Greenpoint, October, 2015

Thursday, January 31, 2013


The line between art and fashion is shrinking by the day. As an example, take the self portraits of Ahn Jun of South Korea. Many, like the one below, portray the artist perched on the ledges of skyscrapers. Very cool.
Check out those water tanks! (Courtesy The Guardian)
While some give us the artist's full figure (or at least half), quite a few focus on the legs and feet dangling above the city. Very high.
(Courtesy The Telegraph)
For some reason, this put me in mind of a self portrait of my own. Taken at considerably lower altitude, I think you'll agree, it speaks to Ahn Jun's work in oblique and somewhat horizontal ways:
Seoul shoes?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kelley's Heroes

Family matters had me passing through Worcester, Mass., a couple times over the last two days. There wasn't time to stop in at Weintraub's Deli on Water Street for a pastrami sandwich. Or to navigate the amazing self-regulating intersection or traffic circle or whatever the hell you call Kelley Square, where seven or eight streets converge without the benefit of a traffic light.

This time elapse video posted by Optophobia gives you a sense of what getting into the mix is like. Note: this was a Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Snow Gate

There are pleasures to be had walking along (not on) the BQE. Here is a small shipping container lot squeezed in between 65th St. and the BQE in Woodside. Dig those rolling gates.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Where the Hell is Cheetaway?

Did Beyonce lip-synch the "Star-Spangled Banner" at the Inauguration? I don't know. I do know lip-synching can make for great entertainment. Check out this film from 1969 of Polish singer Maryla Rodowicz performing her hit "Ballada Wagonowa" ("Ballad of the Train Car," written by Agnieszka Osiecka). It tells an amorous tale of three passengers on a train "from Cheetaway to Syracuse." In the proto-music-video, the whole thing takes place on the platform rather than in the train car the title. But, hej!, it's all good.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Victory Diet

Solidarność of the Stomach
While we're on the subject of Poles and bridges, this poster was produced in Brooklyn in 1917 to encourage Polish-Americans to eat less of the foods deemed necessary for the war effort. The text reads: "Kościuszko [&] Pulawski fought for freedom in America. Can you help America fight for freedom in Poland? Eat Less flour-meat-fats-sugar in order to help our brothers fighting in the Allied Armies."

The poster was created by the U.S. Food Administration. The artist was John Illian. Nice job. But somebody muddled one of the Polish patriot's names. It's "Pułaski," not "Pulawski." Strange because they clearly paid attention to the Polish characters, with their funny accents above the "s" & "z." Oh well, at least they got it right on the Skyway--well, almost, the "l" should be "ł," but who's counting (or reading for that matter)?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Skyway Byeway (Halfway)

Earlier this month, the NJ DOT announced that the 2 northbound (i.e., NYC-bound) lanes of the Pulaski Skyway would close for long overdue repairs. Two years worth.
(Courtesy HBO)
I've long thought of the Skyway as a big brother or big sister to our own Kościuszko Bridge. It's about six years older (1932, 1938). And, of course, it's much, much longer: 3 1/2 miles to just over a third of one mile. Both are named for Polish generals and Revolutionary War heroes. And while, they are both beautiful structures, the roads they carry are hardly beloved by all, as this commentary sums up.

The shutdown of lanes is scheduled for just after the SuperBowl. Traffic to the Holland Tunnel will be massively affected, as will many intra-Jersey commutes. BQE riders will watch with interest this tryout for the imminent replacement of the Kościuszko.

The photo above is a screenshot from the Sopranos opening credits. Watch Tony's whole "commute" below. What would he have to say about the Skyway closure?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Elevator

A story by Sławomir Mrożek 

The Chairman came to us and declared: "My fellow citizens. Important news. They are building us an elevator."

At first, we were surprised. Our building only has a ground floor.

"Difficult," observed the Chairman. "Modernization. We can't shirk it. Let's put our heads together and solve this problem." We considered long and hard and, in the end, discovered a solution. The builders came and put up the elevator according to our design, which was quite simple.

We hired an employee who would make sure that everyone who entered the building would first take the elevator to the basement and from there to the ground floor. Those who wanted to leave the building would first take the elevator to the roof, from there to the ground floor and out.

Everything went well. Then, to save the elevator from wear and tear, it was ordered that it could only be used to take people up. To go down, they must use the stairs. This complicated things. Now whoever wanted to enter the building had to first take the stairs to the basement, wait there for the elevator, then take it to the ground floor. And those who wanted to go out had the right to take the elevator to the roof but then had to use the stairs to descend to the ground floor.

Apparently this wasn't enough to save the elevator. Another order came declaring that the elevator could only be used--even going up--by directors, pregnant women, invalids, or recipients of the Silver Cross.

