Riding the Freight

(by kdcosta) Sep 10 2014

Photo by Lauren Mitchell. Click on image for license and information.

Photo by Lauren Mitchell. Click on image for license and information.

My father was a delivery man for an office supply company. He delivered coffee, soda, plates, cups, and sugar, but he was known as the "Coffee Man" to most of the people he delivered to. He got up every morning at 4 am—which might have explained his impatience with me and my sister when we slept in on weekends—and drove out to Hicksville, NY to load his van before driving into Manhattan. His goal was to be there by 7 am or 8 am and be done by noon or so to beat rush hour in both directions. I think part of the appeal of this type of work was freedom it afforded him to set his own schedule. In Trinidad, he had tended toward employment that let him set his own terms, and this may have been the closest match to those types of jobs.

It's with no small sense of irony that I pass his distribution center every morning on the LIRR on my way to my office job. My company does not use an office supply company like the one that he worked for—and indeed the growth of chains like Fresh Direct and the expansion of office supply companies like Staples heralded the end of his job long before that end was really known to us. Still, there's no end of delivery men (and some women) who filter through the office. They come up through the freight elevator and they largely pass unnoticed through the office; sometimes, they're waved irritably away to reception if they choose to announce themselves (the freight elevator is near the back of the office). They make up an invisible class of workers who provide services to keep the City running.

When I was nine, I decided I would spend the summer working with him. I didn't have a sense for what that would mean. I was lonely and bored. He agreed with the condition that I would wake myself up and get ready. And I did: I'd ride with him to the distribution center, hunkered down in the passenger seat because I was still mostly asleep, and then follow him on his delivery routes.

We don't make it easy for delivery people to do their jobs. They come in through the service entrance so as to not mar the appearance of professionalism and exclusivity the building strives to maintain. There is a perception that these service professionals get in the way. They're treated with impatience if they board the front-of-house elevator, doubly so if they are carrying anything more than a letter, but how many of us have ridden the freight? Continue Reading »

Share

4 responses so far

Past and Present: Selling Newspapers in New York

(by kdcosta) Aug 09 2014

Are you still reading newspapers? How do you get them? Photo by Jon S. Click on image for license and information.

Are you still reading newspapers? How do you get them?
Photo by Jon S. Click on image for license and information.

New York City takes pleasure in assaulting your senses. You turn a corner and hit a wall of garbage bags that have timed a particularly pungent release just for you. Or you stumble from the train half asleep in the morning and find yourself in a maze of gridlock. You might find questionable substances dripping on you from above where old air conditioning units are holding court. Or you might get to the landing in the stairwell in the subway and encounter an almost tangible odor of urine. Make no mistake: these are calculated attacks. But occasionally the abrasiveness gives way, and under the grime you'll catch glimpses of the harmonies that help shape the New York City. Newspaper hawkers are one such thing. Continue Reading »

Share

4 responses so far

Summer Panhandling Strategies

(by kdcosta) Jul 24 2014

Image by Ed Yourdon. Click on image for license and information.

Image by Ed Yourdon. Click on image for license and information.

My office moved a few blocks south earlier this year, which puts me in the Flower District and means that I have a fifteen minute walk from Penn Station. As the summer months wane, the obstacle course of tourists and panhandlers grows more complicated. In this regard, New York City is like any summer town: an influx of visitors during the warmer months means an increase in profitable opportunities in many contexts. It's a pattern that you can readily observe in some of the smaller towns on the eastern tip of Long Island and in other small town vacation destinations. In a metropolis like New York City (and this applies throughout the boroughs), it might be harder to catch because the hustle and bustle never quite slows to sleepiness as it does in "proper" summer towns, but the ebb and flow is there: as the number of tourists and vacationers increase, so too does the number of panhandlers. Continue Reading »

Share

6 responses so far

Lessons From the Leftover Vault

(by kdcosta) Jul 22 2011

There are secret places all over New York City--that is, if you can manage to escape the glare of lights and the siren-song of the tourist traps of midtown—but often, they work hard at being a secret and brandish badges of exclusivity. Then there are places that feel like a secret, and when you stumble upon them, it's piques the imagination.

History functions similarly. Sometimes, it teases: you know it’s there, and you have to follow the trail to uncover it. And other times, it remains completely hidden until the right circumstances jostle it from its hiding place.

A friend introduced me to a fantastic spot downtown called Trinity Place—it’s dark, the booths will swallow you, and it's rarely ever super crowded. It's a subterranean location, and it's easy to miss as you walk by because the windows seem to gradually melt into the sidewalk. I know. It doesn't sound particularly striking, but that's because you actually have to walk through the doors to be swept off your feet: Trinity Place boasts two 35 tonne bank vault doors that date to 1904.

