Monday, January 14, 2019

Dear Samuel


I miss you already.

It was so wonderful having you home from college for Christmas. 

Your brown eyes are gentle like a deer, deep like a still lake, peaceful like autumn leaves, nurturing like the earth. They suit you. I am a bit startled to see them in this photo, as they have been covered by Virtual Reality goggles for the past several weeks. But I knew they were there.

Thank you for accepting the changes in our lives over the past year with grace and optimism. Thank you for your empathy and compassion and love. 

Thank you for charting the path of your own life, however tenuous and uncertain it still seems. God forbid you should have everything planned out when you're twenty. 

I look at you in your empty dorm room and I see one small person with a big heart and an empty slate waiting to be painted. Literally. That room needs to be painted. 

Thank you for being you...and whoever you become. There is no one else I would ever want you to be. I'm here when you need me.

Love,

Dad

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Babysitter workout


  • Crawl around on the floor on all fours roaring like a dinosaur (10 sets of 10 reps)
  • Crouch behind a wall, then spring up suddenly (15 sets of 10 reps)
  • Run in short bursts to surprise and grab 30-pound humans as they try to run away (20 sets of 10 reps)
  • Lift 30-pound humans into the air (50 sets of 10 reps)
  • Short rest during application of "Paw Patrol"TM Band-AidTM on forehead boo-boo (5 minutes)
  • Walk around museum for 90 minutes (2 miles)
  • Feel sore that night and next day...debate with wife whether more kids at your age is a smart idea
  • Step on scale and be a pound lighter, tell your wife that you have the body of a 30-year-old and are ready for triplets






Post-workout cool-down: Tell your wife how young she looks, how much you love her, and that you are taking her out for a romantic dinner, just the two of you.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Train ride with Samuel

Samuel goes back to college at the end of the week, so we decided to go on an adventure today.

We wanted to go to the model train exhibit at Bronx Botanical Garden but the tickets were sold out, so we settled for the free holiday model train exhibit at Grand Central.


It was a fun 10-minute diversion, but not enough to make a full adventure. So we looked at the Metro North train schedule monitor and saw that there was a train to Stamford leaving in 4 minutes.

We said, "Let's go!"


It was already 3:45 and we hadn't had lunch--or notified Ethan or Jo that we were going on a train trip--so we looked for places we might get off prior to Stamford.

We settled on Mamaroneck.


There was a Smashburger a block from the train station.


Thumbs up for Mamaroneck, then the 5 PM train back to Manhattan.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Gatsby garage debate

Let's talk about the real-life location of George Wilson's garage in the novel "The Great Gatsby."



There is debate online about the actual location, with some great sleuthing from multiple sources. Kudos to my fellow urban archaeologists here and here for their excellent contributions to the debate.

The relevant passage from the novel:

About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is the valley of ashes--a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens, where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.

...

The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and when the drawbridge is up to let boats through, the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour. 


It is generally agreed that Great Neck is the real-life inspiration for the fictional West Egg.

And it is generally agreed that the Corona Ash Dump, located between Great Neck and Manhattan, is the real-life inspiration for the valley of ashes. (It is now Flushing Meadows Corona Park, home of Citi Field and the 1939-40 World's Fair.) 


 


And it is generally agreed that the "small foul river" abutting one side of the valley of ashes is Flushing Creek, immediately to the east. This aerial view is looking southeast from above Flushing Bay.

If there were a real-life George Wilson's garage, it would probably be in the photo above. So that's our vicinity.
Here is the description of the garage, as described by Nick as he and Tom have stepped off a New York-bound train that has stopped at the drawbridge:
I followed him over a low, white-washed fence and walked back a hundred yards along the road under Dr. Eckleburg's persistent stare. The only building in sight was a small block of yellow brick sitting on the edge of the wasteland, a sort of compact Main Street ministering to it and contiguous to absolutely nothing. One of the three shops it contained was for rent; another was an all-night restaurant approached by a trail of ashes; the third was a garage--Repairs. GEORGE B. WILSON. Cars Bought and Sold--and I followed Tom inside. 

In the early 1920s there were four ways to cross Flushing Creek near the Corona Ash Dump (pictured below)--two automobile bridges and two railroad bridges. Here they are, from north to south, on a 1924 map:



Here is their corresponding location on a Google map.


#1 is the Northern Blvd auto drawbridge, the main motor road from Great Neck to Manhattan, and the road that Gatsby would have driven. This is what it looked like in the 1920s:







Here is a closeup from the 1924 map:


#2 is a railroad swing bridge (not drawbridge), just south of the Northern Avenue bridge. The tracks ran north-south from Whitestone before crossing the creek, then connecting with the main LIRR tracks to the south.


Here's an aerial close-up.


Here is a shot from 1917 looking southwest toward the ash dump:


Finally, below is a shot from 1932, looking northeast from the Flushing side of the river. The railroad bridge would have been about a hundred feet to the left of the photo. This photo is for context, as it shows the spot where a train passenger would have to wait if the swing bridge were open.



For reference, here's the location and camera angle:


And just for kicks, this is what it looks like now (note the current Northern Blvd bridge in the background):


Here is a blog about the Whitestone LIRR branch, with more photos and maps. Important to note that it was not the line Gatsby and Nick would have taken to Manhattan, as it did not pass near Great Neck.

#3 is the main Long Island Railroad track over the creek. It is the line Gatsby would've taken. It was not a drawbridge; it is unclear whether it was a swing bridge.



