Greenpoint, October, 2015

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Battlestar Galactica

Rust never sleeps
Passed (twice) on the BQE by this two-toned Ford Galaxie. I couldn't get a make on the driver. Collector? Hipster? Original owner?! Why did Ford use "galaxie" instead of "galaxy" anyway?

There's a Cambodian restaurant in Cranston, RI, that used to spell its name "Galaxie" on its sign and "Galaxy" on its menu. Playing it safe, I guess.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

You Incomplete Me

Greenpoint billboard from the BQE
42nd St. & 5th Ave. subway station
Brevity is the soul of wit. Less is more. Knowing when to quit is half the battle... Alright, that's enough already.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ignominy Rights

Where the bodies are buried?
That's the view of lower Manhattan from the Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction Station. You might just be able to make out the construction of the Freedom Tower (center). The station's name honors the longtime New Jersey senator who was instrumental in securing federal funding to build the station. A stark contrast to Governor Chris Christie's role in losing nearly $300 million in federal funds to build a much needed rail tunnel to Manhattan.

The living dead
We know how to honor someone who has helped getting something built. How do we honor somebody for keeping something from being built? I propose we rename the NJ-side on-ramp to the Lincoln Tunnel the "Chris Christie Scenic Drive." It's probably less than two miles from top to bottom but you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the view of the NYC skyline.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


New York City has suddenly gone in a fever of name changes. The Triboro Bridge is now the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. The Queensboro Bridge (59th Street Bridge) is now the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. I thought nobody would want a hole in the ground named after him or her but it turns out the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel had been rechristened the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel after the governor who died last year. "Society Carey" Jimmy Breslin called him, but he helped New York City make it through its late 1970s bankruptcy (remember the Daily News headline: "Ford to City: Drop Dead"?

It's inevitable that the Queens-Midtown Tunnel go next so I've been thinking of politicians who might receive the dubious and posthumous honor of having their own tunnel. Bella Abzug? She deserves it. And it would break up the Boys Club of bridge and tunnel names. But she was born in the Bronx and made her career in Manhattan. Donald Manes? The disgraced head of the Queens Democratic machine? I doubt the suits at the DOT (or whoever makes the decision) would go for that. How about John Lindsay? It would give him one last chance to reach out the voters of Queens.
His Waterloo: Mayor Lindsay in Queens 1969.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"It's Utz Against Them"

Don't mess with her
(Courtesy of Little Utz Girl Facebook page)
Yes, that's the tag-line on the side of the Utz truck I passed on the BQE yesterday morning (and the billboard left). I must have still been in a Taxi Driver frame of mind. What if Travis Bickle had been an Utz delivery man instead of a cabbie? Making runs in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. How would he have responded to other drivers on the BQE? It bears thinking about. Then again, maybe Scorcese had the right idea after all.

On my way back, I saw an Utz truck being towed by a heavy-duty rig. I guess they won. This time.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Taxi Movies (The End)

"I ride around nights, mostly...subways, buses...."
A predictable choice for the closing film in the series, sure, but who can deny Martin Scorcese's 1986 film is the sine qua non of taxi movies. From his cab at night, Travis Bickle (DeNiro) observes and judges the filth and futility of the city. Gradually he transforms himself from witness to avenging angel. DeNiro was edged out for the best actor Oscar by Peter Finch in Network, another twisted urban fairly tale. (BTW: Rocky got best picture.) Peter Boyle, as the Wizard, steals this scene as he tries to give Travis some cabbie-to-cabbie advice. The scene was filmed outside the Belmore Cafetaria on Park Avenue South--a legendary taxi driver hangout. Here for a good Times piece on last days of the Belmore.

This series dedicated to all the taxi drivers. They put up with a lot of our shit.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hoagies Are People, My Friends

"You say I can have any of these toppings? How marvelous."
So he may not have realized his meatball hoagie came from a Wawa store, not "Wawa's." So he may not have recognized that round chocolate-covered "goodie" is a doughnut. Give Mitt a break. He didn't have the privileged childhood you or I did, looking forward to our grinder, sub, hoagie.... Maybe a stop at Dandy Donuts after the doctor's office.... He's still learning. Mitt, this song's for you:

When you've mastered the Wawa hoagie, you can start to explore the wonderful non-corporate world of sandwiches. I'm sure you can get a sub in Belmont. Can you get a grinder in La Jolla? (Try Riverside.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Taxi Movies (9)

This is the easy part
Ever been convinced your cab driver had never actually driven a cab before? Tony Shaloub (who would go on to play a much chattier driver in the TV series Wings) gives an unnerving performance as just that cabbie in the underrated 1990 Bill Murray vehicle Quick Change. Murray, outfitted as a circus clown, has just robbed a bank, along with his partners played by Gena Davis and Randi Quaid. Now they just need to get to JFK to complete their getaway. Ultimately, it's not a heist movie--it's a commuter's nightmare movie. Asked by Murray whether his bus goes to the airport, the driver calmly replies: "Near the airport. That's how it was in those great post-Bernie-Goetz-pre-Caardvark days.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Taxi Movies (8)

Backseat vanity mirror!
The plot in Pedro Almodóvar's 1988 Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown defies easy summary. There are betrayals, suicide attempts, spiked gazpacho, Johnny Guitar in Spanish, terrorist plots, and a near-lethal LP tossed from a balcony. While most of the movie takes place in a fantastic modernist Madrid apartment, several key moments involve taxis.

