Letter from Washington: Another Day, Another Protest

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No Muslim Ban protesters in front of Charlie Palmer’s, where Paul Ryan was having lunch.

Anti-Trump demonstrations are a constant now in Washington, DC. They happen multiple times a day, the residents of this city and beyond having a limitless appetite to protest Trump’s Muslim Ban and other outrages.

You run into them in random, unexpected places – like Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill. The word had gotten out that Speaker Paul Ryan was having lunch there. A very well-organized protest appeared, marching past the windows of this high-end joint. Lobbyists chowing down on $60 Wagyu Strip Steak watched a parade of women bundled-up against the cold demonstrate against the Muslim Ban.

Who are you going to stand with? Lawmakers who send Syrian refugees back to war zones while they enjoy expense-account lunches? Or ordinary folks like those who came to protest?

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I am jaded, cynical, having seen scores of protests in DC. But the Trump protests have a different quality to them, attracting not just the young and disaffected but plenty of middle-aged, middled-classed people.

That was evident on a freezing Friday when another protest took shape across Constitution Avenue from the White House – one of at least three that occurred that day. The wind chill was in the 20s but that didn’t stop demonstrators signing a wall rejecting Trump’s bigotry.

That you can draw a crowd on a cold and dark Friday afternoon speaks to the strength of the anti-Trump forces. It’s supply and demand. Everyone wants to come out and protest so demonstrations occur on every day of the week. I talked to people who came out to this protest because they couldn’t make last weekend’s march. They felt compelled to show up for foreign friends and coworkers that were terrified by Trump.

We Reject Trump's Bigotry
An open letter to Trump, rejecting his bigotry.

It was cold. I biked home, going by a protest on the other side of the White House, demonstrators pressed against the fences, chanting into the dark night, though Trump was hundreds of miles away, brooding and tweeting from his Palm Beach mansion.

A few blocks away, a third protest was gearing up, a dance party that would take over Pennsylvania Avenue. Thousands would dance in the streets while thousands more would watch online. The revolution will be live streamed.

Resist banner and Washington Monument
Cyclist carries #Resist banner in the freezing cold.

An Evening of Bike Touring at The Bike Rack

biking past tulips on the Metropolitan Branch Trail

Do I want to bike across the United States? I’m fascinated by stories of people who have done it. I bike nearly every day. Sleet, snow, rain, polar vortex – I’ve been out in every kind of weather, either on my Specialized Sirrus or Capital Bikeshare. I’ve done a metric century. I’m reasonably healthy. Why not?

Colin O’Laughlin shared his experience biking across the country in a recent talk at The Bike Rack. His blog is fascinating, a day-by-day account of his epic trip from DC to the West Coast. It goes into a tremendous amount of detail and honestly includes the ups and downs of the trip. Plus, it’s got a detailed map and equipment list.

What I found inspiring was how little training he did for the ride. A biking newbie, he did fewer miles than I do in a week before setting off on the C&O Canal trail in April of last year. His approach was to learn along the way. He ditched gear he didn’t need (like front panniers) and learned to listen to his body – when it’s 115 degrees, you need to get inside or die.

In contrast, Natalie Chwalisz is a planner. A veteran of several bike tours, she trained extensively on group rides with The Bike Rack before her cycling expedition. She did miles and miles around the DC area on the bike she would take to Europe. She had a serious purpose for her trip – investigating the plight of migrants from the Middle East – but most of her trip looked like heaven as she biked on trails along the Elbe and Danube.

The lesson from these two talks is that there’s no one way to conduct a bike tour. You can set off, like Colin did, on a friendly trail like the C&O and see how far you get. Or you can train for hard miles ahead of time. You can power through the endless plains of Kansas or leisurely cruise between European capitals.

The USA is a big country. I’ve driven across the vast and unforgiving spaces of Kansas. That was enough. Instead, I’ll take the biking between storybook towns on the Danube, with time for leisurely lunches and photo opportunities. That’s the bike tour for me.

 

Letter from Washington: Hope at the Women’s March

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Inauguration Day ended with me running in fear down K Street, as the DC police fired “flash-bangs” to clear the mob of anti-Trump protesters.

