Greenpoint, October, 2015

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Safety First or Who's on First?

Always a bit disconcerting to be looking down the business end of an official vehicle when you are traveling in its direction. I encountered these two guys being towed on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge headed east.  In the photo below, if you look closely, you can see both are emblazoned with the words "Public Safety" on their hoods. (You can also see a New York Post on the dashboard of the wagon, which may or may not have something to do with its current condition.)
Never Safer
Beloved CUNY
Not having looked closely enough myself to see what the shield on the passenger side door revealed, I poked about on-line and found lots of shields from Public Safety departments, mostly of cities and universities (like the one from CUNY at right). They seem to favor the same classic acorn design as Police departments. In my googling, I came up across the Emblem Authority (they design and make them), and, I believe, my favorite PD shield of all time, from Cooperstown, NY. I don't know if I feel safer seeing that, but I do feel friendlier.
Arff, Arff

Of course, the official logo of Cooperstown honors Major-General Abner Doubleday and the Baseball Hall of Fame. And it's pretty cool, too. I'd like to have hubcaps with this design.
"It's on to Pittsfield, men."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just Like Nua

From the Land of the Rising Son
Your correspondent's co-vehicle has been restored to magnificent fully-loadedness! It took the guys at Jiffylube to finally get the replacement hubcap on, leading to just three possible conclusions:
1. The part is defective;
2. Your correspondent is defective (and/or the handle of a squash racquet is not the appropriate tool); or (most likely)
3. The car has shrunk slightly.

No matter, it's back to the front to brave the iniquities of the BQE. And another thing (as Myles na Gopaleen would say). Flann O'Brien has proposed a solution to the pothole epidemic:

"This interesting wheel is peculiarly suitable for rough potholed roads. The steel tyre is undulated in a way that will give the vehicle a series of uniform bumps. This element of periodicity reconciles the human body to what is called Anró na marcuigheachta (literally saddle-soreness) and has the effect, paradoxically enough, of making rough roads smooth. Try it and see." (From At War.)

Monday, August 29, 2011


Polish poster
No that's not the BQE, but a still from Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 film Solaris, based on the 1961 novel by Stanislaw Lem*. Fans (and/or survivors) of the 167-minute epic will remember that, relatively early on, there is a long sequence in which former cosmonaut Burton drives into "the City" from the idyllic countryside via a bewildering and futuristic constellation of highway under- and overpasses.

Tarkovsky shot it using the Shuto Expressway (首都高速道路) outside Tokyo. He famously claimed that he wanted it to be that long, nearly five minutes, to drive away viewers. In contrast, Kris Kelvin's voyage to the space station Solaris, which immediately follows the highway sequence, takes less than 30 seconds.

You can watch the entire sequence on Youtube (below). You can also watch a fascinating "low-rez remake" of the sequence created from Google Streetview digital videos (it's only 2 minutes). In principle, there is no reason I couldn't similarly create a remake of my daily commute on the BQE. I can already hear the MacArthur Foundation calling... Here's the original:

Here's the low-rez remake:

*This extraordinary novel has only recently been translated directly from Polish into English (for years, the only available translation came from an earlier French translation). It is available only as an audiobook; well worth listening to--all 7 hours 48 minutes of it. Hari, is that you?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not without Contention

I recently came into possession of a curious book, Geographical Issues on Maritime Names: Special Reference to the East Sea--a title worthy of Borges or Stanislaw LemIt was published in 2010 by the Northeast Asian History Foundation and contains 17 papers selected from annual meetings of the International Seminar on Sea Names. Who knew such a body existed?

The book ranges widely over historical, cultural, political, geographical, and linguistic aspects of the long, long dispute between Korea and Japan over the name of the sea that divides the countries. I don't claim to have read it all, but I venture I now know more about endonyms, exonyms, and plain old allonyms than you (sans Google, of course).

Among the many other fascinating pieces of information the book contains is a useful list of international bodies of water broken down by degree of contentiousness of naming. Among those in the category of High Degree of Contention are East Sea/Sea of Japan (of course), Persian Gulf, and the South China Sea. For Moderate Degree of Contention we have the Gulf of Thailand and the English Channel (Bien sur!). And for Low Degree of Contention, a long list includes the Irish Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the Bight of Biafra.

