Specialized Sirrus Disc: First Impressions

new bike day

It was time for a new bike.

I knew that my Specialized Sirrus needed some work. The rear wheel was wobbly, the brakes were squeaky and the gears protested when shifting.

Since purchasing it in 2006, I had logged thousands of miles on the bike. Its wheels had rolled down the sands of New Smyrna Beach, climbed the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and performed lots of everyday biking in Washington, DC.

It was way more use than I ever imagined. Bikes don’t last long in DC. I figured it would’ve been stolen or wrecked by now.

But the Sirrus endured, with just some minor repairs and tune-ups.

Until now. Taking the bike into Conte’s for repair, I was not surprised to hear that nearly everything on the bike needed to be replaced. I had ridden the Sirrus into the ground.

Time to get a new bike! I had long anticipated this moment.

I had been looking at new bikes for years, reading websites and checking out other people’s rides. I had tried other bikes, like a Riide electric bike and a Brompton folding bike, but was waiting for the moment when my old bike would fall to pieces and I could get a new one.

I tried the Specialized Sirrus Disc and bought it. Loved the look. The black with the recessed cables is sexy as hell. Could be none more black. Built-in reflectivity in the frame and on the tires makes it more visible than my old Sirrus.

I also wanted a flat bar bike, since I like having my brakes handy in the city.

And the brakes! That was the first thing I noticed as I took the bike around on a test ride around the Navy Yard. The v-brakes on my old Sirrus need to be stomped on to work. It was always a panic stop with them, as you tried to modulate between stopping and flying over the handlebars. In contrast, disc brakes are so smooth and safe.

Also, the Sirrus Disc has slightly wider tires than my old bike, which made it feel much more secure on city streets.

Which is what the bike is designed for: urban rides and fitness. It’s for bike lanes and trails for the semi-advanced rider.

New bike was $625. My bike friends would consider that cheap, while my non-bike friends would find that expensive. Considering I got thirteen years and thousands of miles of transportation out of my old bike, it’s a bargain.

I also got the Conte’s Protection Plan. $60 for three years of repairs is a deal.

The staff at Conte’s moved my bell, water cage, lights, etc… from old bike to new. Then I rolled out on my new bike, leaving my old Sirrus for the bicycle graveyard.

New bike is much faster and smoother than old bike, I noticed as I cruised down Eye Street. It took me past another cyclist as if it had a will of its own.

Fourth Street was a surprise, however. It is notoriously potholed. My old Sirrus had a spring built into the seat; new Sirrus does not so it was a harder ride.

It takes time to get used to a new bike. You need to live with it for a while. But the Sirrus Disc felt right from the moment I got on it.

I’ve become one of those cranks who attend public meetings

making a u-turn through the Stop U-Turns Protest
The moment I became an activist.

I’ve become one of those cranks who attend public meetings.

The thought occurred to me as I sat for a presentation on street redesign in a library multipurpose room.

This was a surprise. I’m a Gen Xer, part of a generational cohort noted for its extreme cynicism.

Getting involved was something that Baby Boomers did – and look at what a mess they had made of things, destroying every American institution in a long march through history that culminated with the election of Donald Trump.

Boomer culture was something that my generation rejected. Caring was a fool’s errand, destined for failure, our voices swamped by the too large, too wealthy, too loud Boomers.

It started with Stop U-Turns on Penn. I went, not as a participant, but as a photographer.

The objective was to get barriers installed (called park-its) installed on Pennsylvania Avenue so that cars couldn’t make u-turns across the unprotected bike lane.

I thought it was a waste of time. No way would the city do anything in for bicyclists like me. I had accepted my second or even third-class status in a city dominated by the needs of drivers.

The protesters, including Dave Salovesh, put their bodies on the line, standing along both sides of the unprotected bike lane in front of the Wilson Building, home to DC’s city government.