Anarchists had set a limo on fire and were trying to stop the fire department from putting out the blaze. The explosions made me jump but it was being in the middle of a crowd that suddenly turned tail that was so frightening. It was run, or be trampled.

I needed a large bourbon when I got home.

The next day was the Women’s March on Washington, the first stirrings of opposition to President Trump. No one was sure how many people would attend.

The crowd turned out to be three times the size of the inauguration, nearly half a million people crammed into the streets of DC. The march was so large that they couldn’t march, the route being filled with people from mid-morning until night.

Women's March

Not being a fan of crowds, I was going to meet some friends after the march. But they couldn’t get to me and I couldn’t get to them, separated by a few blocks and a couple hundred thousand people.

On Inauguration Day, I rode my bike down H Street, virtually alone. Now, a day later, tens of thousands of people streamed down this street by the White House. Rounding the corner on 15th St, I ran into a vast and immeasurable horde of women in pink hats pouring up from the Mall. I’d never seen anything like it, not even during the Obama inauguration of 2009.

I wanted to get to Freedom Plaza so I could get a photo of Pennsylvania Avenue and marchers stretching to the Capitol. But I couldn’t get there, feeling like a salmon trying to swim upstream. A never-ending crowd marched down the inaugural route, doing their own alternative parade, cheered on by protesters occupying the bleachers lining the route.

Women's March on 14th St

I dipped into one little corner of this vast throng, before turning to go back up 14th St. There’s a little crest on the street. Looking behind me, I could see the crowd stretching down 14th all the way to the Mall, where thousands more were marching. More people than I’ve ever seen in my life. Every few minutes, a vast cheer would rise up, echoing off the office buildings.

In contrast to the Inauguration Day protests, everyone was happy. There were no arrests. No one was masked. People smiled, took photos together and laughed at the signs mocking Trump.happy protesters

The celebration went on into the night, demonstrators with signs parading around the White House for hours after the official end of the march.

I met friends for dinner afterward, going to an Irish bar a dozen blocks away from the protest. Far enough where I thought we could get a table. Wrong. Every seat of the bar was filled with women in pink hats. The TV was turned from a basketball game to CNN. When the broadcast showed video from the march, the crowd cheered, their voices filling up the bar, the sound of a vast protest movement coming to life.

Inauguration Dispatch: Day of Fear

Socialism, as the limo burns

May you live in interesting times.

– An old Chinese curse

No fan of Trump, I contemplated leaving the city for the Presidential Inauguration. I ended up staying for leaving was a kind of surrender. The inauguration was just in one corner of the city and could easily be ignored.

But the pull of history was too strong to ignore. I’m a writer and a photographer. These historic events are material for me, to be captured in photos and transmuted into fiction, like how I turned my election night experience into my short story, Victory Party.

I wanted to be in the room where it happens. Or at least on the street.

On Fridays, I go to Friday Coffee Club, a meetup of bike folks at A Baked Joint. The coffee shop was open so I went, figuring that I might run into some inaugural crowds.

empty streets on Inauguration Day

Nope. A couple hours before the inauguration and the streets were empty. H Street had been blocked off to traffic so I rode down the middle of it, just seeing a couple of buses go by. There’s always a line at A Baked Joint but on this Friday, nobody was there. And there were no bikes out front. Just a couple of Friday Coffee Club people had made it in.

The only action on the street was from the anti-Trump demonstrators, who were assembling at McPherson Square. It started to rain, so I headed home to watch the inauguration.

As Trump wrapped up his “American carnage” speech, I heard a helicopter overhead, hovering just a few blocks away. A well-organized band of anarchists (oxymoron alert) had thrown rocks at Starbucks and other businesses. It takes a lot to get the DC police to arrest you but they did, making more than 200 on Friday.

The helicopter went east and continued to hover, eventually drawing me out my apartment, camera in hand, expecting to see one of those typical DC protesters where people chant and sit in the street.

But McPherson Square, packed with anarchists and the Black Bloc, had a very different vibe. Within five minutes of entering the park, I saw a Trump supporter get punched in the head and knocked unconscious by a guy who was dressed like Bane. The First Aid tent was nearby; the medical volunteers did nothing, unconcerned about a Trump supporter’s injury. Instead, National Guardsmen came into the park to rescue the guy. The police were lined up outside the park and would not come in.

