Greenpoint, October, 2015

Monday, April 30, 2012

Mitt Gets Baked

(Photo: Charles Dharapak, Associate Press)
Who's funnier, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama? Silly question, right? Wrong. Oh, Obama can deliver a well-written line or two--witness his performances at the Washington Correspondents' Dinner. But Mitt, he's in a whole other league. Mitt has created a complete comic persona. Not a Mr. Bean or Pee Wee Herman...

Then it hit me. Maybe it was the stories about the family dog on the station wagon use, but then this whole campaign has felt like one of those National Lampoon Vacation movies (and not the good one). Chevy Chase as Mitt, Beverly D'Angelo as Ann. And five annoying child actors to play the boys.

Waspy World, here we come!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fog & Ferry Foto

Gray afternoon on the harbor as seen from the BQE. Welcome rain after a dry spring. Check out the composition of orange, blue, and brown in the lower right corner. Arty.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Napping and Nothingness

Taking a nap in car trunk, Diyarbakir, Turkey (1979)
Let's take a break to appreciate a real photographer's work. The images above and below are all the work of Richard Kalvar, an American photographer (b. 1944) associated with Magnum Photos since 1975. He took photos all over the world and of all kinds of subjects. But he has a fascination with what people do in public places during those "in-between" times that make up so much of life: sleeping, hailing a cab, and, of course, waiting.
Man hailing a taxi, New York City (1976)
Are we ever more ourselves than we are waiting for a bus?
Waiting for a bus on Nowy Swiat, Warsaw (1997)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lush Places

The curve of the road. The trees leafing out. the clouds scudding across a milky morning sky. It feels like British lane running along a rail embankment. But what's the NYC taxi cab doing there? Maybe I've just been watching too much British football lately. In reality, it's 65 St. in Woodside and that's the retaining wall of the BQE. You can just make out the corner of the Exit 40 -Broadway & 37th Ave. peeking up in the center of the picture. There is a freight line somewhere around here, too, but I didn't hear any whistle sounds this morning.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Neva Again?

Cool for cats
I'm getting excited for the proposed velodrome in Brooklyn Bridge Park. For those of you who, like me, thought a velodrome was a vacuum cleaner or a motion sickness pill, let me assure you that track cycling is indeed a real sport. It's huge in Europe, as demonstrated by the anthropomorphic cats in the vintage postcard above (thanks, Card Mine).

My question is, does it have to be an indoor velodrome? Check out this great photograph of the Fontanka Embankment on the Neva in Saint Petersburg, circa 1905. Isn't the Brooklyn Bridge Park our embankment? And aren't New York City cyclists supposed to be tough? At least as tough as these pre-Revolutionary enthusiasts making their revolutions. I'm inclined to wonder.
(Photo: Karl Karlovitch Bulla)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ride on the Wall of Death One More Time

Future site of Velo City (Courtesy New York Times)
The largest gift for a park in New York City's? $40 million for an indoor cycling track, aka, velodrome, to be constructed in Brooklyn Bridge Park, just below the BQE. Well, it's your money Joshua P. Rechnitz. If the idea of peddling around a 200-meter inclined track gets your heart racing, go for it. Too bad you're not a squash nut--imagine how many state-of-the-art public squash courts you could fit into the same space.

Here's a design idea: Make the fieldhouse a large glass box. Build the track so that one of its straightaways is level with the BQE travel lanes. Then, drivers stuck in traffic could watch incredibly fit cyclists zip  around the track. And cyclists could enjoy the idea of passing the same cars over and over and over and over and over...

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Wednesday morning, I had John Allen's WFMU show on in the background. To finish the show, he played one Band song, then another. Something was up. Sure enough, Levon Helm's family had posted a message on his website that Levon was in the last stages of cancer, and they asked for prayers and support from his fans. Last night, or very early this morning, I heard a version of "The Weight" by Cassandra Wilson on the Newark jazz station WGBO. And when I got back from work tonight, the news was confirmed. Levon Helm died today. You can find plenty of tributes to Levon all over the internet. The photo above comes from a Spanish language website.

