Running on Empty on the Jackson River Scenic Trail

Crunchy on the Jackson River Scenic Trail

The leaf-covered Jackson River Scenic Trail in Covington, VA.

Can you outrace a flat? I found out on the Jackson River Scenic Trail.

It was a lovely, warm October day. I was on my way to western North Carolina when I made a little detour up I-64. I wanted to check out the Jackson River Trail outside Covington, VA.

The terrain looks more like West Virginia than the Old Dominion – it’s tree-covered mountains broken up by narrow, winding streams. Covington is an old factory town, with a towering paper mill surrounded by closely-packed houses.

A couple miles outside of town, I parked at Intervale, where the trail begins. On this Friday afternoon, my car was the only vehicle in the lot.

I took the foldy out of the trunk – it’s a Breezer Zig7, basically the same thing as a Dahon. I bought it off Craigslist seven years ago. Other than changing the occasional flat (foreshadowing), it’s needed little maintenance.
Breezer Zig7 in fall leaves

The trail follows the Jackson River up into the hills. The day was warm, the leaves were at peak color, and I hardly saw another soul on the trail. The surface is crushed gravel and is very soft and smooth. I meandered and took photos with my iPhone.

Jackson River #latergram #fall

The Jackson River in fall.

Along the trail, I passed rocky cliffs, gurgling rapids, a crossroad called Petticoat Junction, a gaggle of little barky dogs (behind a fence) and even some miniature ponies.

Seven miles in, the trail turns from gravel to dirt. I decided to turn around.  It seemed like I had been going uphill for the last couple of miles. Then I noticed my rear tire – it had gotten dangerously deflated. Pressing my thumb into the tire, it had lost half its pressure over the course of the ride.

Did I have a pump and a spare tube? Of course not. I am the unprepared cyclist, one that relies on serendipity to guide me.

I didn’t want to walk seven miles back to my car so I decided to outrace the slow leak. I would pedal as hard as I could to get back to Intervale before my tire went completely flat.

Is this logical? Can you really outrun a flat? Is a flat a function of time, distance or weight? Wouldn’t riding the bike make the tire go flat even quicker?

These were academic concerns. I hopped on my bike and took off, racing past the miniature ponies, crumbly cliffs and colorful leaves of the trail.

With relief, I made it back to the car. The tire still had some air in it. By the next morning, it would be totally flat.

Did I learn my lesson? Maybe. Maybe not. The joy of having a bike is the ability to just go. If I had to plan things, it wouldn’t be as much fun. The downside, of course, is the possibility of a long walk home. But I can live with that.

Coffeeneuring #2: Sunday Washington Ramble

Breezer foldy bike

Fast and foldy, it’s the Breezer Zig7.

Coffeeneuring 2: Compass Coffee
Date: October 12, 2014
Distance: Ten miles?

I am not one to count miles. I don’t Strava. Winning the #1 spot and a crown made of pixels doesn’t interest me.

What I like about biking is the ability to just pick up and go. It’s simple. And in DC, it’s the easiest and quickest way to get around.

My plan for Sunday was to hop on my recently-repaired Specialized Sirrus and ride to Alexandria, less than an hour way.  But I didn’t want to put on padded shorts and put my feet in toe clips. I just wanted to go.

So, for my second coffeeneuring adventure, I hopped on my Breezer, a foldy I bought off Craigslist seven years ago. With its small wheels, this little bike takes 90-degree turns with aplomb. Low to the ground, it’s also easy to get on and off – ideal for the stop and start nature of city cycling. Fenders, kickstand and a sturdy chain guard round out this practical urban cycle.

Leaving my Logan Circle apartment, I cruised down the 15th Street Cycletrack past the White House and down to the Mall, where the Army Ten-Miler was wrapping up. It’s inspiring to see so many people running and races make DC a delight, as blocked-off streets mean car-free riding.