And, while they stood there, with cops and media in the middle of the street, a driver made a u-turn. Right across the solid white lines of the bike lane. Mid-block. In a gap between protesters. Everyone yelled and a police officer pulled the driver over.

Inspired by their bravery, I joined them, moving from observer to participant, transitioning from cynical to cautiously hopeful.

I crossed a deep psychological chasm for Generation X: I cared.

And we, for I was part of something now, won. Park-its were installed down the length of Pennsylvania Avenue bike lane.

Pennsylvania Avenue West redesign meeting
I did the unthinkable: attend a local government meeting.

Which is how I found myself sitting in a conference room at the West End Library on a Thursday night. The District Department of Transportation was there to show how they intended to redesign Pennsylvania Avenue West to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists. There were discussions about road drainage, loading zones and bicycle lane width. I viewed the slides, listened to the briefing and talked to DDOT staff.

I even offered a suggestion, using the provided post-it notes to scribble a comment and affix it to the redesign plan taped to the wall.

Gen X cynicism is a mask, since we believe that caring is a hopeless proposition.

But I had seen that change is possible. Sometimes only after great tragedy. Florida Avenue, where Dave Salovesh was killed, is getting redesigned this summer to make it safer.

On a Thursday night, I provided feedback to government officials who, I was confident, wanted to do the right thing. I believed. I had faith. I knew my voice mattered.

I had become one of those cranks that attend public meetings.

Behind the Scenes of a BikeDC Conspiracy

Ghosts of Bowser

The conspirators gathered at dawn. Working quickly, they unloaded the truck on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Out came bikes, walkers, canes, shoes, helmets, scooters and car parts – all painted white. It was ghost memorial for the 128 victims of traffic violence in Washington, DC. 128 men, women and children killed during the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser.

These were the Ghosts of Bowser.

A How-To Manual for Conspiracy

Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday outlines how conspiracies form, organize and succeed as he tells the story of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the gossip web site Gawker.

Conspiracies begin with a crime. An outrage. An offense that people can’t bear, something that makes them willing to leave their ordinary, conspiracy-free lives behind and sacrifice to right the wrong.

For the members of #BikeDC, the rolling community of people who bike in the nation’s capital, it was the death of Dave Salovesh, killed by a driver on Florida Avenue. Plans to redesign the street to make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians have been on the books for years, yet the city has done nothing. A protected bike lane might have saved him.

In response to his death, a ghost bike was installed on Florida Avenue. A bike painted white to memorialize his death.

This wasn’t enough. Dave was a beloved figure, someone who everyone in DC knew – including me.

Two days after he died, another person was killed by an out-of-control driver in DC. Abdul Seck, visiting Washington, struck on a sidewalk.

While memorials were held for Dave and Abdul on the streets where they were killed, the Mayor attended neither.

A Conspiracy is People Working Together

I yelled at the Mayor. Caught her at an event on K St. Confronted her over her failure to fix Florida Avenue – she said these things take time. Over her failure to respond to the more than 100 people who emailed her. Or to show up at Dave or Abul’s memorials. She replied that too many people were killed in DC for her to make an appearance at every memorial.

Me. An individual expressing my rage.

But to the move the world, you need a group of people acting in concert. A conspiracy.

As Americans, we think that conspiracies are a bad thing, forgetting that our country was formed in conspiracy, 13 colonies acting against the Crown.

“When they go low, we go high,” is a sentiment that the men who fired the first shots at Lexington would’ve found hopefully naive. If you want independence, then you have to act in secret using every tool available.

Conspiracies Require Secrecy

Fortunately, we have better communication methods than Paul Revere riding in the dark. Modern conspiracies are organized by time-expiring emails and password-protected Google Docs.

Days before the Ghosts of Bowser installation, teams of people scoured the city for objects to represent the deaths of 128 men, women and children killed in traffic violence. From junk yards, garages and alleys, they emerged with car parts, bikes and shoes that they painted white. A conspiracy requires a village, a large group of people who share your outrage and desire for change.

