Greenpoint, October, 2015

Friday, September 30, 2011

Roadster Rage

It's pretty common to see roadsters and other vintage cars on the BQE. Less so their drivers. That's because the cars are generally being transported on those double-decker trailers you usually associate with new vehicles on their way to a dealership. I shot this floating MG from the access road above the Staten Island Expressway--there were a couple other beauties you can't see on the lower deck. Strange thing is, I only seem these transports headed west on BQE-Gowanus-SIE, never the other direction. Is New Jersey taking all our great cars? What is Governor Cuomo, a self-described gearhead with a taste for Stingrays, going to do about it?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Coup de Grâce

Not the Red Sox (Courtesy Baltimore Sun)
As the dust settles after a wild final day of the 2011 baseball season, let's take a moment to congratulate the real winners... the Baltimore Orioles. Consider, as the Red Sox were free-falling to 7-20 in September, last-place Baltimore went 15-13, beating the Rays three times, the Yankees twice, and the Red Sox five (!) times, including two of three in the last week (not to mention taking two games each from the Tigers and Angels). And then, last night, with everything on the line for the Sox and seemingly nothing for themselves--and not to mention Camden Yards full of screaming Sox fans...  Down by one run in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, the Birds came up with three straight hits off Jonathan Papelbon to win it.

So here's to Baltimore, where, as Randy Newman sang, "It's hard, just to live." And to baseball. Now, what the fuck do I do?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Strange pairing
As Red Sox fans know only too well, for the past few days, the Sox playoff hopes have depended not just on their ability to win games but on the Yankees' to beat Tampa Bay. This puts Red Sox fans in the strange position of hoping the Yankees actually win. The horror! There have been all kinds of jokes about Sox fans taking extra showers and stories like the silly one in the Times yesterday about Yankees and Sox fans actually consorting.

Yaz during 1978 slide
Reader, I can't do it. Listening to the Yankees-Tampa Bay game on the radio on the drive home last night, I cheered when the Rays pulled off a triple play (!) with the bases loaded and Yanks down by only one. Even though it turned out to be decisive in the Rays winning the game. Boston also won, for a change, so here we are all tied up on the last day of the season.

"Coexist" the Yankee fan's (other) bumper sticker reads. Yes. Codepend even. But, as Walter Sobczak puts it in the Big Lebowski, "That line, you do not cross."

It all comes down to tonight. Fill in your own sports cliché here_______.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One More Cup of Coffee Before I Go

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
The Colombian tinto I wrote about in my previous post has made me nostalgic for those places where I have had truly great coffee. Bogotá, Florence, Madrid, sure, but, Warsaw, the home of kawa po turecku (basically grounds in a glass of boiling water stirred until they sink to the bottom)? Well, it's a trick question, since I'm talking about the coffee my Ethiopian friends there ever so ceremoniously served. First, a daughter ground the "green beans" over a hotplate--rather than as it might have been done at home (above).  Then, over several hours, we drank from three pots filtered through the same ground beans, each a bit weaker but all richly satisfying.

Culture Espresso (W. 38th St.)
Then there was the "Summer of Filtron" in the late 1980s. Coffeescenti of the cold-drip method proliferating throughout the NYC hipster coffee scene may not know that decades before we were doing the same thing in grad student apartments in Providence and other farflung outposts. My friends, Troy and Omi, had been given a Filtron unit by mutual friend Quentin. Filtron is basically a plastic contraption that allows you to filter cold water overnight through a pound of coffee (I think they used Chock Full o' Nuts) to create a strong, but relatively acid-free, essence. You would then keep the essence in the fridge, cutting it with hot or cold water as you please.

Reader, believe me when I tell you that was some powerfully addictive stuff. In and out of Troy and Omi's apartment all summer, we were increasingly caffeinated. We started with the recommended proportions: one third of a cup of Filtron essence to  two thirds boiling water (for hot coffee) or about the same of cold water (for iced coffee).  By the end of the summer, I'm pretty sure Troy was drinking his iced coffee at 100% Filtron.

