I have an annoying habit of assigning nicknames to people and places, but what can I say, I grew up in Brooklyn and currently spend all my time in the past. One of my neighbors in Astoria is “High Pitch Richie,” another is “Weird Tony,” and there’s the “man with no soul” who lives on my block (automatic supermarket doors do not open when he approaches — it’s very odd).
The “Empty Corridor in Long Island City” is a term of my own invention — the rest of you know it as 50th Avenue. Once upon a time it connected with the 50th Avenue which transverses the residential section of Hunters Point and continued all the way to the East River, but that was before Robert Moses and the Long Island Expressway came to town in 1939.
The rich terrain which surrounds the Newtown Creek and its industrial districts is often difficult to categorize without some sort of assigned nomenclature.
The Creek itself, and long time readers of my blog, Newtown Pentacle, have grown accustomed to these appellations… hosts DUKBO (Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp), DUPBO (Pulaski), DUGABO (Greenpoint Avenue), even DUMABO (Metropolitan Avenue) to describe various sections using bridge crossings for reference. I call a certain route through eastern Greenpoint “The Poison Cauldron” and another that leads from Bushwick to Maspeth “The Insalubrious Valley”.
There is a reason for this, beyond my personal amusement.
Simply put, the historic place names for these spots have fallen out of common memory. If I said “meet me in Arnheim or at Whites Dock near the Plank Road” how many would be able to conceptualize the location of these spots? In my educated estimation, knowing the various players and personalities of Queensican historical institution and Queensylvanian area wags alike, approximately eleven people would have any idea what I was taking about and only around five of them could make it there under their own power.
For a time, the nickname of DULIE (Down Under the Long Island Expressway) was considered for this spot, but that fits the eastward section of Borden Avenue a bit better, so “Empty Corridor” was assigned it.
There used to be lots of interesting things here, before Robert Moses rammed the steel viaduct and the midtown tunnel which feeds it through in 1939. There were warehouses that were fed by the freight lines of the Long Island Railroad, as well as a thriving manufacturing community “back in the day.” Residences were also nearby, but they were largely absent by the end of the Great Depression.
Nowadays, there are nothing but truck-based businesses within the empty corridor. FedEx Ground, United Parcel Service, and FreshDirect are amongst the biggest operations located nearby. There are also concrete and waste hauling companies, fish mongers and printers, as well as enormous fleets of municipal vehicles which operate out of the vicinity.
There are lots of trucks.
And cats. Lots, and lots, of cats.
One thing you will notice as universal in these industrial backwaters is that ferals are everywhere.
Feral cats, that is.
These days, you really don’t see packs of dogs roaming about. When your humble narrator was a boy and roaming about in the hinterlands of Flatlands and Canarsie, it was not uncommon to witness 10 to 20 dogs of dissimilar breeds shambling about and scavenging.
Some were escaped or abandoned pets, but most were the product of wild miscegenation, rough in appearance and demeanor. These critters were dangerous, and more than one kid from my neighborhood can share tales of being chased and masticated upon by them.
These days, cats are observed as being the dominant feral animal.
Another thing you’ll notice is that laborers in the neighborhood look after these creatures, creating shelters out of plastic crates and depositing large quantities of food for them. This, unfortunately, provides fuel to the fire, and promulgates an unsustainable birth rate for a domesticated specie gone wild. Ultimately, these are just house cats, darting along amongst truck tires and rail tracks.
There are only so many birds and rats that can be caught under normal circumstances in industrial Queens, and without their tenders, life can get pretty grim for these kitties here in the Empty Corridor.
Groups like those found at neighborhoodcats.org offer “Trap-Neuter-Return” services, and all around the Newtown Creek, one observes cat shelters they’ve erected. Hopefully, the organization will find its way to 50th avenue, here in the Empty Corridor.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.