Greenpoint, October, 2015

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bring Back The Cardvaark!

Peter Stangl, 1995 (played here by Dick Van Dyke)
It's hard to conceive, now, with ubiquity of swipecards and transponders (EZ Pass), but in the early 1990s the MTA lived in fear that it would have to pry the token from our cold, dead hands before we'd accept MetroCards. And thus, Cardvaark, and more to the point, a whole PR campaign to "sell MetroCard."

As reported in this space yesterday, the first documented public reference to Cardvaark came in Ellis Henican's Newsday column of July 27, 1993. Only appropriate, then, that the last one came in Henican's column of August 5, 1993--just over a week later. Henican reported on a meeting of the MTA's marketing department, after which MTA Chairman Peter Stangl announced: "As far as I'm concerned, Cardvaark can go away." And go away he did. To this day, the MTA has never used a mascot again. (Just imagine: "Hi, I'm your friendly subway beagle, See-Something-Say-Something: Hooowlp us out....")

Henican's reporting was instrumental in the death of The Cardvaark and in exposing the costly, ill-conceived marketing plan Cardy was a symbol for, but questions remain:
-Whose original concept was The Cardvaark?
-Who drew it? And where can we see some of his/her other work?
-Why an aardvark anyway?
-Why the bizarre misspelling with two "As"--but in the wrong place (guess the MTA faactcheckers missed this one).
Not Carvdaark but we can dream... (Courtesy WFMU)
-Was a Cardvaark suit ever created?

I say: Bring Back The Cardvaark! Not as a mascot for the MetroCard, but as a symbol of the audacity and paternalism of public (or quasi-public) institutions like the MTA that are forever selling us on their services--and paying private advertising and PR firms to do so--even as we are using those very services. And charging us for the privilege.

Who Killed Cardvark? (Part Two)

Home schooler triumphs!
There we were, deep in the bowels of the MTA archives. My research assistant and I, like Woodward and Bernstein--if you can imagine Carl Bernstein as a blond, thirteen year old girl--digging through folders, record boxes, and binders of MetroCard-related swag. I have to admit, I was beginning to lose hope (after about 10 minutes), when Sr. Research Assistant Lucy exclaimed, "There he is!"

Sure enough, she had found a story from Newsday from July 27, 1993. The paper's "In the Subway" reporter, Ellis Henican described how the MTA, as part of its plan to "hype" the soon to be launched MetroCard, decided the system needed a mascot: "a dumb-looking, snout-nosed, big-eared, bug-eyed, round-cheeked, pot-bellied, card-pitching mascot." Way harsh, dude.

(Courtesy MTA Transit Museum Archives)
After that discovery, it took only moments to locate a draft report commissioned by the MTA with its "Metropolitan Marketing Plan" for MetroCard. There, among other "kick-off events" was the genesis of "The Cardvaark" (sic): "Create a character to symbolize MetroCard--a high-tech, yet lovable creature who can 'sell' the card." (p. 57). The appendix of the report includes the sketch you see here.

"Dumb-looking, snout-nosed..., pot-bellied" or "high-tech, yet lovable creature." Reader, you decide. Tomorrow: Did The Cardvaark "sell" the MetroCard or get sold down the river? The mystery of who killed Cardvaark solved!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Who Killed Cardvark? (Part One)

Sketch by Finnian (2011)
Was it all just a dream? Could the collective unconscious of three crazy kids have given life to such a figure, part Golem and part Goofy? And given it such a name? Or did the MTA really introduce a mascot named Cardvark (possibly Caardvark) as part of its PR campaign to promote the then forthcoming MetroCard to a ridership grown fat and happy on tokens, tokens, tokens, tenpacks of tokens?

If there was a Cardvark, why is there no trace of it on the Internet? It was only 25 or 30 years ago. And what did it look like? To begin, we engaged a talented young sketch artist to reconstruct a plausible likeness from our descriptions--note the swiper-paws. And then I got serious. No more Googling with myself and cooking up conspiracy theories (about these, more to come). Time to storm the castle: the archives of the MTA itself.

