Does Anyone Make Real Shit Anymore?

metro trash
Once the envy of the nation, Metro is now a mess.

I ask, cause I’m not sure:
Do anybody make real shit anymore?

– Kanye West, Stronger

I put off getting a new iPhone as long as possible, waiting until the battery life was mere minutes and I carried a charger every time I left the house.

I knew replacing it would be an ordeal. Months earlier, I had gone to the Apple Store and asked about my options. It took an Apple genius 30 minutes and a complicated diagram to explain the new pricing plans.

Eventually, I upgraded, ordering an iPhone 7 through my carrier, AT&T. FedEx lost it. I called AT&T, who blocked the phone from the network. Then, of course the phone showed up. AT&T unblocked it and then, perversely, decided to block it again the next day, making my phone a shiny, non-operational brick. I tweeted in frustration:

@ATTCares responded. Their Twitter account says that they provide support. But they don’t, they just refer you to the website, to an endless customer service chat. On Friday, I went through a lengthy chat where I had to type in various technical data about my phone. They said they would unblock. And I went through the whole process again on Sunday. My phone still doesn’t work.

This isn’t an unusual story. American life these days largely consists of doing battle with broken things.

On Sunday, while I was trying to work all this out, I had to go downtown. Ten years ago, I would’ve taken Metro. I avoid the transit system now. During the week, Metro features breakdowns and beatings, while on the weekends, it barely runs it all.

Instead, I took Capital Bikeshare. I write about CaBi so much because it’s a system that actually works. Swipe your key, hop on a bike, and go.

Capital Bikeshare 2.0
Capital Bikeshare – the one thing that works in Washington.

Washington seems to be going backwards in terms of transportation, from heavy rail to bicycles and rickshaws. I fully expect a horse-sharing scheme to emerge within the next couple years.

At least I wasn’t on Amtrak #161, a Twitter saga that also unfolded on Sunday, passengers trapped on a train outside Washington for so long that they had time to order pizza. Their rescue was delayed for want of a stool so that they could climb from one train to another. Richest country in the world.

Romans didn’t just wake up one morning in the ruins of empire. Instead, it was a slow decline. Officials weren’t paid. Water from the aqueducts stopped flowing. Barbarians walked in, unopposed.

We could have a national train system that’s not dependent on a stool. DC could have a safe and efficient Metro (it once did). AT&T could fix problems for customers instead of sending them to chat-based hell.

It’s a choice. As Kanye, bard of our age, asks: Does anybody make real shit anymore?

We can’t cut our way out of crisis. If America is going to move to the next chapter, then it needs to invest in quality once again. We need to make real shit.

DC Walkabout: Sunsets, Tulips and Barbies

sunset after a rainy day at Dupont Circle

I have a calf strain, a sharp twinge that occurred when I was playing soccer about a week ago. It’s prevented me from running. I can only go about a mile before the twinge forces me to stop and walk. The only remedy for this pain is time. Instead of running after work, I had to come up with a new activity.

I decided to do evening walkabouts, ambulatory strolls around downtown Washington. I started last night, just as the rain was tapering off.

My destination: the White House. There I discovered tulips, their petals closed up and sparkling with rain drops.

red tulip after the rain by the White House


After taking some tulip pics, I headed for Farragut Square. The rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared in the west. Suddenly, the streets were suffused with a warm, golden light.

The light was amazing tonight #igdc

And then, in the sky over the office buildings, a rainbow appeared – a good luck sign, blessing the idea of evening walkabouts.

rainbow over Farragut Square

I continued my way up Connecticut Avenue to Dupont Circle. It’s a destination that I’m drawn to again and again. Not only is it a pretty spot, but it represents something to me – it’s where I first got a taste of urban life after coming to DC for college. It was where we went to eat Greek food at Zorba’s (still there) and drink in local bars (most of which are gone or changed names). The sun was just beginning to set as I arrived.

sunset after a rainy day at Dupont Circle

Listening to the Pixies, I headed east on Q St. There was one more destination I wanted to check out: the Barbie Pond Garden. This is a local institution that I have somehow missed. The owners of this house at 15th and Q decorate their garden with naked Barbies. This month’s theme was Easter.

an Easter theme at the Barbie Pond Garden

It’s going to be a while before I can run again. The only remedy for pain is time. Instead of running, I’m going to walk in different directions – north, south, east, west – and write and take photos of what I discover in DC.