I biked over the 14th Street Bridge because I wanted to try out my new monopod. It enables you to hold the iPhone over your head so you can get pictures like this one.

Army Ten-Miler on 14th St Bridge

Army Ten-Milers cross the 14th St Bridge.

Returning via the Mount Vernon Trail, the foldy with its 20″ wheels and seven speeds was more than quick enough for the conditions, keeping pace with everyone but speedy MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra – a great acronym).

After going over the Memorial Bridge (my favorite), I biked down the Mall toward the Capitol. The leaves have just begun to change in DC.

Starting to look like fall #igdc #dc

A few trees have begun to change colors near the WWII Memorial.

I stopped to experiment with the monopod. No one likes photos shot from below – it’s an unflattering angle. The monopod allows you to lift the iPhone above your head.

Monorail! I mean - monopod! Makes a good combo with camera timer now built in iOS 8

I’m holding the monopod up and away from me, with the Natural History Museum in the background.

After a stop at Taylor Gourmet for lunch, I turned north on Seventh Street, making way through Wizards fans heading for the Verizon Center.

Destination: Compass Coffee. This former laundromat in Shaw is now a lovely coffee place where they roast their own beans – you can see the roasters in the back. I sat in the window and had coffee and a cookie. The crowd was millennials working on laptops.

Compass Coffee

It was good.

Compass Coffee

Laptop people at Compass Coffee. Man on right may be dead.

They need some bike racks – there were bikes locked up all over the place.

Bike parking at Compass Coffee #bikedc

This fence makes for convenient bike locking.

Located at 7th and Q, Compass is on a really interesting corner. Next door you’ll find the only Chicago-themed bar in the city – Ivy and Coney. Get the hot dog but don’t ask for ketchup (which they refer to as “shame sauce”.)

Across the street is Dacha Beer Garden, where Liz Taylor oversees a rowdy crowd of beer drinkers. It’s the best mural in the city.

Lovely fall day to bike through Shaw #igdc #latergram

Liz Taylor mural at Dacha Beer Garden.

You wouldn’t notice all this in a car. And you probably couldn’t find a place to park. So, get a bike. Slow down. And go where you please.

Coffeeneuring #1: Peet’s!

First #coffeeneuring trip of 2014 #bikedc

Dark roast coffee with my bike and the L Street cycletrack in the background.

Coffeeneuring 1: Peet’s (17th and L)
Date: October 4, 2014
Distance: Five miles

Coffeeneuring has returned! The rules are simple – bike to seven different coffee shops by November 16. Check out Chasing Mailboxes for all the details of this coffee-fueled, bike adventure.

For my first coffeeneuring trip, I took my Specialized Sirrus to the Peet’s at 17th and L NW in Washington, DC. Peet’s is a coffee chain from Berkeley that recently replaced all the Caribou Coffees in DC.

I’m a firm believer in feng shui. Some places have good chi energy. With its big windows and corner location, this spot has the plentiful light and ample people-watching that’s perfect for reading, writing or blogging. In fact, I wrote part of my novel Murder in Ocean Hall here when it was a Caribou.

Peet’s is an improvement. The coffee is better and the baked goods are delicious, especially the amaretto brownie.

Located on the L Street cycletrack, and with the White House just a couple blocks away, the Peet’s at 17th and L makes an ideal coffeeneuring destination. It’s also close to National Geographic and innumerable bikeshare stations.

Need more ideas where to go in DC? Check out my seven coffeeneuring trips from last year. Good luck!

 

Photographers Not Working as Photographers

I don’t like fall. To me, it means shorter days and colder temps, both of which I hate. But it’s diminishing daylight that really gets to me. As sunset creeps toward 5 PM, it’s like the whole world is coming to an end.

The season has one redeeming feature: changing leaves. In the mid-Atlantic, the green slowly fades into yellows, oranges and reds over the course of more than a month. The trees have just begun to change colors in downtown Silver Spring:

Changing seasons

I took this photo on my lunch hour, with my iPhone 5. But I thought the picture was too busy and didn’t like the trash can on the left. The branch extending across the top of the photograph was what interested me most. I thought it would make a good Instagram shot.