Fortress MTA, Brooklyn
Tomorrow: What we discovered!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bridge Over the River Dry

What's up with those towers?
The end of Borrington?
Of course, none of the Providence bridges I blogged about yesterday is likely to serve as a model for the replacement to the Kosciuszko. That role will be filled by something more like the recently opened, and much lauded,  I-195 bridge (above), which carries the relocated highway across the Providence River just beyond the hurricane barrier. Fine, a bit flashy, but fine.

I would prefer something closer to the Barrington River Bridge (above right and below), which, along with its sister just down Rte. 114, was also recently christened. Of course, the span would have to be much longer and wider, and the piers much much deeper. But you get the idea.

Now they're finished, the bridges' main purpose is obsolete, i.e., to allow residents of historically dry Barrington to cross to historically wet Warren for their liquor. Barrington has voted to permit the sale of booze! And did so in typical RI fashion. No such prohibition on either side of the Newtown Creek. We just need a new bridge. Something like this would suit me fine--with four times the lanes, of course.
Harbor lights

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Bought a Little Bridge

Crawford Street Bridge
While in Rhode Island for Thanksgiving, I decided to do a little bridge-hopping, with an eye towards the imminent replacement of our beloved Kosciuszko Bridge. Providence, of course, is a kind of mecca for bridge nuts like myself. When I first moved to Providence in the late 1980's, the city was home to the "world's widest bridge." Actually, you wouldn't have known you were on a bridge or above water at all. The Crawford Street Bridge, at 1147 feet, was more like a concrete traffic circle and parking platform connecting the city's East Side and Downtown. The Providence Public Library has a great collection of bridge photos here.

The bridge has been replaced with a series of much narrower spans above  the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers, both of which it had covered. The regular "Waterfire" events bring draw tourists from as far away as Worcester.

Point Street Bridge today
It may not make the Guinness Book of World Records, but Providence may still be unique as the site of one bridge that can't open and another that can't close. The Point Street Bridge was built in 1927 as a "swing bridge," i.e., one that pivots to allow river traffic into Downtown Providence. I'm not sure when it was last swung, but whenever that was, it was the last time. Nothing wrong with the bridge, just that the city gave up the required maintenance (including regular pivots) and now the bridge is permanently bonded to its roadways.

One less crook in Providence?
And then there is the bridge that will never close. The Seekonk River Bridge (aka, Crook Point Bascule Bridge) connecting Providence and East Providence. Built in 1903, for decades it has stood at attention, an open symbol. For the decline of the railroads or the decline of Providence. You can still walk out to the middle of the river on its ties and rails for thrills or trysts. But not for much longer. The Coast Guard says it's a navigation hazard. Well, it might make it to 110 before they get around to tearing it down. Not too shabby.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Colour Me Gone

Well, the suits upstairs at Google have decided the video I posted yesterday was a threat to society. Count yourself lucky if you got to see it. If not, you'll just have to wait until the full-length film (working title: "Be the BQE: The Alternate Route"). But you shouldn't be denied the great Van Dyke Parks track, "Donovan's Colours," that provided the soundtrack. So here it is, I hope:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shaky Cambriolet

To wrap up the first annual Be the BQE Road Movies Festival, I offer my own modest contribution, at 1 min. 28 secs., shot in ultra-opportunistic cellphone camera mode. Just a regular commute, slow-downs and speed-ups, strikes and gutters. The soundtrack is "Donovan's Colours" (George Washington Brown), from Van Dyke Parks' new Arrangements, Volume 1.  Hope you enjoy it. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Check out that beauty on the right!
Sure you know the bridge Woody Allen and Diane Keaton's characters in Manhattan look out on is the 59th Street Bridge (aka, the Queensborough Bridge, and now, appallingly, the Ed Koch Bridge). But can you name the other NYC bridge featured in the film?

