Photo Roundup: Snow Can’t Stop #BikeDC

Normally, I’m too busy biking to take many pictures of #BikeDC in action. But once the snow started following on Tuesday, I put the bike away. No way was I going to risk the slippery streets on my little-wheeled foldy bike or get salt and grime on my “nice” Specialized Sirrus.

Instead, I concentrated on getting photos of the cyclists of Washington, DC, braving the streets of the city, weather be damned.

Snow Cyclists

The snow “overperformed” according to weather forecasters. January 6 was supposed to just bring us a dusting of snow – instead, nearly four inches fell. The morning commute turned into chaos, with drivers stuck in the snowy stuff, schools cancelled and a general sense of panic.

Gridlock was the norm on the streets of DC. Except for people on bikes, who kept on going.

Snow cyclist on 15th St #bikedc #igdc
She’s prepared. Looks like she’s riding a cyclocross bike with knobby tires. Also note the light, helmet, high-vis jacket, gloves and snow pants.
Snow cyclist on Rhode Island Av
This woman is looking left at the unplowed cycletrack and thinking, “WTF?” But it’s not stopping her.
Wobbly Bikeshare cyclist
I worried about this lady, wobbling down Massachusetts Av on a red Capital Bikeshare bike.
Snow-covered car on Scott Circle
The snow came at the height of the morning rush hour. It was gorgeous, especially around Scott Circle.
This is 17th and M NW - surprised that nothing is plowed downtown #waroncars
What’s missing, you ask? Cars. Traffic was jammed on the roads outside the city, unable to get in. Also, note that 17th St hasn’t been plowed.
Snow-covered platform at Brookland #wmata #igdc
Later in the week, Metro fell completely apart. But on the day of the storm, things were moving pretty smoothly.
Snow commuter trudge
Snow-covered commuters trudge toward NOAA in Silver Spring.
Good thing none of my NOAA friends are in the office because East-West Hwy looks like this
Cars couldn’t get up snow-covered East-West Highway in Silver Spring.
Thank god @peetscoffee in Silver Spring is open during the snowstorm. They are incredibly nice people who always remember my coffee order.
Thank god Peet’s was open! I stop here every morning on my way to work.

Cold Cyclists

After the snow came the brutal cold. Wednesday and Thursday saw high temperatures in the teens – and with the wind, it felt even colder. The streets were icy and only partially cleared – keeping my ice-fearing self off the bike. But the rest of #BikeDC kept riding, weather be damned.

10 degrees? No problem, #bikedc rolls on. (But not me - too icy.)
Sunrise at Logan Circle, as a man on a cargo bike goes by. Air temperature: 10 degrees.
#bikedc was bundled up this morning #igdc
The couple that bikes together, stays cold together.
Bikeshare don't mind the cold #bikedc #igdc
Looks warm enough until you get to the feet. A bikeshare rider on Q Street.
Ice in the L St cycletrack - why I'm not biking
Why I’m not riding: ice on L Street.
Capital Bikeshare cyclist speeding up 15th St NW #bikedc #igdc
Capital Bikeshare gets used at all hours of the day, in every kind of weather. Temp was in the teens as this guy sped up 15th St by the Washington Post.
It's true. Biking will keep you young. Or at least warm. #bikedc #igdc
This guy is proof of the recent study that biking will keep you young. Or, at least, warm.
One-way on T St #bikedc
You don’t need an expensive bike to get around the city, as this woman on T Street demonstrates.

People gonna bike. Maybe they do it because it’s cheap, faster than the Metro or because they enjoy it. Snow is not going to stop them. Cold is not going to stop them. Nothing (short of the end of the world) is going to stop them.

And if you want to ride on ice, snow and everything else, check out Pete Beers’ tips on riding with studded tires.

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.

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.

The Things We Carry

Bag contents - I'm clearly not carrying enough crap
Sunglasses, Kindle, spoon, outdated coupons – the rather pathetic contents of my bag. I need to carry more crap.

Americans have too much stuff. And whether it’s an SUV, a bike or on foot, we like to carry all of our crap with us.

A measure of status used to be that a man wasn’t encumbered by a knapsack. That was for the working class. A gentleman carried nothing more than a billfold.

Contemporary America has reversed this – now it’s the poor who carry nothing while our elites strap all manner of bags and belts to their person to haul their electronic devices and luxury goods.

No one really needs an iPhone, iPad, Kindle and digital camera with them all the time – they are devices whose purposes overlap. Yet, many people carry all this – and much more – in messenger bags, a utilitarian tool that’s been transformed into an emblem of the creative class. Thou shall know the web designers by their Timbuk2 bags…

The digital age was supposed to free of us from physical objects. After all, everything is in the cloud – photos, videos, books, travel plans, schedules, mail. Yet, this development has lead to a profusion of devices that Americans feel compelled to schlep with them at all times.

