Greenpoint, October, 2015

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

Road Scholarship

There's a doctor in the cab
Drab day on the BQE and Gowanus. There's always trucking company names to keep the mind occupied. From the scholarly--Road Scholar Transport and University, out of Columbus, OH--to the evocative--Rabbit River (Hamilton, MI). And there's even class wars: Regency jostles with Bargain Hunters at the VNB tolls.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

George Jones Quit Drivin' Today

Star power
Farewell, George Jones. It's unlikely he ever drove this beauty on the BQE. A piece in the City Room Blog of the Times describes his antipathy to New York City. He didn't show up for many of his gigs, but he didn't even arrange to have gigs in NYC. According to the Branson Auto Museum, Jones' 1979 Ford Thunderbird has 118,055 miles and is listed at $24,500. Seems like a steal especially since they'll throw in the signed guitar.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Really, Really Cheap Houses

Zero Zen Houses is a project of Kyohei Sakaguchi. Sakaguchi trained as an architect but became fascinated by the things people build themselves, especially small shelters that have no utilities, thus no costs, thus "zero yen houses." Sakaguchi photographed many of these. Here's one with his description below:
The owner of this house lives with a dog.
The dog has a room of its own, but the two live in close quarters. This type of house is often seen in Osaka.

Some of the Zero Zen Houses are under highways, like the one in Nagoya below. Sakaguchi titled this one "A Huge Living Room":

This house also uses an elevated highway as a roof.
However, the inhabitant of the space keeps his belongings to a minimum.
The wide space, including the chairs and preexisting waterworks, is used as a living room.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Housing for Trolls

4 rms BQE vw
Spotted this yellow under the Gowanus Expressway across from the Hamilton Avenue asphalt works: "Really Cheap House 4 Sale. Call Now," plus a 718 number. Even though the really cheap house is probably not itself under the expressway, it reminded me of Alvy Singer's (Wood Allen) family home in Annie Hall, under a roller coaster in Coney Island. The house in the movie is actually the old Kensington Hotel under the Thunderbolt. According to the Scouting New York, both coaster and hotel were razed by the Giuliani administration in 2000 after years of disuse.
Earplugs included

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Parking with a Vengence

Bad parking is nothing special, on my block anyway. But there was something about this particular double-spacer. Not only did he not close ranks to make space for another car; when the magic hour of no-parking came to end, he stayed in his car. I loitered on the sidewalk, determined to ask him why he took up so much space. Did he not get that if everyone parked like him there'd be 50% less space for all of us? He didn't get out. I went upstairs. Still, I had to check on him from my window. 5 minutes later, still there. 10 minutes, still there...

People came and went. He stuck. He seems to have been going through plastic bags of junk mail. When he finished one, he started in on another. Or maybe the same one again. I couldn't tell. I'm going to outlast this S.O.B., I thought. My own work waited. I took a shower, and came back. Still there. OK, you win, but what's your game?


"Just shows to go you"
I rewatched The Spanish Prisoner, David Mamet's nifty puzzle-con movie from 1997, during the high-tech video manhunt for the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings.  Joe (Campbell Scott) takes a photo of his coworker Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon) on a hush-hush work trip to the Caribbean island of "St. Estaphe." A moment before she had taken one of him that inadvertently captured rich playboy Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin) and mysterious female companion in the background. Later, on the flight back to New York, Joe insists the couple came from a seaplane that had recently landed. Susan maintains they only came from the direction of the seaplane. "When I get my photos back," she chides him, "then you'll see."

Remember that period between taking photos and picking them up?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two Turntables and a Musakhan

The image of the city of Watertown, Mass., for many, is likely to be a covered boat in the backyard of a suburban house or perhaps residents in Red Sox gear and shorts thronging the streets to cheer the cops, firefighters, and other law enforcement and emergency personnel returning from the capture of the surviving suspect in the Marathon bombing. I maintain two images of my own from days working in Cambridge and commuting to Rhode Island.