It's the Triborough Bridge, more specifically, the Harlem River Lift span of the TB. If you Google "Woody Allen" and "bridge," you'll get thousand of hits for the scene under the 59th Street Bridge (and not a few misguided references to the Brooklyn Bridge), but about the Triborough, zilch.

It's been over a decade since I last saw Manhattan but I vividly remember a scene of Yale (Michael Murphy), Isaac (Woody), Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway), and Mary (Diane)returning from the Hamptons in Yale's beautiful Porsche 356 convertible. There's a gorgeous shot of upper Manhattan from the Triborough Bridge (main span). However, I was only able to find the screen grab (above) of them crossing the Harlem River Span on the way out of town (I think).

Lift and separate
The Harlem River Lift, at a mere 770 ft. across, gets little respect compared to its grander partner, the Bronx Kills Crossing, at 1600 ft. They were built in 1936 to allow easy passage from Manhattan and the Bronx to the Grand Central Parkway in Queens--and the soon to be completed BQE.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Woody Allen tells a great story in the American Masters program about him now airing on PBS. He describes what a pain in the ass it was to get that now iconic shot in Manhattan of him and Diane Keaton looking out at the 59th St. Bridge in the early morning hours. Not only did he have to get up at 3 A.M. to get the shot at dawn, but they had to bring their own bench.

Gordon Willis' cinematography and the Gershwin soundtrack make New York City look so great, it's easy to forget that this was 1979. Smack in between "Ford to City: Drop Dead" (bankruptcy) and Bernie Goetz (subway shooting). It was also the first time I came to the City, for a conference for high school newspaper editors. As I recall, we spent more time in the Blarney Stone around the corner from the hotel than at the conference--thus ended a promising journalism career. There was a late-night snowball fight in Times Square that had its own cinematic quality.

Palo Alto East
If Stanford wins the competition for a new high-tech campus, Woody and Diane's view will be profoundly altered by high-rise construction on the southern end of Roosevelt Island. Who would have imagined that in 1979, or that the bridge would be renamed after Ed Koch, or that you could drive one end of the BQE to the other without encountering one burned out car?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stranger Than Jarmusch?

Tom Waits as Lee "Baby" Sims
Can't leave the festival without another nod to Jim Jarmusch, hands down our best contemporary road movie practitioner. From his first film, Stranger Than Paradise, which chronicled the losers' journey from Hoboken to Cleveland to Florida to Budapeszt, to Broken Flowers, which I've blogged about in this series, he has exploited and explored weird and wonderful variations of the genre.

There's Mystery Train, which conflates the stories of hipster Japanese tourists on a pilgrimage to Graceland, of a young Italian widow on her way home with her husband's body, with of a threesome of local losers getting themselves deeper and deeper into trouble. There's Night on Earth, short films about taxi rides in Rome, Helsinki, Rome, and LA. And then there's Down By Law, which offers the best example of the prison-break subgenre of the road movie. And yes, I am aware of Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Are Thou? Great Coen Brothers films both but they can't touch Down By Law.

The opening sequence alone is a 2-minute masterpiece with Tom Wait's voice over Robbie Mueller's cinematography. Has there ever been a better film depiction of pre-Katrina New Orleans?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Call Me Kowalski

Gregory Peck as Ahab
With these words, Herman Melville famously began Moby Dick. Oh, wait. I'm confusing Melville's masterpiece from 1851 with Vanishing Point, the 1971 movie about a guy named Kowalski hired to drive the supercharged Dodge Challenger (pictured in the blog's header) from Colorado to L.A. Actually, the connection between Moby Dick and Vanishing Point is not entirely a travesty. In an earlier post in the Be The BQE Road Movie Festival, I blogged about Don Quixote and the origin of buddy movies. I make a similar case here for Captain Ahab as the progenitor of the lone rider genre.