Trump supporter in McPherson Square

scary dude

Anarchists on K St

I live in DC. It’s my city. I felt afraid in that park, in a way that I never did during the Occupy and other demonstrations in DC. Violence has an ugly quality that’s instantly recognizable. You feel it when it occurs, an anxiety rippling through the crowd.

The kids in the hoodies weren’t going to square off against the heavily armed police. Instead, they were looking for soft targets, such as businesses and lone Trump supporters. Or you and me, if they wanted to – the police were not coming into the park. I left.

14th and K was the epicenter of the protest. In front of the Washington Post building, the windows of a limo had been smashed in by the demonstrators. Protesters were standing on it. Then members of the Black Bloc marched by, their faces covered. Someone threw something into the limo. It caught fire, black smoke billowing up into the sky.

inauguration protesters set limo on fire

I snapped some quick pictures. People said the gas tank was going to blow. Others said the police were coming.

As I turned to leave, I saw a woman behind me, silently pleading for peace. It’s her heartbroken face that I’ll remember more than anything else. Within seconds, I would be running as the police fired flash-bangs into the street.

Spread love not hate

Victory Party Wins City Paper Fiction Contest

My short story, Victory Party, won First Place in the City Paper’s Fiction Issue.

The annual Fiction Issue sought stellar, unpublished short fiction from local writers. Submissions were judged (anonymously) by Mary Kay Zuravleff, whose latest novel Man Alive! was a 2013 Washington Post Notable Book. Stories had to be less than 1000 words long. 

Set in a U Street speakeasy on election night, Victory Party is about the moment that the liberal bubble pops.

The City Paper said:

Good fiction vividly and accurately describes the world we know; great fiction upends that world. And so this story not only exposes the privileged ignorance so many had about the election but also introduces believable supporters for the opposition.

I’m a writer and photographer who has lived in DC for more than twenty years. My fiction is primarily about Washington “beyond the monuments” – the real city and its neighborhoods and people. I think my fiction has a verisimilitude that you won’t find in more commercial works that treat Washington merely as a backdrop. Instead, I write about the city that I wander and photograph on a daily basis.

If you enjoyed Victory Party, then check out my novel Murder on U Street, a mystery set in the city’s art world. It contains the same jaded look at a gentrified city wildly out of touch with the rest of the country.

And come see me read Victory Party at Kramerbooks on Sunday, January 8 at 6:30 PM! It will be a celebration of the City Paper’s Fiction Issue!

 

Canon G9 X Update: Love This Little Camera

Sometimes, you don’t want to shoulder the DSLR. But you want something that’s better than the iPhone. The Canon G9 X is ideal for this kind of everyday shooting.

Saturday was a day that began in ice but ended with dry roads and blue skies. Once the melting began, I hopped on Capital Bikeshare and headed for Hains Point. Popular with area cyclists, it’s a peninsula that juts out into the Potomac. People like to ride loops around the park. But on Saturday, with a good chunk of the region still dealing with icy roads, the park was deserted.

In the pocket of my jacket, I stuck my Canon G9 X. I’ve been really happy with this purchase. It’s the perfect camera for impromptu adventures, featuring the ability to take great photos – and it do it with a camera that’s not much bigger than an iPhone. You can even shoot one-handed with it. I did so while pedaling on my bike, which is something you can’t do with a DSLR.

It has its weaknesses, of course. No camera is perfect. It lacks a big zoom and the quality of the photos are DSLR-like but will never be as good as a DSLR with a big piece of glass mounted on it.

But, as the camera you stick in your pocket as you head out the door – the Canon G9 X is absolutely perfect for that, offering the ability to take lots of great photos with a convenient and easy-to-use camera. I’ve grown to love this little camera.

Photos from Saturday’s adventure with the Canon G9 X!

reflections on the Potomac River

the graceful lines of East Potomac Park

glowing sun over National Airport

Took this photo with one hand, while biking.