You can get the Japanese maker picture below (center) below for $285 from Williams-Sonoma. You can get the basic Filtron unit above for about 40 bucks.
Courtesy Williams Sonoma

Monday, September 26, 2011


Listo, Calisto
Until we institute the "Banned by Brand" policy I introduced in my previous post, which will effectively diminish much of NYC's traffic congestion, I suggest we adopt another Colombian innovation--the roving coffee vendor. Nearly anywhere you go in Colombian cities, you will find these guys with their small carts or handheld crates with sturdy jugs ready to fill a little plastic cup for you. And it's good!

Imagine: you are creeping towards the Kosciuszko Bridge, one painful car length at a time, when out of nowhere appears an intrepid vendor to serve you a fresh tinto (black coffee, but you can also have it con leche). Que Bueno! It's not enough coffee to put baristas out of work, or the guys in the corner "donut aquariums" (term courtesy Mr. Picky), but enough to keep you going.

For more pictures like the one above, check out this blog.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New York's Traffic Problem, Solved!

(Courtesy NY Times)
Musing on Paul and Percival Goodman's proposal to ban passenger cars in Manhattan got me thinking about other ways we could improve our quality of life in NYC. Thoughts turned naturally to Colombia, specifically its capitol, beautiful Bogotá. At 8 and a half million, Bogotá has roughly NYC’s population. It also has some of the worst traffic congestion and associated problems in the world.

Since 1998, the city has been introducing measures to combat this, including bike lanes, dedicated express bus lanes (the fabulous Transmilenio, above), and regular car-free Sundays. These have been studied and copied by cities throughout the world, including NYC.

However, we haven’t yet had the guts to implement the most effective measure: banning cars from driving in the center city based on the last digit in their license plate, two digits at a time, which means on any given workday, 1/5 of the cars are not allowed to drive there. (Mexico City has done something like this since 1989). 

Jerk in the Merc
I think we can go Bogotá one better here. Rather than use license plate digits, let’s base the ban on make of car. Specifically, brands with the worst records for safety infractions would bear the brunt of the ban. Imagine: No Mercedes Mondays, Beamerless Tuesdays, and so on.

This approach has several benefits. First, it would reduce traffic volume on city streets and expressways. Second, it would motivate (“incentivize,” in the parlance of our times) drivers of the marked makes to improve their driving. Regular rerankings would allow brands to move up or down based on recent stats, much like clubs move between divisions in British soccer.

Of course, if the brand of my own ride made the banned list… as the Poles say, raz na wozie, raz pod wozem (once upon the cart, the next time under it).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Son of (Jeffersonian) Anarchy

Paul Goodman
Friday, 6 P.M. A more than average service delay on the 1-2-3 line. Rather than cursing the MTA, I decided to wait it out in the Symphony Space cafe with a glass of red wine and a Polish newspaper. I came across a photo of the "European Day without Automobiles" from Warsaw. Predictably, the highway is as clogged as ever--Poles use the term korki, or corks, for traffic jams.

This led me to think of Paul Goodman and his proposal, with architect brother Percival, which appeared in Dissent in 1961 to ban all cars from Manhattan except for "buses, small taxis, vehicles for essential services (doctor, police, sanitation, vans, etc.), and the trucking used in light industry." Looking it up on line, I discovered that we just passed the 100th anniversary of Goodman's birth, September 9, 1911 (he died in 1972).

So let us celebrate this truly extraordinary figure. It would take more space than this blog allows to detail all of his accomplishments and endeavors: psychologist (founder of Gestalt therapy), novelist, playwright, superb poet, literary critic, educator, social activist, and (as described in his poetry, at least), a pretty good handball player.  Goodman's social criticism has influenced many, from leaders of SDS to Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society) to Susan Sontag to your correspondent.

