Greenpoint, October, 2015

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Air Ships

From my vantage points on the BQE yesterday, I saw:
-Cruise ship docked at a Red Hook pier
-Small tug pushing a squarish work barge in the Gowanus Canal
-Sloop under sail, then engine, working up the East River
-Seaplane commencing decent onto the same river
-Blimp pivoting over the U.S. Open.

I had just posted that I don't have art for any of these, when I read in this morning's New York Times that Jan Sawka, the great Polish poster artist and illustrator (and many things besides), has died. So here's a poster for a student festival in Świnoujście from 1971 (7 years before Sawka emigrated to New York). There you go.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


One thing you can always count on the BQE in is trucks (and vans) to read. Check out the iconography on this one: The Big Apple as ordinance. As you can see, it's Trooper Foods: "At Your Command"!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bom Dia, Senhor Romney!

Obama will turn this country into a European style economy, or so Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan tell us (and will continue to tell us right through November 4th if not longer). Great news! The only question is which one? I'm hoping it's Portugal. Sure, the economy's shit but think of the wine, the sardines, the coastline, fado... To celebrate our coming Europeanization, here's the title sequence to the great Wim Wenders film  Lisbon Story. A German sound recordist, played by Rüdiger Vogler, has been summoned to Lisbon by his eccentric filmmaker friend (Patrick Bauchau). His trip south takes him through the newly borderless European union. He celebrates Europe as "mi patria" but, ironically and pleasingly, the film becomes a valentine to the very particularity of Lisbon and Portugal. Interspersed with the radio stations he picks up on the trip is the incomparably beautiful music of Lisbon's own Madredeus (the band becomes a character in the film). Next stop, Lisboa!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Radio Daze

Oars, anyone?
This MTA Arts for Transit poster on the westbound 7 platform in Jackson Heights caught my eye. The copy begins: "The subway system brings people together by providing an easy way to move from place to place, letting us travel to all corners of the city to connect with friends, family, and sometimes, a special someone." The leave out connecting with bosses, coworkers, and often backbreaking and/or mind-numbing labor, but fair enough.

Product placement?
It continues: "Artist Jonathan Bartlett imagines a love affair with the city set amidst the natural beauty of Central Park, only a subway ride away." Quaint. Looking closer, I noticed the small transistor radio perched on the stern is tuned to 93.9, the call letters of WNYC, the public radio megastation. Suddenly, with a soundtrack of Scott Simon, Leonard Lopate, Jonathan Schwartz, Brian Lehrer, or This American Life, the whole scene changed complexion. From bucolic paddle to banal babble in three digits. 

(Full disclosure: Written by a recovering NPR addict. It took just one semester's commuting on the BQE to ween myself.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Las Escaleras de Jackson Heights

If you love music... (Check out the faux Colombian flag bannister on the right)

Or just need a haircut or a passport photo... (Dig the horizontal barber pole on the fourth riser.)
Roosevelt Ave. between 81st and 82nd Streets.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Completely Unspoiled

"Still unspoiled, still revolutionary"
Clever strategy, Connecticut state tourism agency, placing this billboard on the BQE East at precisely the point at which you are guaranteed to be crawling towards the Kosciuszko Bridge. Now you're thinking about the clean, wide waters of the Connecticut River as you cross over the fetid Newtown Creek. Talk about spoiled. What am I doing here? Next thing you know, you're rolling past your exit headed toward the Triboro Bridge. Bumping along on the Bruckner Boulevard and finally 95 North. Not long after that, you're stuck in traffic crawling into Stamford (should have taken the Merritt). Soon you're cursing Joe Lieberman. And Ralph Nader--isn't he from Connecticut too? Jesus, those clowns got us eight years of George W. Bush. Come to think of it, he was born in New Haven. You'll never make Bridgeport at this rate, let alone East Haddam or Deep River or wherever that billboard photo was taken.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

True West

From New West
If you thought you had no reason to go to New Haven, I've got one for you. And it's not the new Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge over the Quinnipiac--a dull echo of the Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Boston. It's the Robert Adams photography show at the Yale University Art Gallery. An absolutely stunning retrospective of Adams' work over four decades. The' black and white photographs, mostly small format, many without people, evoke a West where the subdevelopment and shopping plaza encroach unapologetically on the plains, rivers, and mountains.