Secrecy is the essence of conspiracy, from the classical era to today, as Holiday points out in his book. Roman slaves were rewarded for informing on their masters. If the city had learned of Ghosts of Bowser before it was constructed on Pennsylvania Avenue, they might have stopped it.

Conspiracy Controls the Narrative

Modern conspiracies, like Ghosts of Bowser, must balance secrecy with the need for outreach. You want the media to show up at your protest. Ghosts of Bowser had talking points, artwork and a hashtag #ghostsofbowser ready to debut on social media.

Reporters, and allies like me, were told to expect something in front of the Wilson Building, without being told the exact details.

In the light of dawn, as the Ghosts of Bowser installation was taking shape outside the Wilson Building, home to the DC city government, a pair of security guards emerged.

The volunteers, busy piling white bikes and strollers into a parking space marked for councilmembers only, knew what to do. They had been briefed. There was a script for descalating conflict with the police.

Which was not necessary. The guards just didn’t want bikes on the steps of the Wilson Building, where they might trip people up, a request that was easily accommodated.

A Conspiracy Has a Clear Goal

Conspiracies need a clear goal. For Peter Thiel, offended that Gawker had outed him as gay, the objective was to bankrupt the gossip site.

Conspiracies also need people willing to do whatever it takes to win. Thiel found that in Hulk Hogan, whose sex tape Gawker exposed to the public. He would be the instrument that Thiel would use to get his revenge.

#BikeDC wants streets that don’t kill people in DC. You shouldn’t die riding your bike or walking down the street in Washington. The city has plans to implement safe streets but has failed to act upon them. Protected bike lanes, road diets, banning right-turns on red and reclaiming streets for the people all could save lives, if only Mayor Bowser would act.

Often conspiracies exist within broader movements for change – think of the network of spies that Alexander Hamilton ran during the American Revolution.

Sherri Joyner shows her mangled bike

Hours after the ghost installation, the Washington Area Bicyclists Association held a die-in on Pennsylvania Avenue. As the names of 128 traffic victims were read, hundreds of people lay down on Pennsylvania Avenue. Every member of the “transportation community,” as Mayor Bowser would call it, was there – bike commuters, casual cyclists, walkers, runners, environmental activists and their friends and family.

“All eight wards” is a slogan Mayor Bowser uses to represent the entire city. It was right outside her window that day, if only she would look. This is a community ready to do what it takes to build safe streets in the nation’s capital.

Conspiracies Have a Cost

Conspiracy has a cost. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor, knowing that they had committed treason. There was no going back.

Peter Thiel won his battle against Gawker, after spending millions of dollars and years of his time. Aiming to protect his privacy, he ended up with even worse press, as his role as the banker behind the Hulk Hogan lawsuit was exposed. Believing that he now understood the common man, he went on to endorse Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican Convention. Thiel has lost his privacy and his reputation, becoming just another Republican tarnished by Trump.

That’s the point Ryan Holiday makes in Conspiracy – the endgame is the most dangerous part of a conspiracy.

Confronted with evil times, from Donald Trump pushing America toward dictatorship to the deadly traffic toll on DC’s streets, we need to conspire to make change.

The good guys don’t always win. The long arc of history does not bend toward justice, it is pushed and prodded that way by people acting together in conspiracy.

Three Ways to Build Safe Streets in DC

Safe roads for all

Dave Salovesh was killed by a driver on Florida Avenue in Washington, DC. He was a friend of mine and, like me, a member of #BikeDC, the rolling community of cyclists that call the nation’s capital home.

Following his death, friends of Dave wrote to the Mayor pleading for safe streets. No one should die walking or biking in DC.

Dear Mayor Bowser,

My friend Dave Salovesh is dead. It should never have happened. DC has known for years that Florida Avenue is unsafe. DDOT made plans for traffic calming measures to make the street safer and never implemented them.