Photos Beyond the Monuments: Ten Years of Exposed

Congrats to Exposed DC, which recently marked ten years of celebrating photography in Washington, DC. They do so with an annual photo contest that highlights a city that most tourists never get to see – the DC beyond the monuments.

I was fortunate to be in the very first show back in 2006 with my photo “Rose Runs.” It’s the daughter of a friend of mine, captured as she was walking past a graffiti-covered wall in Stead Park near Dupont Circle. The park has since been cleaned up but I liked the contrast between the innocence of youth and the grit of the city.

Rose runs

The advent of digital cameras had drawn me into photography. I took “Rose Runs” with a Canon Digital Rebel, the first of its kind, costing more than $1000. Little did I know how much photography would change in the coming years.

That first show was in a series of rooms above The Passenger, near the Convention Center. The whole building would eventually be redeveloped but, at the time, it lingered on as a bit of old, rough DC. I missed opening night but came by later with some friends – including Rose herself!

me and Rose

What was great about Exposed (then known as DCist Exposed, and tied to the DCist blog) is that it introduced me to a community of digital photogs like myself, including Samer Farha, Jim Darling, Heather Goss, Jen Wade, James Calder, Pablo Raw and other great folks. I never thought photography could be social – until Exposed.

I love good beer. I love photography. I love meeting creative types. So every year, I went to Exposed, even if I wasn’t in the contest. The show moved around the corner and for several years was at Long View Gallery, where it attracted crowds that snaked down the block. And I began taking iPhone photos, with my iPhone 4.

DCist Exposed crowd scene

This is why I am hungover #exposeddc2014 #latergram

Jim Darling

Audience at Exposed DC

DCist Exposed mag

In 2012, my photo of the Washington Monument being inspected for earthquake damage made the show. I had moved up to a Canon Rebel T2i, a faster and more capable camera than the original Rebel.

media storm

I had developed a fondness for black and white. And perhaps a tendency to get carried away with filters in Snapseed. For my interest in DSLRs was being overtaken by mobile photography, like most people. The iPhone had made photography easy, fast and social. Also, I won the Fotoweek Mobile Photography Competition in 2011, which opened my eyes to the value of iPhoneography.

Opening night at the DCist Exposed show

The Exposed parties continued, drawing a huge crowd with delicious beers and treats in 2013, including DC-themed cookies. Exposed became a wonderful blur of drinking and talking photography.

Crowd at DCist Exposed

DCist Exposed cookies

Downstairs at Exposed with @mrdarling

In 2016, Exposed was at the historic Carnegie Library in DC, one of my favorite buildings in the city. I was glad to know so many people in the show, including Angela Napili, Holly Garner, Keith Lane, Noe Todorovich, Bridget Murray Law and Victoria Pickering. I didn’t even bring my Canon Rebel but instead just pocketed my iPhone 6 – it’s good enough. The triumph of mobile photography is almost complete.

Exposed DC

me, Angela, Albert

Late bird misses out on the Exposed cake

Who knew @shutterhugdc spoke such good French? Here he is being interviewed by a French broadcaster about the Exposed show.

checking out the photos

Exposed DC has demonstrated that Washington is more than just monuments, revealing the real place beyond the iconic landmarks, as well as building a community of photographers. So, here’s to ten years of Exposed – and ten years more!

Cherry Blossom Madness

Dawn at the Jefferson Memorial with cherry blossoms

The pink petals of Japanese trees bring a mania to this city. It’s called Cherry Blossom Madness.

It leads you to do totally insane things, like run down to the Tidal Basin at dawn to get a glimpse of these trees in the warm morning light. And I am not a morning person at all. Yet, I left my apartment and ran through the purple pre-dawn light to the Mall.

