Coffeeneuring 7: Sex and the City and Cappuccino

Illy Caffe

Illy at the Renaissance Dupont Hotel in Washington, DC.

Coffeeneuring 7: Illy
Date: November 16, 2014
Distance: 6 miles

It was chilly on the last day of coffeeneuring (where you bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks).

Coffeeneuring is always a learning experience for me. You learn things about yourself – like how I don’t have the patience for hipster coffee. And about biking in the city, like how much design matters when it comes to safe cycletracks.

For my final coffeeneuring experience, I went to Illy in Washington, DC. I was on my “real bike” too – my Specialized Sirrus. It was a gray-skied day and I planned on going on a long ride.

Me bike, Meiwah

Me bike, Meiwah.

But a cold wind blew right through my fleece. I was chilled so cut my trip short. Coffeeneuring lesson learned: when it’s cold, you always need one more layer.

I’m a fan of Illy because it’s about as non-hipster as it comes. Located in the lobby of a downtown hotel, Illy is a chain out of Italy. They make a beautiful cappuccino with a minimum of fuss for just $3.15. It’s the best deal in the city. And it’s made quickly, by sweet West African women without a weird beard or nose piercing in sight.

Cappuccino for grand #coffeeneuring finale

A perfect cappuccino.

There was a line of people who had come in to get out of the chilly day. But, within just a couple of minutes, I had my cappuccino and was ensconced in the early-2000s era lobby of the Renaissance Hotel.

With its mod furniture and piped-in lounge music, the Renaissance is an attempt at cool from another era. There are no distressed menu boards. Nothing is made out of hemp. You don’t have a table salvaged from a demolished building. Instead, the slick surfaces and high-tech feel of the lobby make it look like a set from Sex and the City. Lean back and you can imagine Samantha drinking Cosmos and talking dot-coms.

No fixie-riding hipster with a Civil War-era beard would be caught dead in such an establishment; it would be like going for drinks with your mom’s friends.

It’s the antithesis of hipster; I love it.

But don’t tell anyone, OK?

Coffeeneuring #6: Popsicles and Political Power

Pleasant Pops

Pleasant Pops in Adams Morgan.

Coffeeneuring 6: Pleasant Pops
Date: November 9, 2014
Distance: 15 miles

Until the recent return of the polar vortex, Indian Summer was in full effect in Washington, DC. The delightful mild autumn days were ideal for coffeeneuring (where you bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks). It was the kind of weather where you never wanted to go inside, especially with winter looming.

But one can only bike so much. After a while, you have to stop for coffee. For my sixth coffeeneuring adventure, I went to Pleasant Pops in Adams Morgan.

A few years ago, someone told me that gourmet popsicles would be the next food trend to overtake the city. Hah! Only in New York, I thought. Washingtonians aren’t foolish enough to pay $5 for a popsicle. I was wrong. Make it quirky, organic and expensive and people in this city will wait in line to buy it. The upper limit for what DC residents will pay for luxury goods has yet to be discovered.

I did not get a Pineapple Basil or Mexican Chocolate popsicle. Instead, I got a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie (which was delicious and home-made).

I sat outside at a picnic table and tried to finish Lone Star, a history of Texas. Next to me, a couple of women engaged in a humble-brag conversation about their careers. On a Sunday afternoon.

I could understand a chat about finding a job – that’s an important concern. Everyone needs to work. But rapid-fire exposition on the fabulosity of one’s white collar work? I’m sure everyone is very impressed that you met the Deputy Undersecretary but I’m sitting here trying to read my Kindle.

Hot chocolate pops

Which is why (controversy alert) I welcomed the shellacking the Democrats received. This city and its $5 popsicles has grown too important in the life of the nation. The American dream should not be to come to Washington and work to influence transportation policy. The American dream should be about writing a novel, starting a company or inventing something new. It should be about creating value, not just skimming off some of the taxpayer dollars that slosh into this city.

Washington should be boring. Government work, while important, cannot be the focus of the nation if we are to survive. Government is possible only due to the economic dynamism of the rest of the country. The ambitious should not aspire to come here.

Washington should be where bureaucrats (like me) quietly read books in outdoor cafes. So, go west, young man. Or light out to Texas. But don’t come here.

Coffeeneuring #5: A Tale of Two Cycletracks

A Starbucks like every Starbucks in the world.

