Greenpoint, October, 2015

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Streetlight Serenade

Drawings of LIE at BQE facing east
This archival drawing comes from Jeff Saltzman's Streetlights & Highways Blog. Yes, a blog about streetlights. What an eccentric!

Here's Jeff's description of the drawing:

The top drawing is from the late 60's, before the construction began for the upper deck and not long after the SLECO bigloops replaced the eliptical armed poles and incandescent lights, that still graced the BQE. The westbound LIE exit for the southwest bound BQE indeed had a traffic light, and poles along the ramp sported little razor-like sensors that I assume were clocking traffic, probably in preparation for the reconstruction of this whole scene. The sensors were appended to normal eliptical crookarms. The brown stains at the top were from old Cellophane tape, which I used to connect reams of these legal pad sheets together. After I made a linked set of the newer LIE doubledeck setup, I disconnected the old version, of which the top view was part of, and spliced in the new version, below [see below].

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Another Crazy White Emperor

In The Power Broker, his massive biography of Robert Moses, Robert Caro recounts how, during the construction of the BQE, Moses rented a penthouse in the Marguerite Hotel in Brooklyn to use as an office: "He spent a lot of time looking down at it, watching the cranes and derricks and earth-moving machines that looked like toys far below him moving about in the giant trench being cut through mile after mile of densely packed houses, a big black figure against the sunset in the late afternoon, like a giant gazing down on the giant road he was molding."
I can't find any evidence online for a Marguerite Hotel. Looks like the magnificent Caro goofed and he is talking about the former Hotel Margaret in Brooklyn Heights, seen above in a pre-BQE image from 1930. The photo comes from the awesome City Noise website page about New York City in 1930. (BTW: Werner Herzog was the crazy white emperor referred to in previous post--not me. I think RM and WH would have a lot to talk about.)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Godspede You Crazy White Emperor!

Kathryn Bigelow
I encountered this unexpected piece by Kathryn Bigelow, filmmaker and conceptual artist, on my way to see the great Les Blank documentary, Burden of Dreams, about the making of Werner Herzog's Fitzcaraldo, at MOMA. You see it at the base of the escalator just before you enter the theater. It's ironically appropriate for the film, which describes the nearly insurmountable and sometimes self-imposed challenges Herzog faced in making the film, including, famously, getting a steamboat up a 40 degree incline and between two rivers. So, next time you're on the BQE, or your own personal journey metaphor, just be glad you're not pulling a 360-ton boat behind you.

I have always thought "Godspeed" was a wish for a speedy journey and, in part, it is. A check on the derivation turns up a broader meaning: from the Middle English, "God spede [prosper] you." I still like my naive idea of God speeding along over hill and dale.

(The title of this post refers, of course, to the recently reunited Canadian band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Robert Moses' Layer Cake

There's no doubt that the view from the Brooklyn Heights Esplanade offers one of the great prospects of Downtown Manhattan and the Harbor. Here's the view (right) I am experiencing two layers below on the BQE headed west. Actually it opens up dramatically seconds later--over the Harbor, Governors Island, the ferries, Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.

The original plan for the BQE was to gouge six parallel traffic lanes through Brooklyn Heights, the way they were through the other neighborhoods. The community objected and proposed a three-decker with private gardens on top. Moses went along with it--under the condition that the top layer was a public promenade. So, for the views from above and below, thanks Robert Moses!

See the invaluable NYRoads (source for top photo) site for more of the story.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not Qool

Greetings from Brooklyn's NEXT Next Soho
How did Shea Stadium, a music club, end up in Bushwick? Or Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop organic farm, in Long Island City--they might have at least called it Brooklyn View Grange. They got Spuyten Duyvil, a bar, from the Bronx a while back. Is it cultural colonialism Brooklyn style? Or a good, old fashioned Queens identity complex? I mean, nobody ever suggested calling it the QBE. Even Anthony Weiner, who represents both boroughs, chose to announce his resignation in Sheepshead Bay.

One thing we can agree on, though, as my friend John points out: It's only the East River if you're in Manhattan. He lives in Brooklyn.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Take the Tank?!

For years, I have been fruitlessly trying to introduce into the language the expressions "Take the Hat"and "Jump on the Hat" for driving on the Mass Pike. This is, of course, based on the Pike's longstanding symbol, the Pilgrim's Hat. I well remember being lost in the backstreets of Boston looking for that oddly small sign to point me towards "The Hat." Sometimes it was just an image--no words necessary.

