November 3, 2009

Daniel Augschöll


Love this photo of a treehouse in Daniel Augschöll's portfolio. I was just having the thought that treehouses are one of the things sorely lacking in the lives of urban kids. I wonder how far a guerilla urban treehouse initiative would go before it got shut down.

September 11, 2009

Things Lost

Related: September 11, 2006, September 11, 2005

February 4, 2009

Joe Ades, RIP


This is Mr. Ades here in Brooklyn a few months ago. He was always up for a chat about his business, his life, or the things he saw on the street. But the minute customers would show up, it was back to work. I last saw him about a week on a very cold day, occupying his regular spot in Union Square, making sales.

NYTimes Article, The Vanity Fair Article, David Galbraith's De-mythologizing Eulogy (via kottke), photos

May 16, 2007

Feels Like Summer


December 19, 2006

The Cloud Club

These were a few of the proposals for the Chrysler Building by architect William Van Alen... Apparently the Chrysler board liked the 2nd proposal, but Chrysler himself didn't think it was modern enough, and pushed the architect to do better eventually leading to the final design. The final decision was made by two men: Chrysler the client and Van Alen the architect with no committees or boards to dull the boldness of the design. Architectural critics of the day hated it by the way which tells you a little something about architectural critics.

Every time I see the Chrysler building from afar I literally hear music in my head... sort of an low chord under an angelic "ahhhhhhh....". This happened the first time I saw the building in person at the age of 4 and it happens today. I hope it never goes away.

related: salon on the building's history, Metropolis of Tomorrow, dentist in the Chrysler Building.

October 18, 2006

October Rain

When you grow up in a hot sunny place, you dream of rainy cold days like today. Days like this make the city feel like the city. It is always this way I think. One of the greatest things I have ever seen was a group of Indian honeymooners from a small village on the Arabian Sea in the south arrive to a snowy mountain near Kulu Manali in the north. They had traveled for days first by bus and then by train and then by bus again. Upon arrival they all piled out into the snow without coats like excited schoolchildren. They threw vermillion powder on the brides, flowers at the grooms, made snow angels, and rolled around until everyone was thoroughly wet and freezing. But even so there were only smiles. On days like today with the tight scrums of black umbrellas and the rain and the wind I am like that—like someone from Pondicherry seeing snow for the first time.

October 6, 2006

Blind Leading the Blind

On 7th Avenue at 18th Street today I ran into a group of 7 or 8 blind men teaching two blind teenagers, a boy who looked to be about 14 and a girl who was little older, to navigate the city. The men walked in a huddle around the kids, explaining their navigation techniques step by step. It was late afternoon and all the men and canes made long shadows. Most of the men wore dark glasses. Both the boy and the girl were newly blind and moved awkwardly. The girl's face was burned; the boy's eyes were clouded. They reached out for steadying hands every few steps, but the men kept saying, 'Nobody is going to hold your hand out here, you have to see with your ears and your stick." The sidewalks were full of obstacles- construction, uneven concrete, street vendors, and of course people in a hurry. Every few steps brought a new crisis. The boy got turned around. The girl stumbled. A dog on a long leash got caught up in the group. But everyone kept moving. Near the corner of 19th Street one of the older men detected a construction barrier with his cane. He stopped and waited, listening to hear if his charges would navigate it, but both slammed straight in. The girl fell again this time in a muddy puddle. The man helped her up, took her hand and demonstrated how she had missed the sawhorse. He repeated this with the boy. The girl was on the verge of tears. She was silent, but you could see all the frustration and fear well up on her face. Somehow the boy knew what was happening. He took her hand, "You'll get it, don't worry you're already better than me." The men in the protective circle moved in a bit tighter. Everyone patted the kids on the back murmuring encouragement; one squeezed the girl's shoulders and you could see her relax. "I'm ok. It's ok. Let's go." Then they all continued moving ever so slowly down the avenue.