Case in point: the San Francisco cyclist carrying around a veritable apothecary on wheels. In addition to the requisite i-devices of her generation, she has medical supplies, a beauty kit, foodstuffs, bike tools and portable radio gear. She’s better outfitted than Amazonian explorers of the last century. All of this stuff she loads onto a Dahon, a folding bike. I have a Dahon. Loading it with twenty pounds of gear defeats the purpose of this small, practical bike.

The SF cyclist is not the only pannier-stuffing bike hoarder out there. Lifehacker profiles people like her in Featured Bag, a celebration of conspicuous consumption as measured by the amount of crap you can haul on your back. There’s even a Flickr group where aficionados proudly display the objects that they carry. They share them with us for they are signifiers, indicating the schlepper’s class, profession and beliefs. A person carrying three-pounds of salad and a copy of The Alchemist is going to be considerably different than someone with an Android tablet and stun gun. Know the bag, know the person.

We’re defined by what we carry. Whether it’s an iPad or a particular brand of lip balm, every object we carry has meaning – exactly like hoarders. But hoarders at least get to leave the hoard. We put it in a backpack and take it with is.

Death is the only separation from our stuff. Does it have to be?

Vikings were buried with their household goods. Ancient Egyptians were entombed with the items that they’d need in the afterlife.

Americans should adopt this practice. Death should not part you from your beloved Altoid Smalls or Aveda sun screen. You should not have to say goodbye to your Ortlieb panniers. “Bury me with my Tumi!” should be the cry.

Objects so precious that we strap them to our back deserve to follow us into death and beyond. We are the things we carry.


Friday Photo: Finally, Spring

Cherry blossoms blooming on the Tidal Basin.
Cherry blossoms blooming on the Tidal Basin.

This was the winter without end, days and weeks worth of single-digit temperatures that made me want to curl up with a bottle of bourbon and stay inside forever. I’ve never had to wear so many layers. It was a real winter, the kind I thought that DC never got with its mild Mid-Atlantic climate.

And it literally just ended  – we had snow a couple weekends ago, as if we lived in Westeros and spring and summer snows were a common occurrence. I am not convinced winter is over.

The cherry blossoms arrived late but, finally, we’ve been treated to a stretch of glorious mild days. I rode my bike down to the Tidal Basin to get the above picture. It’s an iPhone shot and edited in the Flickr app, using the Denim filter.

Someone must like it – the photo has received 75,000 views in two days. 75,000 views from “unknown source” according to Flickr’s stats. I think the pic might have been in Explore.

My advice for visiting the cherry blossoms is simple: go early. Do not attempt to drive. Hop on a bike or the Metro and get there before 8 AM. The light is better and you won’t have to deal with the crowds. Enjoy spring before the snows return!

Friday Photo: Beach Edition

Christmas in Florida is not always warm. I remember years with freeze warnings and rumors of snow. But when it’s nice, it’s really nice – Florida in December can be incredibly pleasant.

I’m fortunate that my parents live in Orlando. On my way home, I detoured off I-95 and cruised down AIA. I saw these condos from the road and had to stop. I walked down to the beach to get this iPhone shot. The long shadows and the soft afternoon light underscores the beauty and symmetry of these buildings. Living there must be a dream – it certainly looks like one.

Coffeeneuring #5: Peregrine and the Perils of Grad School

Cappuccino at Peregrine on Capitol Hill
Cappuccino at Peregrine on Capitol Hill #perfection

After last week’s episode of bad coffee in Bethesda, for this week’s coffeeneuring adventure, I was determined to get a good cappuccino.

I knew exactly where to bike to: Peregrine Espresso on Capitol Hill.

And not only was it delicious, it was artistically perfect, as you can see from the photo above. The work of a good barista is indistinguishable from magic.

Peregrine gets a bad rap for being a hipster haven, of being home to skinny jeans, ironic facial hair and hipper-than-thou attitudes. But it’s not the staff that’s the problem, I realized as I looked for a place to sit. It’s the patrons.

I had to perch on a stool in a corner because the tables were occupied by grad students with laptops. While I’ve  done my share of work in coffee shops, I would never choose a busy store like Peregrine. And I certainly wouldn’t occupy multiple chairs with my textbooks, knitware and electronic devices.

Nobody cares about your grad school dissertation – that is what I felt like shouting. Ten years from now, you will not even remember what that paper was about. And your thesis advisor, the only other person to have ever read it, won’t remember either.

Grad school won’t get you a better job. I’d be more impressed by someone who managed a Wendy’s than someone with an MA. The Wendy’s manager had to get people to show up and work every single day – that’s really hard, and much more impressive accomplishment than going to classes.