Every now and then I would forgo my usual route to the Mass Pike, 128, and 95 to drive out through Watertown and pick up a falafel from Sepal, a little restaurant just off Mt. Auburn Street. I still remember the fragrant moment of opening up the tin foil for a behind the wheel falafel-fest. (I'm sure the musakhan and other dishes were equally fine, but I could never resist the simple pleasure of a perfect falafel.)

Adios, Jack
The second image is the basement of Russ's house, which I believe he shared with his mother. Russ repaired and resold old turntables. I got his number from a tear-off sheet posted at Stereo Jack's record store on Mass. Ave in Cambridge. I bought two turntables from Russ over the years, and was happy with both of them. Russ also had stacks and stacks of unsorted records, which he sold for $1 each. (He charged the Massachusetts sales tax but then encouraged you to take a couple records to make up for it.)

Watertown is famous, Sepal's has moved to an MIT food court in Cambridge, Stereo Jack's has closed but--good news!--Russ is still selling reconditioned turntables and $1 records in Watertown. At least he was four months ago.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Platform Squatting

Weeknights, the Flushing-bound 7 trains alternate between local and express. In my experience, if you take the express, you have a 1 in 3 or 4 chance of overtaking the local that you had missed by 61st St.-Woodside. Which means, if you are me, you spend a lot of time on the 61st platform waiting for train headlights, hoping the next one is a local. Tired, I decided to just plunk down against a lamp pole at the western end of the platform. A moment later, I noticed, a kid in hoodie, baseball cap, and Adidas did the same.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Covering the Highway

(Courtesy SST Records)
While we're on the topic of albums, here's my candidate for the best highway-themed cover. The Minutemen's 1984's Double Nickels on a Dime. It also features the best use of highway slang: The image shows bassist and singer Mike Watt behind the wheel of a VW Beetle doing 55 m.p.h. ("double nickels") on California's Interstate 10 ("the Dime"). San Pedro, home for the Minutemen, and still for Watt, is visible on the sign above the highway. More highway covers in posts to come. Feel free to suggest your own favs!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spin This

For Record Store Day 2013, the cover of a record I've never heard by a band I've never heard of. The Bullys were a NYC outfit formed in 1997 playing "fast, loose loud punk rock, steeped in the traditions of the New York punk bands of the '70s." The Bullys' front man, Johnny Heff, was a NYC firefighter who lost his life on September 11, 2001.

The car on the cover of 2006's BQE Overdrive reminds me of the Chevy Nova my older brother totalled. Sure enough, one of the tracks is called "78 Nova." Happy RSD!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Junior Birdman

A real high line
Spring brings cleaning (or repainting) of the cables on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. To pass these guys tethered to the cables in their little gondolas inspires awe. More so on a windy day, which is practically every day on the VNB. Yesterday, for some reason, it put me in mind of a song we learned from our parents (or so I recall). I remember only these lines:

Up in the air Junior Birdman
Up in the air upside down.

I always believed there was one guy named Junior Birdman who could fly upside down. It turns out the Junior Birdmen of America was an organization founded in 1934 for boys interested in model airplanes. It was promoted by the Hearst newspapers. You can see on the Jr. Birdmen pin "Hearst Newspapers" across the wings (courtesy of the Vintage Kids Clubs Online Museum).

There were several versions of the group's theme, including the one below. The Junior Birdmen would perform actions as they sang, e.g., for "Up in the air," put their arms up; for "Junior Birdman, flap arms like a bird, and so on. It also lets aspiring Birdmen what they need to do to join: So save those boxtops!

Up in the air junior birdman
Up in the air upside down
Up in the air junior birdman
Keep your noses off the ground

When you hear the grand announcement
that your wings are made of tin.
Then you know that Junior Birdman,
has turned his box tops in.

For it takes: 5 box tops,
4 bottle bottoms,
3 coupons,
2 wrappers,
and one thin dime!