In 1978, I was just a stupid kid who thought "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" was a song by Joan Baez until I saw The Last Waltz at the Coast Guard Academy in New London with my brother and a few homesick cadets (it was Thanksgiving weekend). A week or so later, I bought The Band at Caldors in the Norwichtown Mall during my break from the drug store where I worked. I've been listening to his music ever since. So long Levon, Rick, and Richard.

Rules on the Roadside

Secretary of State?
1978. Senior Math. I'm trying to calculate what the difference would be on $55 after a year deposited in an account with simple interest versus one with interest compounded quarterly. One of my stoner classmates slumps into the desk next to me, notices somebody has carved "Nugent Sucks" into it, and mutters, "Yeah, right." He begins to methodically scratch it out. Neither of us would finish our problem before the bell rang.

Can we really still be talking about Ted Nugent? Can his endorsement of Romney or his hate rant about Obama matter to anybody? These questions got me thinking it might be a good time to reconsider Ted Nugent the artist. I googled "Ted Nugent" and "highway" (well, why not?) to see what came up. Here's the first verse of "Writing on the Wall" from his double-platinum Free For All.

Racin' down the highway
I'd rather have it my way
Gotta have more...
Rules on the roadside
Floor it like a landmine
Keep you on your toes

Reader, judge for yourself. I wonder what Mitt Romney was doing in 1978.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Weird and Wonderful B.C.

Too small to see here, but the license plate for British Columbia actually reads "Beautiful British Columbia." Thus the title of Maxwell Bates' tongue-in-cheek painting from 1966, part of a fine show at the Vancouver Art Gallery called Lights Out: Canadian Painting from the 1960s. Haven't been able to figure out the make of the car--little help please.

If you visit the gallery, make sure you stop by the cafe. Good food, nice space, and a message on the napkin dispensers you are unlikely to find at any other art gallery in the world.
I took two.

My last "Hockey Night in Canada." Which begins here at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Go Canucks Go!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Titanic Inhumanity

(Photo: Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press)
In this season of Titanic centenary hoopla, let's take a moment to remember another ship lost at sea. The SS Struma went down on February 24, 1942. All but one its 779 passengers perished; nearly all were Romanian Jews fleeing to Palestine. They made it to Istanbul but were denied passage to Palestine by the British government, publicly fearful allowing them to do so would "encourage a flood of refugees." Turkey refused to the passengers to disembark. After two months of sitting in the Istanbul harbor, with conditions worsening by the day, the Turks towed the Struma out to sea--with the blessing of the British government and despite offers by Turkey's Jewish community to provide shelter for the displaced persons. 74 days later, the Struma was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine.

Needless to say, you won't find any Hollywood films about this entirely manmade disaster. No shipboard romance. No Celine Dion song. No state rooms and ballrooms--it was pretty much all steerage. The photo above comes from the commemoration of the 70th anniversary in Bucharest.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Burrard Street Metro Station
Greetings from Vancouver, B.C., where yesterday a volatile mix of hockey fans and educational researchers descended on the city.* Last year's June 15 riot, after the Bruins beat Vancouver in Game 7, caught the authorities of this generally pacific Pacific Rim city off guard. The situation was calm last night, however, even after the Canucks lost 4-1 to the L.A. Kings--leaving them down 0-2 in their Stanley Cup playoff series. I could tell things were going to be alright, though, as I observed through the barroom window disappointed Canuck fans pouring out of the arena but stopping to observe the crosswalk signs. Oh, Canada.

(*Your correspondent here for the hockey, of course.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Putin to Palin: Dig This!

Would you buy a used car from either of these guys?
Call it Vladimir's Dream or Sarah's Nightmare. In 2008, during one of their notorious oko za oko (eyeball to eyeball) lovefests, the then president Putin proposed to then president Bush a tunnel from Chukotka to Alaska. It would have meant a 64 mile drive under the Bering Strait. A horror for most of us, but then we don't have Putin's KGB training or Bush's God-given nerves of steel.