Trinity Vault

Continue Reading »

Share

6 responses so far

A Tale of Two Undergrounds

(by kdcosta) Feb 24 2011

Explorer hikes in Tibbetts Brook, which runs through a Bronx sewer. Credit: Steve Duncan, NYT

Explorer hikes in Tibbetts Brook, which runs through a Bronx sewer. Credit: Steve Duncan, NYT

"To be happy, stay hidden." - Yopie, Parisian cataphile

Ever since reading Jennifer Toth's The Mole People as a teen, I've been intrigued by the metropolitan underground. Cities teem with life, and change happens at a dizzying pace. But what lurks beneath the streets remains a mystery to many—it almost remains a realm lost to time. Yet, to think of this space as stagnant would be foolish: from Paris to New York City, the subterranean has a life and character all of its own. And if you look closely, you'll find traces of the urban centers on the surface—almost as though these spaces contain seeds of the personalities that thrive above ground.

Continue Reading »

Share

4 responses so far

Mad Science! Creating a River of Slime

(by kdcosta) Oct 29 2010

River of Slime. Copyright Columbia Pictures

It's pink. It's angry. And it wants you to be angry! It's the river of slime that the Ghostbusters saved NYC from in the 80s. Fortunately, Vigo has been banished--permanently, since there haven't been any instances of of giant Stay Puffed Puft Marshmallow men and the Statue of Liberty has remained firmly anchored in the harbor. But all the same, it might be sort of neat to create your own river of slime to deploy--as long as it was slime that lacked the ability to be emotionally manipulative:

Well, now you can! PopSci has a five minute video on how you can make your own rheopectic slime! What's rheopectic slime? It's slime that doesn't follow Newtonian laws:

Most fluids get less viscous the more you manipulate them--think of how honey or oil become "wetter" as they warm up and more solid as they cool. Those are Newtonian fluids. But non-Newtonian fluids do the opposite: they get more solid the more they're manipulated. So if you let this slime sit on a surface, it will pool out into a flowing mess, but if you play with it, it becomes thicker and bouncier. You can even form it into a ball.

This would have worked perfectly for the river of slime--the slime would have done all the work on it's own in terms of "flowing" forth and conquering the city. To recreate the effect, all you have do is let the slime loose on a flat surface. Maybe strategically place a few miniature figures in the way? So, grab some Borax (use less for flowing slime, more for slime you want to shape), pink food coloring, glue, and water, and get to it! Here's the video: DIY: Make Your Own Slime.

Disclaimer: Kids, don't try this alone. Grab a parent and do it together. Do not eat the slime. (why would you want to? It's slime!)

For even more fun, mad science/scientist posts today,  visit the Scientopia homepage to see what's been brewing on some of the other blogs.

Share

Comments are off for this post

Residents of Trinity: Robert Fulton

(by kdcosta) Oct 26 2010

Last week we stripped Trinity Church back to its foundations. This week I’d like to take a look at the history the building watches over. The churchyard is the final resting place for a number of revolutionary soldiers and Daughters of the Revolution, as well as a number of notable New Yorkers who helped shape the destiny of the colony. Let’s take a look at one of these churchyard residents.

Grave Marker for Robert Fulton at Trinity Church

There are two large markers in the churchyard: that of Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton. As the story of Hamilton is widely known, we’ll focus on his neighbor Robert Fulton, the American engineer and inventor credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat—the North River Steamboat. Fulton’s creation ferried passengers between New York City and Albany. It seems fitting that Fulton has a place here at Trinity not just because he had a major influence locally, but because he shared something in common with Richard Upjohn, the architect for Trinity Church: both following a passion that was different from their intended profession.

Though Fulton demonstrated an interest in all things mechanical at an early age, he also learned to sketch at an early age and appears to have been influenced by family friend and artist Benjamin West to pursue a career as an artist. He moved from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to the city of Philadelphia in his late teens where he made a living doing landscapes and apparently made some powerful friends, including Benjamin Franklin. In 1788, at the age of 23, Fulton decided to go to England where he lived with West and earned an income painting portraits and landscapes—but like those driven by other interests, he continued to develop and tweak mechanical tools and paraphernalia—similar to the way Upjohn continued to study architecture while working as a woodworker to make ends meet.

Sketch of the Nautilus, Fulton's submarine. Credit: Wikipedia

Fulton did not invent the steamboat. The technologies necessary for this endeavor were fleshed out by the French inventor Denis Papin in the late 17th-century. His ideas were expanded on by his English and German colleagues (similar in many ways to the DIY revolution of today). And eventually the steamboat grew out of the efforts of Claude de Jouffroy in 1774. In the U.S., it was not until 1787 that a successful steam powered boat was developed by John Fitch, who hosted a demonstration on the Delaware River, but failed to secure a monopoly on the patent which is actually what opened the door for Fulton's success.