October 4, 2006

The Mark of the Beast

A sweet looking little Korean lady in Times Square game me this pamphlet warning me that if I receive the mark of the beast on my right hand or forehead I will go to hell. It went on to explain that the mark would be delivered as a bar code in an injectable RFID chip and that the program has already been started on dogs and cats. The end-of-worlders seem to be all over the place these days. Project anyone?

related: recent photo by eliot, Mrs. Yunnisms

September 25, 2006

Lady in the hat

You know those Mead Composition books? There is a fragile almost birdlike lady who scribbles in them, literally scribbles round and round, with worn colored pencils on page after page. Over the last 15 or so years I've seen her a couple of times. Once in Room 117 at the New York Public Library. Once on the L train and once sitting at the bar at the Viand on 61st & Madison. I've always wanted to take a closer look at the notebooks, but when she catches me peeking she always closes them a bit and brings them tight to her chest. She wears dark catlike sunglasses so you never see her eyes and bright red lipstick. I passed her on the street today near Church and Leonard, two composition books under her right arm, pencils in hand, walking like she had somewhere important to go.

September 11, 2006

September 11th

The day has been so politicized, the consequences so damaging to us as a nation, it has become almost gauche to talk about it. Especially here in New York. But if you don't have to look very hard to see reminders of it everywhere. Cheap Chinese restaurants always have a poster or two. Middle Eastern restaurants do them one better with a poster and a flag. And of course there are the memorials... at every fire station and at seemingly random spots all around the city. On the promenade here in Brooklyn tourists invariably scrunch up their faces trying imagine where the buildings stood and how high they rose. I still see holes in the sky. The unpunctuated skyline is still foreign. But I don't think about the buildings much, I remember my friend who was on the 103rd floor who didn't have a chance. Sometimes I imagine her of those tiny tragic figures etched in our memory. Perhaps that is my perverse wish: that she did jump and in jumping she was able make a final choice about her destiny and maybe in the long moments of terror that followed there was some flicker of hope, a primal dream of flight, that sustained her as she fell through the firmament to face whatever it is that comes next.

September 6, 2006

Gowanus Canal At Night

Does anyone happen to know the story behind the little building on 3rd Avenue and 3rd street. All the buildings around it have been torn down and it remains marooned and forlorn looking... As an aside apparently Rooftop Films has a venue across the street at the Old American Can Factory. Why did I not know this? (If you live in New York and don't know about Rooftop Films, you probably should. Only a few films left in the season.)

Ever wonder about the Kentile Floors sign which so defines Gowanus? Kevin Walsh of Forgotten New York has done the research: "Kentile was founded by Arthur Kennedy in 1898 and once billed itself as "America's largest manufacturers of super-resilient floor tile." Kentile hung in there till just a couple of years ago following a series of strikes and costly asbestos lawsuits. It's purple neon sign no longer burns brightly but it reminds folks for miles around that there was once a Kentile." (more) Scores of pictures of the Kentile sign (most taken from the F train) can be found on flickr.

August 27, 2006

Little House, Part the 2nd

A few days ago I noticed the front door of 135 Joralemon was open. As I've been fascinated with this house for a while, I poked my head inside. The door opened onto a stairway/parlor completely blackened with heavy layers of smoke. There were still pictures on the walls, but they were black with oily soot. I could hear someone upstairs dragging something. I was about to shout out a hello when a voice yelled, "Hey, what the hell are you doing?"

From the upstairs emerged a tall gentleman probably in his 70's. He was wearing soot covered undershirt and thick dirty gloves. I explained myself and my fascination with the house and he softened. "I was born in this house," he said, "I lived my whole life here and it's been in my family a long time. You don't know how wonderful this street used to be." He talked about the neighborhood and told me who used to live in this house and that house and how everyone knew everyone else.