A Starbucks like every other Starbucks in the world.

Coffeeneuring 5: Starbucks
Date: November 3, 2014
Distance: Ten miles

Why do you go to Starbucks? You go because you know exactly what you’ll get. From the logo on the cups to the layout of the bathroom, a Starbucks in San Diego is just like a Starbucks in New York. You can travel across the breadth of this nation (and around the world) and you can count on Starbucks to deliver the same coffee experience, no matter the location. This ability to deliver uniformity is a uniquely American talent.

Why can’t our genius for standardization be applied to bike lanes?

The thought occurred to me as I was at a Starbucks. Combining coffeeneuring with errandonnee, I was on my way to the Apple store in Georgetown. After taking the 15th St Cycletrack and and the M Street Cycletrack, I stopped at Starbucks for coffee. I went there because I knew what I would get.

15th st Cycletrack

The well-designed 15th St Cycletrack, where bikes and cars are kept carefully apart.

But biking around DC, you never know what you’ll get. This city’s bike infrastructure is a wildly chaotic mess that changes by the day.

The DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) started out so well. The first cycletrack, on 15th Street, is perfectly designed. Bikes are protected from traffic by a line of parked cars. Lanes are marked, signage is good and it’s clear to everyone how the protected bike lane works, thanks to the efforts of reforming Mayor Fenty and DDOT Director Gabe Klein.

In contrast, the M Street Cycletrack was compromised from the start, by Mayor Gray, who sold out to the politically-connected Metropolitan AME Church. There would be no bike lane in front of the 1500 block of M Street, so that they could double-park cars all over street.

Careful!

This is insane. The M Street Cycletrack leads you into a spot to get broadsided by a car.

Heading west, it gets worse, as the cycletrack weaves in and out of bollards and parked cars. It leads you into traffic and cars merge into the track, blindly, as they attempt to turn right. This poor design has made it worse for cyclists and drivers. M Street before the cycletrack was safer.

Later in the week, as I returned to the Apple store, I discovered something even more dangerous than the M Street Cycletrack – the M Street Cycletrack at night. Navigating the serpentine cycletrack in the dark, as cars nip at your wheels is an experience only for the most daring of urban cyclists. Hope you have good health insurance.

 look out!

Cyclists go left, cars go right, everyone meets in the middle. Bad, dangerous design by DDOT.

Why can’t DC have cycletracks with the consistency of Starbucks? Why are they all chaotically different and hopelessly compromised? Why are they so poorly designed and so obviously unsafe?

This is a country that gave the world Apple and Google – we know and appreciate good design. We can create uniform cycletrack experiences, no matter the environment. And a good design already exists, on 15th Street. Take that template and apply it across the city. Give us safe cycletracks, DDOT.

Coffeeneuring #4: A Coffee Experience

Slipstream

Slipstream in Washington, DC.

Coffeeneuring 4: Slipstream
Date: November 1, 2014
Distance: Two miles

Coffeeneuring is a learning experience. Visiting seven different coffee shops by bike over seven weeks does more than just deliver you to new places for java – it teaches you about yourself.

I’m fortunate to live in DC, which has an embarrassment of coffee riches. Coffee has become an art form in this town, in which bearded baristas lovingly hand-pour steaming water over ground coffee as you stand there watching. I love it – up to a point.

For my fourth coffeeneuring adventure, I visited Slipstream. I had just woken up from a nap. I was cranky. I wanted coffee.

Slipstream is a brand-new Logan Circle cafe that specializes in coffee and cocktails – I was intrigued. Coffee and cocktails are things I love.

But I was in a hurry, being groggy from sleep. I sat at the bar. I wanted coffee now. The bartender/barista was very attentive. I ordered the Oktoberfest coffee because it seemed unusual.

Slipstream menu

Slipstream menu.

And then I waited. And waited. The bartender wandered away, then ground some coffee beans, then wandered away, then looked for a carafe, then wandered away, then heated some water and then, ten minutes later, I received this lovely presentation.

Delicious but I don't have the patience for hipster coffee #coffeeneuring

A coffee experience at Slipstream.

It was all very pretty. Putting things on boards is all the rage in DC for some reason. The coffee was very good and it was a lovely experience.

Slipstream is a beautiful and hip. If you want a cool date in DC, and are in no particular hurry, come here. It looks like a meet-cute place in a romantic comedy. You could see engagement photos being shot here. It would look great in selfies.

