Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

Tue 9 Sep 2008 6:55 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, New York is different

Six years in New York

Today is the 6th anniversary of a major event in my life, the day I moved from Pennsylvania to Brooklyn. I’m still here (in the same apartment!) despite my original idea that New York would be a four-year plan.

In honor of becoming a seventh-year senior, I decided to open the backup files of the blog (then called a “journal”) I had on my site in 2002. They are predictably embarrassing! For your enjoyment, some excerpts follow.


Sun 24 Aug 2008 2:49 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn

To another 232 years

On August 27, 1776, one of the first major engagements of the Revolutionary War took place on the hill where my apartment now stands. Earlier today I walked up to the top of Battle Hill in the Green-Wood Cemetery to survey the scene on this anniversary weekend. The cemetery was filled with history buffs, community groups and spectators commemorating the Battle of Long Island.  As I type this with my windows open, I can hear gunfire as the reenactors fire their rifles.

In some ways, Brooklyn still represents the early idea of America – A place of hard-working immigrants and other wanderers who came to chase an idea, follow some dream, scratch an itch, or march out of step. This bizarre experiment owes its existence to the thinkers and writers who advanced democracy, and the revolutionaries who fought that war.

Lots more info about the battle, including a good map, at the Old Stone House site.

Sun 10 Aug 2008 7:24 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Transit

Touring the abandoned Brooklyn railroad tunnel

“The world’s very first subway opened in London, England, on the Saturday afternoon of January 10, 1863.” – from A Century of Subways by Brian J. Cudahy.

Not to brag, but Brooklyn had a subway in 1844. Most people have forgotten about it, but I went underground and saw it today.

Atlantic Avenue Railroad Tunnel

Below Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn lies a forgotten, man-made cavern perhaps half a mile long, wide enough for two steam trains.

Bob Diamond, one of our city’s most irrepressible transit geeks, was so captivated by stories about the tunnel as a young man that he set out on a quest to find it. He rediscovered it and brought it to the public’s attention in the early 1980s. Today he runs the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association and leads occasional tours of his discovery. Jeremy and I, along with perhaps 150 other local curiosity seekers, joined him for a tour this afternoon.

The expedition begins by climbing into an open manhole, descending a ladder, and ducking through a narrow tunnel. A few steps away is a person-sized hole chiseled into a brick wall. Crawl through the hole and suddenly you’re in a massive chamber. A string of light bulbs provides just enough light to asses the vastness of this cavern as it recedes into the distance. Diamond leads the group, telling the story of the railroad’s folly. His life has been intertwined with the tunnel for over 25 years, and he speaks with the joy of someone proud to share his obsession with others. Along the tour, several actors in period costume put on a sketch based on the history of the railroad.

The Long Island Railroad, under the direction of Cornelius Vanderbilt, constructed the tunnel to transport people and goods from ferries along the Brooklyn waterfront to points East. (Remember, this was before the Brooklyn Bridge, and way before the Northeast Corridor.) LIRR trains from Brooklyn continued to a ferry that crossed Long Island Sound to Boston. The tunnel was a key link in this chain. Up to 40 feet below the street grade, it was built in just seven months. “The tunnel: dark as the grave, cold, damp, and silent,” Walt Whitman wrote of the ride when he was editor of the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. “How beautiful look earth and heaven again, as we emerge from the gloom!”

In 1861, as the LIRR terminus moved from downtown Brooklyn up to Long Island City, the tunnel was sealed at both ends and reported demolished. The Atlantic Avenue right-of-way was turned over to local trolley companies, to the benefit of developer Edwin Clark Litchfield, who was building a new neighborhood called Park Slope.

Today, Diamond calls the ghost tunnel “a monument to New York political corruption.”

We know a lot about the tunnel thanks to Diamond’s research, but some mysteries remain. Rumor says that a locomotive – possible two – was abandoned in the tunnel and buried beneath the street. Diamond thinks he knows where it is, but has no means to dig it out. A documentary film company that is working on a movie about the tunnel is trying to raise enough money to uncover the locomotive.