Alpha Male?
Okay, Ahab is on a Nantucket whaler with a crew that includes Starbuck, Ishmael, Queequeg, Tashtego and many others. But is any character in all of literature more truly alone? You can say the same about Martin Sheen's captain, alone amid his crew, headed upriver in Apocalypse Now. Which brings us back to Vanishing Point and Kowalski. He's alone in the Challenger, true, but he has the voice of Cleavon Little, the whacked-out, blind DJ, to guide him. Variations on this theme abound: in The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman's character has Simon & Garfunkel as he drives back and forth between L.A. and Berkeley in his little red sportscar; in Broken Flowers, Bill Murray's has the Ethiopian music made for him by his neighbor Winston.

So while the BTB Road Movie Festival ends today, the hero's journey goes on, from The Odyssey to Moby Dick to Kung Fu to Vanishing Point. You can get just enough of the latter in the trailer on Youtube.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Checkpoint Cheery

Brooklyn Battlestar Gallactica
Is there any more unnatural shade of green than tollbooth green? A permanently false spring.

In Joseph Brodsky's essay, "Less Than One," he describes a fence enclosing a scraggly little garden outside the factory in Leningrad where he was then working. It was a simple wooden fence of twenty-inch high planks with two-inch spaces between them, and a transverse lath of the same material. "Wherever you went in that empire, you would always find this fence." More depressing, for Brodsky, while the fence came prefabricated, even when people crafted their own fences, they followed the same pattern.  I feel much the same about the metallica green of toll booths, and not just in New York. Tokens came and went, toll collectors are almost gone, someday even EZ Pass will go, but that green will outlive us all. Ask not for whom the tolls bell.

Not All That Far

This week's Doonesbury storyline involves Joanie Caucus getting back in the campaigning game as a consultant for Elizabeth Warren's senate race in Mass. She's in Worcester today. (Worcester!) Monday's strip (above) demonstrates just how strongly the trope of the road trip grips our culture. And, while it all goes back to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, movies have become the primary delivery vehicle.

Two people get in a car and take off. They might be buddies (Thelma & Louise, Stranger Than Paradise), rivals (Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon in The Trip), even husband and wife (Lost in America with Albert Brooks and Julie Haggerty). Of course, one of the great variations is strangers thrown together, as in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. It's not my favorite John Candy movie (that would be Uncle Buck) or Steve Martin movie (The Spanish Prisoner) but it's got a ton of great moments. My favorite: Riding in the back of a pig farmer's truck on the way to catch the "people train," a freezing Neal (Steve Martin) asks the ever-optimistic Del (John Candy) how much farther. Del: "Not far.... Not all that far."

Here's a scene that will cheer up anybody--as we should be cheerful just before disaster. (R.I.P. John Candy and John Hughes.)

This post goes out to my brother Tony, who may not even remember that he introduced me to Uncle Buck. He's also the undisputed road warrior of the family.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rheinland Rant

*BTB Road Movie Festival Intermission*Intermezzo*Przerwa*Unterbrechung*Intervalo*
Rhine II (Gursky)
That's Andreas Gursky's digital photograph, Rhine II, which just sold at auction for $4.3  Million--the most ever for a photograph. Gursky calls it his favorite photograph, commenting: "For me it is an allegorical picture about the meaning of life and how things are." No kidding. Things are such that an anonymous bidder has so much money he or she can spend $4,300,000 on a single photograph. Somehow that drains just a little more meaning out of the meaning life, which, if you ask me, was running pretty low already.
Gowanus II (Yariski)

To create the large photograph (143 x 73 inches), Gursky digitally removed everything except the river, the banks, and the sky, including dog walkers, bicyclists (!), and an old factory. I am now working on digitally removing everything from this photograph I took of the Gowanus Canal from the BQE so that all that will remain are the pristine banks of the canal, the aquamarine waters, the verdant shores of Staten Island in the distance, and the sky. When I'm done, I will make it available on this blog. Bidding will start at a paltry $1.3 Million, and I'll even throw in a coupon for 10% off your next oil change at Jiffy Lube (did Gursky ever do that?)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Where Europe Ends?

