly in NJ, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Long Island (it's a road movie) but it somehow nails New York in the manic mid-80s.  Jonathan Demme made it.  Criterion has just rereleased it on DVD.  It's worth watching for the opening credits alone--a water tour of New York City over the gorgeous David Byrne and Celia Cruz track "Loco de Amor." But every track is great. And, yes, there's a glimpse of the BQE as it passes under the Brooklyn Bridge--though not in the trailer. Check it out:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


The blog takes
 a brief siesta as
your driver heads
off to a distant
even than Staten Island.

Here's hoping
that construction
on the Gowanus
is wrapped up
by the time I
get back--oh, and
that we finally
get some decent
weather for

The ad on the left
for  the New Haven
Railroad appeared
in 1956, and is part
of MOMA's

If you're curious
where I'm headed,
the shape of this
post offers a

Monday, May 23, 2011

Traffic and Time

From Traffic by Kenneth Goldsmith

The transcriptionist poet Kenneth Goldsmith recently read excerpts from his book of transcribed 1010-WINS traffic reports at the White House to a smiling President Obama. Growing up in southeastern Connecticut, it was CBS-880 on the AM radio. I'm not exactly sure why, since, in all other ways, we were a Boston (or at least Rhode Island) leaning family. I guess my mother liked the way they covered the news, especially the lengthier and grislier murder trials (Claus von Bulow is a classic). So the BQE, GWB, LIE and Pulaski Skyway were already in my consciousness long before they had any material reality.  I can almost recall the names of the traffic reporters in the "CBS Chopper," but not quite.  I do remember how the whirring of the blades provided a white-noise backdrop to their reports. With the advent of iPhone traffic aps, will this genre too be lost to the vicissitudes of time and doubtful progress?

Saturday, May 21, 2011


We know that anthropomorphism refers to projecting human characteristics or traits onto something that's not human.  But what's the term for projecting bird characteristics onto something that's not a bird?

These massive cranes (above, not right) are seen from the LIE offramp from the BQE. I'm guessing they belong to APA Restoration Corporation, listed in the yellow pages as Dock Builders. But, in keeping with BTB's Operating Principle #1: Never get off the BQE to investigate, I can't know for sure.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Guest Artist!

This beautiful, trippy early morning photo was taken by FOB (Friend of the Blog) and bicoastal (East Coast of US/West Coast of Newfoundland) artist Robyn Love.  Not everybody gets to take in the BQE at 5:20 A.M. so we're lucky to have Robyn document the experience for us.  Two more from the same series--which I call Approaching Kosciuszko/Approaching Konsciousness:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Do the Right Thing!

The photograph is from the artist Martha Rossler's 1995 series Rights of Passage.  While she mediates on how American highways embody the "twin dreams of escape and possession," I'll riff a bit on her title.  A nice play on rites/rights for sure, but is there another double meaning here?  I think so.  Given certain preconditions (valid license, registered and inspected car, etc.), we have a right to drive, but do we have a right to drive in the lefthand lane when we are not passing?  Who are these drivers who sit in the passing lane, going at speed or below, and forcing the rest of us to pass (illegally) on the left? Is it that they don't know or (more likely) don't care?

While I'm at it, I propose Mayor Bloomberg do all New Yorkers a public service with a massive "Do the Right Thing" campaign--I visualize billboards, posters on buses and in the subways, TV spots with Edie Falco and JLo, etc.  How much better would NYC work if pedestrians, by and large, walked on the right side of the sidewalk, stood on the right on escalators (say, at Grand Central) to let others pass on the left?  Or am I just dreaming?

Saturday, May 14, 2011


For readers who thought the Kosciuszko Bridge series was over, here's a brief coda. I took these shots approaching the bridge from the Brooklyn side at around 8:45 P.M. just to see what I could get.

Doubtless, the new bridge will be brightly illuminated in white light, calling attention to itself rather than the experience of driving in the city and, on this night anyway, the joy of moving fast on the BQE!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kenny G. Brings the BQE to the White House

Kenneth Goldsmith

An extraordinary event took place at the White House today. President Obama and the First Lady hosted a Celebration of American Poetry. Not so surprising, although they missed National Poetry Month by a couple weeks--was it roasting Donald Trump or killing Bin Laden? No, the really remarkable thing is that they invited the poet Kenneth Goldsmith, along with more predictable names: Rita Dove and Billy Collins (both former Poet Laureates) and Elizabeth Alexander, who delivered the inaugural poem at the President's inauguration.
There are (at least) two reasons Kenny Goldsmith's presence was so surprising. First, he describes himself as a "transcriptionist" rather than a poet. His books consist of transcribed speech from a range of sources: the complete radio commentary of a Yankees game to 24 hours worth of traffic reports from 1010 WINS radio.  At the White House event, he read excerpts from Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" and Hart Crane's "The Bridge," followed by two of those traffic reports from his own book Traffic. Not what you'd expect for a White House event. Way to go, Obamas!