Muy peligroso!
Somehow it's always the same mambo-loving taxi driver (Guillermo Montesinos) that our heroine Pepa (Carmen Laura--that's her in the rearview mirror) hails. There's even a high-speed chase to the airport involving the taxi and a highjacked motorcyclist (and his girlfriend, of course). The over-the-top interior decorations of the cab is classic Almodóvar kitsch with a heart of gold. (The cab, according to this site with more photos, is a Peugeot 505.)

Here's the trailer (which sadly does not include the Mambo-Taxi):

Friday, June 15, 2012

Taxi Movies (7)

Taksówka Polska (Photo Dominik Nawrocki)
The Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski's masterwork, the Decalogue, made for Polish television and broadcast in 1989, is made up of 10 one-hour films. Each film reflects, often obscurely, one of the 10 Commandments. And each takes place, at least in part, in a large blok, or housing complex, in Warsaw. While each film focuses on its own set of characters and their relationships, characters from other films reappear (or pre-appear) in passing.

Two of the films concern taxis. The more famous is Decalogue V (Thou shalt not kill), the story of a boy who sets out to kill a cab driver. Kieslowski later expanded this film to become A Short Film About Killing for theatrical release. The film I have selected for you, though, is Decalogue III ("Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy"). In it, Ewa (Maria Pakulnis) convinces Janusz, her former lover (Daniel Olbrychski) to leave his family on Christmas Eve--yes, another Christmas taxi movie!--to help her look for her missing husband. As an excuse, Janusz tells his wife that his cab has been reported as stolen. She begs him to stay with them--it's Christmas Eve--but he insists: "We live off that car."

If you have the time, watch the opening sequence as Janusz, dressed as Święty Mikołaj (Father Christmas) enters the building. In one of the most exquisitely heartbreaking moments of the entire heartbreaking series, he passes a neighbor (played by Henryk Baranowski) who in the first film lost his son to drowning.

(I went to a party at a colleague's apartment in the complex about a year after the Decalogue aired. I remember it had a nice view from the balcony over the Jewish Cemetery. Can't remember how I got home--probably took a taxi.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Flag Day!

Trains, tunnels, bridges, canals showing the colors.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Taxi Movies (6)

Bert (Ward Bond), George, and Ernie (Frank Faylen)
Another Christmas movie? Or the Christmas movie? Yup, It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra's 1947 morality tale. It's also a taxi movie. In fact, Ernie's cab has a penchant for turning up at the big moments in George Bailey's life.  In the scene above, George is about to commence his round-the-world adventures; he tells, Ernie, "I'm a rich tourist today. How about driving me home in style?" In fact, it will be the beginning of a great evening for George and Mary Hatch, but one that won't last long as George gets the news his father has had a stroke. Ernie's cab also (almost) takes George and Mary out of town for their honeymoon trip--aborted by the Bank Crash--and later that night to the "Waldorf Hotel," aka, the old Granville Place.

One of the most poignant scenes in the movie takes place in Ernie's cab. George has been tossed from the bar and is desperate to get back to his old life. He flags down Ernie's cab and tells him take him to 320 Sycamore. Ernie's confused by why this stranger would want to go that fallen down wreck. George looks to Ernie for some affirmation that his old life exists:
A hack in Pottersville

George: Listen to me now. You are Ernie Bishop and you live in Bailey Park with your wife and kid. That's right isn't it?

Ernie: You seen my wife?

George: Seen your wife? I've been to your house a hundred times.

Ernie: Look, bud, what's the idea? I live in a shack in Potter's Field and my wife ran away three years ago and took the kid... And I ain't never seen you before in my life.

What else can George Bailey say except "Okay, step on it." Of course, it will be Ernie, out from behind the wheel, that reads the telegram from Sam Wainwright that gets George out of the red for good: "Heehaw and Merry Christmas" (in June).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Taxi Movies (5)

"We got 'em working in shifts."
Taxis are not the preferred mode of transportation in The Big Lebowski. That would be The Dude's 1972 Pontiac LeBaron: "green, with some rust coloration." (See here for discussion of what model the car actually is.) Of course there is one very memorable taxi scene after Lebowski's expulsion from Jackie Treehorn's garden party and the nice quiet beach community of Malibu. Needless to say The Dude's head injury does not affect his musical taste. Is it too much to ask for a little Creedence?