The results were fatal for us. None of our workers fell into the second category. We appealed to the council but with no satisfaction. As for invalids, the treasurer was missing something down there but he concealed it. Now only the Chairman can take the elevator. Eventually, the elevator stopped working entirely, and the problem disappeared.

Mrożek (Photo: Horst Tappe)
Unfortunately, we had gotten used to having multiple floors. And using the stairs is so tiresome.

(From Opowiadania, 1960-1965. Translation: BTB)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Way to Go, Queens

Back in December 2012, the Trust for Public Land was given a $467K grant to study the feasibility of turning a long disused 3.5 mile section of the Long Island Railroad connecting Rego Park to Ozone Park. The idea is to turn it into a pedestrian/bike path cutting through or passing above neighborhoods and the large and verdant Forest Park. Great idea, right?
Where's Mary Boone?
The proposed name, QueensWay, is pretty blah (why not the ReGoZone?). Worse are projected images, like the one above, from Friends of the QueensWay, of completed sections of the park. Look familiar? It should: It's the High Line on the West Side of Manhattan transported to Rego Park. Fellow Plain People of Queens, don't we have any more imagination, not to speak of pride, than this?

My own view is that one set of tracks should be maintained, with a vintage single-track trolley operating continuously between termini. Imagine hopping off for yummy Indian food in Richmond Hill then hopping back on. This would still leave plenty of space for pedestrians. Would it leave enough for a dedicated bicycle lane? Possibly not, but, to be fair, urban bikers have got a lot in the last few years, what have trolley riders got?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On the QB, on the QT

"I am Queens Boulevard!"
7:56 P.M. "Queens Boulevard looks good," my cabbie said as we came off the 59th Street Bridge. "It's like 5 o'clock in the morning."

Monday, January 14, 2013

All Ashore

From the Staten Island Ferry John F. Kennedy coming into Slip 2 Whitehall. Some of those lights on the Brooklyn side are cars on the BQE. Looks like traffic's not too bad tonight.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gorilla You're a Desperado

An obvious choice perhaps but I think Warren Zevon would have appreciated the tale of storm-tossed Pithicos sailing over Brooklyn. It's not his best song but it has some great lines:

Big gorilla at the L.A. zoo
Snatched the glasses right off my face
Took the keys to my BMW
Left me here to take his place

I wish the ape a lot of success
I'm sorry my apartment's a mess
Most of all I'm sorry if I made you blue
I'm betting the gorilla will too...

Then the ape grew very depressed
Went through Transactional Analysis
He plays racquetball and runs in the rain
Still he's shackled to a platinum chain

Can it really be almost 10 years since Warren Zevon died? I saw him perform four times. Twice at the late, lamented Bottom Line, solo acoustic shows when he was too broke to support a band; once at a small club in Providence with a band he called the Patrician Homeboys; and once at the Providence Performing Arts Center with a large band. X (with a very pregnant Exene) opened. It was the loudest rock and roll show I ever attended. (The clip is from a TV appearance in 1980. 1980!)

Come to think of it, Pithicos sounds just the kind of name Warren might pick for a 30-foot blue gorilla. Vale, Pithicos, Vale Warren!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Separate Incidents

Endangered species? (Photo courtesy KZTV10)
The disappearance in Sandy of Pithicos, the inflatable gorilla on the roof of the New York Auto Auction, was an act of God. Others of his species have met a different fate. An investigation by the Research Bureau reveals three incidents of foul play involving large blue (or purple) inflatable gorillas in just the last two years, including this guy above from Corpus Christi Subaru in 2012 (link).

There's also Marty from Spa's Stores of Gladstone, Oregon, 2012 (link) and another from First Kia in Simi Valley, California (link). Fortunately, that one was recovered by police on the high school roof (link). Kids did this!

A good inflatable gorilla costs upwards of $4000 according to Advertising Why do used car dealers lay out thousands on inflatable gorillas? Isn't obvious? People just feel more comfortable when they're around.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Blown Away

Mendez and friend
"Fight like apes!"
It's not the most grievous loss in superstore Sandy, but it's a loss. On November 17, in this space, I reported on the missing giant blue gorilla that had adorned the roof of the auto auction house and was visible from the viaduct over the Gowanus Canal. I speculated that it had been a casualty to the storm. When I noticed a replacement ape, smaller and sporting matching yellow shades and boxers, I knew I'd have to investigate.

As I approached the gates of the business with my camera, one of the guys in company gear asked, "Monkey?" I asked him what happened to the old one. "It's dead. Gone. Sandy." It blew away and nobody knows where it ended up. Sad. But what an image! A 30 foot inflatable blue gorilla sailing over Brooklyn, the Harbor, Manhattan... who knows where it came to ground?