Bikeshare at Hains Point

between the bridges

 

The Future is the (Photography) Collective!

full house

How do photographers make their voice heard in a era saturated with millions of images? By forming a photo collective, a group of photographers with a common vision or subject matter. Photographers pool their talents and expertise to make a larger impact.

The idea is an old one. Magnum Photos set the tone for post-war photography, creating iconic images of war and conflict that still resonate today. And it’s a photo collective, owned and operated by the top editorial photographers in the world.

Slightly less famous is The Rooftop Collective, a gang of seven with a shared interest in lifestyle photography (i.e., gorgeous photos of food and drink). Growing out of the much-larger InstagramDC group, the collective had their first show recently at Black Whiskey, a nouveau dive on 14th Street in Washington, DC. Being friends with the group, I was glad to attend – and take some photos with my trusty Canon G9X.

There are a lot of advantages to being part of a collective. Putting on an individual show is a daunting effort. Providing a few photos for a group show is much easier. Collective members share their experience in framing, staging, marketing and outreach.

Being part of a collective is also a third-party endorsement, even if it’s self-created. If you like one Rooftop Collective photographer, you’ll probably like another, for the photographers have been selected for a similar vision.

The biggest benefit, however, is the power of the network. The show at Black Whiskey was packed for the group could draw upon their combined social networks. With seven members, that’s a lot of invites going out and a lot of exposure for photographers in the collective.

By pooling their contacts, resources and skills, the Rooftop Collective can make a much bigger impact as a group than they ever could do individually.

Comrades, the future is the (photography) collective!

The Coffeeneuring Challenge 2016: Always Be Coffeeneuring

me and Capital Bikeshare
For short trips around DC, I love to use Capital Bikeshare.

Bikes and coffee are two of my favorite things. With plentiful bike trails and an endless market for hipster coffee, Washington, DC, is great for both. I was coffeeneuring before coffeeneuring – there’s nothing I like better than wandering the city and then stopping for mid-afternoon java.

Now in its sixth year, the Coffeeneuring Challenge is where you bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks. And with the timely end of my gubment contractor job, I had plenty of opportunities to bike the city. Also, a recent liberalization of the coffeeneuring rules permitted rides during the week – not just the weekends.

It was like the universe wanted me to coffeeneur. So I did, biking way more than seven rides. Biking and coffee was nearly a daily experience. Always Be Coffeeneuring, indeed.

Here are the highlights of my coffeeneuring adventures!

Oct 18
Swings, Del Ray, VA
26 miles
Specialized Sirrus

reading and coffee

Thank you, federal government, for giving me time to catch up on my reading, among other pursuits. I began my coffeeneuring with a 26 mile jaunt across the river to Swings in the charming Del Rey neighborhood of Alexandria, VA. Squeezed between the Mount Vernon and Four Mile Run trails, Del Rey is very bike-accessible.

October 21
Filter
12 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Cappuccino at Filter in Brookland

REI is White People Heaven! Opening day of this new store in the NoMa neighborhood of DC and I’ve never seen such a frenzy. The line to get in stretched around the block and beyond. While I waited for that to clear, I cruised up the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Filter near Catholic University. They make one of the best cappuccinos in the city.

And the REI is well worth a visit. Located in a historic arena where the Beatles played, it’s huge and packed with cool stuff.

Oct 23
Green Lizard, Herndon, VA
65 miles
Specialized Sirrus

WO&D Trail

My first metric century! That’s 100k or 65 miles by bike. The secret, I discovered, is to keep eating and drinking. The WO&D Trail is perfect for that. I stopped at the Whole Foods in Vienna for a snack, Carolina Brothers in Ashburn for trailside barbecue and cappuccino in Herndon at Green Lizard.

Nov 4
Best Buns, Shirlington, VA
21 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Colors on the Mt Vernon Trail

I’m obsessed with the bike commuters on the Mount Vernon Trail. It looks so much fun to bike into the city every morning along the river. So I tried a reverse commute to Shirlington. It was quick and easy.

Nov 8
Emissary
3 miles
Capital Bikeshare

cappuccino at Emissary

Located a block from Dupont Circle, Emissary had the best coffee of the Coffeeneuring Challenge. This cappuccino was tiny, perfect and delicious.

