Open Streets DC Opens Eyes

yoga on Georgia Avenue

Georgia Avenue is a street that I actively avoid. I live close to it – less than a mile – but I do everything in my power to avoid walking, biking or driving there.

Why?

Georgia Avenue is a traffic sewer designed to benefit Maryland car commuters rather than the people who live in the neighborhood. It is six lanes of hell, filled with angry drivers rushing from traffic light to traffic light but getting nowhere fast.

With narrow sidewalks blocked with utility poles, it’s not fun for pedestrians, either. And the few times I’ve biked on the street, it was only due to a navigational error on my part.

Until Saturday.

Open Streets Georgia Avenue

Georgia Avenue went car-free on October 5, 2019, for Open Streets DC. For a few hours on Saturday, anyone could use the street and they did! Thousands of people came from around the region to experience this fleeting pedestrian paradise.

In addition to the simple joy of walking, running or biking down the wide avenue, people enjoyed yoga, a climbing wall, bands, DJs and anything else that they could dream up on this open stretch of asphalt.

IMG_6481

But it was the kids who enjoyed it most. Everywhere you looked, you saw children on scooters, bikes, trikes and even unicycles. Parents could safely let their children wander the wide lanes without worrying about crazed car commuters.

It opened my eyes – literally. Without the fear of being run over, I could pause and look around, discovering new delights everywhere I turned.

My day was spent saying coasting down Georgia Avenue on my bike with friends and saying, “I didn’t know that was there…” It’s really a majestic avenue, filled with neighborhood shops and a wonderful tree-lined stretch near Howard University, one that is revealed only when cars are absent.

For example, last week, I walked by a new beer garden – Hook Hall. Yet, I barely noticed it for I was trying to get across Georgia Avenue without being hit by a car. Even with a marked crosswalk, drivers didn’t want to stop for me.

Hook Hall

With Open Streets DC, I was able to peer into the beer garden, leisurely stroll in, and enjoy a stein of beer. I also had pizza at Sonny’s, another place I had walked by but not seen due to the distracting presence of drivers.

Call Your Mother was another place I had read about but hadn’t seen, because it is on inaccessible Georgia Avenue. There was a block-long line for a bagel! And I discovered a new coffee place, Colony Club, and I am always up for new coffee places.

Open Streets DC opened my eyes – literally. Without the danger of cars, I could lift my head up and look around. The area I thought of as “hellish Georgia Avenue” is actually the lovely neighborhood of Park View.

Alas, after a few short hours, Open Streets DC came to an end. By 4 PM, massive SUVs and double-parking Ubers had replaced pedestrians. Parents took their children home before they were hit by a car.

Georgia Avenue was hellish again. I crossed the street and biked home via 11th St, a much safer route but also one that avoids Hook Hall, Call Your Mother, Sonny’s and all the other retail establishments of Park View.

DC was not designed for cars; it was meant for people. Open Streets DC was more than just a successful urban experiment, it reawakened the idea that the streets belong to everyone.

the #BikeDC crew

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.

Walking Away from Democracy

crazy stupid sign

The rain, sadly, ended in time for the Walk Away pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC.

Supposedly a group of ex-Democrats who had “walked away” from the party, they gathered, a couple hundred of them, on the concrete expanse of Freedom Plaza.

The Florida bomber wasn’t mentioned. Nor the Pittsburgh shooter. Instead, they complained that they were the victims, renounced by friends and family for “walking away” from liberalism.

Over and over, speakers claimed that they weren’t racist, to a very white and old crowd. I have never seen so much vaping in DC. One woman said that she couldn’t be racist because she had a black husband and a black baby.

“You won’t see this picture on the mainstream media!” she shouted in front of a collage of portraits of people in the movement, steps away from the Press tent, where the media could check in. Trumpkins desperately want coverage from the media that they scorn.

Political group demonstrates in DC isn’t news, especially if there’s only a couple hundred of them. This is a city which has seen anti-Trump demonstrators by the millions.

Q

Another speaker bragged of his ignorance. He only got the news from Twitter, as a couple circulated through the crowd holding a “Q” in red, white and blue. It’s the right’s favorite conspiracy theory, too complex and stupid to summarize. Basically, the government that Republicans have cursed as incompetent is secretly so competent that they can organize a deep state conspiracy against Trump.

The dangerous part is that these conspiracy theorists believe that Trump will strike back soon, with a military coup, that they cheer and encourage, as they work to make Trump a dictator.

It’s important to know your enemy. I went to see and record their anti-democratic beliefs and oddball notions. There is a temptation to ignore the madness of our fellow citizens.

But it’s better to know what they believe, for they are Trump’s base and provide cover for acts of violence like the Florida bomber. They are the sea in which terrorists swim.