You now have a chance to do things differently. You have the opportunity to prove that Vision Zero is more than just a slogan. Take dramatic action to prove that this time is different. Radical change is needed for safe streets and only you can make it happen.

I propose that you implement the following over the next 90 days:

1. Shutdown for Safety. Every time there’s a crash with injuries, the street is shut down for 24 hours. This will give DDOT the chance the investigate possible measures to prevent future crashes and underscore the city’s commitment to traffic safety. When drivers and residents see that streets are Shutdown for Safety, they’ll know that the city cares about them. This little inconvenience will send a message that the lives of DC residents are more important than keeping the traffic moving.

2. Declare Portions of DC Car-Free. We’re a European city, designed by a European with a street grid of narrow roads that were never meant for cars. Like leading cities in Europe, the city center should be free of cars. I’d follow the Inauguration street closure plan and close roughly everything between the White House and the Capitol. Imagine being able to stand in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and take in the Capitol at sunset without having to worry about being run over.

3. Ban Carsharing. It’s madness to allow a bunch of suburbanites to play taxi driver in Washington, all to benefit some massive corporation in California. Ubers clog the roads and are an environmental and economic nightmare, a predatory company with investor money that is undercutting public transportation. Ban Uber and bring back DC’s taxis.

You can be different. You can be a pioneer among America’s mayors. With these three steps, you can build safe streets and set yourself apart as the Mayor who made a historic difference in the life of the nation’s capital.

Joe

The Mayor’s response came a week later and was a form letter to the more than 100 people who emailed her about Dave. And it only came after I confronted her at an event and demanded answers.

Dave Salovesh

Dave Salovesh

Bad news always arrives via Twitter.

I saw earlier in the day that a cyclist was killed on Florida Avenue. The crash sounded horrific – a driver fleeing police had clipped a car and hit someone on a bike going the opposite direction.

The crash took place in the Trinidad neighborhood of Washington, DC. Neighbors, including friends of mine, had been complaining about Florida Avenue for years. Maryland commuters use it as a freeway despite the fact that it travels through some of the most densely populated areas of the city. 

Ruby Whitfield was killed in almost the same spot in 2013 while walking home from church. A street is named in her honor. Plans were drawn to slow traffic on the street and put in a protected bike lane. Nothing was ever done.

Twitter then delivered the horror, as it has since 2016. The name of the cyclist killed was Dave Salovesh.

A flood of responses online: shock. Dave was the most confident city cyclist I ever met, one of those people who biked everywhere in all weather, with strength and power, determined to prove that the streets belonged to everyone.

I first met Dave at the Stop U-Turns Protest on Pennsylvania Avenue. I wasn’t an advocate. I was just there to take pictures. Dave wanted barriers put up to stop drivers from making u-turns across the bike lane. The demonstration took right in front of the Wilson Building, home to the notoriously unresponsive DC city government.

I thought nothing would come of it. To my surprise, Dave won. Curbs were put in so drivers couldn’t make u-turns across Pennsylvania so easily.

As I got more involved in bike advocacy, moving from observer to participant, I saw Dave everywhere, at every protest, rally and meetup. He was someone you could count on being there.

As @darsal, he was a ceaseless presence on Twitter, an advocate with a mission to make the streets safe for everyone.

Little-known fact: he also ran @DCBikeWX, a wonderful Twitter account that provided weather forecasts for local cyclists. He wasn’t a meteorologist but every day would look at the charts and develop a forecast, advising bike commuters when to pack rain gear or remember their gloves.

He was one of those people you assumed would always be around. Until he wasn’t.

On Easter Sunday, a ghost bike was installed where Dave died.

I couldn’t go. Couldn’t do this one. I’ve been to other remembrances for people killed on city streets, dutifully taking photos, my lens a shield against the raw experience of grief.

But I couldn’t do this one. It was too personal. I knew Dave.

On Easter Sunday in DC, another deadly crash, a driver running through a stop sign, smashing into a car and killing a pedestrian, no break from automotive mayhem even on the holiest of days.