He explained he was in court with ConEdison who he blamed for the New Years Eve fire. "I'm going to win and restore this house exactly as it was." And he started to give me some of the details... walnut staircase, brass hardware, etc. But he noticed my camera again and suddenly became suspicious. "Why are you here?" he asked, "Why are you asking these questions? Nobody cares about this house except people who want to steal it." I explained that I lived around the corner that that everyone on the street cared about the place. Trying to show sympathy I told him how Hurricane Rita had destroyed a portion of my childhood home. "Was anything left?" he asked. Without waiting for the reply he continued, "I lost everything. Everything was burned up. Do you know what that's like? To see your house burned up like this?" Wordless he turned to go back up the stairs. I watched him vanish into the dark and knew it was my time to go.

August 27, 2006

Brooklyn 1840's

Check out this census data for Brooklyn in the 1840's. Love the job descriptions:charcoal dealers, agents of the Brooklyn Temperance Society, furrier, ship joiner, wheelright, leecher and cupper, etc...

August 14, 2006

1rst and Houston

It seems like every time I pass the 1rst and Houston there is a couple making out, hugging, or just generally intertwined (in one case a couple was staring deep into each others eyes massaging each others shoulders and crying). If I go through my archives I can probably find a dozen pictures like this taken at exactly the same spot. Upon reflection I realized Jenn and I might have had a few long goodbye smooches here back when she lived on Mott street even though we're generally not big on extravagant PDAs... Hmm.

July 10, 2006

In front of Key Foods

Some stories have no beginning and no end, just a middle. Or maybe just a beginning... or just an end. I can't decide.

On the corner of Clinton and Atlantic today at sunset a beautiful girl in her twenties was crying her eyes out inside a beaten up Chevy Nova. Her face, more rural and southern than one generally runs into in Brooklyn, was wet and puffy, a marked contrast to the two flowers she had placed in her hair and the vintage party dress she was wearing. She waited in the passenger's seat―the driver's seat being empty save for a crushed box of Marlboro cigarettes. The girl did not notice the 19 month old boy sitting on his dad's shoulders pointing her out. She did not notice the dad pick up his camera and then decide to put it down without shooting. She did not notice the Yemeni women who passed close by adjusting their headscarfs to look into the car and she did not notice the wind which picked up her brown hair and scattered it around her face sticking it to her cheeks. She did not even notice when the little boy, now down from his perch, walked within a few feet of the car's open window to offer a stick for solace nor the tears welling up in his eyes when she did not look down or accept his offering.

May 25, 2006


Ummm. Why have military planes been circling in formation over Brooklyn all day long?

May 4, 2006

The City at Night

I walked home to Brooklyn from Central Park South tonight... about 6 miles. The city was rainy and quiet and strange. Even the rain was preternaturally misty, a downpour without raindrops. In front of Rockefeller Center a woman with a red cape brushed past, soon after a man leading a white horse walked against traffic up Fifth Avenue. Through the window of the empty 24-hour Macdonalds (the one in front of the Empire State Building) a worker stared up at a framed painting of whales in outer space in rapt contemplation. Whales in outer space is the theme of the restaurant; anything to sell a burger I guess. Oblivious to the rain, three men in tuxedos chased each other around in Madison square park and then for a long time it felt as if the sidewalks were totally empty.

On Leonard and Broadway a cab slowly followed me down the street perhaps hoping I would tire of walking, the driver blasting Arabic prayers inside. I did not slow down. A few moment later a flurry of cabs passed each one empty, each one slowing and then speeding up when I did not raise my hand. Seeing each driver I felt I could almost hear their mumbled thoughts ala Wings of Desire. But by the time I hit the Brooklyn Bridge those imagined inner dialogs went silent. The brige was deserted. By this time the rain had cleared and the clouds were hanging low over the river--and the loudest sound was that of the East River rushing by beneath.

Walking down Henry Street most of the lights in the brownstones were off save for one or two people tapping away at their computers always on upper floors. On my street a teenage couple was making out on the next stoop. I tried not to disturb them, but a jangle of my keys sent them scurrying... and now of course time to close my eyes. Good night New York. Good night.

April 30, 2006

Upper West Side

Our dinner conversation with friends last night went something like this:

Annabel: You have a blog? I don't think I've actually read a blog. What do you put in it?