As I reached the Lincoln Memorial, the eastern sky exploded in red, bathing the city in a scarlet glow. I haven’t seen a day that beautiful since the blizzard. The range of red and pink tones in the sky was jaw-dropping, proof that nature can come up with a better palette than any artist.

There were already crowds at the Tidal Basin, every photographer hoping for the perfect picture of the Jefferson Memorial, cherry blossoms and dawn. I snapped a few photos with my iPhone 6. I think there was some futz on the lens because they look a little blurry, like a Monet painting. The only editing I did was in the Photos app and that was pretty minor.

Then, after about five minutes, I headed home, leaving this transcendent scene for the mundane world of work. Here’s to next year and another round of Cherry Blossom Madness.

H Street Life: Photos at Sidamo

H St Streetcar

I’ve lived in DC for more than twenty years but until around 2008,  I only had vague idea of what H St NE looked like. I knew it primarily as the “bad part” of Capitol Hill, a blighted corridor of check-cashing joints and wig stores. There was no reason to go there (unless you were looking for crack) so I never went.

The first time I visited H St was for a show at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel at 13th and H NE. The cabbie asked me skeptically, “Where are we going?” I told him that there was supposed to be a club on H as we passed block after block of boarded-up buildings.

Things look considerably different today. H St is now the hottest neighborhood in the city, sprouting apartments and condos while suburban kids flock to the street’s nightclubs and bars. Why there’s even a streetcar running down the street. While it’s more of a curiosity than working transportation, the promise of the streetcar helped fuel redevelopment, signaling that H St was safe to visit.

Gritty DC, as represented by streets like H, is rapidly disappearing. There’s very little of that city left anymore. It’s better, of course, but I do miss the run-down charm of the place some times.

Bridget Murray Law captures the changing city in H STREET LIFE, an exhibit of her photography at Sidamo. If you like black and white street photography go check it out.

I’ve been a fan of Bridget for years. She has a romantic vision of the city, capturing the quiet moments that happen between people in this busy metropolis. It’s not a side of Washington that you see much. Romance is not something you think of when you think of DC. Aren’t they too busy for that? Bridget demonstrates that even Washingtonians have time for love.

I was glad to attend the H STREET LIFE opening on March 18 at Sidamo Coffee. Below are photos from the event – in black and white, of course.

Bridget Murray Law


Business Lunch



The Year of the Capital Weather Gang

2015 was the perfect storm, in which my love of digital photography met the opportunity to be featured in the Capital Weather Gang. I was already wandering around the city taking photos so why not submit them to the Washington Post’s weather blog? By the end of the year, my photos were appearing about once a week on the site.

Here are some of my favorite CWG photos, along with notes about how, when and where they were created.

A little bit of color on a snowy day on Rhode Island Av

This photo was featured in a roundup of snow photos in February. It was one of the first photos I took with the iPhone 6 and it stunned me. There is such a qualitative leap from the iPhone 5 to 6. The 6 is so good that it’s become tough for me to distinguish DSLR shots from iPhone 6 shots. Especially when you get soft, bright light like under an overcast sky with fresh snow. I kept taking photos until my hands froze.

15th St Cycletrack is now a tulip-track

While we didn’t get much snow, it was a very long and cold winter, the year of the polar vortex. When spring finally arrived, I had tulipmania. Everywhere you looked, flowers were blooming, like this photo I captured for an April CWG forecast. Landscape photos look better with people in them so I waited until someone biked by on 15th Street – this is just a block from the Washington Post building.

Bikeshare, tulips an the Capitol

And more flowers and bikes on the following day.  

Look out - mutant spores along the cycletrack #bikedc #pollen #igdc

You tend to return to the same spot for pictures, like this photo from May. I like this spot along the cycletrack, especially when flowers are in the foreground.

One interesting sidewalk sale #igdc #dc #dupontcircle

This Instagram photo from May is one of those moments that you never forget. It was a Saturday and I was returning from Glen’s Garden Market. I was on my bike and had a six-pack of beer in my backpack. I passed this cinematic scene on 19th Street and turned around and came back to get a picture of it. The faded brick, the overgrown vegetation, the funky yard sale – it’s everything I like about city life in one photo.    