(Thanks to FOB Robyn for this suggestion.)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Eyes Wide Shut

Welcome to hell! Come back soon!
Heading east on the BQE this afternoon, just at the point where the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the BQE split, I encountered this bilingual billboard. If you can't make it out, the last line reads: "Shield Your Eyes." Fortunately, my friend (thanks Rachel!) was able to translate the Hebrew portion as: "Dear Jew, You Are Entering a Dangerous Place." Don't you hate it when you don't get an ad? Does it mean Manhattan or Cobble Hill? Is it still dangerous if I'm not a Jew? If not, should I still shield my eyes? Is that ever a good idea on the BQE? I guess that's what religion is all about, asking the questions that have no simple answers.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Taxi Movies (4)

"We're in complete control..."
Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco (1998) is bookended by cab rides. Alice and Charlotte (Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale) decide they'll have a better chance of getting into "The Club" if they arrive in a taxi rather than on foot (it works!). More ignominiously, Des and Jimmy (Chris Eigeman and Mackenzie Astin) flee postdiscolapsarian NYC to the airport in a cab. If you haven't seen the film, their conversation on the way to JFK won't make much sense but might make you want to see the movie--or see it again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Into the Arms of Venus...

Time out from taxis to congratulate Venus on another successful transit. The Soviet stamp above celebrates the Venera 9, which became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. The mission also included landing a module which sent back pictures from the surface of our closest neighbor. More about Venus and Venera 9 on Amy Shira Teitel's blog here.

For more Venus, here's Television live at the Old Waldorf in San Franciso 1978.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Taxi Movies (3)

Mad Men Take #1?
In Billy Wilder's (1960) The Apartment--more properly a Christmas movie, but what the hell?--taxis play an essential role of ferrying the bosses and their girls to and from C.C. Baxter's (aka, "some schnook's) apartment. That's Jack Lemmon as Baxter lurking in the entryway of his building until the coast is clear.

"On account of you?"
It's also a taxi driver, Karl Matuschka (Johnny Seven), Miss Kubelik's (Shirley Maclaine) brother-in-law, that socks him in jaw when he comes to bring her home from Baxter's apartment. Not before the ever gracious C.C. offers him a martini; then, realizing he's a cabbie, commiserates about driving a cab in New York, "I mean, with all that cross-town traffic," swinging his own martini across his chest to demonstrate. Not the first movie in which cabbies represent the witnesses and sometime conscience of the city but one of the very best.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Taxi Movies (2)

Larry Block as Taxi Driver
If you thought the Scorcese entry in the BTB Summer Taxi Film Series would feature Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster--think again. After Hours is Marty's 1985 date-from-hell comedy. Mild-mannered word-processor (!) Paul (Griffin Dunne) meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) in an uptown coffee shop. They chat about Henry Miller, she gives him her number, and that night he heads downtown for a presumptive erotic encounter.
Griffin Dunne gets served
The cab ride downtown (captured in the trailer) sets the stage for a night that will include punks, rats, suicide, plaster-of-paris bagel-and-cream-cheese paperweights, and a homicidal Mister Softee truck driver. Great mid-1980s downtown vibe plus Terri Garr and Cheech & Chong.

The movie was the subject of a law-suit by radio artist Joe Frank who had earlier performed an 11-minute monologue that includes nearly all of the early plot elements of the film, including the taxi ride. You can read about it and here it all on Andrew Hearst's blog.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Taxi Movies (1)

Poster in color, movie B&W
Let's open the BTB Summer Taxi Film Series with Wayne Wang's 1982 Chan Is Missing. The film follows two Chinese (or Chinese-American) cab drivers in San Francisco as they try to recover money stolen by the elusive Chan. The plot is really just an excuse for conversations between the drivers who represent different generations. And a chance to explore the not-for-tourists streets of San Francisco. Wang relied on actors from an Asian-American theater company and shot the film for about $22,000. I saw it in New York City, just a few years before another great B&W low-low-budget film, Stranger than Paradise (more about that film's director later in the series).

Here's a taste of Chan. Wood Moy plays the older cab driver and Marc Hayashi his protege:

(This post goes out to Midori, who introduced me to Chan Is Missing and, for that matter, to New York City. By subway, of course--we never had the money for a cab.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Taxing Questions

Fifth Ave. (courtesy
What did taxis look like when you first noticed them? Was it the classic Checker body or something more like this 1970s Dodge Cornet whale? Can you remember the first time you rode in a cab? Watched a meter click over and wondered if you were going to have enough cash? Second-guessed yourself about the tip: Did I give him too little? Too much?