Though best known for Growing Up Absurd, I recommend New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative, published just a year before Goodman's death, as a starting place.
When I was a dazed and confused second-year middle school teacher, a much more experienced educator put this book in my hands, and I can truly say it saved my sanity--thank you Larry. A documentary about Goodman, called Paul Goodman Changed My Life, is due soon.

And if you are looking for a link to fellow centenarian, Flann O'Brien, this illustration from the Goodmans' proposal of a small taxi (thus conserving even more space for living) has the hallmarks of Myles' Research Bureau. Not sure why Abe Lincoln is one of the passengers, probably to demonstrate the commodious headroom of the cab.
All Hail, Paul Goodman!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Daughters of Anarchy

Pappy's Ride 2011 (Courtesy Norwich Bulletin)
It's relatively rare to see a motorcyclist on the BQE, but when you do they always have a helmet on. And why wouldn't they? It's the law. Beyond that, anybody who is not already brain dead knows the difference in survival rates in motorcycle crashes for those who wear helmets from those who do not. A friend pointed out that  the Harley-Davidson Company is a strong supporter of helmet laws--no fools, they want repeat customers not corpses.

(Courtesy The Sartorialist)
Cross the border into Joe's Country (Connecticut), where there is no such helmet law. Oh, there was, until a band of activist bikers, led by Pappy of the "Huns M.C.," waged a successful campaign to repeal it.  Every Memorial Day weekend since his death in 1975 (heart attack, not crash), thousands of bikers from all over the state gather to honor him with Pappy's Ride, which starts at a VFW in Norwich and ends at the cemetery in Uncasville where Pappy (aka Donald Pittsley) rests, doubtless with a bare head. Sadly, Pappy did not live to see the law repealed in 1976.

But NYC has its own freedom fighters--the cyclists and cyclettes whipping around with as little evidence of a helmet on their head as a brain within it. There's all classes of such of course, from bike messengers to food delivery guys. The ones that consistently catch your correspondent's eye are the stylish young women, often on vintage bikes, with long legs and flowing hair. They look great. And isn't that the point?  You can see any number of these fleet foxes (as well as dudes) in Manhattan, especially below 14th street. Sometimes they even accessorize, with a stylish child or two in tow (with or without a helmet).

NYC would make Pappy proud.

Keep on Truckin', Zig
On a related and timely note, R.I.P. Tom Wilson who died on September 16, 2011. Ziggy, his creation, was once used by the DOT as a mascot for bike safety--and dismissed by the mass transit and bicycle advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives, as a "lovable loser." They advocated instead for a "character known for intelligence, bravery, resourcefulness, and of course, good looks." How about Princess Witless above? The bastards.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Row and a Row

Ever mindful of your aesthetic experience, the DOT graciously provides this apology as you approach Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn from the east. Well, it's not exactly Il Duomo seen from the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence...

What lies beyond?
The real view is actually obscured by trees and guardrails: Admiral's Row of the Brooklyn Navy Yards. 10 houses, some built as early as 1864, plus a timber shed used for drying the hardwood that would become masts for sailing vessels, the subject of a battle (on land rather than at sea) between preservationists and the Navy Yard Development Corporation.

A plan is afoot to preserve one of the houses and the timber shed and raze the rest for development. You can check out some beautiful images of what has been lost and remains to be lost on Joseph Chung's blog from which the photo below has been liberated.
Courtesy Joseph Chung
(BTW: Run the words Brooklyn Navy Yard together and you get an interesting consonant pattern.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Mystery of Dog Rock

Ever loyal
Growing up in Preston, Connecticut, you took your roadside attractions where you could find them--shooting the "tree tunnel" on Northwest Corner Road or outracing the savage Pappalardo dogs on Rte 164. Then there was Dog Rock.

Thank you, Stanley!
Well, we always called it Dog Rock and speculated about who would give it periodic touch ups. But a recent reconnaissance trip to Preston and Norwich with your correspondent's brother, nephew, and niece turned up some truly startling news. According to a small plaque affixed to the rock (by whom?), this is actually Spotty and the original painter was Stanely Zictorac in 1935--that's three years BBQE (before the BQE)!