Nov 13
Glen Echo
23 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Pop Corn at Glen Echo

The coffee at this former amusement park was awful. But it’s such an interesting and photogenic spot along MacArthur Boulevard that it’s well worth the trip.

Nov 18
A Baked Joint
23 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Friday Coffee Club

For the grand finale of the Coffeeneuring Challenge, I went to Friday Coffee Club. Every Friday morning, area cyclists gather at A Baked Joint to talk all things bike. It’s where you go to learn about new routes, equipment and other tips. Plus, the coffee is great and they have a nice chorizo biscuit.

Nov 20
Illy
4 miles
Capital Bikeshare

Cappuccino Viennese

I’m including this just because it was a delicious. Located in the Renaissance Dupont, Illy Coffee dishes out some great coffee, including this, a Cappuccino Viennese. New to to me, it’s a cappuccino with whipped cream and dusted with cocoa powder. Damn, this was good.

Thank you, Mary G., for starting the Coffeeneuring Challenge! I, of course, love biking and coffee and will take any opportunity to take part in two of my favorite pursuits.

But the challenge makes me feel like I am part of something bigger. And I am! Coffeeneuring now takes place in every part of the globe. It’s a worldwide movement of bikes and coffee.

Coffeeneuring #1: There Ought to be an App

dark roast at La Colombe

Washington, DC, has an endless appetite for coffee. While there are tons of coffee shops downtown, it’s not always easy to get a seat in one. And the more photogenic the shop, the more crowded it is. For if there’s one thing that millennials like more than coffee, it’s pictures of themselves drinking coffee.

Case in point: La Colombe. Super-cute shop with great coffee. However, on the weekends, all the chairs and tables are taken by young people taking selfies with soy lattes. Shakes first at cloud! If there’s one thing I can’t stand is getting a cappuccino and then finding every table taken by chatty youths. I prefer to drink my coffee in silence, possibly with a book.

Fortunately, this year’s Coffeeneuring Challenge (where you bike to seven coffee shops over seven weeks) includes an important rule change – weekday rides are now allowed! Coffeeneuring is no longer just a weekend activity but can occur on any day of the week.

So, on an overcast Friday afternoon, I took advantage of the new proviso to visit La Colombe in Chinatown. There are three La Colombes in DC but I guessed the Eye Street venue would be the least crowded. Two miles later, I was enjoying a simple mug of coffee, able to read in peace while sipping a dark roast. And when I came out, the sun had emerged for the first time in days. It’s a coffeeneuring miracle!

This trip got me wondering: I used the Spotcycle app before I left home to make sure that the neighborhood Capital Bikeshare station had bikes. Wouldn’t it be great if there was something similar for coffee shops? There should be an app that tells me which coffee shops have available seating. Sensors could be attached to chairs and the data could be reported real-time, like bikeshare does. I’m sure some nerds could figure it out, fueled by enough coffee.

 

Like Bikes and Coffee? Join the Coffeeneuring Challenge!

23322185411_eaaf6fd22a_kCoffeeneuring has returned! For those not familiar with this bike activity, it’s a challenge to ride your bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks. The Coffeeneuring Challenge runs from October 7 – November 10.

Coffeeneuring is something that I look forward to every year. As a lover of bikes and coffee, my motto is: Always Be Coffeeneuring. It’s a caffeinated, two-wheel lifestyle for me, something that I did years before I even knew there was such as thing as coffeeneuring.

Bikes and coffee are perfect together, especially when the weather is cool. What else are you going to do on a Sunday? Watch the Redskins lose? Better to hop on your bike and go explore someplace new. Listen to the leaves crunch under your wheels. Catch up with a friend. Sip cappuccino outside on a chilly October afternoon.

You won’t be alone. Coffeeneuring is a worldwide activity, with people taking part in this challenge across the United States, Europe and other parts of the globe.

And you’ll be doing it for more than yourself. More bikes means safer biking for all. By taking a coffee ride, you’re making a statement and encouraging others to hit the roads or trails on their bikes.

Banish those fall blues away with caffeine and exercise. Join the Coffeeneuring Challenge!