The idea for such a tunnel goes back to Tsar Nicholas II. Perhaps they discussed reviving it during their drive in Vlad's beautiful 1956 Volga (photo courtesy No word on what Tsar George II's response was.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Who's the gent on the far left? That's John Francis Hylan, mayor of New York City from 1918-1925. Among other initiatives, Hylan proposed the Verrazano Rail Tunnel, which would have allowed for subway travel between Brooklyn and Staten Island. He even raised $500,000 for the project. Ground was broken in 1923; sadly, the project ran out of money soon afterwards. (For more, see this excellent Brooklyn Rail post.)

How to Kill a Tunnel (Photo, Star Ledger)
As Hylan found money for the public good, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did his darnedest to lose some. Christie's grandstanding play in killing construction on the Trans-Hudson Passenger Rail Tunnel in 2010 was based on two premises: 1) state transportation officials had revised cost estimates upward to at least $11 billion and potentially more than $14 billion, and 2) that NJ would have to pay 70% of the costs for the tunnel. Wrong and wrong, at least according to the just released General Accounting Office report. State transportation officials had said costs wouldn't go north of $10 billion and that the actual estimated costs for the State would be 14.4% (off by 55% Chris).

What did Christie's mendacity cost the plain people of New Jersey and New York? The best chance for decades to come for increasing the sorely needed capacity for both NJ Transit trains and Amtrak, both of which are running at or close to capacity now. Fewer trains, more car traffic. Just what we all need.

The abandoned Verrazano tunnel shafts became known as "Hylan's Holes." I can think of a similar, more specific term for Christie's tunnel. Any guesses?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Big Country

Spring brings benefits, even to the BQE. A couple weeks ago I captured some. It must be about 7 PM on a Thursday evening because that's the end of the great Dusty Show on WFMU you are hearing. It's only 28 seconds but the music and the light and the movement say it all.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Could the Gowanus Smell Any Better?

Of course, I am talking about the Gowanus Expressway, not the Canal. A recent story in the New York Times reports that the sprawling former Navy warehouse at 850 Third Ave. in Sunset Park is slated (unslated?) to become an enormous rooftop garden, perhaps the largest in the world.

Hanging Gardens of Sunset Park (artist's rendering)
A good green thing, for sure. My only question is how this might affect the "nice smell" that regularly wafts across the expressway all the way from New Jersey. I usually pick it up (heading west) around 39th St. The warehouse is between 30 and 31st St. Nobody's saying what they're going to grow up there. Whatever it is, could it overpower the intoxicating smell of fenugreek being processed that emanates from the Fruitarom Company in North Bergen? Can the rooftop gardeners be persuaded to grow fenugreek themselves?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Voices Carry

Don't go searching for your old Til Tuesday records. That's not Amy Mann, it's Kasia Jarosz and Wielkanoc, a Polish new wave band from the late 1980s. In English, their name means "Easter." Despite certainly stylistic similarities--the hair!--they had a harder-edged, more punkish sound than their American counterparts. Well, they had more to be angry about, coming of age in Lubin, a small industrial Silesian city, in the last days of the PRL (Polish People's Republic). Their only record Dziewczyny Karabiny (Girls Carbines) was released just last year. Unfortunately, it's not available at all in what used to be referred to as The West. (More on the Wielkanoc generacja on Agata Pyzik's fine blog nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour.)

Here's a video of the band doing "Ranne Zwierzata" (Injured Animals) from those days before the New World Order. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Certain Angle

Among the cornfields of southeastern Connecticut, where I started driving, you could tell from some distance. A car parked aslant and close to the road meant one thing: For Sale. As you got closer, you'd invariably find a sign on one of the windows to confirm it.

Over the line, Smokey!
Starbucks, Victory Boulevard, Staten Island. Same angle, different message. This guy occupies the handicapped spot and the one next to it (marked in blue for no parking). He's even managed to stick out into the narrow travel lane so it's difficult to get in and out of the parking lot.