Of course, Spotty has many admirers, including Bill Griffith, who has included him (or her?) in a couple of Zippy the Pinhead strips, like the one from June 27, 2004 below. If you go to visit Dog Rock, you will find it, not in Chile, but on Rte. 165 (on your right, about a mile past Preston City School, headed into Norwich--where else?). I can recommend a couple of excellent grinder places within easy driving distance.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Requiem for a Conehead

Agent Orange?
When did the now ubiquitous traffic barrels appear? And has the traffic cone industry taken a nosedive as a result? The barrels certainly have the advantage of size--you could easily keep a small child under one of these. Plus those easy to grasp handles. I can imagine it must have been tough on the back to reach down from a moving truck and grab those cones, especially on a rainy day.

For the man who has everything
You can get your own traffic barrels from, where else, Check out their site for a great video showing how a barrel handles a 50-mph collision in a "memory test"(!) with a plow-equipped truck. To be clear, the truck collides with the barrel, not v.v. They run about $50 but, caveat emptor, the base is extra.

It didn't occur to me until now that Zippy the Pinhead's genesis might have had something to do with traffic cones? Must ask Bill Griffith the next time I am in the Norwich, Connecticut, area--but more on that later.

Classic 28" Cone

Friday, September 16, 2011

How Clutch is This?

Classic VW Odometer 
Walking to the parking lot last night, I heard one female student enthuse to another, "How clutch is that spot now?!" (It had started to rain, and she had nailed a prime parking spot close to their classroom building.)

The use of "clutch" in this context put me in mind of the auto-related lingo of my youth. Long before we could drive ourselves, we talked obsessively about cars. The first time I heard a schoolmate talking about somebody "flipping" a car, I pictured a horrible accident with the car going end over end and the whole affair ending up as a massive fireball. I soon learned, of course, the term means crossing the 100,000 mile threshold, literally witnessing the odometer flip over from 99999 to 00000 - most of those mechanical odometers weren't equipped for six digits (the sixth spot represented tenths of a mile).* As kids, we spent many eager hours waiting for--and often missing--the odometer of our family's VW bus (like the one above) reach all kinds of milestones: 33333.3, 77777.7, and so on. Hey, that was entertainment: No video players or even radios in that bad boy.

The other term you would hear, and still do, was to "total it." Sometime in the late 1970s, my older brother, driving the family's Nova, got broadsided and pushed a hundred feet or so. He walked away, but the car was totaled. (These days, they might say "a total.") A decade or so later, when Chevy revived the Nova brand with little compacts, built in Japan (I'm pretty sure) and nothing like the muscle cars of the 60s and 70s, we used to joke, "This is not the Nova your brother totaled"--a reference to the widely mocked General Motors late 1980's ad campaign.

(*Swedes knew better: I once flipped a 1986 Saab 900 I bought with 174,000 miles on it to 200K. And the damn thing had a cracked head gasket the whole time, meaning it alway ran perilously close to overheating.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Ramble

Mekons 25th Anniversary Tour--Seattle
Query: Name a band formed in 1977 that is still creating music worth listening to. If you're thinking Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, then you're off the mark on two scores: That great constellation came together in 1975 and they haven't recorded in decades. So it must be the Mekons. 
If the Clash was billed as "the only band that matters," the Mekons deserve the accolade "the only band that matters and endures."

Check out the song "Cockermouth" from the last Mekon's record, Natural, from a a Chicago show in 2008 on Youtube below--and buy the record, cheapskate. Seriously, it's the equal of W.G. Sebald, and that's saying a lot. Nobody does fatalism like the Mekons. 

The great news is a new Mekons record is on the way and they are coming back to NYC this fall. They are playing two dates: Friday, Oct. 7 at the Bell House in Brooklyn (hard by the BQE) and Saturday, Oct. 8 at the NYC Winery. Go to the Bell House show and fuck the NYC Winery with their $22 reserved bar stools. "It's their world, and they can keep it," the Mekons sang years ago. But they go on.