"89 mm from Europe"
Polish director Marcel Lozinski's documentary, 89 mm od Europy (89 mm from Europe), is more properly an anti-road movie. Not because it concerns trains rather than cars--railroads are roads too--but because it is about the part of a journey when you are not moving, although in this case, the world around you is.

The film was shot at a railway station on the Poland-Belarus border. Because there is an 89-mm (3.5-inch) difference in gauge between the standard European tracks and those of the former Soviet Union, workers jack up the trains and change the wheels to adjust. Passengers on the Paris-Moscow express (and other trains) wait it out. Not that different, I suppose, from the changeover Amtrak used to make in New Haven from diesel to electric--crossing the Pinstripe Curtain from the Red Sox to Yankee zone.

It feels like the 1950s but the film was actually made in the early 90s. You can watch 10 minutes of it below (with English subtitles) on YouTube or check out the full 12 minutes without subtitles but with credits on Vimeo.

The title of this post comes from the story and book Where Europe Begins by Yoko Tawada. Written in German by a Japanese woman living in Hamburg about a journey on the Transsiberian Railroad, I first read it in a Polish translation and only later in English translation. You can read an excerpt here.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Polish poster
There's a moment early on in The Trip, the moc-doc of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a dining tour of the north of England. They're winding through bucolic country roads through fields wrapped with round-stone walls. "Why are we listening to this?" Rob asks. "It's the soundtrack I've chosen for this landscape," Steve responds. "It's unexpected, you think of that as industrial... associate it with an urban landscape." It's Joy Division, and he's right, and also, characteristically, a really arsehole.  After that, music takes a distant third or fourth place to the dueling Michael Caine and Woody Allen impressions, competitive banter, and, yes, poetry recitations--with the exception of their duet on "The Winner Takes It All."

For a killer road movie soundtrack, you can't beat Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. Don (Bill Murray) reluctantly tracks down old girlfriends, to solve a mystery more compelling to his Ethiopian neighbor (Jeffrey Wright) than to him. In fact, it's Winston who more or less puts the whole trip together, from looking up addresses, to renting the cars and printing out the maps, to making the CD Donnie plays as he none too excitedly drives from one encounter to the next. The music on the CD is Ethiopian jazz, mostly by Mulatu Astatke and his band. And it's great.

The trailer gives you a taste of Mulatu Atake before segueing to a fine Holly Golightly song. Watch the whole thing on Netflix instantly. Get the soundtrack! (You can also watch The Trip on Netflix.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

One Way Donkey Ride

One world or many?
Today inaugurates the First Annual Be the BQE Festival of Road Movies. Fear not, it's a virtual festival so you don't have to brave the BQE to see the films. For the first one, though, you do have to extricate yourself from your computer monitor or television, because it's not on Netflix.

Angel Gabriel and Mary
It's in a fricking art gallery! That's right, get your ass to the Marian Goodman Gallery on 57th Street to see Annuciation, part of the Eija-Liisa Ahtila show on until December 3. Annunciation is a 33-minute film--or three 33-minute films projected simultaneously--about a theater piece based on the annunciation scene in the New Testament (long story short, Mary gets some surprising news). The piece is being made by a group of women who, apart from the director, are non-actors and clients of a Finnish women's support center.

I'm not about to give away the story. Instead a few superlatives:
  • Best 3-D movie ever (ever, ever).
  • Best Christmas movie since The Apartment.
  • Best Finnish movie since Leningrad Cowboys Go America (also a road movie).
  • Most unexpected appearance of a Townes Van Zandt song (cover) on soundtrack.
  • Best road movie (so far) in the festival--if a woman walking a donkey counts as a road movie (it does).
There are also a LOT of trees in the exhibit. But that's another festival.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Like Verlaine or Rambo

Welcome to Queens
Rambo's high flying graffiti above the BQE has attracted attention in the blogonosphere for its audacity and persistence. As soon as a blank billboard space appears, white or black, he "bombs" it in signature form: a cryptic phrase across the top and a combination of tags in much larger letters below: Ponyboy, Xavior, and, of course, Rambo. 

