Greenpoint, October, 2015

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Greening the BQE, Part I

Yesterday's post about the plan to plop a park atop the "Trench" in Brooklyn got me thinking about some of the existing parks that sidle, if not straddle, the BQE. So, in honor of Spring-Easter-Passover-What-Have-You, we kick off a series on the green that graces the BQE.

Let's start in Woodside, more precisely, Winfield, with Crosson Green, a little triangle just south of Woodside Ave., formed by 68th St., the BQE, and the side of a house. The park is named for Rev. Matthew J. Crosson, a Woodside resident who served as a chaplain in the South Pacific campaign of WWII. The Reverend must have been well-liked, since his name adorns two of the six "sitting parks" created in 1955 when the City acquired land to widen the BQE (the other is Crosson Park).

Sitting park is about right, since there's no space to do anything else. Still you have your choice: you
Crossing 68th St.
can sit with your back to the BQE looking out at 68th St. or facing the BQE and the buildings on the other side of Woodside's version of "Trench."

(According to the Parks Department site, linked above, Father Crosson was known as "the Baseball Priest," because of his longstanding involvement with youth athletic leagues. Opening Day is just a day away!)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Getting Middle Earth on the BQE

The Get High Line?
The 2013 Emerging Voices Awards have been announced by the Architectural League of New York. Among the honorees is dandlstudios' plan to reconnect the neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Red Hook. The plan creates a park above the dreaded "trench" of the BQE that sunders these neighborhoods. Looks a bit like the Shire in The Hobbit, but, you know, with cars. One suggestion: Why not add some sheep? To be followed by a shearing festival, BQE-brand organic yarn, artisanal cheeses...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Fix Is In

As temperatures see-saw, the forecast for spring, is in: Potholes. Was it Stephen Colbert that joked we could fill the holes with poor people (as opposed to having poor people fill the holes)? The spiffy map above, from Public Source, shows the average number of days it takes to fix a pothole. In Pittsburgh (did you think it was Brooklyn?). From a low of 1-3 (yellow) to a high of 20 or more (it's a rough ride in Squirrel Hill South).
"I'm not saying we won't get our hair mussed."
The Research Bureau has been unable to locate similar data for New York City. What we have here is a veritable Pothole (Data) Gap. A cover up? We need data. We need a Pothole War Room! We need a Big Board!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Beantown BQE?

What is Boston's closest equivilent to the BQE? One candidate is the infamous Southeast Expressway (Rte. 93). Its notorious traffic snarls gave rise (if a tunnel can rise) to the Big Dig. This part, seen from an MBTA train arriving at South Station remains elevated.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lost the Handle

It took quite a few years after my spell as a Dunkin' Donuts finisher/counterboy before I could face the product (coffee, yes; donuts, no). When I did come out of the cold, it was for the original "dunkin' donut," the plain (or "old fashioned") cake donut with a handle to hold as you dunked it into your coffee. Why? Value. You got an extra quarter of a donut, I argued. (Don't actually remember saying this, but I'm assured by Providence friends that I did. On more than one occasion.)

What's your poison?
Try as you might, you won't find it on the helpful donut-identification chart (right). According to an article in Slate, DD dropped the signature dunkin' donut (after 50 years!) in 2003. And yet the "Boston Kreme" hangs on?

(In fact, even in my days behind the counter, few people bought the "dunkin' donut." We would lay them out flat in the wire baskets in the display cases, only a dozen at a time. The identically constituted, minus the handle, "old-fashioned" donuts would be lined up vertically, a couple of dozen to a basket.) Go figure.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Marquee Moon

More than 16 ounces
That's the beacon, the holy grail, visible from the Gowanus Expressway. The Dunkin' Donuts on Third Avenue and 35th St. It gets only one review on Google, and it's pretty negative: "The stupidest staff ever, u can repeat your order 5 times and they will do it wrong anyway. Idiots!!!" I've never been to this store. I don't know any of its staff. To that anonymous reviewer, I have only one thing to say: You try doing it. Wait, I thought of one more thing: Asshole. 

(Warning to coffee-seeking drivers on the expressway: It's easy to get off at 39th Street but you'll have a long slog before you get a chance to get back on. Still, you have your coffee and crueler.)

How Brown is Your Neighborhood?

Few surprises here, although I wouldn't have picked Glendale to join more predictable suspects Park Slope and lower Manhattan as a highly caffeinated zone. I guess the Bay Gull shop in Broad Channel, recently profiled in the Times as a Sandy survivor, doesn't cut it as a coffee venue: the neighborhood shows up as coffee-shop dead zone. Well, that's one thing Broad Channel has in common with Central Park.