If you know the whereabouts of "Pithicos," as Mendez told me it was called, please contact me and I will help return him (or her) to its rightful place.

Photos of the Great Ape in its pre-Sandy glory can be seen on the One More Folded Sunset blog.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tram Times IV: Incident Report

Warsaw. Almost eleven p.m., when trams make their last runs. I enter a car of backpackers in blond good health. They look German. At the next stop, two drunks get on. One takes the seat in front of me, asks me something. Nie rozumiem (I don't understand). He tries again. This time I make out Wyscigi?, the end of the line and a notorious grove of drunks. Tak. He nods, gets up to cadge a cigarette despite the prohibition.

A sudden stop sends him pirouetting down the row of sobers on the other side of the tram from me. He ends up on one of the backpacker's lap. Przepraszam, he apologizes. She scowls. We sit in silence not quite into the next stop. The doors open. "Out of service," they would say in New York. Here they don't say anything. The driver gets out, and most of us follow. It's warm, misty. Spring.

A man is lying in the pedestrian crossing, one leg not quite off the tracks. The tram driver, a woman, methodically, not desperately, pumps at his heart while passengers mill about. Some go across the street to the bus stop. Another tram pulls up behind ours. The driver, also a woman, asks me, Samochod czy tramwaj? (car or tram?) Tramwaj. She nods and goes to help her colleague.

The victim looks a bit raggedy, but then he's just been hit by a tram. Is he a drunk? Should we hope so, for everybody's sake? The two living drunks are still on the tram, smoking with impunity. I cross the street to the bus stop. The backpacker girl isn't German after all but Polish. She helps an American girl read the bus times on the sign. A night bus pulls up. It costs an extra ticket but it runs express. I get home before I would have on the tram.

(Photos are actually not from Warsaw but smaller cities in Silesia. Tomasz "Zyx" Jędrzejewski, Used by permission.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tram Times III

Do zobaczenia "Trzynastka"
I didn't know it when I posted yesterday, but the last venerable Konstal 13N model tram (like the one pictured in that post) has been retired from service in Poland after 53 years. You can read about the Konstal 13N (in English) and see some nice pix (and a video) on the W-wa Jeziorki blog. I hadn't realized that the first "Trzynastka's" ("13's") were produced in the U.S., and only later in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and finally Poland from the 60s. I liked their narrow design. I'd stand in the rear of the car with glass all around looking out on the streets, cars, and pedestrians of the city. The photo above is of my local tram stop in Służew nad Dolinką, Warsaw, in the early 1990s. How many cold hours did I spend there waiting for a "36"? (Damn "19" does me no good.)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Tram Times II

Q: Why did they throw the babcia (granny) off the tram?
A: Because she wouldn't give up her seat to a tired student.

Tram passing by (Christopher Anderson)
I read this joke on a Polish listserv. It's funny if you've ever been on a tram or bus in Poland and had the temerity to not immediately relinquish your seat for a babcia. It's not like here, they'll let you know the right thing to do--for that matter, whether your child is dressed appropriately for the weather.

The photo is from Odessa, 2003.

Tram Times

In his yearly "Diary" published in the most recent London Review of Books, Alan Bennett's entry for 3 February 2012 reads:  "An environmentally sensitive bus named after me in Leeds. I just wish it could have been a tram." Well, who wouldn't?

For images of the Leeds trams Bennett would have known growing up, here's a Youtube reading of a short piece he wrote about his father's taking up the double bass. Be sure to check out the comments about the dialect of the reader (not AB).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ginger Tale

There's a billboard on the BQE for Canada Dry Ginger Ale (no art so you'll just have to take my word for it) that claims this is the "Ginger Ale Season." By the looks of this advertising poster from 1938, it's a claim they've been making for a long time.

In the cafe car of an Amtrak train, just before Thanksgiving. I asked the employee behind the counter for a ginger ale.
"Sold out."
I eyed the stack of cans on the counter. "I guess you're sold out of the cold ones."
He followed my gaze. "Those are reserved for business class."
"That's just the way it is. I don't make the rules."
I ordered a Heineken instead, thinking, No brother, you sure don't. But I kept it to myself as I headed back to the "Quiet Car."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

More Promenade Prattle

Henrik Krogius' recent history of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade has surfaced some great photos of the BQE. Both of these are attributed to Louis Casey. This one shows the old walls of Brooklyn Heights that would become part of the promenade.
The one below is dated circa 1949 in the Brooklyn Heights Press and Cobble Hill News story about the book but I have my doubts. The cars and vans zipping by on the eastbound BQE look more like 1960s models to me. Something about the kids' haircuts, too, is bringing back memories of the mop-topped mid-sixties.