In vain will you search for our own "East River" on the list. For those of us living east of the river, this appellation has long been a misnomer, not to say, a bone of contention. While I would not go so far as to suggest it be renamed the West River, I think it is high time the issue be given the seriousness it is due. Perhaps at the next meeting of the ISSN? No word on when or where that will be held, but I might propose Staten Island, or should I say, Richmond?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane-Proofing, BQE Style

Why should the city come to a standstill because of a little wind and rain? Instead of boarding up, we need to open up. Here's a nifty possibility from a recent trip on the BQE.
100% Air-Cooled
 And another:
Sky Box
If you like that one, check out the "non-sign" billboard constructed by Lead Pencil Studio on the U.S.-Canadian border in Blaine, WA (welcoming our B.C. Buds). Thanks, Tina, for the tip.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Winfield Plaza, Redux or Redoubt?

Winfield Plaza (at 69th St & Woodside Ave.)
Another mystery solved! It has been pointed out that my post about Winfield Plaza and the absent Victorious America statue (aka Winfield War Memorial) was rife with error. No surprise there, but in this case the mistakes were not all my own making. To wit, if you followed the directions and map on the Parks Department's site to find Victorious America (or where she should be), you would wind up at 69th Street and Woodside Avenue, and the puzzlingly lower-cased "Bqe." And yes, you would find a Winfield Plaza there, and some Latino men waiting for construction jobs (who are understandably wary of having their pictures taken). What you wouldn't find are any signs of Victorious America.

65th Place & Mount Laurel Blvd
That's because Vicky's home is at 65th Place and Mount Laurel Boulevard (right), about four blocks away, also perilously close to the BQE. (In fairness, this info is on the Park's Department's site, but buried six paragraphs down.) As near as I can tell, this wee park is called "Victorious America at Winfield Plaza." Which is the real Winfield Plaza? Can there be more than one? Is one an exclave of the other? These are questions I will leave to WHAP's (Winfield Heights Alliance for Preservation) R&D Division.

As ever, Flann O'Brien put it best: "What way are we going? ... Or what direction are we heading for or are we on the way back from somewhere else?" (The Third Policeman)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beware of Greeks Bearing Dogs?

Lower Manhattan, 1962 (David Hurn)

Yesterday, as I was crossing the Gowanus Canal on the BQUEST (see previous post), I picked up the unmistakeable smell of hot dogs cooking--boiled, I'd say. It lasted for a quarter mile or less and didn't exactly whet my appetite for a dog--I prefer grilled. It did remind me of the mystery of the "nice smell" that haunted New York a few years ago.
I first encountered the nice smell on the BQE two years ago. It was entirely unexpected and unique. A little like cinnamon but somehow maltier. It stayed with me for a mile or so through South Brooklyn, and made me feel... How to put it? Well, better. I've encountered it once or twice since, generally on clear days with light wind, and it's always welcome.

The mystery was solved in 2009. After an investigation by the City, among other reasons to rule out "bioterrism cloaked in a pleasant aroma," it was determined the probable source was the Fruitarom plant in North Bergen, New Jersey (yes, New Jersey!), which processes fenugreek seeds to produce fragrances. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), literally "Greek weed," is an herb long prized for its culinary and medicinal properties.

Why not take advantage of its olfactory ones too? We could easily set up mini-processing stations and, periodically, infuse the nice smell throughout the city. The BQE is the ideal delivery vehicle. While I work on this, I hope someone is developing a fenugreek relish for my next curry dog.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Goodbye Gowanus

Those florescent orange construction signs overhang the BQE as it crosses the Gowanus Canal heading west. Have a good screw and you'll see the left one reads--almost like a haiku-- BQE/STAT IS/VNB. But hold on, doesn't the BQE end where the Gowanus Expressway begins, east of the canal?

Who cares? It's time the BQE annexed the Gowanus. The Gowanus is a canal, not an expressway? Whereas, if we extend the BQE to the VNB and, further, across STAT IS, we could rename it the BQUEST, instantly becoming the coolest highway name east of the Dan Ryan. For those of you about to point out the "E" stands for "Expressway" (and not the first "E" in Queens): Go buy a vowel.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bike-o-Paths or Pathobicyclitis?

Red Grooms, Bicyclist, 1975
Loyal readers will recall that, in my last post, I raised the question of why some, certainly not all, bicyclists ride with reckless disregard for the lowly "ped," let alone rules of the road: running red lights, riding on the sidewalk, and the like. More to the point, why are they so maddeningly disengaged about their bad behavior?

34% Bicycle
It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Flann O'Brien has provided the explanation--and the solution. In his novel The Third Policeman, completed in 1940 but not published until 1967, Sergeant Pluck explains to the nameless narrator the entire totality and sum of the Atomic Theory. In brief, whether man, sheep, or bicycle, "everything is composed of small particles of itself." When an object comes into prolonged or intense contact with another, some of the particles, or atoms, from the one will go into the other.