Me: Do you remember listening to college radio shows? They were usually just some girl or some guy putting stuff out there that they found kinda cool. I try to make my blog like that.

Annabel: Didn't some girl get a book deal from a blog writing about her sex life?

Jenn: Raul's blog isn't like that. He mainly writes about our life.

Rob: But why would anyone find the things you say interesting?

Me: I have no idea.
(a bit later after Rob and Annabel have bestowed godparenthood on another guest, Albert, who as it turns out is already the godfather to 5 including one of his sister's kids.)

Me: I don't really think that's right. I mean a sister is already an aunt. The whole point of godparents is that you are reaching outside of the family. An uncle is an uncle already.

Rob: I disagree. My godfather was my uncle and there was something special between us. He really looked out for me. I'm especially fond of him. My parents friends came and went.

Me:But maybe they wouldn't have if they were godparents... My godfather has been my dad's friend since they were 6. He taught me how to grill steaks and roast a pig.

Albert: My godfather was just the best guy...

Annabel: My godmother killed herself.

[a long pause...]

Me: You see. That's perfect, exactly the type of thing I might put on the blog. This conversation.

Annabel: So if we check in tomorrow it will be there.

Me: Hey look at the seed in your water, it just floated to the top for no apparent reason and then dropped back to the bottom like a stone.

[and so on...]

April 17, 2006

Found on Sydney Place last night.

March 13, 2006

Another Reason We Left Los Angeles

Saturday was beyond nice here in New York City. You know it's a nice day when they wheel out the great-grandmothers from the doorman buildings and let them warm in the sun. Not too hot. Not too cold... No humidity. Yesterday it rained which was fine because it was warm friendly rain and then today I walked out and I could feel it in my bones, no doubt about it: winter has passed. Hello spring.

March 12, 2006

Metropolis of Tomorrow

Ever wonder what the city might look like if it had not been touched by Robert Moses, modernists, or Donald Trump? If so I recommend The Metropolis of Tomorrow by Hugh Ferriss. The illustrations in this manifesto published in 1929 are a tour de force of imagination. The writing is passionate and odd. An example:

BUILDINGS like crystals
Walls of translucent glass.
Sheer glass blocks sheathing a steel grill.
No Gothic branch: no Acanthus leaf: no recollection of the plant world.
A mineral kingdom.
Gleaming stalagmites.
Forms as cold as ice.
Night in the Science Zone.

Whenever I feel bad about our physical world (a trip to Times Square or up 6th Avenue will do it for me), I dissapear into this book.

January 9, 2006

Daisy Hill Puppy Farm

I don't think that one really becomes a New Yorker until you've been in the city long enough so that one night you go to a place you love only to find it has been turned into something else entirely in your absence. There is that strange feeling as you stand outside. You try to fool yourself into thinking that you are at the wrong address saying, "Maybe it was one block over, or maybe it was around the corner." But on some level know: the slate has been wiped clean. This experience is exaggerated by time and because I spent a full 10 years away in Los Angeles, I find myself having these moments much too often. The favorite bar with the singing waitress on 22nd, the little restaurant that served a handmade strozzapreti ragu on 77th, the hole in the wall specializing in antique maps on Mott, the saddle shop on Madison, etc, etc... Fellow Peanuts fans will understand when I call this the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm effect.

You've probably figured out by now that this happened to us tonight. We went on a trek to a favorite little Italian place where everything was made by hand and only to find another restaurant there. The other restaurant was actually pretty darn good, but throughout dinner I kept feeling sad that I would never have the original restaurant's piping hot bread. Of course we're always finding new favorite places, building new networks, but the ghosts of the missing are out there and sometimes they weigh heavy.

I was thinking about all this as we were driving home when we were hit from behind by another car on the Brooklyn Bridge onramp. Then that car was hit, and then fourth car hit that one. With each crash we were banged hard forward with increasing velocity. We were not hurt, just shaken up although the woman behind us was not so lucky. She was taken to the hospital. Two of the cars involved were totaled.