From Summer Nights
Even if you lived far from Colorado, Missouri, or Los Angeles, but were a sentient being in the late sixties or seventies, the houses, businesses, and cars--my God, the cars--will bring back that boxy, washed out time. You can see many of the images on the Gallery's website. But for the photo of the supermarket interior with freezer case after freezer case stocked with cans of frozen concentrate, you'll have to page through one of the books on display: What We Bought: The New World, Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970-1974.  I could almost feel the ice crystals on the cardboard.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Boston Teepee

Coming into Boston on 93 South on Friday afternoon. I don't recommend it, but it did give me a chance to get a sneak preview of what I imagine the replacement for our beloved Kosciuszko Bridge might look like. This is the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge over the Charles River. Concrete cable-stayed bridges like this one seem to be the way to go. Another one is in the works on 95 between New Haven and East Haven.

Note to Boston drivers: Pick a lane! All this pointless lane changing in bumper-to-bumper traffic doesn't help anybody. Where's that Yankee stoicism you're known for?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Where BQE Doesn't Mean Damn All

Quick post from Midcoast Maine. It took a day or so to adjust my BQE-honed driving to an acceptable level. Within about 5 minutes, I was called a "fucker" for jumping into traffic (he didn't even need to tap his brakes, but let it go) and honked at for yielding to an oncoming driver (student driver, no less) as called for by the sign. You can't win. Certainly not with Jersey plates.

(Probably should be "where the BQE means damn all," but sometimes a double negative just feels right, doesn't it not?)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Willys-Wagen on Victory Day

Tan Avenger
Add caption
It's Victory Day* in Rhode Island and the oldtimers are out. Cars that is! Here are two beauties. The first is a Willys four-wheel-drive, I'd guess from the 40s. Willys made the iconic US Army jeeps during WWII. It would make a great beachwagon. You can have it for less than $5000.

The yellow VW microbus below  leapfrogged me all the way back from Mystic. I saw it first outside a biker bar on Rte 1 in Stonington. Then, after I stopped for lunch at a diner (can't recommend the chowder), I passed it at a gas station near the Pawcatuck line. Sure enough, as I'm coming out of McQuade's market in Westerly I see it parked at the EZ Liquor Store across the way.

Very Mellow Yellow
This baby has been lovingly restored and maintained. Check out the pop-up windshields in front. I think it's a bit tricked out; for example, I doubt the bumpers were originally painted and I'm not sure about the running board, but what a thing of beauty.

This will be the last post for a week or so as your correspondent heads north for some R&R. Then it's back to the BQE big time baby!

(*Victory Day, commemorating the end of the war in the Pacific in 1945, is observed as a state holiday only by Rhode Island and Hawaii. Also known as "VJ Day").

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Whip It Good

Not that instant
Waiting for my rental car on 62nd St. in Woodside, in the shadow of the BQE, I noticed the Instantwhip building across the street, next to Aamco. I'd seen the an Instantwhip truck in Manhattan a week or so before. Why hadn't I known about this company before? A quick trip to the website reveals this is no Cool Whip knock off; it's been with us since 1933:

Official Whipping Boy
"It all started during the height of the depression, when Professor Dr. G. Frederick Smith, his brothers Allyne H. Smith and Clarence Smith, the founders brought aerosol whipped cream to market for the first time. Dr. Smith and his brother Allyne devised a system to take dairy cream, process, package and pressurize it in returnable containers to produce Instantwhip whipped cream for use in restaurants, ice cream shops and soda fountains nationwide.  The Smith's returnable container and filling system made a process invented and patented by Professor Dr. Charles A Goetz for whipping cream under pressure both economical and commercially viable."

Moral: It takes a lot of doctors to make a desert topping.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Kissin' Cousins

No hair nets? (Photo: Daily News)
Word on the street is that Mitt Romney will name Paul Ryan as his Veep Candidate later this morning. Both the Daily News and the Times went with photos from a Romney-Ryan campaign appearance at Cousins a Waukesha, WI, sub shop from April. There is no greater bond than handing out free sandwiches. What is it with Romney and fast food sandwich shops. In Pennsylvania, it was Wawa (or "Wawa's" in Romneyspeak), now Cousins a huge midwest franchise. I guess he might know some of the owners. Geez, Mitt where would you get your grinder in Westerly, RI.? Subway, D'Angelo's.... (Grinders, of course, are the long sandwich of Southeastern Conn., Rhode Island, Maine, and, oddly, Riverside, California.)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Saving Big Blue

Feeling lucky?
According to today's Times, the U.S. Postal Service has reported a $5.2 Billion loss in just the last quarter. That's a lot of stamps. There are plenty of reasons for this, of course--private carriers, email, probably not bicycle messengers--but the big one is the 2006 coup de tête passed by the Republican Congress to require the USPS, and solely the USPS, to prefund future retirees' health benefits. Result: Default.