Things have to change.

Will they change?

Dave believed that they would, because making the streets safe for everyone was the right thing to do.

Things can change. Email Mayor Bowser and demand safe streets. It’s time to stop the carnage.

Safe Streets Needed in the Nation’s Capital

Man blocks traffic to protest city's negligence in protecting people

“A tragedy,” you hear on the news but when you encounter real grief it’s almost impossible to process. You look away from the mother alone in her pain. She lost her son doing something that should be safe – riding an electric scooter in Washington, DC.

And here she was, days after his death, on the spot where he was killed, as cars honked and drivers cursed.

This was the scene at the memorial ride for Carlos Sanchez-Martin, who was run over by an SUV in a Dupont Circle crosswalk. A white ghost scooter was erected to memorialize him, placed at the spot where he died. We then occupied the street for ten minutes, placing our bikes and our bodies on the asphalt for safe streets.

Drivers couldn’t wait ten minutes. Someone died here and they couldn’t wait ten minutes. They honked and honked and a couple even got out of their cars to confront us, a situation thankfully defused by the Metropolitan Police Department.

Ten minutes. Drivers won’t even give ten minutes for someone that they killed. This is why we need safe streets in the nation’s capital.

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After the ten minutes were up, we left the intersection. Drivers poured through, nearly hitting people in the same crosswalk where Carlos Sanchez-Martin was killed. Drivers ran red lights despite the presence of uniformed officers. No tickets were issued.

Rachel Maisler organized the memorial ride. It has become her sad duty to coordinate these events, having brought mourners together for cyclist deaths on H Street and M Street.

And there will be another one, on Thursday, for Thomas A. Hollowell, who was hit by a red-light runner at 12th and Constitution, just off the National Mall.

If you’re murdered by a gun in this city, the police flood the neighborhood. Lights are put up. Squad cars are posted on corners to reassure people that they’re safe.

But if you’re a murdered by a car, nothing is done. I visited 12th and Pennsylvania the day after Hollowell’s death and cars were still running red lights. A more enlightened city would make physical changes to the intersection to make it safer and crackdown on red light runners.

But not the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Safety is not a priority for this unresponsive bureaucracy.

At the memorial for Carlos Sanchez-Martin, a man sat down in the street. This wasn’t planned – no one even knew who he was. He sat down in front of four lanes of traffic with his scooter next to him.

DDOT does so little to stop rampaging drivers that ordinary citizens are willing to put their bodies on the line for safe streets.

The memorial rides are grassroots affairs. Organized by Rachel Maisler, they have forced the city to make changes that keep people safe, like removing parking spaces on the M St bike lane. Negative media coverage is the only thing that DDOT responds to.

The memorial ride for Thomas Hollowell is Thursday 5:30 PM at Farragut Square. People on bikes, scooters, rollerblades or even just walking – anyone who believes in safe streets is welcome. Wear white. It will be a silent procession to where Hollowell lost his life. Follow Rachel Maisler on Twitter for more details.

Capital Bikeshare Plus: First Impressions

Capital Bikeshare Plus

Capital Bikeshare goes electric!

CaBi has added electric bikes to their arsenal, as part of a pilot program that runs through November. Capital BikeShare Plus, they call it. These new ebikes are designed to be used just like the iconic red bikes, integrating seamlessly into the existing Capital Bikeshare system. There’s no additional charge to use them for CaBi members.

As a long-time CaBi user, I was anxious to try one. I checked the CaBi app and saw that one was available, delineated with a little lightning bolt on the map. Shazam!

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The electric bikes are black and easy to spot. I unlocked it from the dock the way I do with any other CaBi, with a fob on my keychain. Among the many things that Capital Bikeshare gets right is ease of use.

Pulling it out of the dock, I noticed it looks and feels almost exactly like the familiar red bikes. If it’s heavier, I didn’t notice, and it handles just like a CaBi, except faster.