I cropped it in Instagram, then used the enhance button and applied the Walden filter to give it a desaturated look – like a faded photo found in an attic. I liked the creamy blankness of the sky. Lastly, I turned down the shadows to bring in a little more color in the leaves and to increase the contrast between the branch and the leaves. Here’s the final result:

Looking a little like fall in downtown Silver Spring #igdc #dtss

All this took about five minutes, back in my cubicle at work. I added it to a few Flickr groups and a couple days later I saw my photo on Capital Weather Gang, used to illustrate the arrival of fall in DC. And it was the second photo of mine that they used this week.

I work for a government agency but don’t shoot for them – they don’t have staff photographers, a photo library, a photo budget or photo editors despite the fact that we need photos all the time for web pages, brochures and social media. Instead, as a contractor, I write, edit, go to meetings and toil away in bureaucratic obscurity for the agency.

I’m far from alone in this situation. If you check out local blogs or art gallery shows, you will find the work of talented photographers, nearly all of whom have jobs with the federal government or corporate organizations. They’re photographers not employed as photographers. Instead, they’re system admins or technical editors or even senior management.

We live in a visual age but organizations large and small devote few resources to photography. Think what a company could do if it engaged, organized and compensated their own unofficial staff photographers. After all, who could tell the story of your business better than the people who work there?

Like the legions of photographers in other jobs, I’m going to continue to take photos, because I enjoy it. Photography gets me through the seasons, like the dying fall, and it might just deliver me to a future in which photography is recognized for its storytelling potential.

Local Film “The Goblin Baby” Screens in Georgetown

So happy for Shoshana Rosenbaum and The Goblin Baby. This was a script I read last year for the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition – it was one of the finalists and had a live reading before an audience at the Atlas Theater.

Inspired by the DC Shorts experience, and with help from Women in Film and Video, Shoshana raised money through Indiegogo and made her movie, filming in the Palisades neighborhood of DC in the middle of our polar vortex winter.

This is what I love about DC Shorts – it nurtures filmmakers in Washington. You don’t need to be in Hollywood to make a film. With a little support, a little money and help from friends, you can make a short. We’re also lucky to have great local talent – several of the actors in The Goblin Baby also appeared in House of Cards.

The Goblin Baby posterA mix of archetypal fears and modern anxiety, The Goblin Baby is like an update of one of those Grimm fairy tales far too terrifying for children anymore. 

Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of scripts for DC Shorts. This is one of the few that stayed lodged in my brain. It’s spooky and works on an unconscious level, triggering age-old fears of darkness and abandonment. And with its smoky palette and things occurring just out of frame, the film captures the elemental dread that I enjoyed in the script.

Shoshana had a screening of her short film before a packed house at Ri Ra in Georgetown last night – they have a meeting room upstairs that was converted into a theater for friends and family. In addition to the baby crying on the screen, there was a baby crying in the back of the theater, which made the experience even spookier.

The Goblin Baby has been submitted to short film fests – good luck Shoshana!

Can sex sell Silver Spring apartments?

I Instagrammed this ad for a The Point at Silver Spring because it seemed so ridiculous. Silver Spring is not sexy. It’s where women in tennis shoes get on trains for downtown DC and where lanyard-wearing feds shuffle off to NOAA.

I know – I work there. The biggest claim to fame Silver Spring has is its failed transit center, a hundred million dollars of crumbling concrete destined to demolition. Compared to the rest of the DC area, highlights are few – except for the $5 gyros, which are awesome.

On my Instagram account, a couple of people commented on the photo. Their profile pics looked familiar… turns out, they’re the people pictured in the ad. They’re actors who were hired for a swingles-style photo shoot to promote the new high-rise.