CCT detour in Georgetown

I take a lot of pictures of bikes. Most of my CWG photos were taken either while running or biking around the city, like this photo from June.  It’s from the end of the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown.

Silver Spring on a blue sky day

Little-known fact: I work for the National Weather Service. (Ironic/fitting that I have so many photos in CWG? A little of both.) I’m a contractor in Silver Spring. I am not a meteorologist nor do I play one on TV. This is from the 18th floor of NOAA Building 2, looking toward the Discovery building, on a very hot day in July.

Wilson Bridge

I don’t take a lot of black and white but, when I do, it’s architecture, like this photo of the Wilson Bridge from September.

Cyclist on Pennsylvania Avenue

It was a long and lingering fall, starting in mid-October and stretching nearly to the end of the year. This is the car-free 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, home to you know who.

Key Bridge on a mild Veterans Day

This is a non-iPhone photo. Can you tell? Late in the year, I got a deal on a refurbished Canon Rebel SL1 and took this photo of the Key Bridge in November. The camera can do things the iPhone can’t, like zoom, it’s sharper, better exposure, etc… but it can’t fit in my pocket.

December cherry bossoms

I have a rival. It’s Mary Gersemalina, the Coffeeneur! When she’s not organizing bike/coffee challenges, she runs and bikes around the city taking photos. Her trademark is something I can’t do: jumping. For a while toward the end of the year, Capital Weather Gang was the Joe and Mary show, with one of the other of us every week. After she posted a photo of blooming blossoms by the Washington Monument, I took this Canon SL1 photo of cherry blossoms in December.

I’ve been asked more than once: do you get paid for your shots? I do not. Then why do I do it? I enjoy wandering the city and taking photos. I’m doing that no matter what. Submitting the photos to Capital Weather Gang is easy to do via Flickr. And I like seeing my photos in the (online) paper.

Also, I enjoy sharing my view of the city. I want to show people that there’s a Washington beyond the monuments.

There’s a lot of bikes in my photos. You take photos of what you enjoy. DC is a city that bikes – from tourists tottering on red Capital Bikeshare bikes to the flood of commuters down the 15th Street cycletrack every morning. BikeDC we call it, a two-wheeled community of people who bike. I’m happy to create images that share this community with the readers of the Washington Post. And I plan on continuing to do so in 2016. Here’s to the new year!

Photo Obsession: The Wilson Bridge

Wilson Bridge
Wilson Bridge in black and white.

This photo was in the Capital Weather Gang recently. It is an iPhone 6 shot, edited in the Photos app on the iPhone and with the Noir filter applied. Thinking of submitting it to the Capital Weather Gang, I used the Noir filter because I didn’t want the sky blown out. I wanted to keep those wispy clouds – CWG is a weather blog, after all.

I don’t take a lot of black and white but I think it works really well on architecture because it allows you to focus on the clean lines of the Wilson Bridge. It’s like an entire city’s worth of concrete in this structure stretching over the Potomac.

And it seems indestructible, unlike other pieces of transportation infrastructure (I’m looking at you, Silver Spring Transit Center). Maybe we still can build great things.

Bike trail under the Wilson Bridge #bikedc
Mount Vernon Trail as it runs under the Wilson Bridge.
windy trail - seen from Woodrow Wilson Bridge
Cyclist rides toward the bridge.

It’s also a great place to stop if you’re biking along the Mount Vernon Trail. Under the bridge, it’s shady and cool and there are bathrooms and water fountains. From here, you can continue on to Mount Vernon or cross the bridge to National Harbor.

National Harbor is kind of mediocre – it’s just a bunch of shops tucked into a swampy cove along the river.

National Harbor
The best view of National Harbor is from afar.

But, if you bike over the bridge, you get a great view looking upriver toward Alexandria and DC.

Potomac from Woodrow Wilson Bridge
A muddy Potomac filled with boats, with the Capitol Dome in the distance. I used my “real” camera, a Canon Rebel and zoom lens here.

Road to nowhere
View of the Wilson Bridge from the Maryland side.

