“Find a city
Find myself a city to live in.”
Cities, The Talking Heads
In 2013, I didn’t travel to anywhere exotic. I didn’t have any great adventures. I didn’t experience anything particularly unique.
But I was in a city – adventure came to me. Photowalks, film festivals, performance art, burlesque, comedy, music and biking all could be found in Washington, DC, the city I have a love/hate relationship with. I experienced as much as I could, capturing every moment with my iPhone or DSLR. Here are my favorite photos from the year, featuring bikes, beer and the arts.
Fun with Flickr
I have really mixed feelings about Instagram. While it’s a great social network, I hate how it shrinks pics down to little squares. I was glad to use the upgraded Flickr mobile app, which provides all sorts of adjustments and filters for iPhoneographers (my favorite filter? Brooklyn).
DC is a land of tribes. “Where do you work?” is the first question that you hear at a Washington party. It’s an attempt to discover your tribal affiliation – are you Government, Lawyer, Liberal, Nonprofit, Corporate or Something Else? The purpose is to determine whether you are friend or foe, superior or inferior.
It’s a silly practice based upon the assumption that people are defined by their jobs. But work is not a passion for most people. Most of us are defined by our interests, rather than our jobs.
Case in point: The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). At last night’s Holiday Party at the Bier Baron, I met an incredibly diverse group of people. They were young, old, women, men, gay, straight – one of the most eclectic gatherings you’ll find in self-sorting DC. They included everyone from government employees living in the suburbs to entrepreneurs working in the city.
And they weren’t interested in what you did for a living. Instead, the talk was of winter cycling tights and the best bike route to Silver Spring. “How many bikes do you own?” was a popular question. With just two bikes, I was an outlier among the avid cyclists.
New bike lanes and the advent of Capital Bikeshare has led to an explosion of cycling in DC. In the crowded 15th St Cycletrack, you see scores of bikers every morning – women in dresses (yes, even in this weather), hard-core commuters and elderly tourists on red Bikeshare bikes.
Which is why I’m glad to be a WABA member. It’s not just the sexy legs. It’s that cycling is a shared experience that bridges communities across the city. I’m a WABA member because biking in DC is fun.
When I first looked into the Coffeeneuring Challenge, I thought to myself: so many rules! You can tell it’s a contest created by a Washingtonian.
But the strictures were good-natured and amusing, a Byzantine level of complexity that obscured a simple idea:
Bike to seven coffee shops over seven weekends from October 5 – November 17.
There’s something about completing a goal, even an arbitrary one, that excites the imagination. It provided motivation to get me out of the house and on my bike. Here’s where I went:
1. Buzz Bakery in Alexandria Date: October 6
Distance: 17 miles
Drink: Coffee (and a cupcake)
This was a really pleasant ride on the Mount Vernon Trail. This branch of Buzz Bakery was right off the trail but I had never been there before. That’s what I liked about coffeeneuring – it provided inspiration to visit new places.
2. Big Bear
Date: October 15
Distance: 6 miles
Next stop Hipsterville as I fixed my foldy bike and crossed the city to Big Bear in Bloomingdale. Note: I took advantage of a special proviso of the coffeeneuring rules that allowed weekday adventures by those effected by the government shutdown.
3. Union Market
Date: October 20
Distance: 8 miles
I’d never been to Union Market, and followed some crazy Google bike directions to get there.
4. Capital Crescent Trail Date: November 3
Distance: 18 miles
Drink: A bad cappuccino-like substance
I love the CCT. It’s my favorite trail in the city.
5. Peregrine Espresso
Date: November 10
Distance: 9 miles
It was a beautiful day to visit Capitol Hill, and experience the best cappuccino in the city.
6. Illy Cafe
Date: November 16
Distance: 7 miles
A hidden spot in the city, I’m a big fan of hanging out at Illy and reading – or writing – a book.
7. Buzz Bakery at the Navy Yard
Date: November 17
Distance: 11 miles
Drink: Coffee (and a cupcake)
I wrapped things up by going to a Buzz Bakery, but this time in the revitalized Navy Yard neighborhood.
What I liked about the Coffeeneuring Challenge is that it gets you in the habit of biking places. And drinking coffee (not that I needed help with that). By combining a fun activity with a goal, it’s a perfect expression of the joy of biking, demonstrating the great time that you can have on two wheels.
Destination: Buzz Bakery, Navy Yard, Washington, DC
Total distance: 11 miles
The great thing about biking around a city are the surprises you see along the way. Being on a bike allows you to cover large amounts of ground quickly – but it also lets you stop and check things out, in ways that you couldn’t if you were trapped in a car.
I was on my way to the Navy Yard for my final coffeeneuring adventure when I noticed that Constitution Avenue was closed along the National Mall. I stopped and asked someone what was going on. A historic Pullman train car was being installed in the African American History Museum. It’s such a large object that the Pullman is going in first and then they’re building the rest of the museum around it, which isn’t scheduled to open until 2015.
Everyone has their secret spots, places that they only know about.