Social media is a strange world that connects disparate people instantly, just through a casual photo taken on a Metro platform.

And sorry to disappoint you but the sexy singles in the ad don’t live at The Point. Your neighbors will probably be middle-aged government employees working at NIH. You won’t be invited over for champagne by fitness models in evening wear.

You’ll be there. But  she won’t for an apartment cannot give you a different life.

Full House at DC Shorts Screenplay Competition

Full house at DC Shorts Screenplay Competition

Actors read screenplays before a full house at the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition.

It was standing room only for Friday night’s DC Shorts Screenplay Competition! Actors did a table-read of six short screenplays before a packed house at the US Navy Memorial. As a judge for the competition, I helped pick the finalists so I was very familiar with these short screenplays. But seeing and hearing an audience react to them being read – that’s always a surprise. Will people laugh for the joke on page three? Only a live audience can answer that.

After all the scripts had been read aloud, we counted the votes. Everyone had to vote for their two favorites, so that people wouldn’t just vote for their friend’s screenplay.

While we tallied the results, the audience watched The Goblin Baby by local filmmaker Shoshana Rosenbaum. This script was a finalist in last year’s competition; she made it herself, raising money through Indiegogo. Shoshana joins the long tradition of DC Shorts alumni who go on to do interesting things, inspired by the DC Shorts experience.

The audience selected Breaking as the winner. Canadian filmmaker David Feehan received a check for $1000 – he’ll get $1000 more when he turns his script into a film, plus automatic admission to next year’s DC Shorts. I was proud to be part of such a unique event.

I’ve entered countless screenplay contests myself – I even won one. But unless you win, you never hear anything back from them. The DC Shorts Screenplay Competition is different in providing written feedback to all entrants. And by giving the winner automatic entry into next year’s festival, it turns screenwriters into filmmakers. That’s what makes it one of the most unique screenplay competitions in the country. So, write a short script and enter it next year!

Three great local films at DC Shorts

Retirement, a film by Rob Rafferty.

Retirement, a film by Rob Raffety.

For 11 years, the DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition has screened the world’s top short films to audiences throughout the region. This year, the festival will showcase 135 films from 25 countries. It’s a great, local event that brings filmmakers and audiences together in the Penn Quarter in Washington. Not surprisingly, it’s been named the Best Film Festival by the Washington City Paper for three years in a row.

What makes DC Shorts great is that it’s a festival for filmmakers, providing new talent the opportunity to emerge – especially local talent. I’ve been glad to have been a part of DC Shorts as a judge, photo coordinator and other duties.

How do you decide what to see in this cinematic smorgasbord? How about some local films? Here are three that I like – plus a bonus flick!

Heal H Street
The transformation of H Street over the past decade has been astounding. But newcomers to the city may not be aware that H Street was not always yoga studios and taquerias. Documentarian Craig Corl uncovers the story of this neighborhood, from riot to renewal. Focusing on the accounts of the people who’ve lived through it all, he tells the real story of H Street. It’s a must for anyone interested in the urban history of Washington or just curious as to what the city was like in the 80s and 90s.

Voyage of Discovery
Nature has a perfection that art can never approach. Cells and viruses are not only beautiful under a microscope they are ideally suited for their functions. Three local female artists share how they’ve been inspired by the beauty of science. By showing how these women work, and the source of their creativity, this documentary by Carla Schaffer will inspire you to pick up a brush.

Retirement
If you work in downtown DC, you’ve seen Running Backwards Man. He’s the inspiration for this brilliantly edited comedy. Retirement by director Rob Raffety is like Office Space but set in Washington. If you’re stuck in a cubicle, you will relate – maybe a little too much.

Bonus: Come to the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition on Sept 19. Watch a live screenplay reading and select the winner of $2000. While I’m counting the votes, you can watch The Goblin Baby by local filmmaker Shoshana Rosenbaum. Her dark tale of motherhood was a runner up in the 2013 Screenplay Competition.