Here's Pluck: "The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of the bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are half people and half bicycles."

With a passable understanding of the theory, it is clear that many of our citizenry are on the way to becoming more bike than man (or woman). Bike messengers and delivery boys are too far gone to save. But there's still hope for the hipsters and dudes if we follow the sergeant's example--steal their bicycles. Yes, that's right, in order to preserve whatever human "mollycules" they have left, we must take their bikes and hide or dismantle them. Repeatedly, if necessary. You can curse Bloomberg and his bike lanes all you want, but if you care about your loved one, and he or she is spending more and more time on his/her bicycle*, there's no alternative.

(*Leaning against the wall on on one elbow rather than sitting is a sure sign of becoming bicycle.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Vintage Schwinn poster
The other day, as I was crossing a midtown avenue, a biker dude turning left off the cross street neatly bisected me from the person just in front of me. A common occurrence, to be sure--especially in some of the more hipsterswoggled neighborhoods. I had the presence of mind to shout into the side of his face as he flew by, "Hey man, it's our light!" adding, for good measure, "Asshole!!" Nothing. No response. Not even a dismissive turn of the head.

Must be the potentially lethal cocktail of adrenaline and self-righteousness, through whose fog many bikers dismiss the lowly "ped," I decided. But I know now that I was mistaken. Instead of judging brother biker harshly, I should have pitied him. The shocking but true explanation--and what we can do about it!--in my next post.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Myles under Ground

Via Associated Press
I have mentioned in an earlier post (Aug. 8) a plan to put a large swath of the BQE underground. Advantages: a quicker passage for drivers and diminution of noise, pollution, etc. for residents. According to today's Times, Seattle may beat us to it: "On Tuesday, voters here gave what amounts to a final blessing to a $2 billion, 1.7-mile, 56-foot-wide, deep-bore highway tunnel that will run below downtown skyscrapers and behind a sea wall that holds back Puget Sound," The project is modestly called the "Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program."

It comes as no surprise to me that Flann O’Brien long ago commented on the wisdom of such plans: “I notice that the current issue of Irish Travel is adorned with the Irish supertitle Cuaird Faoi Éirinn. So far as my knowledge goes, this means nothing more or less than ‘Travel Under Ireland’. The suggestion seems to be that the Irish Tourist Authority is taking note of the times we live in and is arranging underground tours for scared visitors. Such enterprise deserves (and gets herewith) unqualified commendation." (From At War, a collection of pieces from the “Cruiskeen Lawn” column in the Irish Times.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Winfield in Victory and Loss

This is Victorious America, also known as the Winfield War Memorial. The sculptor is James Novelli. She stands, or should stand, in Winfield Plaza at 69th Street and Woodside Avenue in Queens. According to your correspondent's brother, founder of Winfield Heights Alliance for Preservation (WHAP), she has been damaged by cars exiting the BQE at 69th St. no fewer than three times. She is currently being restored by Parks Department architectural conservator Michelle Langlie. Victorious America has presided over Winfield since 1926 (a good decade before the BQE sliced through the neighborhood--to her peril). The photo below shows what she will look out on now once restored to her pedestal. Is our only victory making it home in time to get a good parking spot?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

All the Way from Wichita

Today inaugurates a new sporadic feature on the blog: "Off the BQEaten Path."And what better way to begin than with some "spikes and sliders"? Except of course, you can't get any food at the White Castle administrative offices on 34th Ave. at 69th St. in Jackson Heights (catty-corner from BQE Billiards). For that, you'll have to go to Queens Boulevard (as a sign on the door helpfully informs). You've gotta love the commitment to branding.

According to Wikipedia, White Castle was founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas by Walter A. Anderson (a cook) and Edgar Waldo "Billy" Ingram (insurance man). Responding to the public's queasiness about eating ground beef following Upton Sinclair's muckraking classic, The Jungle, they wanted to "invoke a feeling of cleanliness." Thus they made sure "their restaurants were small buildings with porcelain enamel or steel exteriors, stainless steel interiors, and employees outfitted with spotless uniforms"--to draw contrast with those restaurants that outfitted their employees in spotted uniforms, I suppose.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

...through the Valley of the Shadow of the BQE

The BQE (East) begins at a cemetery, the tiny St. Michael's in Bulovaland, then cuts through New Calvary Cemetery, down Sunnyside-Maspeth way, before it rises over the majestic New Calvary Cemetery. Seen from the Kosciuszko Bridge, its monuments look like a miniature medieval city in the foreground of the Manhattan skyline. As far as I can tell, that's the last cemetery it encounters until Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and by then it's become the Gowanus Expressway.