The BTB Research Bureau has been working overtime on this problem, and we believe we have come up with a solution that capitalizes on a core USPS asset: ubiquity. Let's turn sidewalk mailboxes into mobile lottery ticket dispensers with the proceeds reverting to the Post Office to pay off its debts (and keep those cards and letters coming). Not only will this save the Service, it will ease traffic in the bodegas for the newspaper, beer and Twinkie-buying public. Win-win.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bad Hair Day on the BQE

"How long do we have to hang around this dump?"
(Photo NYC Municipal Archives)
While we're opening up the vaults, here's a shot of the City's top politicos touring the BQE and surrounding neighborhoods in 1978. Why? Who knows. Left to right: John Lecicero, Tony Ameruso, Mayor Koch, City Council Majority Leader Thomas Cuite, Brooklyn B.P. Howard Golden. In the background: Harvey Schultz, Denise Scheinberg, and Unknown Guy in Trenchcoat. Location not identified. Maybe Cobble Hill or Sunset Park. Best hair in the picture: The Winston Lights Dude.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Memento Muri

Human Support (Kit Sailer)
Another 1980s gem from the Cityarts Workshop. This one from 1985 plays well with its location: under the viaduct from the BQE to the Williamsburg Bridge at Havermeyer Street & S. 4th St. Is there a moral (as well as a mural) in the title, "Human Support" (you can just make out on the crosspiece)?  Remember, you drive on the backs of giants? Or, in the words of our president, "You didn't get there on your own?" Or, simply, you never know what you'll find beneath the bridge?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Blackberry Power!

NYC subway poster, August 2012. This image of the African-American youth could be right off the cover of Richard Wright's 1945 Black Boy: disaffected, disconnected, disenfranchised.

Not to worry: the power he's missing isn't political, economic, cultural..., it's cellular (Duracell, to be precise):
Advertising motto: We never met an image we couldn't (ab)use.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Tango (Pamela Shoemaker)
I know what you're thinking as you look at this mural at Junction Boulevard and 37th Avenue: Hey, there's a parking space! Note the now antique meters (not to mention that cool luggage rack). It's 1986: You're looking at Jackson Heights a quarter century ago. The mural was part of the Cityarts Workshop, whose mission, back in the day, was to bring together artists and communities. According to a 1988 New York Times piece about the project, the mural was on the side of a supermarket. This morning, I took a sweaty stroll down to check out the site. There is a supermarket at the intersection but it offers no obvious wall space.
 Another candidate is the Rite Aid Pharmacy:
But that fronts a bus stop. Did it in 1986? Who knows? In any case, there's no mural there now. And no parking spaces either.

Friday, August 3, 2012

When Two-Tone Was the Rage

(Photo: Carnegie Arts of the United States Collection)
The Burroughs Adding Machine Company, Plymouth, Michigan, 1938. Must have been good work (especially in a depression): Just have a screw at all those two-tone beauties in the parking lot. The company was founded by William Seward Burroughs in the 1880s as the American Arithmometer (hard to say) Company. Along with IBM, it became one of the eight largest computer manufacturers in the world. If the founder's name sounds familiar that's because it was the money his company coined hand over fist that allowed grandson William S. Burroughs to do his thing with the typewriter (and other gear) rather than with the adding machine (or arithmometer). It wasn't always enough to keep up with his habit, though; Burroughs often pawned his typewriter to make ends meet.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lekcja on 35th Street

How's your Polish? Thanks to Innovative Window & Door Systems, LLC, you can brush up without breaking a stride. Here's Lekcja (Lesson) 1:


I am not sure there are any Polish-speaking potential customers who wouldn't know the English for these basics. So it must be for pedagogical purposes. One drawback: they can show you what drzwi looks like on the side of a van, but they can't tell you how to pronounce it. Try this: D’ZHVEE.