Why doesn't the BQE have a symbol of its own? And if it did, what would it be? If this were 20 years ago, a burned out or burning car might have been appropriate. What about the iconic rooftop NYC water tank? But is that specific enough to the BQE? Nominations, please.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ghost Train

The rumors are true. There is a number 13 train that the MTA workers take out periodically in the wee wee hours, skipping all stops, and planning the most infernal and paralyzing service interruptions imaginable. I guess they just forgot to take the sign off this car I encountered on an otherwise normal 7 train.

Not unlike the seals near Dublin, which Flann O'Brien (or more properly, Myles na Gopaleen) reports, "the brother says do often come up out of the water at night-time and do be sittin above in the trams when they're standin in the stables. And they do be upstairs too. Begob, the brother says it's a great sight of a moonlit night to see your men with the big mustaches on them sittin upstairs in the trams lookin out. And they do have the wives and young wans along with them, of course."

"Is that a fact?"

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


If a synecdoche is a figure of speech wherein a part of something represents the whole thing, what do you call it when the thing itself is the thing it carries? Portadoche? Analaportia? Tototrucia? A scrap-meal company truck on the BQE gives pause to wonder--and suggests giving it a wide berth.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Raz na wozie...

In my previous post, I referred to the Polish proverb, "Raz na wozie, raz pod wozem," which I translated, "One time riding the wagon, the next time under it."  Every time I have an unexpectedly smooth run on the BQE, I think "Raz na wozie..."  as a kind of memento mori for the return trip.

I've been trying to think of an English language equivalent.  One site offers, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,"but that doesn't quite do it.  The Polish Wikipedia site gives us the French: "un jour c'est blanc, un jour c'est noir," but this loses the connection to travel and its unique travails and tortures.  I hate to think the best we can do are the 1971 Jerry Reed song, "When you're hot, you're hot/When you're not, you're not" or the Grateful Dead's "When life seems like easy street/There is danger at your door." That song also came from 1971--what was it about that year?

The photo at right is from Batory Expres, a Polish-Hungarian traveling art extravaganza project.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Peas and Portents

It was just a cold front coming in to blow away the awful heat and humidity. But it felt like a night of portents on the BQE--floods and sideways lightning (not pictured).  Portending what?  The Black-Eyed Peas concert in Central Park canceled (and the Sheep Meadow evacuated)?  The Red Sox beating the Yankees at the Stadium (after a long delay) to sweep the series and take an 8-1 lead in the season series?  That must be it. Ah, but we Sox fans must always remember the Polish proverb: "Raz na wozie, raz pod wozem"--One time riding the wagon, the next under it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Where the Jalfrezi Meets the Jollibee

I took these photos from the 7 train as it passed over the BQE between the 74th and 69th street stations--one on the way into Manhattan, the other on the way back to Queens. On the west side of the BQE is a small Philippine neighborhood, where there was much excitement when the fast-food restaurant Jollibee (see below) opened in Woodside a couple years. On the east is the famous Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi mecca (sic) of Jackson Heights. The BQE divides as it connects. Fortunately it's just a two-minute walk between worlds on Roosevelt Ave.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Digital or Digit?

A couple weeks ago I was walking down Broadway in the Village.  I was about to cross the street when a car sailed into the crosswalk in front of me. From the angle of the car and the driver's head, I could tell she was looking for her first chance to take a right on red.  Illegal in NYC.  With considerable restraint, I said, "What the hell are you doing?" She responded, dismissively, "Fuck off." As I passed in front of her car, I employed the eloquent, efficient, and emotive signal I grew up with--I flipped her off.

As I walked on, it occurred to me how rarely this seems to happen now.   It was about two years ago when  I was last flipped off.  I was headed west on the BQE under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.  A driver cut me off on the curve in a fashion even I thought too aggressive, so I flipped her off.  She held up her middle finder to her rearview mirror.  Bird-in-the-Mirror.  Nice move, I thought, and smiled.  It felt so familiar and, strange to say, friendly.

Maybe we're all too busy texting each other to send out the original analog WTF or FU message.

There are lots of histories of the gesture on the Internet, tracing it back to the British archers at the battle of Agincourt or the ancient Greeks.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tulipa bequensis

Late-spring on the Gowanus Expressway. Hope and rebar spring eternal.