There are a few key differences, however, the biggest being pedal assist. To activate it, you press a button on the battery on the bike. I expected a light or something to turn on. Nothing did.

But, after I got on and pressed down on the pedal, I knew: this is on! Almost too on, sending me flying down the sidewalk before I was fully prepared.

Capital BikeShare Plus bikes have three gears, just like the red bikes, and, like the red bikes, the first two gears are useless.  a variable transmission, according to the ever-knowledgeable Mr. T in DC. Like I do with the three-speed CaBis, I kept it in the highest gear.

There are a couple other nice additions to the bike too. The first being a functional basket, rather than the magazine rack on normal CaBis. The fenders are longer and more robust. The bell is better, too, built in to the handlebars rather than hanging off it.

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But you don’t care about that. How fast is it?

Fast. While the top speed is limited to 18 mph, you get up to that speed almost instantly. A couple turns of the pedal, the motor kicks in and you’re merrily racing along.

I tried not to be a jerk about it. I didn’t blow by cyclists going uphill, but instead let my speed drop, following them as they labored over the gears like factory workers.  On straightaways, I passed “serious” cyclists on road bikes, hunched over, sweating, lycra-clad, while I rode by, smiling, upright, in a polo shirt.

Speed is fun. Americans love speed and 18 mph in a world where everyone is going ten seems helluva fast.

But where e-bikes shine is going uphill. I had to go to an appointment near L’Enfant Plaza. With my speedy CaBi Plus, I got there early. With time to kill, I decided to test the bike by taking it up the steep slope of Capitol Hill on the sweatiest, hottest morning of September.

And it was no work at all, the bike climbing the hill almost effortlessly. If I had taken a non-electric CaBi, I’d be nearing a heart attack when I reached the top, but with CaBi Plus, my heart rate barely changed.

On the way back down Capitol Hill, I followed a guy in a suit on an electric scooter, a sign that e-transportation is the future. Electric bikes and scooters are ideal for short trips, particularly in cities. The coming decades may not belong to Tesla but to something much simpler: electric bikes.

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CaBi Plus, and electric bikes in general, are also perfect the vast majority of Americans who don’t feel comfortable on a bike. Pedal assist allows people with health issues to ride again, as well as people who don’t want to get sweaty. They also allow people to get up to speed quickly, which is useful when commuting in traffic.

I was sad to return Capital BikeShare Plus to the dock – that’s when you know it’s love. But there are eighty of them in the city so I’m sure we will meet again.

Death in the M St Bike Lane

Moment of silence for Jeffrey Long

 

Protected bike lanes are supposed to be protected, separated from cars and protected by barriers. 15th St in Washington, DC, is a good example of one – parked cars make up the barriers and stop lights with red arrows prevent drivers from turning across the bike lane.

But the “protected” bike lane on M St created by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) fails to include these best practices. Instead, DDOT gave in to the demands of businesses (and one local church) to design a protected bike lane that looks protected but isn’t.

It’s a Trap

The lane starts off looking protected at Thomas Circle. Running along the curb, with a row of parked cars as protection – great! But as you ride west, the lane disappears entirely as it goes by the Metropolitan AME Church, who didn’t want their double-parking parishioners inconvenienced. On the 1600 block of M St, the lane finds protection again with a line of parked cars but then ends in a mad scrum at the end of the block, as cars merge into the lane so that they can make a right turn.

This dangerous pattern of mixing cars and bikes continues on to Georgetown, where the lane sputters out. The people of #BikeDC have complained about the M St bike lane for years, telling DDOT that was unsafe, and even sharing with the transportation agency photos and videos demonstrating the danger.

DDOT did nothing.

The Inevitable Death

Over the weekend, the inevitable happened: a cyclist was killed on M St, run over by a truck making a right turn across the bike lane. His name was Jeffrey Long.