But what does it all add up to? An outlaw Burma Shave campaign or a poet at work? Hark:
All our children play and laugh in misery
None shall slumber or sleep
Master your body, there's a soul within
Now is the time, the space.
Bless yourself, the light bearers
Are being reborn
White period
I constructed this poem from Rambo's oeuvre. What do you think? OK, OK, only the first, third, fifth and sixth lines are from Rambo, line two is from the Mekon's newest record, Ancient & Modern, 1911-2011, and the last line from John Cage's Silence from 1961. Suck on that, postmodernistas, I hang with Rambo.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sunshine Superwoman

Emerging art
At last highways are becoming sites for ambitious public art projects. Installation is well underway on the Staten Island Expressway of a revival of Nancy Holt's 1970s piece Sun Tunnels, originally created in the northwest Utah desert.

There four tunnels (each 18'x9'x4') were placed so they would precisely align with sunrise and sunset during the solstices. As described on the Center for Land Use Interpretation site, they are pierced with holes of different sizes to recreate constellations when the sun is overhead and the tunnels are otherwise dark on the inside. I saw a film made about their installation shown at Sightlines, Columbia's Wallach Gallery Holt retrospective last year. They may be the most beautiful pieces of concrete ever cast about.

Miles from I-80
The elements of Sun Tunnels SI (above) appear to be a bit dumpier, but then there's a war on. In any case, the site on the north side of the Staten Island Expressway about a half mile from the Verrazano Narrow Bridge is a good one since the highway is basically east-west at that point. It will be fantastic to catch the setting sun lighting up the inside of the concrete cylinders--except I'm usually heading in the opposite direction at that time. Well, ars gratia ars (and cars gratia cars).



Below the fortress 
Sometimes just getting to the BQE is enough. Yesterday morning, with an unwarranted sense of accomplishment, having just got an oil change and car wash, I set out for the 43rd St. portal to the BQE. Because of street paving, I was shunted off to 51st Ave. and into a vortex of cars coming off the LIE and trying to get on it and to the tunnel. All the one-way street signs were pointed at me like darts. 

As I crept towards Greenpoint Ave. and escape, I couldn't help but feel the WR Group's sign was flipping me off. What do you think?

But a detour is still a tour, and without it I wouldn't have approached the BQE further up off 51st Ave. and would have missed the late foliage in the shadow of the BQE. Look at how that exit sign picks up the yellow in the trees. Ravishing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Paws That Refreshes

FEMA/DHS IPAWS PEP expansion project
Depending on your generation, you'll always remember where you were when JFK was shot (too young), the Challenger exploded (in Harmon's coffee shop on 49th St.), or the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 (on my living room ceiling). Well, after today, you will always remember where you were when you first experienced IPAWS.

A collaboration between the FCC and FEMA, IPAWS stands for the Public Alert Warning System. Perhaps the sorriest I-acronym since IWORI (Injured Workers of Rhode Island), it sounds like something Steve Jobs considered--and rejected--as the name for a handheld device for pets. It will debut on radio and TV stations today at 2 P.M. EST, four epic minutes of it. I plan to catch it on WFMU, what about you?

Initiated by George Bush's 2006 Executive Order #13407, IPAWS comes with a Vision, "Timely Alert and Warning to American People in the preservation of life and property," a Mission: "Provide integrated services and capabilities....," and three Strategic Goals. You can read all about them on the FEMA website and even watch a video so mind-numbing it makes you wish for a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

It boils down to an update of that incredibly annoying buzzing on the radio followed by the message, "This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. If this were a real emergency...." Just ten years after September 11, 2011, which somehow did not manage to trigger the EBS (actually by then the EAS), we've got a brandy new system--and no color codes.
Heck of a job, Pawsy

I don't know if they've given much though down at FEMA and the FCC to a mascot. It's the offseason, so Paws from the Pawtucket Red Sox should be available. I feel safer already.