I look for symmetry in photos. The long horizontal and vertical lines of the bridge are irresistible to me, especially how they end in a “vanishing point” where they seem to converge. These long lines really draw you into the photo. Which is why the Wilson Bridge is one of my photo obsessions.

Under the bridge
Lines extending into the vanishing point under the Wilson Bridge.

Friday Photo: Perfect Weather Edition

Lovely weather on the Ellipse

It’s not often we get such lovely, cool days in July! I liked the clouds and the softball players in the foreground so I took this iPhone photo as I was running/walking around the Ellipse. I enhanced it a little bit using the Photos app and cropped it to zoom in on the players. I also put the monument off-center to make it more visually interesting. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang used this photo for their PM update.

Here’s to more great days like this one!

The Amazingness of iPhone 6 Video

After upgrading from an iPhone 5 to an iPhone 6, I was shocked at what good photos it could produce. I took some snow photos when I first got it and had a hard time distinguishing them from what I shot with a DSLR. They were so sharp and so clear to be uncanny.

The Shot on an iPhone campaign is true. It’s an amazing camera.

With the iPhone 5, I didn’t shoot much video. One reason was lack of space – I had the 16GB model. When I got the iPhone 6, I opted for the 64GB model so that would no longer be a problem.

And I started shooting video. Apple has made it effortlessly easy, as I discovered shooting this cherry blossom clip. The camera compensates for everything – exposure, hand-shake, moving – to produce sharp and beautiful video.

For example, check this clip out of the Royal Knights at the DC Funk Parade. I’m hand-holding it, backing up as the band goes by. It’s amazing to me that everything (even the sky) is properly exposed and that the image stabilization works so well. You’d think I was using a dolly, rather than just holding it steadily in two hands.

Look at it in HD and full-screen to appreciate it.

Royal Knights at the Funk Parade

The iPhone is the most popular camera in the world because it made digital photography easy and accessible. The iPhone 6 will do the same thing for video.

Tulip Mania on the Streets of Washington

tulips and blacktop

Tulip mania was the original economic bubble. Long before the dotcom bust and the housing crash, 17th Century Europeans speculated in tulip bulbs. You read that right – tulip bulbs.

Introduced to the continent by the Ottomans, tulips became a status symbol commanding top prices at a time when Holland was developing into an economic giant. Tulip bulbs became a sort of substitute currency and were widely speculated upon – after all, we’ll always need tulips, right? You could trade a tulip bulb for a ton of butter! Men even speculated in tulip futures and other derivative products. Everyone was getting rich.

But like shady Internet companies and Arizona condos, the market eventually crashed, as recounted in this excellent Wikipedia entry on tulip mania.

All that was left were the tulips themselves. Fortunately, they are beautiful and bloom on the streets of DC every April. Seeing them, it’s hard not to get a touch of tulip mania. Good thing that tulip futures aren’t listed on the NYSE – otherwise, I’d be buying.

Here are some colorful photos of tulips around Washington.

15th St Cycletrack is now a tulip-track
Biking past tulips at 15th and K.
southbound on 15th St by tulips
The man in the tie wonders what the hell am I doing. I’m taking tulip pictures!
Biking by the tulips #bikedc #IGDC #spring #dc
15th St has a protected bike lane running in both directions.
Running by the tulips #rundc #IGDC #spring #dc
The weather has been beautiful for running.
Tulips gone wild at the Capitol #IGDC #spring #dc
Tulips on the west side of the Capitol.
Tulips and the Capitol #latergram #IGDC #spring
Tulips on the east side of the Capitol.

I have a lot of tulip shots #IGDC #spring #dc

cyclist returns home from the store
Cyclist returning home along the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
Tulips along the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which runs from Union Station to Catholic University.
where to begin?
I’m not the only one taking pictures.


Tulips even along the Metropolitan Branch Trail #bikedc
That’s my bike, a Specialized Sirrus.
It's tulip mania at the White House #IGDC
Tulips in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.
Tiptoeing through the tulips #selfiesunday #bikedc
A tulip selfie.