2014: The Year of Everyday Biking

Cycletrack selfie
Most of my biking is in the 15th St Cycletrack, a protected bike lane.

2014 was the year that I discovered everyday biking.

Biking is by far the best way to get around a city like Washington. It’s faster than the Metro and you don’t have to worry about getting a parking ticket.

Despite this, I primarily biked on the weekends. It was a leisure activity. I enjoyed taking the Capital Crescent Trail to Bethesda or biking around the National Mall on Sunday afternoons.

Monday through Friday, I’d walk to the Metro and see people biking, even during the worst weather.

Snow biker on 17th St
Thought this was crazy. Soon I would join him.

Continue reading “2014: The Year of Everyday Biking”

Coffeeneuring: Lessons Learned

It's me bike #bikedc
Bike #1: The Real Bike. A Specialized Sirrus, this has really held up well, despite me crashing it on the H Street trolley tracks a couple years ago.

I like biking. I love coffee. I also enjoy writing and photography. I’ve been doing coffeeneuring for years without even realizing it. The Coffeeneuring Challenge (where you bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks) adds  structure and purpose to my cyclo-wanderings around Washington in search of java.

I had big plans this year. I was going to go on long bike trips to places I’d never been. But, in the end, I just stayed in DC.

Ever since the Errandonnee Challenge (12 errands by bike over 12 days), biking has become more of a routine activity for me than a special adventure. Errandonnee taught me that it was easier, quicker and more fun to get around DC by bike than any other method.

I bike every day. Monday-Friday it’s back and forth to the Metro, the grocery store, and other errands and activities. On the weekends, it’s to social activities, go get lunch or drink coffee (always be coffeeneuring). On Sunday afternoons, I enjoy taking a spin around the monuments.

Peak leaves on the Mt Vernon Trail #bikedc
Bike #2: The Foldy. It’s a Breezer Zig 7, which I got off Craigslist. It’s basically an older Dahon Speed 7.

When it comes to biking, I don’t want to wear funny clothes. I don’t want to prepare. I don’t want a bike that costs thousands of dollars. I want the simple and everyday – which is why I like my foldy bike so much. I got it used off Craigslist for $300 several years ago. Easy to get on and off, and with a tight turning radius (thanks small wheels), it’s perfect for getting around the city.

I also have a real bike – a Specialized Sirrus. A hybrid (road bike frame, upright position), it’s good for longer distances.

Bike people are like cat people – they seldom have only one. Two bikes puts me on the low end of cycling obsession. I want more. I think it’s time for a new foldy and a mountain bike capable of dealing with DC’s potholed streets.

When it comes to city biking, I like the Dutch approach, where cycling is an ordinary activity that everyone can do. Advancements in infrastructure like the 15th Street Cycletrack have brought this idea within reach of Washingtonians. Building protected bike lanes means people will bike – it’s that simple.

Errandonee convinced me that cycling could be done everyday; Coffeeneuring helped hone my biking philosophy.

But you don’t care about that. Here’s where I ate and drank:

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

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

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

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

Coffeeneuring 5: Starbucks
Date: November 2, 2014
Distance: Ten miles

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

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

My favorite? Compass Coffee. With a couple of great bars nearby, you could spend a whole day on that block. My second favorite? Peet’s at 17th and L. It’s sunny and you can watch people bike by on L Street.

But, in the end, I don’t think it matters which coffee shop you visit. The most important thing is just to go.

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 #4: A Coffee Experience

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

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.

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!


Five Places to Write in Washington, DC

courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery
Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC.

If you want to truly write a book, and not just live out some Eat, Pray, Love fantasy, then you need to go to a boring place. That’s the conclusion of Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup, in a recent blog post. He advocates going to a place where there is nothing to do.

While writing is a solitary activity, it doesn’t mean you need to be alone while doing it. I’m a city person, and like to write around other people, even if I’m not talking to them. A writer’s retreat in a remote cabin would probably turn me into the Unabomber. I need to see and hear other humans.

I’ve written two books in public in Washington, DC. These are my favorite places to write in the city:

1. Peets – 17th and L. I liked it when it was a Caribou, and I like it even more as a Peet’s (better scones). Located on a corner, with windows all around, it’s the perfect clean, well-lighted place. If you’re creatively stuck, you can always stare out the windows at cyclists going by on L Street. On the weekends, it’s so slow that I wonder how they stay in business. But they do and that’s perfect for me.

2. Cove – If you need more structure, than check out the co-working space Cove. They offer desks, fast wifi, coffee and even meeting rooms, all at a very reasonable rate. They have locations around DC but I like the Cove on 14th Street above Barcelona. If you’re there on a Sunday morning (when I like to write), you’ll have the place to yourself.

Never too hot for a cappuccino!
Cappuccino by Illy.

3. Renaissance Hotel – West End. Hotel lobbies are underused writing spaces in this city. This one has an Illy Cafe in it and they make the best cappuccino in the city. One upside/downside: no free wifi. If you can’t control your social media compulsion, come for the isolation.

4. Kogod Courtyard – Located at the National Portrait Gallery, it’s a calm oasis in the center of the city. There’s wifi, plentiful seating and a cafe. Plus, if you run out of ideas, you can always explore the fascinating exhibits at the museum. Open from 11 – 7.

5. Pound the Hill – This indie coffee shop has awesome food – the chicken salad is particularly good – and they even have a happy hour. With art on the walls, it’s a cute place on Capitol Hill to get some work done.

Note: I hate laptop campers, especially in small places like Pound. Give yourself two hours, do your work, and then leave. You can get a lot done if you give yourself a deadline.

A writing place doesn’t need to be boring. It just needs to be a spot where you like to write. When I wrote Murder in Ocean Hall, I discovered that I liked to get my writing done early in the day. And that I couldn’t do it at home. I had to leave my apartment, as if I were going to a job. Which is why I love and patronize coffee shops. While you may have a different preference, the most important thing is find the writing place that works for you.

Bikes, Beer and the Arts: 2013 in Photos

“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).

Continue reading “Bikes, Beer and the Arts: 2013 in Photos”