Here's an aerial shot looking from north to south in 1930. It is labeled "LIRR" near the top of the photo. 


Note that there's another bridge in this photo--it's labeled "Roosevelt Avenue." It was constructed in 1928, so it was not there when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "Gatsby."

#4 was an auto bridge further to the south called Strong's Causeway.





It was neither a drawbridge nor swing bridge, so cars would not have stopped to wait there. Nor is there any reason to think Gatsby or Fitzgerald would have driven this road to Manhattan, as it is further south. But I'm including it because the surroundings look more desolate, as Fitzgerald described in "Gatsby," than the bridges to the north.

Take a look, for example, at the view east of the bridge toward Flushing, with trash in the foreground:


And look at the close-up:


Do you see the auto repair shop and restaurant that were about a hundred yards from the bridge? Just saying.

So...here are the theories...


Theory #1: The garage was located to the east of the Northern Blvd drawbridge, in the town of Flushing.

Pros:

  • It's the only drawbridge crossing Flushing Creek.
  • It was the main road from Great Neck to Manhattan.
  • There was a railroad track near the bridge, which crossed the river two blocks south.
Cons:
  • Flushing was not nearly as desolate as the description of the garage locale in "Gastby."
  • The ash dump wasn't on that side of the river.
  • The railroad track didn't run parallel to the road there, and it wasn't the train Gatsby would've taken.

But let's look at a few photos, shall we?

Here's a close-up aerial from 1924. Bridge is on the left. Northern Blvd is the main road running left-right. Railroad track runs north-south and crosses the road two blocks east of the bridge.



There were plenty of buildings along Northern Blvd.




Here's an intriguing auto body shop with upstairs windows that was located a few blocks east of the bridge and within the footprint of the 1924 aerial above.



Finally, here are a couple of great shots just east of the bridge:



The first is looking south across Northern Blvd. Eureka--looks like a dusty little diner on the right. The second is looking east down Northern Blvd from the bridge (the first photo was taken from the same spot but pivoting 90 degrees to the right). Eureka--a gas station. Eureka--a giant billboard...same billboard in both photos.

But don't get too excited. These two photos are from 1936-37--about fifteen years after "Gatsby" was written. I don't see the gas station in the 1924 aerial.

Conclusion: the Northern Blvd bridge was absolutely an influence on Fitzgerald. But it's not an exact match to the description in the book.

Theory #2: The garage was located to the east of the LIRR bridge, in the town of Flushing.




Pros:
  • It was the train route Gatsby would've taken.
  • The train track ran parallel to the road--at least "a" road.
  • The train route ran directly through the valley of ashes.

Cons:
  • It's not the road Gatsby would've driven--there's no auto bridge.
  • The bridge is not a drawbridge as in the novel.
  • Although there are roads parallel to the train tracks, they are not main roads and they don't lead to Manhattan.
Here are a couple of fun photos:

The first is simply "near" the Flushing station, taken in 1921. 


I can't tell for certain which direction this is looking, or which side of the river. I'd guess, based on the faint outlines of buildings in the far background that this is heading east toward Flushing, right in the midst of the valley of ashes. 

In any case, note the big billboard to the right in the photo. Lots of big billboards in all these photos. Plenty of inspiration for a T.J. Eckleburg billboard.

The photo below is from 1930, looking east toward Flushing from the LIRR track at 111th Street. It's still a half mile from the creek crossing, and just at the edge of the ash dump. It shows the ramshackle nature of the area.


Here's the location and angle of the shot in the 1924 aerial:



Conclusion: Clearly, this was an inspiration for Fitzgerald. I wish there were more photos. But it doesn't match up exactly with the novel.


Theory #3: The garage was located to the west of the Northern Blvd bridge, in present-day Willets Point, Queens. Fitzgerald simply took artistic license in placing it on the other side of the bridge in the novel.



Pros:

  • It's in the valley of ashes, not in more populous Flushing.
  • It's near the Northern Blvd bridge.
  • According to a map, there were a couple of garages in the area.
Cons:
  • Based on the 1924 aerial above, the garages weren't yet built at the time of the novel. There are simply no buildings there except right at the bridge.
This theory comes from a blog entry here. Here's the map from that post showing garages in the vicinity, from 1926:


It's a great theory and the map is a great find. But look very, very closely at the 1924 aerial. The buildings aren't there. They appear to have been built between 1924 and 1926.

One thing that is very intriguing about the 1924 aerial, however, is that there are some curious structures to the north of Northern Blvd. They appear to be--wait for it--billboards!

Conclusion: not quite a fit, but those billboards....

Grand conclusion: Fitzgerald combined Northern Blvd, the LIRR tracks, and the valley of ashes into a fictional composite. The tracks run parallel to the road in the novel, and all are within the valley of ashes. Alas, there probably was no George Wilson's Garage in real life.

Just for fun...here's a photo from circa 1928-30, looking northeast from Roosevelt Avenue and Willets Point, on the west side of the creek, right smack in the middle of the valley of ashes.


That's the newly constructed Roosevelt Avenue bridge in the background, leading toward Flushing.

It wasn't there when "Gastby" was written. Darn it.

I sure wish it was so I could say I discovered the only building in sight...a small block of yellow brick sitting on the edge of the wasteland, a sort of compact Main Street ministering to it and contiguous to absolutely nothing. One of the three shops it contained was for rent; another was an all-night restaurant approached by a trail of ashes; the third was a garage--Repairs. GEORGE B. WILSON.