And I’d go back for drinks – there were some really interesting cocktails on the menu.

But I don’t want an experience when it comes to coffee. I just want coffee, dammit! And I want it now! Joe is cranky!

I prefer good coffee. But I don’t have the patience for hipster coffee. When I want coffee, I want it now. This is just one of the many lessons that coffeeneuring has taught me.

Coffeeneuring #3: Muffins and Marathons

Banana walnut muffin and coffee for #coffeeneuring 3

Banana walnut muffin and coffee for #coffeeneuring 3

Coffeeneuring 3: Uprising Muffin Company
Date: October 12, 2014
Distance: Ten miles

It was one of those days that you never wanted to go inside – a warm Sunday with fall leaves at peak color.

For Coffeeneuring #3, I decided to check out Uprising Muffin Company on 7th Street, right next to the Shaw Metro. I was up at an absurd hour – good thing they open at 7 AM. And  the muffin selection is truly  impressive. Their “everyday selections” include cranberry orange and lemon poppy-seed while they have daily specials including maple pancake muffins and even some kind of muffin egg sandwich.

I kept it simple with a banana walnut muffin, which was delicious, and coffee, which was okay. If you just want coffee, Compass a couple blocks away is a better choice.

Coffeeneuring suits me because there’s nothing I like better than wandering the city by bike. Coffeeneuring gives these ramblings a purpose. After breakfast, I crossed town using the R Street bike lane, then turned south on the 15th St Cycletrack and headed for the National Mall. I ran into this sight on Freedom Plaza:

Looks like the @wabadc safe cycling class #bikedc

WABA teaches safe city cycling.

It was The Intro to City Cycling class by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, designed to teach “confident control of the bike in all situations.” The class took advantage of the wide, car-less space of Freedom Plaza to learn how to brake, corner and other necessary skills. Looks like they were having fun.

The Marine Corps Marathon was going on. I saw on Twitter that the winner had already crossed the finish line. I went down to the National Mall to see if people were still running. In fact, they were. Thousands of them. Somewhere in these hordes was the Queen of Coffeeneuring. It’s not enough that she has to bike everywhere – she runs marathons too, just to make me feel like a slacker.

Runners on the Mall #marinecorpsmarathon #igdc

Marine Corps Marathon on the National Mall.

America! #igdc #marinecorpsmarathon

America

The course went around the Mall, across the river, and basically all over the city as runners racked up 26 miles. In front of the Capitol (now covered in scaffolding – weird), a marching band played to cheer them on.

The Capitol looks so strange with its scaffolding #igdc

Watching this endless stream of jogging humanity, it was impossible not to feel inspired. But I was also very glad to have my bike. That running stuff looks exhausting.

Imagine what history would be like if the Greeks had bikes. It would’ve been much easier to get word back to Athens. The first marathon wouldn’t have ended in a cry of “Victory!” and death. Instead, a bike messenger would’ve brought the news of the Persian defeat. He might be sweating a bit after twenty-six miles. And Greece would be celebrated as the birthplace of the bike (and democracy).

As the runners trailed off, I headed home, passing the White House and one final fall scene:

This has to be the premier fall weekend of the year #igdc #bikedc

Fall is ephemeral. These colorful leaves will be gone within days. Winter is coming once again – cold temps are rolling in. If you weren’t out last weekend, you missed the best fall weekend of the year.

Running on Empty on the Jackson River Scenic Trail

Crunchy on the Jackson River Scenic Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson River #latergram #fall

The Jackson River in fall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coffeeneuring #2: Sunday Washington Ramble

Breezer foldy bike

Fast and foldy, it’s the Breezer Zig7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Army Ten-Miler on 14th St Bridge

Army Ten-Milers cross the 14th St Bridge.

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

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

Starting to look like fall #igdc #dc

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compass Coffee

It was good.

Compass Coffee

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

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

Bike parking at Compass Coffee #bikedc

This fence makes for convenient bike locking.

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

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

Lovely fall day to bike through Shaw #igdc #latergram

Liz Taylor mural at Dacha Beer Garden.

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

Coffeeneuring #1: Peet’s!

First #coffeeneuring trip of 2014 #bikedc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photographers Not Working as Photographers

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

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

Changing seasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Film “The Goblin Baby” Screens in Georgetown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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