Elizabeth Alexander
The second reason is a bit more obscure. Kenneth Goldsmith is also sometime WFMU DJ Kenny G. Last summer, on his "Kenny G's Hour of Pain" show, he did four one-hour shows entirely made up of transcribed traffic reports read by him. (It was a surreal experience to be driving on the BQE listening to traffic reports that talked about where you were but not when you were.) Better still, after the truly awful inauguration poem read by Elizabeth Alexander, Kenny G. invited listeners to take the sound file and contribute their own mash-ups.  They did, and it's some of the best radio you'll ever hear. I'm guessing Elizabeth Andrews and Michelle Obama hadn't heard it when they invited Kenny G; although Elizabeth did look a little nervous sitting next to Kenny, I think it was the suit he was wearing. Check it out:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From Maspeth to Malden

The State of New York DOT has released four potential designs to replace the Kosciuszko Bridge. The picture on top shows the design for a cable-stayed bridge. The picture below is of Boston's fairly recently completed Memorial Bridge. Stealing from Boston? Is this the best we can do? Really?! I mean, I'm a Red Sox fan and love the Pernice Brothers but come on.

My own solution is preserve and repair the existing KB, fabricate a second just like it, duct-tape the two together, a la the Red Green Show, and thus double the capacity for traffic without losing a beautiful piece of engineering and design.

The DOT page also includes goofy video simulation drives for each of the designs with mind-numbing background music.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Save a Penny, Lose a Bridge

How did people cross the Newtown Creek before the Kosciuszko Bridge? Here is the Penny Bridge (c. 1910), which the Kosciuszko replaced in 1939. It got its name, the story goes, from the 1-cent toll that was charged to cross between Maspeth and Greenpoint. The bridge sat above the site of a ferry begun in the 17th century by Humphrey Clay, an associate of Captain Kidd--pirates on the Newtown Creek?! Did the bridge have to go when the KB opened? No, according to the great NY Streets page on the Newtown Creek. That was another of Robert Moses' dubious decisions. The bridge might have remained to this day as a pedestrian and bike crossing. Had it done so, it's easy to speculate, the banks of the Newtown, rather than the Gowanus, might have become the next "New Soho."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Let Them Eat BQE!

After my post about Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a reader commented: "Surely there must be a Polish poet who captures the spirit of the BQE..."  Polish poets seem to be better with trains than autostradas, but it's a good point and I will keep looking. In the meantime, another kind of artistry, and a weekend diversion from the Kosciuszko Bridge series. When the new Wschod-Zachod (East-West) thoroughfare--popularly known as the W-Z or "Wuzetka" [voo-zet-ka]--opened in Warsaw 1949 it was celebrated as one of the first great rebuilding projects in Poland after the devastation of WWII. Naturally, a Warsaw baker created a cake to commemorate the event. Though not my favorite (that would be szarlotka), W-Z cake is still popular in Poland. Check out how those layers mimic the lanes of traffic. Could no Queens or Brooklyn baker have favored us with a "BQE Bon-Bon"?

For film footage of the W-Z and postwar Warsaw check out this film:


Friday, May 6, 2011


Tadeusz Kosciuszko, as every schoolchild* knows, was a Polish soldier who fought with the Continental Army in the American Revolution. As an engineer, he planned the defense of Saratoga--a battle widely thought to be a turning point in the war. He designed the fortifications at West Point, which, after the war, would become and remain the Army's military academy. He left the newly founded United States to take part in a failed uprising against Russia and Prussia, the reigning powers in Poland's "Second Partition." In his will, Kosciuszko left his property to his friend Thomas Jefferson so that Jefferson would use the money to purchase the freedom of his own slaves. Sadly, I don't believe Jefferson did--correct me if I'm wrong.

The Kosciuszko Bridge opened in 1939, a momentous year for Poland (and the world) and one that would witness the suspension of Poland's autonomy as a nation for decades to come. The sculpture of Kosciuszko is found on Wawel Hill in Krakow.

(*Every Polish schoolchild, that is.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Hope to Enter Here

This post begins an eagerly unanticipated series on the venerable Kosciuszko Bridge--while we still have her. But where is the bridge? Easy now, first you need to get onto the BQE. This is the view from the Queens side of the bridge on a pretty typical Tuesday morning: four lanes converging to a one-lane on-ramp to the BQE. That mean that seven lanes become three within, oh, an eighth of a mile of the bridge. Magic!

Well, we either need to build a new bridge--and that's the plan--or adopt my favored strategy: cut off access to the BQE from the LIE. That would eliminate two of those converging lanes. And would we really miss all those Long Islanders?

Next post: A little history. Polish history.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


My post yesterday about the manmade wonders of the Gowanus Canal brought back experiences with another city. In the very early eighties, I was a student at a small rural college in Ohio, eerily similar to Gary Shteyngart's Accidental College. My friend Kate and I got a little grant from the college to write a student's guide to Cleveland; the idea was to encourage students to take advantage of our nearest big city. Well, we did, spending a glorious summer driving in, going to rock clubs, exploring neighborhoods, eating and drinking--all on the college's dime. And we even finished the book (now extremely rare)!

As part of our research, we asked the college's professors and staff members to recommend places in Cleveland they liked. We got lots of recommendations for restaurants but the response that I remember, twenty-five years later, came from a professor of Russian/Soviet history Kate and I had both had and liked very much. As you drive across the overpass into Downtown Cleveland, she advised, be sure not to miss the spectacular "industrial landscape" that extended along the Cuyahoga River for miles in either direction--remnants of the city's heyday as a steel town. Now that's a professor you want to teach your children.

That amazing aerial photograph from 1954 is from the Cuyahoga River Online Collection at the Great Lakes Industrial History Center. Hey, where's the NYC Industrial History Center?!