Map courtesy the NYC Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene. (Can there be any doubt that good coffee=good mental hygiene?)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


What in Gödel's name am I looking at? Fair question. It's a map of the NYC metropolitan area showing all the Starbucks locations (green dots), and, of those, the ones slated to close during the 2008 corporate reorganization (black dots). In order to test the role competition might have played in the closures, our friends at the Esri DC Development Center added 'magenta' dots for all Dunkin' Donuts locations in the catchment area.

I've studied this pretty closely, and it looks like the two heaviest bands of magenta follow the paths of the BQE-Gowanus and Van Wyck expressways. This data is a bit dated so I did a quick check on Mapmuse and discovered there were approximately 25 Dunkin' Donuts stores within five blocks (or so) of the BQE or Gowanus expressways. There are about 6 or 7 Starbucks stores within the same range (heaviest concentration Dumbo/Brooklyn Heights and Bay Ridge). I guess it's safe to say, the BQE still runs on Dunkin'. (Bonus: Now I know that DD color is actually called magenta.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Munchkin Manager

Fade-out franchise
This is where the magic was made. The long-vacant Dunkin' Donuts at the foot of Main St. in downtown (or "down city") Norwich, Conn. These photos, and those of many other Dunkin' Donuts, Dairy Queens, KFCs, and other living and dead paragons of corporate culture (mostly from Connecticut) appear on the invaluable Caldor Rainbow flickriver site.

You can just make out Church Street, in the picture below, above the retaining wall on the parking lot. It curled up into the small and, in my day, very poor neighborhood of Jail Hill. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, packs of kids would come down the hill and into the store, clutching handfuls of coins. 

Under Jail Hill
"He's here," they'd whisper, excitedly, when they saw me behind the counter. They knew I couldn't be bothered to count out the munchkins individually, as store policy dictated. If they had the money for a box of 25, they would come away with 50 or more. 

Could my act of lazy larceny explain the franchise's closing? Surely not. It didn't even keep me from being offered the job of assistant manager (more about that another time). Probably the parking lot was just too small.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Side-View Sunset

Doesn't the time change change everything?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Car Dates It

"Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg." A lovely show at NYU's Grey Gallery. Ginsberg, Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, Paul Bowles.... Not exactly Click & Clack (On the Road notwithstanding). So this photograph of Burroughs catches the eye. Ginsberg's caption reads "W.S. Burroughs at rest in the side-yard of his house looking at the sky, empty timeless Lawrence Kansas, May 28, 1991. But 'the car dates it' he noticed when he saw this snapshot."

(Photo courtesy Car Lust)
It sure does. A mid-80s Datsun B210, I'd say. In 1991, I was only a couple years parted from my own beloved B210 wagon (stolen and recovered three times within one year). Nice to think that Bill Burroughs and I had similar tastes. In something.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

World's Finest Coffee

No free refill
When I worked at a (scratch that) the Dunkin' Donuts in Norwich, Connecticut, in the late 1970s, the sign outside read "World's Finest Coffee." A bold claim, to be sure. But given the rather weak competition in those days, at least in most places, perhaps not entirely farfetched.

This was before Starbucks, before five different flavors of Green Mountain Coffee at every highway rest stop, before people said espresso instead of expresso. If you ordered decaf, it would come out of a little orange packet of Sanka. A cup of coffee was 35 cents. We ground the beans and then brewed the coffee. As long as the volume of customers was high, the coffee was fresh. By way of contrast, we only changed the doughnuts a couple times a shift.

Well, Dunkin' Donuts has reigned in its ambitions a bit. According to the NBC Connecticut, the chain has lost its bid to patent the phrase, "Best Coffee in America." A bitter pill to swallow.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Finisher

Woodbury, NJ - 1971
I gave my college students a writing assignment tonight. I asked them to think about their first job. Then visualize a particular spot they associated with the job. To give them a nudge, I talked about my high school job at Dunkin' Donuts in Norwich, Connecticut. I described the stainless steel bench where I "finished" the doughnuts, i.e., pumped 'em, sugared 'em, and frosted 'em. The smell of stale donuts, ammonia, and strawberry jam....

"How long has Dunkin' Donuts been around?" one of my students interrupted.

"How old do you think I am?" I asked.

The answer to my student's question is 63 years. Just a few more than your humble correspondent has been.