Sat 9 Aug 2008 8:17 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, New York is different

Running errands in Brooklyn

Today I went shopping at the most anarchic Target in America, the one on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. I wanted one of these:

Broom and dustpan photo

Shopping in our disastrous Target requires patience, compromise, and a willingness to be surprised. And surprised I was when I saw a man wearing a T-shirt that said “Welcome to America – Now speak English!

Whoa. I never thought I’d see anyone in Brooklyn wear that shirt. The shirt bothers me because it’s worn by those who can’t stand the idea of new people hanging around their town. It’s meant to be cruel. Of course new immigrants ought to learn English, but they have plenty of incentives to do so already. Putting it on a T-shirt seems kind of random, kind of obsessive. To quote the Big Lebowski: You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.

Most of all, it’s a pretty weird shirt to wear to the Brooklyn Target. All the Target signage is in English and Spanish, many customers and store employees are immigrants, and business is conducted in whatever language works. It’s an international community and nobody expects otherwise. (The Target mall sits around the block from, I kid you not, a Halal Chinese restaurant.)

The man in the “speak English” shirt was talking on a cell phone. As I approached him, I could hear clearly that he wasn’t speaking English. He was speaking what sounded like an Eastern European language. All of the sudden the shirt took on a whole new meaning. Either the guy couldn’t read what it said, or he read it as a joke and applied it to himself! Either way, I love it!

By the way, the Atlantic Avenue Target, which is always out of whatever I’m looking for, didn’t have any of these in stock:

Broom and dustpan photo

Instead, I bought one for $1.99 from one of those Spanish discount stores on Fifth Avenue.

Sun 13 Jul 2008 6:25 pm   //   Posted in: Art, Bicycles, Brooklyn

A mighty fine day for a bike ride

Waterfall Williamsburg Bridge

One of the Waterfalls, seen from the Manhattan Bridge bike lane.

Ikea Ferry

Heading home via the free Water Taxi to the Brooklyn Ikea.

Tue 1 Jul 2008 7:28 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn

The swarm

Am I crazy, or are there way more lightning bugs in Brooklyn this summer than in past years? Are fireflies like cicadas or something?

Thu 26 Jun 2008 12:00 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Music

Cold War Kids in Prospect Park

Last summer in California Brian introduced me to the rock-and-roll music of the Cold War Kids. Friday evening the kids are playing a $3 show at the Prospect Park Bandshell. This concert is mandatory. Either you’re going to be there or you need a valid excuse.

Sat 21 Jun 2008 6:34 pm   //   Posted in: Brooklyn

Erie Basin Park opens. Ikea too.

The new Ikea is the biggest and strangest thing to be built in Brooklyn since I moved here. This afternoon I rode my bike down the hill and over the canal to check it out. Seen above is the road in front of Ikea in March (top) and today (bottom).

Traffic is a mess, despite lots of buses and the free ferry. There are more security and police than you’d thought possible. On either side of the Ikea are large lots with signs advertising available real estate. The Red Hook neighborhood is fundamentally different now. It’s now a shopping center.

Also just opened is Erie Basin Park, a vast public space that envelops the Ikea campus on three sides. It makes use of old piers and cranes to commemorate the shipping heritage of this neighborhood. The park has an abundance of benches. The best thing I can say about it is that it looks like an awesome place to skateboard, assuming the cops allow it. Signs say bikes, skateboards and fishing are permitted in designated areas, but it’s unclear which areas those are. I did a lap around the park on my bike and nobody yelled at me. Of course, nobody was there. The Ikea was full and the park was empty.

More photos below.


Wed 4 Jun 2008 11:05 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, Technology

The mean streets of Brooklyn

Joel Johnson of Boing Boing Gadgets walked around my neighborhood to test a military-spec computerized language translator. The resulting video is pretty amusing. Check it out here.

Wed 4 Jun 2008 7:36 am   //   Posted in: Art, Brooklyn, Technology

Hello London, Brooklyn calling

One way to judge a piece of art is to consider how it makes you feel. Let’s check out the Telectroscope. This public art installation/gee-whiz gadget is on display in two cities, Brooklyn and London, through June 15.

The lens of each Telectroscope displays a live video picture of the people gazing into the other one. One is aimed at the Tower Bridge (from the south side of the Thames), one at the Brooklyn Bridge (from the Fulton Ferry Landing). Artist Paul St George has developed a whole story, a fake history, explaining his creation.