Ikea in Red Hook: Once Was . . . (Street Art from the Construction Site)

Vestiges: A yellow bollard, from the shipyard that once stood at the site, peeks out from the fence

Former site of Lilly’s Bar

Before Swedish Modern arrives: Brooklyn Decrepit fills the void

Foundation Rising: Birth of a Big Box

Home is where the art is

What good are old walls for?

Related Post: Ikea in Red Hook: Globalization Comes to Brooklyn


Transit Limbo: Car Service Waiting Rooms

I need a car . . . “Five minutes”
no matter what
it is always five minutes

The car service thrives on door-to-door business. The walk-in passenger is like a stepchild, tolerated but never coddled.

The moment you take a seat in a car service waiting room, you enter transit limbo—hovering between stasis and mobility.

The occasional attempt to enliven the space, by adding plants or pictures, is well-intentioned but wrong. It yields the opposite effect. In this setting art and nature sadly remind you of the world outside, driving home the truism that waiting is the hardest part.

If you’re lucky, though, during your time in limbo you might see a few Greek drivers playing backgammon in a way that’s so loud and animated as to change your view of what you had always thought was a tedious game. Or maybe you’ll get to hear the strains of Arab music filtering in from a sleek Town Car parked outside, as the Jewish owner of the car service proudly shows you the Muslim prayer room in the back of the office.

At any rate, it’s never long until your car pulls up and sets you in motion, toward your destination, which if you’re really lucky, is back where you started: home.

One of the Most Dangerous Jobs in New York: Gypsy Cab Driver

SLIDESHOW – Castles of Limbo: Car Service Waiting Rooms (Flickr)


One Day Near Calvary Cemetery

A man came off the footbridge near Calvary Cemetery and was standing next to the Long Island Expressway. Someone there who saw him said he was disoriented. Cars were flying by and the noise was deafening. He kept muttering something about “Triangle Fifty Four” and going to see his cousin, who lived near there.

He had been discharged from a mental hospital the day before and was going to talk to his cousin about staying with him temporarily.

His cousin said he never showed up. His wallet was found on a grassy knoll beside the highway.

Dead Horse Inn

Plumb Beach, Brooklyn (History of Plumb Beach)

More Brooklyn by the Sea

Ode to the Humble Footbridge

Over traffic stream
the car-less trudge

the highway stops for no one

Bridging the gash (Hicks St. nr. Summit St.)

Above it all

The footbridge across the highway is a pedestrian refuge in the midst of the autosphere. The Summit Street Pedestrian Bridge in Red Hook spans the sunken BQE down below (the “Ditch”). When you’re on the bridge, you’re above the traffic, above the noise from the ditch below—that surf-like roar, with the blaring horns and screeching brakes. It drifts up to where you are, filtered by distance and tamed into a calming drone . . . Rush hour seen through the chain link fence is a panoramic glimpse of the city full on. Sunbeams reflect off glass and chrome, darting across windshields and spinning hubcaps—that mad kinetic frenzy! Looking over the Ditch, you feel like you’re commanding a perch all your own, above it all—ruthless velocity, concrete and steel.

Over and under (Hamilton Ave. nr. Henry St.)

Date with a highway (feel the vibrations)

Tunnel to purgatory

Another footbridge in Red Hook cuts across a 10- or 12-lane stretch where the Gowanus Expressway, the Battery Tunnel, and the BQE converge. It’s a jerry-built structure that goes over multiple roadbeds and under two others. Usually it’s bereft of pedestrians, except during certain parts of the day. When it’s empty, it’s bleak, a slab of concrete strewn with empty beer cans and who knows what—maybe a filthy pile of clothes or the odd used condom, everything coated with a dusting of exhaust fumes. It’s a blighted place, like a tunnel to purgatory. At one point, though, you pass under a road just a few feet above. You can feel the swarming traffic, the mechanical flow. The vibrations engulf you, allowing you to become intimate with the highway, perhaps more than a (living) pedestrian ever could be.

Walking on traffic

Any feelings of intimacy or omnipotence that may strike on the footbridge are usually fleeting, a result of lightheadedness perhaps. Back on the ground, one can see clearly that the footbridges of Red Hook symbolize the dominant place of highways in the neighborhood. They’re enduring reminders of the violence done by Robert Moses to expand his auto-centric vision into Red Hook and all over Brooklyn.

Moses was the Stalin of concrete, the “Master Builder” who built the BQE, the Gowanus Expressway, and so much more. The Ditch, like many of his projects, involved massive displacement—about 500 houses were demolished in the early 1950s. More significantly, it cut Red Hook off from the rest of south Brooklyn. It left a Mosaic landscape—a legacy of truncated avenues and bisected streets, more foe than friend to the walker trying gamely to navigate the broken topography.

SLIDESHOW – Footbridges & Pedestrian Tunnels (Flickr)


Bedtime for Maritime

Nautical detritus (Maritime vestiges). . . Once functional, now decoration

Anchor: March 2007

Anchor: April 2011

Erie Basin (terminus of Erie Canal)


The Stoop Sale: A Brooklyn Institution

The stoop sale, that welcome rite of spring, is a Brooklyn institution. Of course variations exist across the country—garage sales and the like—but the distinct setting and a few essential details, the variety of merchandise especially, make the stoop sale unique to Brooklyn.

Underlying every stoop sale is a certain poignancy, born of the near-universal need to part with useful, even cherished items due to lack of space. Much of what’s offered at these makeshift bazaars could be dismissed as garbage, but a thing owned is a thing with a history, often invested with real emotions, like the thrill of discovery or the sadness of some personal association. That such things, freighted with intrinsic value, are sold to complete strangers for a song only intensifies the poignancy.

The avid consumer of culture is never fully sated; never is there a point when he has heard all the music or read all the books he wants to. And what a luxury it would be to have the bulk of all the books and CDs one has consumed in a lifetime within arm's reach, including the middling discs with one or two great songs or the books of short stories with only a few choice selections. But this is near impossible, which is among the most compelling arguments for the necessity of the stoop sale—as a vehicle for maintaining the churn of culture and passing along significant art and ideas (and for making one’s cluttered living room once again livable). It is axiomatic, however, that no more than three months after a stoop sale, the seller will yearn to hear songs on CDs or refer to passages in books that are absent.

The dizzying array of toys seen at stoop sales, from toddler diversions and pre-school learning games to elaborate adolescent amusements, provides a rare, concentrated look at the phases of youth. Eventually, though, the sale ends and all that remains are some unwanted objects and a few fleeting memories, not unlike youth itself.