B-i-r-d, B-i-r-d, B-i-r-d-m-a-n
Birdman, Birdman, Birdman

Thursday, April 18, 2013

King of Infinite Spacely

The traffic is much lighter and freer-flowing in The Jetsons than in Futurama. In fact, there is no traffic at all. George just zips around and offloads kids and Jane, his wife, in their little exit pods. The architecture of Elroy's Little Dipper School is nice. And I especially admire the way our past-future designers and engineers eliminated the parking space problem (watch clip to end).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I switched over from coverage of the Boston Marathon explosions to Comedy Central, last night, hoping to catch a "moment of Zen." What I caught was the beginning of a Futurama episode. It has my all-time favorite score for a TV show, and the opening credits always make me smile.This time I couldn't help noticing the herky-jerky movement of the space vehicles (as they pass over the "people tube"). When it comes to traffic, I think the future is much more likely to be Futurama's than the Jetsons'. I'm still on the BQE.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Drop the Pilot

What you are witnessing below, shorts and caps notwithstanding, is a highly scientific "road test" of the Miros SM094 Microwave Sensor in the parking lot of the Field Operations Unit of the National Aeronautic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Well and good, you say, but what does that have to do with the BQE? Well, nothing, actually, but it has a hell of a lot to do with the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and what passes below it.
Shorts-wave radio?
Here's the same SM094 device attached to the understructure of the mighty VNB (midspan). Its job is to detect and communicate "continuous, real-time observations of the clearance beneath the bridge with an accuracy of +/- 15 centimeters (6 inches)." It does so to avoid risk of any vessel's "allision" with the bridge, in other words, Boat + Bridge = Boom.
Who strapped an overhead projector to the bridge?
But don't we already know the clearance of the bridge? Yes, 69.5 meters (228 feet) at mean high tide. Of course, water level in the bay can exceed mean high tide, but wouldn't it be simpler just to measure the current water level and report that to any approaching vessels? But that, junior scientist, would only give us half the story. The bridge itself, independent of water level, changes height. Yes! According to the NOAA Technical Report NOS CO-OPS 049: "The bridge encounters so much excessive motion (12-foot vertical excursions) due to thermal expansion and traffic loading that, even if there were an adjacent water level station, it would not be a suitable reference."

12-foot vertical excursions? EXCURSIONS?! Turns out I have been worried in the wrong direction, sure that I'd be blown off the bridge sideways. Now I have to worry about the bottom dropping out. Thanks, NOAA! And Happy Birthday MMA!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Major Minor Celebrity

I came up on a Mazda van the other day. For some reason the license plate frame caught my eye: Major Auto World. Why was that familiar? Then it hit me. The second (third, fourth, fifth...) coming of Curtis Sliwa, of Guardian Angels fame, in his TV spot for Major Auto.

There's something compelling, a bit disturbing, about this ad, at least for somebody who remembers the 80s and 90s in New York. Nostalgia? Exploitation? Parody? It's hard to say. There's something quintessentially American (despite the beret) about cashing in on notoriety--of any and all kinds.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sacred Ballot?

Saw this bumper sticker on a 20-or-so-year-old white Econoline van (with one black rear door panel) on the BQE yesterday. I think Jesus would 'jam Econo,' as Mike Watt, our most Christlike punk rocker, does.

Sure, the post is "King of your Life," but it got me wondering, what would it mean to elect Jesus to public office? Not on the issues--gun control, social security, gay marriage, immigration--we all have our idea of where he would stand on these. No, I mean what would be the status of an elected deity.

Let's skip over residency requirements. I mean, if John McCain, born in the Panama Canal Zone, was eligible to be president, someone born in the occupied West Bank should be a sandal-in (think of all the U.S. money that goes to Israel and the territories--even more than goes to Alaska).

What about term limits? Would they apply? Or would Jesus, like Bloomberg, convince us that he was the only one up to the post. It would be a tough act to follow.