Closed on Sundays
I took the photo above on Mount Laurel Blvd on the edge of New Calvary Cemetery, just before the gates of the NYPD "Tow Pound" (right) where people go to reclaim their towed cars, if not their souls. As good an allegory for purgatory as I can think of on a rainy August Sunday.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Or Such a Road

I lost a hubcap last week on my first post-vacation drive on the BQE. The BQE is actually pretty free of potholes at this point. The culprit was an aluminum bar of some sort lying across my lane. By the time I saw it... Well, you can get a hubcap on these days.

Jacek, who does work on our building, told me about a family trip from Poland to Lwow. The potholes on the Ukranian side were so deep people stuck tree branches into them to warn drivers. "It was like a slalom."
On my own recent travels, I encountered a couple of real suspension killers.  One is Old Cemetery Lane in Norwich, Connecticut. It leads, after some 40 yards from Town Street, to the Old Norwichtown Cemetery. I'd never been there, or even noticed it, despite having driven past its entrance perhaps thousands of times in my high school days. There is a parking spot just before the cemetery gates. And many mosquitoes.

It took me a few minutes to find what I was looking for: the Norwich Ovoid Carver.  When I did find one of his stones, it was much smaller than I expected, maybe a foot-and-a-half high, and extraordinary. I found two more scattered among more traditional forms. I came back on my return trip and found a few more.  

The stone at right belongs to Mr. John Post "Who Dyed Nouem 27 1710 Aged 84 Years." Well done, John.

The entrance to the lane is right across from McDonalds, where I would scarf down my burger and coffee in my Vernon Drug days. If you want to skip the Lane's pitfalls, you can park it the Bank of America lot and enter the cemetery directly behind it. 
For more about the NOC, check out the excellent Vast Public Indifference website. Be sure to take the quiz: 18th Century Connecticutian or Muppet? Bathsheba Bird, Algernon Snerp and many others await you there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Go with Such a Road

Have you ever wondered why, on a given road, it generally takes longer to get from point A to point B (or point B to point A) than the reverse? You might chalk it up to traffic volume, construction delays, design of on- or off-ramps, and like elements. The philosopher and scientist de Selby took another view. According to Flann O'Brien in The Third Policeman, de Selby "makes the point that a good road will have character and a certain air of destiny, an indefinable intimation that it is going somewhere, be it east or west, and not coming back from there. If you go with such a road, he thinks, it will give you pleasant travelling, fine sights at every corner and a gentle ease of peregrination that will persuade you that you are walking forever on falling ground. But if you go east on a west road that is on its way west, you will marvel at the unfailing bleakness of every prospect and the great number of sore-footed inclines that confront you to make you tired."

By this theory--to which I subscribe--the BQE is certainly a west road since my troubles generally occur when I am going east.
Flann O'Brien (Brian O'Nolan)

BTW: The Irish road sign at the top speaks to a controversy. According to, the sign provides the name "An Daingean," which the plain people of Dingle do not consider to be its real Irish name. In 2006, "they voted approximately 1000 to 70  in favour of the name 'Daingean Ui Chuis.'" Flann O'Brien would have enjoyed the whole affair. Look for more Flann O'Brien, progenitor of the blog form, in future posts. It is after all the centenary of his birth (and like Old Mathers in TTP, he may or may not be dead).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Coupe d'Arte

I passed this late-60's (?) Cadillac Coupe de Ville on the BQE yesterday afternoon, and then I let it pass me to have another look. Was this the apogee of American automobile design? Apres moi le deluge? Maybe not, but it was truly a thing of beauty.

A couple of days ago, in a more vertical context, I had another kind of car moment. One of the pieces in the New Museum's very strong Ostnostalgia show is a 1972 Fiat 126 that the British Artist Simon Starling had painted in the red-and-white colors of the Polish flag (thus the title Flaga) and driven from Turin, Italy, where it was made, to Poland. From 1973, they were made in Poland thus becoming Polski Fiats.

When I lived in Warsaw in the early 1990s, these Maly ("Little") Fiats were all over. I even drove my friend Maciej's illegally on a country road once. Like the old VW Beetles, they were cheap enough to allow people (like my mother) who wouldn't otherwise have a car have one. There were tiny shops all over Warsaw to provide the spare parts to keep them going, and it was common to see a guy get on a tram with a fender or even passenger-side door under his arm.

As I stood under the Maluch ("Small one," as in child) suspended on a gallery wall, I wondered whether I would survive if it fell off its brace? Would it be classified as an automobile accident or an art accident?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hans Brinker on the BQE

With commendable esprit de blog, your correspondent's brother Tony writes in response to yesterday's post (River in the Sky): "I would encourage you to pursue a Winter BQE Festival. Flood a section of the elevated BQE so that New Yorkers can enjoy curling, skating, and ice fishing over Williamsburg and Bushwick." Right on, dude!