Meanwhile, Fulton would move to France in 1797, where he was recognized for his inventions, and was able to learn about steamers from James Rumsey and Claude de Jouffroy. He set his sights on submarines, and designed the Nautilus, which survived submersion for a full hour at a depth of 25 feet (7.6 m). He tried to get the French government to subsidize the plans for the Nautilus, but they were not interested, and he turned his sights back to steamboats in 1801 after meeting Robert Livingston, the US Ambassador to France. The two designed and built a steamboat that they sailed up the River Seine, only to have it sink after the run. Not one to be discouraged, Fulton tried again, and the result was the North River Steamboat.

Replica of Fulton's North River Steamboat. Credit: Wikipedia

Fulton’s legacy in New York echoed in the fish market that bore his name for more than a century. The market was successful partially as a result of the ferry service that brought customers across the East River from Brooklyn. When the Brooklyn Bridge was built, declining ferry service was a primary reason the Fulton market faltered and eventually found it necessary to refocus its business. His physical mark on the city is preserved today in the streets that bear his name in Manhattan and Brooklyn, that stand like the halves of broken trail on either side of the East River.

Share

Comments are off for this post

The Vigilance of Trinity

(by kdcosta) Oct 20 2010

Trinity Church, N.Y.C. 1791. Digital ID: 801103. New York Public Library

Trinity Church, N.Y.C. 1791. Credit: NYPL Digital Archives

Standing directly at the western end of Wall Street, Trinity Church is perfectly framed. Seriously, the young colony could not have chosen a better spot. Today it looks a bit out of place at first glance, but its Gothic spire and dark exterior seem to hold the nearby skyscrapers at bay—which is fitting since this building reigned as the tallest in the mid-nineteenth century. Sunlight and shadow coexist perfectly on the grounds, making the surrounding churchyard a refuge from the busy city that flows around the land. Buildings have lives of their own. They have histories, and they mark and record the history, culture, and time that passes around them. Trinity Church, which is one of New York City’s oldest houses of worship, is no different.

Wall Street, N.Y. Digital ID: 809984. New York Public Library

Wall Street, N.Y. 1847. Credit: NYPL

Wall Street, N.Y. October 2010

In 1696 the Anglican community of the growing colony petitioned Governor Benjamin Fletcher for land for a parish. He approved the sale of the downtown plot to the Crown, which then issued a charter to the parish with a rent of 60 bushels of wheat annually. The church appeared to be well received. In fact, legend has it that even famed Captain Kidd pitched in to help with construction. This building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1776, which was believed to have been set intentionally and destroyed twenty-five percent of the city. Rebuilt in 1790, the roof of the second building collapsed under the weight of snow 40 years later, and the third building—the one that stands today—was constructed in 1846.

Continue Reading »

Share

Comments are off for this post

The Smell Next Door

(by kdcosta) Oct 12 2010

Truffles from Mont-Ventoux. Shared by Poppy on Wikipedia.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the ways a smell can help trigger a memory. Yesterday, I saw this article in the New York Times about a smell that's driving people away. It seems that residents in one luxury condo building are coping with a smell of a different sort: truffles.

The problem started after Urbani Truffles--an Italian truffle company--purchased a retail condo in the building and began using it to store boxes of the high-end mushroom. While truffles may be wonderful when served over your favorite dish, they're actually quite pungent. And it's creating a problem for folks who want to rent or sell--or just live--in the building.

The story reminds us of how personal smells can really be. Real estate agents, who are professionals at marketing undesirable spaces, are having a hard time masking this particular odor:

One [agent's] clients sold his 12th-floor penthouse in Gramercy Park after a bakery moved in and he couldn’t tolerate the odor of onion bagels. (Another family, she noted, bought a TriBeCa loft over a spice shop because they found the smell of curry comforting.)

Maybe the building needs to start marketing to truffles aficionados.

Share

2 responses so far

Smarter Traffic Solutions–But Will They Work in the City?

(by kdcosta) Oct 06 2010

Hey, Drivers, is there a traffic light you know you have to make? You know the one--it takes ages for the light to change from red to green, and the green light is only what feels like a few seconds long. Well, what if there was a smarter traffic light? What if it could sense the traffic flow, and change to match the volume of cars on the road? According to ScienceNews, researchers from the Santa Fe Institute are working on just this particular solution (see original working paper here.) It sounds like the end of road rage, but will it work in New York City?

Continue Reading »

Share

3 responses so far

Older posts »