The first impact was a shock, no time for anything, but in the seconds between the subsequent bangs I had a hundred thoughts. First I was worried for my wife and baby who were in the back getting thrown forward with each smash. Then I was trying to remember what to do (I eased off the brakes to let car move with the impacts). Then I was thinking about the people in the cars behind us because i could see that they were violently shattered. In the middle of that flurry of thoughts in the uncertainty of how bad it might or might not be for a brief moment I thought about how people and places come in and out of our lives every day and how holding on to the past too tightly might be a mistake because tomorrow we might be the ones who are missing and there is too much to do in the meantime.

December 1, 2005

Why I love Brooklyn

So you're a Jewish Orthodox kid and you love salsa. Dilemma. Not cool with the folks. But you want people to know about this passion so you have a shirt made that says says "Salsa King" on the front and has an airbrushed picture of yourself (complete with your sequined yamica) in a dancing embrace on the back. At home you hide the shirt under your long dark coat and listen to salsa real low on the Puerto Rican radio station at night, but when you go out, you remove the coat and let the world see what you're all about. When a guy on the street give you a thumbs up, you grab your girl, a hot Latina, and do a few steps with her. You are the Salsa King.

November 29, 2005

The Elephant Vanishes

About a year after I graduated from college I was on a train out to Amagansett when I realized I was sitting next to Andre Gregory. Fellow cinephiles will know that Andre Gregory is the Andre from My Dinner with Andre, the Louis Malle film beloved amongst a certain circle of film geeks. I'm not one to be starstruck or the type to chat up a famous person for no reason, but in this case I had to say something. He was listening to music with headphones, it was playing loudly and I knew the recording, so when he was changing tapes, I asked him if it was the Bulgarian Women's Choir. He nodded. Then I asked asked if he was Andre Gregory. "Why yes, yes I am, " he replied seeming pleased. For the next 40 minutes or so we had one of those intense convoluted conversations that I can best describe as being something like the one in the movie covering topics ranging from Japanese cinema to the polar bear in Central Park to the suicides of friends. For every question I asked, he asked two more. It was thrilling... my own private conversation with Andre. He exited the train before me, but before he left, he invited me to his production of Uncle Vanya at the Victory Theater. He gave me a date a fortnight in the future and told me not to be late.

Now this was the early 90's and Times Square was in it's last throws as the old dirty Times Square of lore. The transformation into a sanitized tourist mall had not begun. The Victory Theater (as well as most of the other theaters on 42nd street) was a decrepit ruin. In the twenties the theater then known as the Belasco featured the A-list of vaudeville: Mary Pickford, Tyrone Power and Lillian Gish.

Houdini built a swimming pool under the stage to catch his elephant Jennie after he made her "disappear". Houdini's act later moved to the Hippodrome, a much bigger house, but he was said to have always had a soft spot for the place. Later the theater housed the first burlesque house on Broadway. During World War II it became a B movie palace, and then for many years the Victory was a XXX skin flick palace. By the 80's it was shuttered.

When I arrived for the play that fall day in 1991 I had to step over a sleeping junkie to get to the theater door. The lobby was dark and smelled of urine, but upon entering the theater there were a small group of actors on stage around a dinner table. Mr. Gregory welcomed me like an old friend. A few more guests arrived, but the actors outnumbered us. We sat up on the stage and so began a production of Uncle Vanya so intense that it was as if I had unwittingly stepped into the living room of a very dysfunctional family. In my memory I held my breath most of the two hours. I don't think I've experienced a film or a play since that begins to compare. Wallace Shawn played Vanya.

I mention this now because we saw a play this weekend at a theater a few doors down from the Victory, now the New Victory ("The Ultimate theater for Families!" proclaims a sign outside) this weekend. 42nd Street is unrecognizable with crushes of tourists so dense navigation is difficult. We saw a play that was competent and polite, the out of town audience applauding nicely. Afterwords we had dinner with one of the actors, a friend of Jenn's. As they spoke I kept thinking about the Victory and how lucky I was to have been on the train that November day and to have witnessed one of those small scenes that make New York New York.