For the Trump movement is a fascist movement. If the leader of another country called the media “enemies of the people” and winked at acts of violence against them, that’s how the American media would cover it. They’d call it fascism and refer to Trumpkins as right-wing militias or violent supporters of the regime.

But, since it’s here, we deny what occurs before our very eyes. We can’t be 1970s Argentina. Or Franco’s Spain. Yet, we have much in common with these fascist states, including a vast military, economic inequality and a leader’s cult of personality.

We should take seriously the words of Trump supporters. Calls for dictatorship and violent suppression of enemies (“lock her up”) are preparation for the real thing.

A couple hundred people rally in DC, walking away from reality and into the comfort of authoritarianism. It’s easy to mock them as old and stupid and sick. But we do so at our peril.

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.

Untitled

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.

Photos: 500 Days of Trump

I intended to ignore the Trump administration. But, 500 days ago, during the Inauguration, I heard a helicopter hovering over my apartment, followed it into the street, and I’ve been taking photos ever since.

Inauguration Day riot, Muslim ban protest, Women’s March, Science March, Climate March, Women’s March (again), perp walks, protests, street art, paper mache, Juggalos, makeout sessions, security theater – I’ve documented the resistance in DC.

limo in flames on K St Continue reading “Photos: 500 Days of Trump”

My DC: Blossoms, books and gelato

Jefferson Memorial with cherry blossoms

A weekend of cherry blossoms, books and gelato taught me to love DC once again.

I’ve become inured to the sights and sounds of Washington, DC – the historic monuments, the thudding helicopters, the blue sparkle of the Potomac. I see and yet don’t see, because they’re so familiar. Playing tour guide for the weekend helped me rediscover the city.

The occasion was a college reunion. Because I was the only one who still lived in the city, I was appointed tour guide.

It’s hard work being tour guide! Much easier to be led by another, not knowing where you’re going to eat or what you’re going to do next, confident that the tour guide has those details figured out. Make it a large group – eight people – and make it the height of the spring tourist season, and you can understand why I was a bit anxious. Thankfully, it was an easy group that I knew from time spent together at American University.

The advantage of being tour guide is going to the places you like best. Here are my choices for 36 hours in Washington, DC.

Friday

The Darcy
My friends stayed at this boutique hotel by Hilton. Located near Logan Circle, it’s an ideal home base for visitors who want to explore the city. Even better when you get an upgrade to a top-floor suite!

Tidal Basin
If you come to DC, you’re going to walk. During cherry blossom season, it’s also the easiest way to get around (other than biking, of course). After checking-in at the Darcy, we walked down 16th St to see the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin, along with half a million of our friends, it seemed. The walk is about thirty minutes, and filled with interesting sights along the way, like the White House and Washington Monument.

Thai Tanic
Every Thai restaurant in DC must have a pun-based name. Popular among Logan Circle locals like me, Thai Tanic been serving interesting Thai dishes on 14th St for years. They were also very accommodating as our party grew from six to eight on a busy Friday night.

Gelato time

Dolcezza
How I love this place! The gelato is delicious. I almost always get a combo of dark chocolate and hazelnut. If you’re with me, this is a mandatory stop.

Saturday

American University
It wouldn’t be a college reunion without a trip to college. We went to AU in the pre-wonk era, which was far more fun, and considerably cheaper, than the serious world-changers of today. While the campus is nicer, with a brand new School of International Service, it’s not the same, probably due to the lack of alcohol.

Surfside
One of the challenges of leading a large group through DC is, “Where will we eat?” While they took my favorite burrito off the menu, Surfside in Glover Park was still a good choice. No one noticed a group of eight in this taco joint mobbed with soccer moms and kids from the field across the street.

Bob in Georgetown

Georgetown Waterfront Park
If you’re with me, you’re walking (or biking). Thankfully, my friends love to walk. After lunch, we walked down Wisconsin Avenue and 33rd Street to the Georgetown Waterfront Park, which has a great view of Rosslyn and the Key Bridge.

Dog Tag Bakery
Georgetown Cupcake is for tourists. Instead, visit this pleasant little shop near the C&O Canal that helps military veterans and families. The scones are great and they serve Compass Coffee.

Whole Foods P St
Finding a table for eight on a Saturday night in Logan Circle struck me as impossible. Instead, everyone got food and drink at Whole Foods and partied back in the suite at the Darcy Hotel. Sushi, cheese, fruit, beer, wine, chicken, chocolate rugelach – we ate well, without the hassle of going out.

Sunday

Lil B
This New Orleans-inspired coffee shop at the Darcy Hotel became the spot to meet every morning. While the beignets are more like fried dough than what you’d find in the Big Easy, they make good hangover food.