No, that's not the BQE on the left but the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, a World Heritage Site. But imagine the possibilities. Formidable!

In fact, if a plan to build a a two-and-a-half mile tunnel bypass beneath Prospect Heights and Park Slope were realized, this would allow for year-round recreational use of the section of BQE that curves and crawls past the Brooklyn Navy Yards, under the Promenade, and through Red Hook. Perfect for sculling in the summer and skating in the winter.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

River in the Sky

Yesterday, NYC sponsored one of its Summer Streets days, closing down a major artery to cars and buses so that bicyclists, runners, skaters, etc., could do their thing. There were volunteer crossing guards with double-sided Stop/Go signs to let automobile traffic through at designated cross streets. Pedestrians trying to cross were more or less on their own (but aren't we always?). As I was crossing 9th Street on 4th Avenue, an in-line skater eager to join the throng inadvertently sideswiped me, prompting a moment of roller-derby deja vu.

As I thought more about the event, I wondered why something similar, though on a much more ambitious scale, couldn't be attempted on the BQE. Rather than runners and bikers, we could flood an elevated section of the roadway--possibly where it skirts the Brooklyn Navy Yard or the massive warehouses in Sunset Park--and hold races for various kinds of flat-bottomed watercraft: canoes, kayaks, sculling boats.
Chinese Dragon Boat Festival 2010

In the evenings, gondolas could ply the elevated waterway while Brooklyn hipster bands provide an appropriate soundtrack. The festival would culminate in a Chinese dragon boat race, like the one pictured here in Hong Kong.

A pipe dream? Perhaps. Or just an excuse to share one of my favorite cartoons by the Polish writer Slawomir Mrozek (below). Reader, you decide.

From Rysunki by Slawomir Mrozek (1972)

Translation: "You, lads, don't be so jealous of me. Morally I stand in a lower position than you."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rodney Dangerfield Expressway?

Under the BQE on Northern Blvd. (Rte 25A)
I didn't expect the BQE to show up in Dave Caldwell's excellent piece in today's Times about scenic roadways, "Are We There Yet? Who Cares! Enjoy the View." But, returning to NYC after a couple weeks on the more-or-less open road, including the bucolic Merritt Parkway, it struck me how little the name Brooklyn Queens Expressway is actually used on signage. Does the Grand Central Parkway (Rte. 678, I think) or the Merritt (Rte. 15) get the same treatment? Where's the love?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A la recherche du roadhouses perdu

When my family drove from ante-Foxwoods southeastern Connecticut where we lived to visit relatives outside Boston or go to a Pawtucket Red Sox game, we always took Rte 165, which crossed the border with RI at Beach Pond, then a few miles on Rte 3 (aka Nooseneck Hill Road) before we took 102 for a spit to get on 95 North. Later, I would choose this stretch of Rte 3 over 95 whenever I could. It was the pre-95 main road between Westerly and Providence. In its salad days, it boasted maybe half a dozen roadhouses, for some reason, many clustered in Wyoming (maybe the ring of the Old West called to them).  A few still operate as bars, but others have been repurposed, one as Aqua Science (water submersible pumps) and another as Mulch 'N More, where I believe the old Covered Wagon used to be.  Still others have disappeared without a trace.  Here are four, as I encountered them heading north on 3. Good luck, Nutz on Nooseneck!
Aqua Science (formerly ???)
Timberlake Tavern (formerly the B&D Tavern?)
Mulch 'N More (formerly the Covered Wagon?)
Soon to be Nutz on Nooseneck

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dusty the Litigious Snowman

Photo by Thomas

Roadside post. Dusty rules with a fiberglass hand (paw?) over the North End of Westerly, RI. Stopping off for ice cream yesterday with your correspondent's nephew and nieces, sister, and mother, we had time to ponder some of Dusty's finer points.
Sophia, Thomas, Grace

To start with, accessories: The top hat is traditional. The sunglasses make sense, especially on a bright summer day on Friendship St. The blue cup? Cocoa maybe. But what's up with the black mittens?

Status: No doubt Dusty's figure looms large in the land of soft-serve and chocolate jimmies (never "sprinkles"). But my sharp-eyed sister noticed these copyright warnings posted inside the shop, right next to the napkin dispenser (Woe unto he who would profit from Dusty's mascot).

(One last point: Take a look at the image of Dusty in the copyright notice (left) and then in the photos above. Notice anything sinister?)