For me, it’s Illy Cafe at the Renaissance Dupont at 22nd and M St NW. It’s a hipster-free zone, without a beard or skinny jean to be seen. There’s also no wifi, so you don’t get laptop campers or deluded grad students.
A beautiful cappuccino is only $3.08 – probably the cheapest in the city.
“The journey is its own reward” should be the slogan of the Coffeeneuring Challenge. It’s not the coffee you drink, but how you get there.
That was my consolation after drinking this.
It was supposed to be a cappuccino, from Quartermaine’s in Bethesda. It was more like hot milk in a bowl with a dollop of espresso. I’d been so spoiled on my previous coffeeneuring adventures to Dolcezza and Buzz Bakery that this mediocre concoction was a shock.
I needed to return to DC, where cappuccino was made by surly men with beards. So I gulped this down and headed back to the Capital Crescent Trail. It’s my favorite trail in the Washington area and the one I ride the most. The CCT follows an old railway line from Georgetown to Bethesda, with a gentle uphill grade most of the way. Scenic year-round, it had exploded with fall colors over the weekend.
Four coffeeneuring adventures completed – three to go! Will I complete all of my seven required trips by November 17? Will I have better luck in coffee? Stay tuned!
Progress in this city is as rutted and uneven as the bike lane pictured above. This is the 15th St Cycletrack. It’s supposed to be a bike lane running along the curb, protected from traffic by white, reflective bollards and a line of parked cars on the left.
The DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) is rebuilding the lane – great! But they tore it up and left it this way, with no detours or accommodations for cyclists. Without white painted lanes or bollards, drivers don’t know it’s a cycletrack. They drive and park in it while cyclists come the opposite way – a recipe for accidents.
DDOT was warned. WABA asked to help during the planning process – and was ignored. And once the construction started, cyclists tweeted at them, including me, after witnessing WABA Bike Ambassador Pete Beers nearly get killed. I asked that orange cones be put up to mark the lane. DDOT assured me that they would fix the problem. But they did nothing.
This infuriates me. I work in government. I respond to citizen concerns every day. Civil servants have a duty to fix problems. DDOT under the Fenty administration responded to and fixed problems the same day.
This DDOT project has been poorly planned, reckless and negligent. It would not have happened under Adrian Fenty. But is commonplace under Mayor Gray. Cast your vote accordingly.
The great thing about coffeneuring is that it gets you biking to new places. Coffeeneuring #1 sent me to Buzz Bakery and their delicious red velvet cupcakes. Coffeeneuring #2 was a trip to hipsterville aka Big Bear in Bloomingdale.
For my third coffeeneuring adventure, I decided to visit Union Market. This wholesale market in Northeast DC (formerly known as the Florida Avenue Market) has been reinvented as an artisanal shopping experience.
To get there, Google Maps sent me across the city via M Street. I thought the route was crazy, but I played along.
The Google sent me down M Street through Shaw, across Mad Max-style New York Avenue and through NoMa streets torn up from construction. After going under the railroad tracks, I just followed the hipsters up to the market.
Union Market is home to more than a dozen different restaurants and retail shops, including Peregrine Coffee, Dolcezza Gelato, Co Co. Sala and TaKorean. It’s sort of “city in a box” where you can shop for all your luxury treats in one location. Continue reading “Coffeeneuring #3: Union Market”
For my second coffeeneuring adventure, I biked to Big Bear Cafe in Bloomingdale. Reminder: the idea behind coffeeneuring is to bike to seven different coffee shops by November 17.
Like most bike people, I have more than one bike. I’ve limited my addiction to just to two cycles – a Specialized Sirrus and Breezer Zig 7, a folding bike that I bought off Craigslist. Small enough to fit in the trunk of a car, I’ve taken this bike everywhere, from the cobblestoned streets of Savannah to mile-high trails in Colorado.
But I had a problem.
I can fix a flat tire. But I could not loosen the nut that held the tire to the frame, even after employing bike tools, WD-40 and even a hammer. So I took it to The Bike Rack at 14th and Q.
Shutdown has a silver lining – more time for coffeeneuring! What is coffeenuering? The idea is simple:
Ride your bike to 7 different local coffee shops from Saturday October 5 through Sunday, November 17.
You ride your bike to a coffee shop, take a photo and tag it with #coffeeneuring. Simple.
After some research on Yelp, I decided to visit the Buzz Bakery on Slaters Lane in Alexandria. Though it’s right off the Mount Vernon Trail, I didn’t even know it existed. That’s the beauty of coffeeneuring – it gets you to new places.
I cruised down the 15th St bike lane, went around the White House and then encountered Shutdown Theater.
Shutdown Theater is when the National Park Service unnecessarily shuts down open-air parks, monuments and even bongo-playing hippies. The purpose is not to protect monuments built to last thousands of years (they’re guarding them anyway, as you can see above) but to provide visuals for TV anchors to stand in front of. It’s a political strategy.
But, on a bike I’m free of these petty functionaries, and could escape over the river to Virginia. Crossing my favorite Memorial Bridge, I cruised down the Mount Vernon Trail. This is National Park Service land too but all they’ve done is close the bathrooms. I was joined by plenty of other lawbreakers.