November 10, 2005


When I was in Marathon, Texas last week I talked to a guy named Sam at an auto body repair place. He was a tall quiet fellow wearing a jumpsuit with the name Juan stitched over the pocket. He was covered in oil and he tended to cover his brown teeth when he smiled. The furthest he had ever been from home was El Paso which was about 2 hours away. "Far enough for me," he said.

As Marathon only has a few hundred people he instantly recognized me as an outsider. "Where did you come in from?" he asked. When I replied "Brooklyn" he almost started. "I watch movies. I know Brooklyn. I dream of New York sometimes. It looks like paradise." He went on to ask many questions about my life and I about his. He said one day he would drive to New York in his truck, that he would drive over the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park and eat a hot dog. I asked him what he would do after that. "Walk," he said. "Look at all those people." He was particularly curious about brownstones, the subways and girls ("There must be a million different types! I imagine it's something.")

Today while walking around town I tried to see the world through Sam's eyes... All the faces outside the taxi window. The umbrellas and the rain. Everything new and exciting. Something indeed. I hope he makes it here one day and somehow I think he will.

October 14, 2005

Don't mind the rain...

especially when this is on the ipod.

October 12, 2005


It's pouring rain here in NY.

At about 4:00 I was in a cab in lower Manhattan.

The scene: A wall street guy is jaywalking through the slowly moving traffic. He runs from behind a bus in front of a cab and almost gets hit. Totally his fault, but he stops in the middle of the road, flips off the driver and starts cursing at the top of his lungs... The driver silently takes it but steams. My driver is also upset at the injustice of it all. Eventually the man cools down moves on and up the street.

Traffic clears a bit and the cab in question spots a large deep puddle, speeds up, and manages to plant the entire contents on the wall street guy.... a large arcing wave of muddy water... Now the man is literally hopping mad. Indeed he is jumping up and down in an apoplectic rage. My own driver looks back at me, gives me a little smile, and hits the gas giving the guy a second dousing. He chuckles to himself all the way over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Ahhh. New York. Gotta love it.

June 13, 2005

24 Middagh

Brownstoner is running a series on Brooklyn Heights this week. They start with 24 Middegah which according to The Brooklyn Historical Society is the oldest standing building in the neighborhood. While most books say this house was built in 1824, the caption this picture from 1922 says "This place was used as a chop-house in 1815. It became a residence in 1836" which would imply it was older still:

As noted by the Brownstoner, the other house of interest on Middagh was #7. Back in the 40's W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee all lived there together for one alcohol tinged year of bohemian living that proved inspirational for several books, musical compositions, et-cetera amongst them. The story of the year is told in the book February House (there were lots of February birthdays). #7 was torn down to make way for the BQE.

The name Middagh came from the Middagh farm. This document (originally from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1896), a treasure trove of information about the area circa 1800, notes:

"The First ward was occupied by the HICKS and MIDDAGH farms, the land being
about equa11y divided between the two families. The boundaries were Fulton street,
the East river and Clark street.. The dividing line was midway between Hicks and
Henry streets. HICKS having all the west and MIDDAGH having all the east section.
Soutb or the Middagh farm were the small WARING, KIMBERLEY and Samuel JACKSON

Another o1d time land owner was the famous Dr. SWEETCOPE, a Hessian who had
served in the British army during the revolution and remained here after the close
of the War. He had an office at the corner of Fulton and Clinto streets and his
property lay along Love lane, which then ran from Fulton street to the river."

The document goes to talk about a fight between Mr. Joralemon, a harness and saddle maker, and Charles Hoyt a real estate speculator. Joralemon opposed the creation of Clinton street named after a politician who spearheaded the Erie Canal project. I will now never cross the intersection Joralemon and Clinton without a chuckle. Damn that Mr. Hoyt.