Cropsey on the BQE

For most of us the name Cropsey means little, except perhaps as a convenient rhyme for "dropsy." However, for a couple generations of kids who went to sleepaway camps in New York State, Cropsey is maniac who lives out in the woods and preys on innocent children.

I first learned about the Cropsey legend from the film by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancacio (both from Staten Island). It's a well made  documentary about a series (or not a series?) of disappearances of children, usually with mental disabilities, on Staten Island in the 1970s and 1980s. Andre Rand, convicted of kidnapping in the case, was a semi-drifter who lived at least part of the time on the grounds of what had been the notorious Willowbrook State School,* subject of Geraldo Rivera's breakthrough expose on the treatment of the mentally ill.

I wonder if the drivers of Cropsey Scrap Iron trucks ever get strange looks, or specially wide berths, from those down below.

(The grounds and facilities of Willowbrook now house a number of august institutions, most notably, the College of Staten Island, or CSI to the cognoscenti.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Horseman, Pass By

Long post today, but many short lines. Today is the 30th anniversary of the poet (translator, editor, etc.) Paul Blackburn's death of cancer at the age of 45. Blackburn was the consummate poet of New York City's streets, bars (especially McSorleys), parks, and subways. An early book, Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit: A Bouquet for Flatbush (1960)celebrated the aesthetic, imaginative, and voyeuristic consolations of co-riderdom. He begins "Clickety-Clack" with:

I took
a Coney Island of the mind 
to the Coney Island of the flesh
and goes on to describe his impromptu public reading of Ferlinghetti's famous poem to the crowd in the train who
looked startled at first but settled down
to enjoy the bit
even if they did think I
was insane or something

Like many of his poems, this one is also a story of a seduction--successful or, as in this case, comically foiled. I discovered Blackburn when I was living in Brooklyn in the mid-1980s, making my own D-Train Brooklyn-Manhattan transit. His poems made it tolerable, at times even pleasurable. They could be funny--check out leering narration of "The Once Over"--or almost unbearably sad. Here is the beginning of a long poem from 1961/62 called "One Night Stand: An Approach to the Bridge," with a couple on a train on the Manhattan Bridge (where the D nearly always sat for long minutes):

Migod, a picture window
"The Once Over" for PB
both of us sitting there
on the too-narrow couch
variously unclothed
watching the sky lighten over the city

You compile a list of noes
it is incomplete
I add another
there is no anger
we keep it open
away, your all 
too-solid body melts, revives, stif-
fens, clears and dis-
solves, an i-
dentity emerges, disappears, it is
like watching a film, the takes dis-
solving into other takes,
splice suddenly to a closeup

Blackburn was a sidewalk and subway man,  not a highway man, but in a late poem, "October Journal: 1970," he provides an oncoming guest with an inventory of The contents of my liquor cabinet/10 days before/you arrive. Vodka's in the refrigerator along with/sangria and sweet vermouth de Torino. The California/wines are down and cooling. Be welcome. He also provides not one but two sets of driving directions from New York to Cortland, where he was teaching when he died. I followed one once about 20 years ago, and it worked--of course Blackburn was long gone by then. Nevertheless, he concludes the second set, and the poem, with Maybe you take train, huh?

You can hear Blackburn reading a number of his poems, including "Clickety-Clack," on the great PennSounds website.

Paul Blacburn's first book

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Is a Park?

I took these shots on the western spur of the BQE headed toward the Triboro (RFK) Bridge on Friday morning.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Baby It's You

Some Enchanted Evening Somewhere Off Rte 1
Jennifer Graham wrote a nice op-ed in the Boston Globe a couple weeks ago called "A Special Fondness for an Ugly Highway." To set the record straight, she is writing about Rte. 95, not the BQE. Her piece reminded me of an episode of the great Jean Shepherd's America on WGBH in which he rhapsodizes Rte. 1 (the pre-95) as art in all its kitschy splendor (see Youtube video below). 
Did that subconsciously prompt my semi-annual viewing of John Sayles' Baby It's You? Hard to say, except that Vincent Spano, as "The Sheik," makes his own Rte. 1 pilgrimage (c. 1966) from Miami to Sarah Lawrence College to take one last "shot" at high school girlfriend Jill Rosen (Rosana Arquette). Who cares, as long as it gets you back to this movie?