UPDATE - 12:44 P.M. - The nationwide test on all radion and TV outlets has been reduced in length from 3 minutes to 30 seconds. FEMA and FCC panicking that people will think it's a real emergency. No confirmation that the reassuring voice they plan to use is Julie from Amtrak's 800 number.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


(Photo courtesy W.H.A.P.)
As first reported by Sodia Pop in a comment on Sunday's post, then confirmed with a call from the president of WHAP (Winfield Heights Alliance for Preservation), Victorious America has been restored to glory and returned to her rightful place in Winfield Plaza.

Your correspondent first reported on the missing statue in August. Just goes to show, when Be the BQE speaks, Bloomberg listens. Or it was due to be reinstalled anyway. Either way, it's worth a visit, just make sure you go to the real Winfield Plaza at Laurel Hill Blvd. and 65th place (not the Winfield Plaza on 69th St. listed on the Parks Department site). When you go, pay attention to the inscription on the shield, a reminder that this is indeed a Winfield war memorial.
Pretty yes, but dangerous

The statue has been damaged at least twice by drivers coming off the BQE at the 65th Place exit and not making the turn (shades of the tram in the Hrabal story). I took the photo at right on Sunday looking out from the plaza at traffic exiting the BQE--in other words, what Vicky sees. So fellow BQE'stas, a word of advice: Be respectful, don't depedestal!

Monday, November 7, 2011

¡Viva las Revolucións por Minuto!

Courtesy New York Times
Socialist Nostalgia Week continues on Be the BQE with a nod to yesterday's piece in the New York Times on Cuba's decision to allow private sales of automobiles. Well the law is the law, but it's the photos of half-century old Russian and American cars lovingly kept going that's the real pleasure.

But what's that on the far right among the vintage Moskviches (Russia), Tatras (Czechoslovakia), and Chevys (U.S.A.)?  Yes, it's a Fiat 126, otherwise known as the "Mały (Little) Fiat" or "Maluch" (Little One). Back in August, in Coupe d'Arte, I posted about the Ostalgia show at the New Museum. I called attention to the 1972 Fiat 126 artist Simon Starling had driven from Turin, Italy, where the 126s had been made, to Poland, where after 1973 the Maly Fiat was churned out in ever greater numbers to keep the proletariat happy and relatively mobile (they often stalled). He painted it red and white (colors of Polish flag) and hung it on the wall.

The video below shows a Mały Fiat in action, set to the song of the same name by Polish punk band Big Cyc. The lyrics go something like this (tr. BTB):
He was close like a friend
Every Pole in a Mały Fiat
Laughed at throughout the world
But to us he was like a brother

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Czar Bomb

1963 Jaguar E-Type
My NYC nephew and niece have rather suddenly become fascinated with cars, not surprising since they are roughly 15 and 13 years old (who keeps track of these things?). I well remember my own teenage obsessions with old MGBs and Triumph Spitfires. Bemoaning the form of today's Jaguars and Saabs, I was reminded of another shapely vehicle, circa 1961: the hydrogen bomb the Soviets built and tested in the Arctic on October 30th of that year, nicknamed, the "Tsar Bomba."
1961 Soviet FU-Type

The explosion destroyed several small island and caused earthquakes, the tremors from which could be felt by three quarters of the globe (according to the Polish journal Tygodnik Powszechny, from which the photo at left). Of course, you can't see the original Tsar Bomba, but you can see its brothers and sisters at a museum in Sarov, in the Nizegorod region, approximately 400 km from Moscow. Sarov is the nearest city to the "Los Alamos of the USSR," the mysterious and heavily fortified Arzamas-16, which is still operational as a nuclear weapons lab, among other things. You can read all about it on the website, possibly the most terrifying site in the world.

But let's leave all that to admire the sheer beauty of the 1960s-era design, seen in this early 60s Saab TV commercial from YouTube. Our WMDs just can't hold a candle to these.

This post dedicated to my brother James who was largely responsible for my early automobile obsessions. Ironically, he doesn't even own a car.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bridge to Newark?