(Image from Woodbury, NJ township publication. Courtesy JSF0864 photo stream.)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

No Celebs in Jackson Heights

"Don't call us..."
I came across this moving truck on a bright Saturday morning. The first things that caught my attention were the hockey images and names painted above the truck's cab. The goalie is meant to be "Zack" and the referee "Robert." (Who would choose to associate themselves with a referee? Maybe an actual referee?) Then I got caught up in the not particularly effective erasures on truck's front and side panels. The last four digits of the phone number (1350) are gone. Along with the first four letters of (I'm guessing) the previous owner's company name (CELE). Leaving this BRITY MOVING.
Moving on

Punch it into Google. No direct hit. Just a long list of Britney Spears posts, like this one from the Daily Mail from January: "The smile that says it all: Britney Spears cheerily waves at fans as she puts Jason Trawick split behind her." Who the hell is Jason Trawick? Good lord, I've fallen behind on my Britney gossip.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Close Shave

Agent Orange
I lathered up for a later than normal shave, anticipating a hot shower on a cold, snowy morning. "Oh, shit," I thought, "It's after 9." New Yorker's Dilemma #9: Finish my shave  OR wipe off the shaving cream, pull on some duds, and run downstairs to pump some quarters in the MuniMeter. Reader, I rolled the dice. I finished shaving and even chanced a quick shower before I hit the bricks.

Mistake! The NYPD traffic officer was looking down through the little hole he had made in the snow on the windshield and punching the info into his handheld. "Officer, I'm right here!" I waved as I held up the futile quarters in my hand. But I knew I was in for "The Speech," i.e., "Once I've started writing it up, there's nothing I can do. You should have...." Instead, he came across the street to meet me. "Do me a favor," he said, "get a ticket from the machine, just for a few minutes, and mail it to this address." He pointed to the Appeal-by-Mail address on the back of the ticket. "Not in this envelope (the orange one), a regular one. It's within five minutes." I think he might even have apologized(!) as he explained he'd already written it up.


Friday, March 8, 2013


What's the Spanish for guard rails?
At first glance, it looks like a mountainous country road--beloved of luxury car commercials. Look closer: that's Bogotá, Colombia, in the background--a city of almost 8 million. It's a beautiful if somewhat nerve-rattling road, especially at night, when drivers pull to the side to look out over beautiful Bogotá. A sight I'd much rather look at then the snow outside my window. (Photo reposted from La Guía Mochilín.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Approaching the Kosciuszko Bridge at dusk. Note the road surface. How many times has this old soldier been bandaged up since it opened in 1939?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fully Loaded

Tow job on the Gowanus Canal viaduct. Hope the winch holds.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Cardvaark Conservationist?

The Cardvaark that swallowed the canary?
New York gets a little more expensive today as the MTA rolls out its latest fare hikes. Single rides up a quarter; monthly unlimited cards 8 bucks; and one-way tolls on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (and 6 others) up 2 bucks.

The good news? The MTA is going green. Ssort of. It will now charge a $1 surcharge for every new MetroCard. The goal is to prevent the rampant carpeting of subway stations with busted cards (and, incidentally, net the MTA an estimated $20M in revenue).

Thing of the past?
In another earth-friendly move, the MTA has decided to eliminate the wasteful printing of posters to inform riders on the 7 line that, once again, there is no weekend service between Queensborough Plaza and Times Square. Now, the only posters will be occasional ones reading: "Surprise! The 7 train is running between Queens and Manhattan this weekend." Thanks, Cardvaark!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

State Song Blues

Massachusetts is having a good old-fashioned political dust-up over a new state song. It started when an activist named Joyce Linehan lobbied a group of state reps to propose Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner" to be voted the state song. Good choice, right? "Massachusetts when it's late at night. Route 128 when it's late at night... With the radio on." Not everybody thought so. Two other representatives are pushing for Aerosmith's "Dream On."

This correspondent's sympathies are with the Modern Lover, but it's BTB policy not to interfere in another state's politics. It did get me thinking, though, what would be a good song for New York? To prime the pump, I'll throw out a possibility. It's too long, the title will never fly*, but Patti Smith's "Piss Factory" captures something essential of the New York spirit (or myth):

Welcome to New York!
And I'm gonna go, I'm gonna get out of here 
I'm gonna get out of here, I'm gonna get on that train, 
I'm gonna go on that train and go to New York City 
I'm gonna be somebody, I'm gonna get on that train, go to New York City, 
I'm gonna be so bad I'm gonna be a big star and I will never return, 
Never return, no, never return, to burn out in this piss factory 
And I will travel light. 

Oh, watch me now. 

What's your candidate?

(*To be clear, the "piss factory" refers to her job in New Jersey, not New York.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Gimme Sequester!

Good morning, Mr. Boehner! Here's a little ditty from Stephen Foster just for you:

Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, and a very young Rufus Wainwright.