Dupont Circle Farmers Market
Why don’t I go here more often? This sprawling market has more than just produce. You can get pancakes, pizza and even a growler of beer from Right Proper.

Spanish Steps
One of those 0ff-the-beaten path places that I love, this miniature version of the Roman landmark is a spot I captured in an award-winning photo. It’s a lovely walk from Dupont Circle, as well, in which you pass art galleries and embassies. Makes a great spot for portraits.

Kramerbooks

Kramerbooks
Now, this is a required stop, at least if you’re with me. Washington loves its bookstores and Kramerbooks is the oldest and most famous. I have a connection to it too – I did a reading here. You’re sure to find something smart for the plane in this bookstore.

Of course, this is just a small sample of things to do in DC. But if I’m the tour guide, there’s going to be gelato, coffee and books. That’s my DC.

Science Not Silence: Voices from the March for Science

The thinking cap photo is mine

I have a photo in this beautiful book from MIT Press! Science Not Silence celebrates last year’s March for Science with stories and photos from around the world. More than a million people came out to support science, in cities across America and around the world.

My photo is the guy in the thinking cap. Heading down to the march in Washington, DC, I didn’t know what to expect. The weather was terrible – it had rained all day. Would people even show up? But when I approached Constitution Avenue, I heard a dull roar. Crowds stretched in both directions, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, a half-million people joyously marching, singing and chanting.

I was proud to support the cause. I’ve spent a career working with scientists, helping to communicate their achievements at The Nature Conservancy and NOAA. What makes science different than other professions is that it’s not just a job, it’s a life. You are a biologist or an oceanographer or a chemist – it’s not just something you do 9-5.

It’s inspiring to be around that kind of passion. After my NOAA experience, I wrote a novel, The Swamp, that features a meteorologist as a character. He has to send his employees home after their shifts, otherwise they would hang around the forecast office:

weather being as much an obsession as a vocation and one that they would abandon only upon death.

That’s the kind of dedication I’ve found in the sciences.

At the march, there was so much to see – women dressed as Klingons, people in dinosaur suits and countless hilarious signs grown soggy from steady rain. I captured the photo of the guy in the thinking cap toward the Capitol, where the crowds began to thin. I liked his expression.

I had been out for an hour, zipping around the edges of the massive demonstration on a bright red Capital Bikeshare bike. Despite my raincoat, I was cold and wet. The thinking cap photo was one of the last I took before I left to get warm.

“Science predicted rain,” read one sign. The forecast came from a National Weather Service meteorologist, a government employee and a scientist, which must enrage the red state know-nothings who believe that they can live in some kind of lawless, free fire zone of ignorance.

The rain fell on everyone – marchers, tourists, photographers. Like science, it was non-partisan. Like science, you can deny it but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re soaked.

Science Not Silence: Voices from the March for Science Movement is available from MIT Press.

Free Library Find: Dear Committee Members

Dear Committee Members
Dear Committee Members

I let books find me. One reason I never fully embraced the Kindle is that I don’t always know what I want to read. Sure, you can find anything in the world by typing  a few letters into an e-reader but that’s not the same as aimlessly browsing titles on a Sunday afternoon.

Serendipity is what’s missing from the e-ink experience, the happy accident of stumbling upon the right novel at the right time.

In Praise of Little Free Library

Little Free Libraries are ideal for us serendipitous book browsers. Located in every neighborhood in Washington, these little boxes offer literary surprises for readers.

“Take a book, leave a book” is the motto of this nonprofit organization that fosters reading across the nation. I like to drop copies of my book, The Swamp, into Little Free Libraries in DC.

And I almost always find something interesting to take home with me.

The nicest Little Free Library in Washington is located at the top of a hill in Kalorama. Just a block from witless Jared and Ivanka, this bookish outpost is in a park, and offers a sunny bench to read your discoveries as dogs bark and children play.

Dear Committee Members

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher was a free library find, a book I pulled from the box like literary treasure.

The novel is a hilarious satire of academic life told through the endless letters of recommendation that Professor Jason Fitger is forced to write for students and colleagues. Each letter is inventive and unique; combined they tell a story of budget cuts, romantic humiliation and creative failure. Schumacher’s wry, ironic style reminded me of David Lodge, who satirized academic life in forgotten classics such as Small World.

Free is a powerful attractor, drawing you to things you might never consider. But the world is full of free things to read.

Selecting a book is an investment of time, not money.

You never know what you’ll find in the free library – biology textbooks, romance novels, books by unknown authors. Finding something worthwhile, like Dear Committee Members, feels like an achievement, not just because you discovered something great, but also for participating in the great reading experiment that is the Little Free Library.