Besides, all those old rules and gatekeepers are coming down. Our most successful companies, like Facebook and Apple, were founded by college dropouts. There is no reason to genuflect before some academy before you can do what you want. You can do so now.

Avoid the trap of grad school. Instead, take advantage of the opportunities that cheap tech and the internet have brought us. Want to be a director? Go shoot a movie with your iPhone. Aspire to run a company? Use Kickstarter to raise the money. Want to change the world? Use Meetup to start organizing people.

If for no other reason, avoid grad school so you can enjoy Sunday afternoons outside. Ten years from now, you’ll remember sunny fall days like today – not the time you wasted hunched in front of a computer.

Friday Photo: FotoNOMA Edition

InstantDC at FotoNOMA
InstantDC at FotoNOMA.

I have a confession.

I live in DC, take photos in DC, know lots of DC photographers, even won a FotoWeekDC contest but I cannot make heads or tails of the FotoWeekDC web site. There’s an overwhelming number of events – gallery openings, workshops (mostly paid), talks, lectures, training and other activities – but without an easy way to sort and find interesting stuff to see.

People have asked me what they should see during FotoWeek. I have no idea. I’m sure there’s lots of good stuff but I can’t figure out the web site.

But I can recommend FotoNOMA: The District Experience.  Admission is only $5 and includes photos from Strata Collective, Instant DC, The Pulitzer Center, International League of Conservation Photographers(ILCP), American Photographic Artists (APADC), Silvercore Photographers, Critical Exposure, Washington School of Photography, Galerie Blue Square, Indie Photobook Library, Empty Stretch and Women Photojournalists of Washington (WPOW).

The Strata Collective includes many of my favorite DC photographers such as Joshua Yospyn and Matt Dunn. They are experts at catching the absurdities of urban life. Many of their photos will be familiar to you, if you read the City Paper or local blogs.

I’m also friends with the folks behind InstantDC. Founded by James Campbell, the group has expanded my idea of the possibilities of mobile photography, from cutting-edge tools to different ways of seeing the world.

The International League of Conservation Photographers is also represented at FotoNOMA. They’re a great group of incredibly talented photographers who use their National Geographic-level skills to further environmental conservation.

FotoNOMA: The District Experience runs through November 10. The exhibit is just a couple blocks from the New York Avenue Metro. A whole new neighborhood is going up there. Check it out.

WABA Ambassador Pete Beers Gently Educates Drivers

WABA ambassadors in action! Educating drivers in 15th St bike lane.
WABA Ambassador Pete Beers politely informs a driver that they’re driving in the bike lane.

You never know what you’ll see walking around on the streets of DC.

On October 11, I was on my way to get coffee when I happened to catch this little drama. It was a rainy and miserable morning but there were still plenty of cyclists in the 15th Street Cycletrack. More than just a bike lane, this is a strip of road reserved for cyclists, with bollards and parked cars protecting them from the madness of DC traffic. Bikers can go in both directions and the Cycletrack is packed every morning with commuters – an inspiring sight.

Except at 15th and M, where the bollards have gone missing. I ride through here all the time and was about to get a picture of the danger when this Audi pulled into the Cycletrack. Then the light changed and cyclists started coming the other way.

And it was Pete Beers! He’s a Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Ambassador, charged with educating the public on the benefits of biking. As part of his outreach duties, he was riding around DC hauling the WABA “Every Lane is a Bike Lane” trailer

Pete nearly ended up on the hood of the luxury sedan. Despite this, he was polite, informing the driver that they were driving in a bike lane. It was a very civilized exchange that ended positively.

In contrast, when a cabbie made a u-turn in the Cycletrack last week, I peppered him with obscenities. “You’re a fucking idiot!” where my words, to be precise.

Maybe I should try Pete’s more Buddhist approach. Read Pete’s side of things, and his gentle approach to driver education on his blog, I Love My Commute. He also has a great Flickr feed where he obsessively documents DC-area trails, as well as his adventures in carrying large objects on bikes.

I tweeted this photo at the DC Department of Transportation. They say they will fix the problem. I hope so – it’s literally an accident waiting to happen.


Friday Photo: Elizabeth Taylor Edition

Enjoying #shutdown with an early beer at Dacha Beer Garden
Dacha Beer Garden. Taken with an iPhone 5 and edited in Flickr.

Outdoor drinking in Shaw used to mean sitting on a curb with a 40. Now it’s Dacha Beer Garden, a lovely open-air spot on the corner of 7th and Q NW. Dacha features some great Oktoberfest beers, as well as the opportunity to drink out of a glass boot. Plus, they even offer free little beers to government workers impacted by the shutdown (like me). Dacha is a great place to relax with a beer and a book.

But what really makes this place unique is the iconic mural of Elizabeth Taylor. It’s eye-catching.