He wasn’t even the first person on a bike killed this summer in DC, despite the Vision Zero talk about eliminating pedestrian and cyclist deaths from Mayor Bowser. In June, Malik Habib died on H St NE after being run over by a bus.

DIY Safety

A couple days after Long’s death, I visited New Hampshire and M St NW, where he was killed. I expected to see physical changes to the intersection, such as a red light arrow to keep drivers from crossing paths with cyclists. After all, someone died here.

Nothing had been done, at least by DDOT.

But someone had been busy. Six toilet plungers painted orange had been placed on M St, preventing drivers from cutting the corner on to New Hampshire. Instead, they had to slow down and make a 90 degree turn, making the intersection safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

DIY safety improvement on M St

That’s the state of the city in 2018, in which people have to make their own traffic improvements to keep their neighbors safe. As I wrote in the Washington Post, Mayor Bowser and her administration care more about making rich people richer than helping ordinary citizens.

Ride of Silence

Last night, there was a memorial ride for Jeffrey Long. More than a hundred cyclists in white rode silently down M St during rush hour.

We stopped and placed our bikes on the spot where he died for twenty minutes of reflection. Flowers were placed on the white ghost bike that memorializes him.

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a moment of reflection

A cyclist was kiled here

Next Steps

This can’t be the end. We are calling for:

  1. Improved sight lines at M/NH/21st St NW.
  2. Repaint intersection immediately.
  3. No turns on red in downtown.
  4. DC Council oversight hearing holding DDOT, DPW and MPD accountable for safe infrastructure & enforcement.

This tragedy should not be forgotten. Contact your councilmember to ensure that this never happens again.

And follow #BikeDC on Twitter to learn the latest about biking in the city, as well as plans for an upcoming ride to honor Malik Habib.

Letter from Washington: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman 2 filming at the Hirshhorn

Update: a modified version of this post appeared recently in the Washington Post.

Wonder Woman is filming in Washington this week. If you go by one of the locations (the Hirshhorn Museum, Watergate, Georgetown) the PAs will tell you that it’s Magic Hour. But everyone in DC knows that it’s Wonder Woman.

“No photos!” comes a cry from behind a barricade as iPhones rise to catch the irresistible sight of 1980s cars and fashion on the National Mall. In June. On a Friday.

Despite the legally unenforcible prohibition, images from the movie have been all over the Internet. Twitter even made it one of its Moments.

Seeing photos online, I hurried down to catch the shoot at the Hirshhorn Museum.

Movie-making is frightfully dull unless you’re the one making the movie. I wrote screenplays for a while and was even on set for a couple of short films.

It can take all afternoon just to get the lights set up. 99% of the time, nothing is happening, just extras in wigs and costumes listlessly standing around, waiting for their chance to be a blur in the background.

My timing was propitious, biking up just as Wonder Woman/Magic Hour was rehearsing a scene.

There’s Gal Gadot!

No. It was her stand-in and Chris Pine’s stand-in looking so similar to the two actors that I had to zoom in on their faces to confirm that they were nobody.

Action!

The stand-ins were acting now, walking where Gal Gadot and Chris Pine would be, and acting too, the Pine stand-in reacting to something overhead. Walk, talk, react as the camera whirred and cars from the 80s idled past the museum.

Stop!

And then again, the old cars reversing, the stand-ins returning to shadow and the extras relaxing in their bright 80s clothes. Whatever…

Action!

Again, the cars idled forward, the stand-ins took their marks, and the extras tried to look natural.

Stop!

Life in DC, 2018, resumed. Drivers from down the street honked, annoyed at being delayed. High school tour groups, clad in identical green shirts, trooped by, unaware of the movie shoot. PAs told joggers to cross the street. “The sidewalk is closed!”

Action!

And then, looking through my zoom lens, there was Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, wearing the same clothes as the stand-ins, even a Member’s Only jacket for Steve Trevor, but anointed with the familiarity of being stars. You know them, but you don’t, their image the only thing truly accessible.