The Holy Trinity is an issue (for Catholics, anyway). Electing the Son, we also elect the Father and the Holy Ghost. Is this like electing Bill and getting Hillary for free?  (No one worried too much about electing Mitt and getting Ann.) Undoubtably Michelle is the best thing about the Obama presidency.

Would he need to be sworn in or does that just sort of take care of itself? (John Roberts breathes a sigh of relief.)

The separation of Church and state shouldn't be a problem. After all, we've had preachers elected to office before. Didn't Jimmy Carter lead Sunday services when he visited Plains?

Ah, but what to make of, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God..,"when God takes up residency in Caesar's palace (as it were)? I'm not sure, but I suspect it's going to involve a lot of paperwork. Here's Mike Watt from We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen:

Telephone Road to Low Highway

Let's keep the Steve Earle vibe going for a little bit. After all he is the troubadour of the highway. He's looking more distinguished these days, now that he's a TV star (The Wire, Treme) and author. Certainly more than he was in 1997, as seen here in this performance on BBC. They had cleaned him up for TV. When I saw him on the same tour in Providence, his hair was a little greasier and he rocked a little harder. Great band, great show.

Solid State
I had first heard Steve Earle's "Guitar Town" about ten years earlier on this Sanyo transistor radio (still works) on the floor of my Prospect Heights apartment. The radio was on the floor because I slept on the floor, on a futon in a room that had space for little more. That would have been the last days of WHN 1150AM before it changed to WFAN Sports Radio. I bought the record the next day.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Guitar Town?

The BQE ain't no Copperhead Road, but Steve Earle has got his NYC on in this video for "Invisible" from the forthcoming record, titled The Low Highway. Could it be that Steve is singing the the BQE Blues after all? (Or just a nice twist on the High Line?)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Virtue as Vanity (or Vice Versa)

A Dance to the Music of Time
Pretty typical morning commute westbound on the BQE. Windows down for the first time in weeks. Coming through what I call the "Brooklyn Flats," where the BQE parallels Flushing Ave. and the Navy Yard. An off-white (or just plain dirty) Sentra, a bit the worse for wear, shoehorned itself between me and the car in front. I glanced at his plates, now just feet away: ACCPTNCE.

The first question that came to mind was, his or mine? (The second was, why not just one "C" and another "A" or "E"? Poetic driver's license, I suppose.)

This post dedicated to the memory of Margaret Thatcher. Acceptance doesn't quite do justice to what she demanded.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bottom Feeders or Dumpster Divers?

Where's the lettuce?
In light of the Malcolm Smith (Dan Halloran, Jay Savino, Noramie Jasmin...) money for mayoralty scam, the Times did a nice piece asking why it is always a steakhouse where the envelopes of cash are exchanged. Sparks Steakhouse, on E. 46th St., has been a favored venue. For Smith and Co., and, in 1985, indelibly, for mobster Paul Castellano who was gunned down on the sidewalk in front.

Not in Rhode Island. Just Google "Ed DiPrete" and "Walt's," and you will come across the charming story of that then sitting governor crawling into the dumpster behind the flagship store for Walt's Roast Beef (celebrating 50 years!) in Cranston to recover the envelope with a $10,000 bribe, which had inadvertently been tossed along with sandwich wrappers, napkins, and such.

Free Buddy!
At least Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci preferred the higher class Italian joints on Federal Hill to hold court. Of course, most of his money was handed over to Frank Corrente, his bagman and chief of administration, within City Hall itself.