March 7, 2005

Little House

Date unknown:



One of the first homes that jumped out at me when I moved to Brooklyn Heights was 135 Joralemon. In an orderly neighborhood it is neglected. Then in January it was boarded up and now it is abandoned. I pass the house every day and virtually every day it makes me stop in my tracks. It evokes The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. I've been a fan of Burton's work as long as I can remember. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel was an early favorite, as was Choo choo: the Runaway Engine, but the story that most fascinated was The Little House which I knew as La Casita (one of the few children's books in my grandparent's house in Mexico). It's the story of a house built in a the country that gets swallowed up by the big city. I was compelled by that idea and still am.

A bit of research shows a house at 135 Joralemon was listed as "longstanding" in a survey done in 1830. Most of Brooklyn was rural back then with large wooded tracts, creeks, and farms. In the 1820's developers started building heavily in Brooklyn Heights with Federalist style rowhouses on 25 foot plots. It's possible 135 Jorolemon predates that first burst of development but a more likely scenario is that a house existed on the land and was torn down to build a the current rowhouse during this era. Stone and brick homes didn't appear in the neighborhood until the 1830's and 40's and it was in that era that most Federalist homes like #135 were torn town and replaced with brownstone. While this house had probably been swallowed up by it's neighbors by the mid 1800's, it's clear the owners tried to keep it up to date. The metalwork and porch date from the Civil War when these 'southern style' details were in vogue. The earliest photo I could find was labeled 1870 (although there is some doubt as to the date) showing the house much as it is today, although obviously in much better shape. By the 1930's it was already looking run down and slightly haunted (the picture from that era shows a "for sale" sign outside). Today the house seems abandoned. I know it won't happen, but part of me wishes it could be put on a truck and sent out to the countryside where it could breath again.

January 22, 2005

The blizzard of 2005 approaches

Today people all around the city were hysterical about "blizzard of 05" . "Stock up on food and batteries, there will be a run on the grocery stores;" they said, "the city will come to a standstill. The water mains will break. The power will go out. You never know what will happen."

About a foot of snow is expected starting tomorrow.

Nothing to sneeze at, but my friends in Buffalo will hear of this with a chuckle. The last time we visited there in winter cars were covered with snow and 7 foot snowbanks turned roads into deep white trenches. And when the snow came off of Lake Erie visibility went down to a few inches. A foot is no big deal. We prepared by grabbing a few extra logs for the fire and some milk.

A digression

Because of the speed with which this cold snap hit us, the deeper subway stations have been turned into chimneys as the hot air trapped deep underground rushes to the surface. Most of New York's subways are actually right under the streets, built 100 years ago with the then innovative, dig and cover technique, but the stations around the edges of the island dive down into the bedrock to pass under the rivers. You would think the deep subway tunnels would be cool, like caves, but the constant heat escaping from the trains keeps them perpetually warm, and hence the strong wind on cold days. Today it was so bad men were losing their hats and women had to hold their skirts and coats down. Children of course enjoyed the phenomenon.

I sat near at the front of the train next to the window peering into the tracks. I always like watching the plunge from Court Street Station down into the the elegant tunnel under the East River. The tunnel is officially called the Whitehall-Montague Street Tunnel and was completed in 1917 with great fanfare. The man who oversaw the project at a ceremony for marking the final blast to complete the tunnel noted "There have been 800,000 decompressions, with air pressures reaching as high as 37.5 pounds, yet there has been only one death due to compressed air sickness. Less than 200 cases of bends have been reported. Although on the average as many as 2100 men have been employed daily, but 22 men have been killed due to accidents during the whole period of the work. This is an indication of the precautions which you have taken for the protection and safety of your men, and it merits the highest commendation."

Coming up into Manhattan the tunnel rises and starts to branch and curve. All along the way the train is guided by a simple system of stoplights. Unlike modern subways operated by a central computer. New York subways are still driven individual conductors. When the light is green the driver goes forward. When yellow he slows down. When red he stops. There is little communication between trains and no central control of the whole system although a dispatcher can now talk to all trains. In the City the trains rise to the "just under the street level" and from there the cold outside is obvious. Thick clusters icicles hang down from grates above sometimes falling onto the passing train. Here there is little wind. It's just as cold as it is outside.

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