I've done the math for you:
  • Best Rosanna Arquette movie
  • Best use of Bruce Springsteen on a soundtrack*
  • Best New Jersey movie
  • Best movie to use the "Trenton Makes, The World Takes" railroad bridge sign
  • Best college drinking/puking scene
It adds up to the Best Movie of All Time, or at least a leading contender for the All-Time Pure Pleasure (Even When It Hurts) Award.

(*Not to mention title song by the Shirelles.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cave People

No those aren't the cave paintings of Lascaux. It's the BQE, specifically the retaining wall under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. I was thinking this would make another good site for the homeless "Tilted Arc" sculpture. But time and traffic conspired to give me a closer look.

Who needs Serra and his Cor-Ten when we have flaking concrete?

And, a little further, on striated concrete? Perhaps the time has come for the great Werner Herzog BQE film.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Prince Valiant on the BQE

Even in the rain I recognized it from its rear end long before I could glimpse the rest of the car. It had to be a Valiant. Bigger and a bit older than the two my family owned in the seventies, but with that same boxiness (boxticity?). They were never my favorites and couldn't hold a candle, as far as driving went, to our '72 Demon (basically, Dodge's Duster knock-off) even though they had the same legendary "slant-6" engine--inspiration for the nineties' DC punk/riot grrrl band Slant 6.

When did the boring, old Valiant cross the threshold to hipster-cool? My father once said he should have bought two Demons instead of one, put the other in the garage, and bring it out ??? years later. Wish he had.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pick Up (on) This!

El Chalaco on el BQE
They say tone does not transfer well on email. What about on truck advertising? I think I know what this guy is saying: He's had enough. We've all had enough. El Chalaco, I salute you!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Outlaw in Joe's Country

Coming back to NYC from the North Country, where he was doing some research, your correspondent approached the fearsome West Rock Tunnel on the Wilbur Cross Parkway. That sign (at right) sternly warns drivers to "Remove Sun Glasses at Tunnel" (NB: not before tunnel, at tunnel). While I generally strive to respect the rules of the road, I hesitated. The tunnel is barely 400 yards long. Maybe just this once....

What is invariably said to lie at the end of the tunnel?
Reader, I dared! And the light on the other side was all the more glorious for it. Come and get me, Joe, if you think you've got the Joementum!

I never knew the tunnel was called the West Rock Tunnel, nor that it was in New Haven. It's actually the only highway tunnel in New England going through a landmass, the hill of West Rock State Park. Maybe we should consider creating a similar park on top of the BQE somewhere; with snowmaking technology we could have skiing and snowboarding, as well as hiking and biking. Mount Maspeth?

Friday, September 2, 2011


"The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice," Martin Luther King famously said. The arc of art, on the other hand, is about 120 feet and it bends towards New Jersey. Until now.

After diligent scouting, your intrepid correspondent has found two possible sites for Richard Serra's controversial Tilted Arc, installed in the Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan in 1981 and removed in 1989 in the Battle of High Art and Lowly Pedestrian Just Trying to Get across this Damn Plaza. Reputedly, the piece (in pieces) occupies a warehouse somewhere in New Jersey.

Site A
Let's bring it back to New York but this time let the BQE provide the platform. Both sites are in Brooklyn, the first one below a beautiful church in Carroll Gardens, the second--my personal favorite--in Greenpoint where the east- and westbound lanes of the BQE seek out different levels.

There's a common complaint that we don't take time to really look at art. With the traffic conditions in these two spots, I think I can guarantee the piece will get some good long looks.

Q: But what if Serra's arc tilts the wrong way for the site?
A: Turn the damn thing upside down.

Site B