They duplicated what the stand-ins did. Walk, talk, react, Chris Pine gawking at whatever was in the sky but with considerable more subtlety than the stand-in. He’s a star.

A dirty hippy ruined my shot. Old man, in a tie-die shirt and blue overalls, entering the frame just as I focused on Pine and Gadot.

Stop!

Everyone relaxed, Gadot crossing the concrete plaza to consult with Patty Jenkins, the director. That’s the conversation I would’ve loved to hear.

I love the fact that they used the Hirshhorn, as well as several other DC locations. They also recreated Commander Salamander in Georgetown, a mainstay of 1980s cool when the 80s were cool.

What wasn’t so cool was Magic Hour/Wonder Woman shutting down Pennsylvania Avenue all weekend long, blocking off bike lanes (it’s always about bikes) with no alternate accommodations. Instead, confused foreign tourists, groups on Segways, bikes and cars crammed into narrow streets trying to detour around the blocks-long bottleneck.

There weren’t even detour signs for the lost. Instead, just fences and people with ill-defined authority telling them to leave and “NO PHOTOS!”

But to help the filmmakers, the DC city government had erected barricades, parked dump trucks and even brought in police officers to keep the curious away. Money talks, in the non-superhero universe.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) had finished their reconstruction/destruction of the 15th St bike lane by the old Washington Post building. It had been a protected bike lane until it was destroyed to enable a private developer to construct a building. The biking residents of the city (like me) have endured years of dodging cement trucks and cranes so that a rich man can get richer.

I biked by. All the resources of the city were handed to the Wonder Woman filmmakers. But, on 15th St, DDOT couldn’t even be bothered to put up a barrier of plastic bollards. Instead, the only protection from cars is a narrow strip of paint for this two-way bike lane. There will be chaos and injury come Monday.

there should be bollards on right

But that doesn’t matter to Mayor Bowser and a city government entranced by Hollywood fame. They’ll block off entire streets for an imaginary character but do little for the real people of the city, forced to beg for a few pieces of plastic protection from very real dangers.

In the movies, Wonder Woman stands up for the oppressed. But in real life, there are no superheroes. If you have money, Mayor Bowser and the city government will let you do what you want.

Letter from Washington: The Jericho Protest

The Jericho Protest

Small acts of rebellion, like the Jericho Protest, serve to remind others that they’re not alone.

On Sunday mornings, I like to go for coffee at Peet’s by the White House. Located on a sunny corner, it’s a good place to write in the quiet moments just after dawn. Inside, it’s usually just me, Secret Service agents taking a break and the odd jogger.

One of those odd joggers is the man from the Jericho Protest. I saw him a couple months ago. A runner with a vuvuzela. He stopped in front of 1600 Pennsylvania, blew his horn, and jogged off. Clearly, it was his Sunday morning routine.

So, when I saw a person with a horn in front of Peet’s, I had to stop and get his photo. He does seven laps around the White House, blowing his horn on each circuit, just like the Jericho legend.

The plaza in front of the White House is blocked off to cars. Located at the intersection of two major bike lanes, it’s the Mixing Bowl of #BikeDC. If you bike in this city, and are going east-west or north-south, it’s hard to avoid the Trumpian residence.

How do you respond?

Some go out of their way, not wanting to be reminded of the figure in the White House.

Others incorporate protest into their daily routine.

Flipping off the White House

There’s a cyclist who flips off the President every morning. For a while, I had the same schedule as her. I’d see her, the woman in the Ortlieb backpack, one hand held up in defiance as she pedaled by, her moment of protest for the day.

On Tyranny is a great little book on defending democracy. In it, Timothy Snyder highlights that tyranny is only possible through consent. Our actions, even small ones, matter:

The minor choices we make are themselves a kind of vote

Rites of resistance, from blowing a horn at the White House to flipping off the President, make a difference, for they signal to others that Americans will not give up democracy without a fight.