(It being Rhode Island, a state about the size of your average oil spill, I had occasion to meet them both. Buddy was infinitely more charming than Ed "Gerber Baby" DiPrete.)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Greening the BQE, Part VII (Conclusion)

My favorite BQE greenspace is found where McGuinness Boulevard meets the expressway in Greenpoint. It's actually a little archipelago, with the Lentol Garden forming the main island. Members of Lentol Garden maintain the garden and, in return (plus 50 bucks), obtain a key to enter the garden, which is otherwise looked. One-timers can volunteer in the garden on weekend afternoons and enjoy its "well-trimmed coniferous trees, evergreens, and shade trees" (according to Parks Dept.).
LG is bordered by the BQE on-ramp for use by eastbound traffic on McGuinness. This and the on-ramp for westbound traffic create a smaller green island: shrubs, a small tree, the ubiquitous blue site-beautification sign. Attempt it at your peril! The photo above belies a steady stream of BQE-motivated traffic. From the islet, you have a close-up of my very favorite BQE-bit: this hoary old tree covered with ivy, on the narrowest sliver of earth between on-ramp 2 and Meeker Avenue:
I suppose its roots must stretch under the BQE itself. A survivor of the fast-moving glacier that cut through the neighborhood and so many others 80 years or so ago. Will it leaf out this season? Stay tuned.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Greening the BQE, Part VI

Neptune's Lair
Before I reveal my favorite BQE garland, or garnish, let's take a little detour (for you maybe) to Staten Island. This nameless triangle is formed by Gannon Boulevard North (functionally, an off-ramp of the SI Expressway), Victory Boulevard, and tiny dog-legged Neptune Place.

"Friend," one of the old guys in the van called me over. "Wadda you doing?"

"Nothing really," I meant to reassure. "It's just a hobby"

"What is?"


"Photography. We thought you were going to put us on the television."

The "beautification (of) this site" is provided by Drs. Mailman, Flug & Ozer. But is there anything that beautifies a park more than a dog-wagon? (The dogs did smell good, but 10:30 was a bit early in the day for me.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Greening the BQE, Part V

Back to Woodside. 69th St. and another green triangle created by the BQE. Not quite big enough for wiffle ball. Bocce maybe (just don't toss that ball too far).

Things are a bit tighter on the other side of the expressway:
But when you live cheek-by-jowl with the BQE, you make the most of it:
"A Tree Grows on the BQE"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Greening the BQE, Part IV

A Tale of Two Hillocks. In keeping with the rapid waterfront redevelopment of Brooklyn, the west (harbor-facing) side of the Atlantic Avenue underpass looks like something out of Downton Abbey:

The east side, on the other hand, looks more like Downtown Abilene:
I spotted some daffodils, but they turned out to be reflectors on the blue sign: "Beautification  this site Granite International Management L.L.C. Adopt-a-Highway." (Maybe we should give the site to International Granite Management instead?)

(Sketch: Planning Corps/Erik Galipo)
Of course, all this is likely to change when the Atlantic Avenue Funderpass (left) is completed--a project that promises to funify the bleak stretch of Atlantic Avenue that connects the business district (excellent Middle Eastern food!) and the ever-expanding waterfront parks--with murals, seating, and a bicycle pumping station. More later as this project takes shape. (Thanks to One More Folded Sunset for the tip!)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Greening the BQE, Part III

Beasts of the Northern BQE
Hart Playground, an unsteady quadrilateral, bordered by 34th Ave., 65th. St, 69th St., and Broadway, is a heavily used neighborhood recreation space, with basketball and handball courts, jungle gym, and sad but friendly animals like this anteater (I suppose). Not much green, though.

For that, you can cross Broadway and gaze at a fenced-off sliver that runs between 65th St. and the off-ramp of the BQE. It's parkland, as the circled maple leaf on the wrought iron gate proclaims. Just not the kind of park you can park your ass in. (The other green you see is the Northern Blvd. exit sign on the BQE.)
Nameless Park

Monday, April 1, 2013

Greening the BQE, Part II

Stroll down leafy 68th St. from Crosson Green and hang a right on 43 Ave. You'll run smack-dab into a brick (really concrete) sound-dampening wall with the BQE just beyond. What is it like to live with the BQE as your neighbor? Not so bad, by evidence of what this Winfield homeowner has made of it: trees, a bit of greenery, even a grape arbor (we'll return later in the season to see it in bloom). You'd barely know the expressway was right there at all. Unless you swung your camera just a few degrees west:
Opening Day! Go Sox!