Imagine my surprise when I saw his plate. Indiana!

Friday, April 6, 2012


Ferdinand A. Porsche died on Thursday in Salzburg. He was the designer of the legendary Porsche 911. On the same day, in (or above) Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, I saw this early-1980s vintage Dodge Omni moving smartly towards the bridge over the Gowanus. My family owned a first edition of its Plymouth version, the Horizon, and I can safely predict no one will be writing obituaries for its designer. Still, I have to say, it looked damned good. Check out the color. And that chrome!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Summer Fashion Forecast

These looks will stop a train!
Vests. Helmets.

Loads of orange!

Yellow stripes.

I wouldn't hold out much hope for green.

Not on the MTA, anyway.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Life's Rich Pageants

See you on the 6 train!
NYC hasn't crowned a Miss Subways since 1976. I guess something happened in the seventies. Fortunately, Miss Taxi International goes on, an annual contest sponsored by Consur Insurance Company in East Elmhurst.

The mission of MTI is simple: "To provide entertainment, fun and amusement to the Taxi driver, his family, and his Base." Entrance requirements seem a bit flexible: "The pageant contestants are usually related or linked to members of the Taxi industry." There are more  photos from the 2012 pageant, beautiful and somehow heartbreaking, at
(Photo courtesy
Whatever happened to Enid Berkowitz? Did she become a costume designer? Did she settle for an M.R.S.? Or did she get a job with Don Draper at Sterling Cooper? 

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Train Tale

(Photo courtesy Order of St. Lazarus)
Midwinter in the Carpathians. We had crossed the border by bus from the Polish side to the Slovak Republic to visit the castle in Stara Lubovna (above). After a few excellent Smadny Mnich (Happy Monk) beers, we returned to the station to catch the bus back across the border. But we'd miscalculated. It was a holiday in the Slovak Republic: No more buses today. Many conversations later, in a mishmash of Polish and Slovak, a plan was hatched. We would take a local train 20 or so kms into the interior and there make a connection for the Budapest-Warsaw train, which would drop us not far from our village on the Polish side of the border.

(Photo courtesy
It would take many hours, more in cold waiting rooms at the stations than on the trains themselves. Everywhere we went we would hear the clinking of empty beer bottles that everyone, man or woman, seemed to carry in their bags (to return for the deposit).

The first train was the most memorable. A single-wagon Elekricka like the one pictured (right). A few kilometers after we'd left the station the train ground to a halt. The conductor who'd just taken our tickets, and looked about 16 in his oversized uniform and cap, came back down the aisle. Passengers moved their feet and bags aside (more clinking bottles) so that he could open a panel in the floor. He stuck his head below and made some kind of adjustment. Nobody seemed at all surprised or worried. A few minutes later, he closed the panel and the train started again (more clinking bottles).

I've forgotten the name of the village on the Polish side from where we started out, the Slovak holiday, the names of the train stations, but I will never forget the scene of conductor's headless body sprawled out on the floor of the train or the sound of clinking bottles.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Warsaw and New York City have a lot in common. New York is bisected by the East River, and Warsaw  by the Vistula. New York has its Empire State Building, Warsaw its Palac Kultury (Palace of Culture). And while Warsaw's two-line Metro can hardly compare to the IND, IRT, and BMT of NYC's sprawling subway system, New York has nothing to compare to Warsaw's trams (tramwaj)--all 22 separate lines.

That's the Number 36, my first line, in the picture above. It took me from the remote district in the south of the city (as Poles say, "Where the Devil Says Goodnight"), to the center (and beyond). The city has modernized its tram stock, but it's good to see at least some of the Konstal 13Ns are still on the job. These workhorses were built in Chorzow, Poland, between 1959-69.

Standing in the back of the car with the windows curved around you was a little like being in a greenhouse. But how many hours did I spend on a cold platform with traffic buzzing around me praying for the sight of a 36?