See you in Secaucus
Looks as if the Gateway Project with a new tunnel connecting Penn Station to Secaucus and Newark stations is a go. It took both New Jersey senators and Amtrak to convince Governor Christie to bite, but now it's all aboard. The massive project will require not just a new tunnel but two new rail bridges on the NJ side. Knowing how the governor likes to save a buck (even if it costs the state millions), I have a suggestion: Let's give the Kosciuszko Bridge to NJ. It has to be replaced anyway. With a little spit and polish (get it?), it could easily be retrofitted as a railway bridge.

Moving Day?
Among other advantages, this would unite on the same side of the Lordly Hudson the monuments to the two great Polish heros of the American Revolution: Casimir Pulaski (as in Pulaski Skyway) and Tadeusz Kosciuszko. If London Bridge could be successfully moved to Arizona, we ought to be able to move this one 20 miles or so.

New Jersey, you are welcome.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Games of Reference

OfTroy's comment on yesterday's post directing us to the great The Dot and the Line cartoon (dir. Chuck Jones) reminded me of one other thing--besides vectors are everywhere--I learned about in that high school physics class. Surrealism. Yes, my introduction to surrealism came not from an art or literature class, but from the film Mr. V. showed us at the very beginning of the course: Frames of Reference.

Maybe you remember it: A tweedy scientist with a pipe starts talking and moments later a similarly professorial type shows up in the frame, except he appears to be upside down. All kinds of hijinks ensue with flipping coins, moving walls, swinging pendulums (pendula?), and so forth. Like so many films and filmstrips we were shown in school, it seemed dated (grainy B&W, made in 1960), and yet this one was mindblowing. (The YouTube video has the first three minutes but follow the link to the site for the whole thing.)

Tribeca, PA
Walter Benjamin writing about surrealism and the "little universe" of Paris: "That is to say in the larger one, the cosmos, things look no different. There, too, are crossroads where those ghostly signals flash from the traffic, and inconceivable analogies and connections between events are the order of the day."

Or night. Coming back from Staten Island on an express bus last night, I dozed off somewhere on the Gowanus Expressway and woke a few minutes later at a plaza on Interstate 80 in the middle of Pennsylvania in the very early hours of the morning in the very early 80s. The dirty windows of the bus and the ghostly signals flashing from the sidewalk providing the frame and memory the reference.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vector Vendetta

Alien landing?
Vectors are everywhere. The only thing I learned in my high school physics class and I still have no idea what it means. Oh, I don't blame the professor. I was hopelessly over my head from the word go. For decidedly nonpedagogical reasons, I wasn't dumped into a lower level science class (as I was from Algebra II to Senior Math (aka, checkbook balancing)) but allowed to hang around until the end of the year when a totally meaningless B was inscribed in my report card.

The BQE explained?
The vectors in the photo above are actually beams of the superstructure of the Kosciuszko bridge shot through the "sunroof" on a rainy day. If you want a refresher in vectorology, this tutorial site looks promising--but how would I know?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is This a Weekday?

Coney Island Dawn (or Sunset)
An hour before dawn. As I passed the split for the Lincoln Tunnel on the BQE, I had the momentary sensation that I wasn't on the right road. It seemed somehow that the main road had curved away to the right and I was now on Bob Frost's proverbial "one less traveled by." 

The night before I dreamt that I asked the student teacher I was to observe for her room number. She looked perplexed, paused, and answered, "Oh, it's like a small number of coins." In my sleep-fogged mind, I had begun to play out possibilities: Would 25+5+5=Rm. 35 or Rm. 2555? (and when did the cent symbol disappear from my keyboard?)

A few days before, I was looking at the show on the third floor of the main branch of New York Public Library. A young man with a Latin accent asked me, "Where is the library?" I must have had the same expression as the student teacher in my dream. "You're in the library," I said. He asked again, and I directed him to the main reading room, which seemed to me to be the most library-like place in the place.

Is disorientation contagious? What is the opposite of orientation anyway? Must be occidentation.