The District

Japanese Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC

Cherry Blossom Jefferson Memorial

On our first podcast, we chatted about the history of the famous Japanese cherry blossoms in Washington, DC. We wanted to share a small photo gallery with you that highlights Eliza Scidmore (without her influence the cherry blossom tree gift may have never happened), the resistant women from the 1938 Cherry Blossom Rebellion, and bathers enjoying the Tidal Basin in 1922. Some of the history we referenced about the cherry blossom rebellion came from the National Park Service. The NPS also has an excellent timeline (with more photos) of the history of the Washington, DC Japanese cherry blossoms here.


We hope you enjoyed the podcast. Questions? Email us at

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Save Foamhenge!


Just up Route 11 from one of the great tourist traps of Virginia(Natural Bridge) tucked away off a dirt road is another one of the great tourist traps of Virginia: Foamhenge.

Time is running out on this re-creation of a relic that has withstood the test of time. It has to move by August to make room for the new Natural Bridge State Park. 

Foamhenge is a replica of the World Heritage Site Stonehenge…except it’s not a world heritage site, and it’s not made of stone, and it’s surrounded by mountains. Really, it’s not at all like Stonehenge. Lauren and I are suckers for the roadside attraction, and this is one called out to us like a bunch of rocks arranged for ritualistic human sacrifice calls out to Neolithic priests looking to impress some red witches.

So if you want Foamhenge in your backyard, guess what…it’s yours. The owner is willing give away the foam blocks, provided you pay for shipping and repairs. That, my friends, is a deal. I’d take it, but something tells me we don’t have room in our tiny Capitol Hill backyard. Also, I’m not entirely convinced that the foam blocks match the historically protected architecture of our neighborhood. If you’re a big fan of the Summer solstice, this is your chance. You can bring Foamhenge home, line everything up, install it, and then wait for the solstice to tap a keg at dawn and dance around a pile of burning coaches in the nude.

Foamhenge has only been around since 2004 as an April Fools’ Day prank, which begs the question: maybe the original Stonehenge was also an April Fools’ prank. The whole thing was probably concocted by some Neolithic drunks who had just crawled out of cave with a plan to mess with archeologists five millennia down the road. Just think, in the year 7500 AD some future civilization could be dissecting your front yard trying to determine what the hell these pieces of foam are supposed to mean. It’s the gift that just keeps on giving.

So, please. Save Foamhenge. And if you do, call me. I’ll fill you in on the secret summer solstice rituals that you’ll have to perform.

It is actually a bit peaceful.
It is actually a bit peaceful.
This, ladies and gentlemen, could be in YOUR backyard!! (or front, if that's how you roll)
This, ladies and gentlemen, could be in YOUR backyard!! (or front, if that’s how you roll)
Weathered for effect.
Weathered for effect.
It looks just like the real thing.
It looks just like the real thing.
There are mountains here.
There are mountains here.
Unlike Stonehenge, Foamhenge requires walking uphill.
Unlike Stonehenge, Foamhenge requires walking uphill.
This is also likely the description a certain presidential candidate probably envisions being engraved onto a certain piece of theoretical infrastructure along our southern border.
This is also likely the description a certain presidential candidate probably envisions being engraved onto a certain piece of theoretical infrastructure along our southern border.
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Back in Time Lapse…Blizzard 2016

Blizzard View
It took me longer than I wanted to get this posted and, pardon the pun, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. I ventured out into the wilds of this weekend’s blizzard with the aim of getting some interesting pics/vids. I mostly failed. I towed along a few cameras and managed to trek a combined 24 miles in the snow….basically, so that in a few years I can tell my kids: “you know, in my day we had to hike 24 miles in waist deep snow up hill in 40 mph winds if we wanted to get good pictures…”
And if you’re nice (nice means sharing!) I’ll post those pics and another video tomorrow;)
Anyway, during all the slogging through the conditions (which I loved, by the way) I left my GoPro at home to record the storm one minute at a time. I’ve done this for other snowstorms, but this time I rigged it to the outside of my window. This meant a little engineering. No GoPro battery has the staying power to last through this entire storm, so I had to figure out a way to keep the camera connected to power while also keeping it dry. The solution was simple: saran wrap and a rubber band.
The GoPro was encased in the skeleton shell, and once I had it positioned I wrapped the rear of the casing in plastic wrap and hooked up the USB power cord through the plastic and then added another layer of wrapping. I also pointed the camera slightly down to hopefully avoid streaking from snowmelt. Success. No water seepage at all, even as two inches of snow/hour were drilled at the camera at 40 mph! All said and done this sequence captures about 40 hours, I sped it up by another 25 percent in post-production.
What to watch for:
1. The tireless efforts of our building’s maintenance crew. The fact that you can see pavement at the end of this video is a testament to how hard they worked.
2. The the two stone benches along the main walkway leading out of the building. You always need a point of reference for snow time lapses, and this angle is a bit difficult for that, but those stone benches are a good start.
3. The fencing around the courtyard…another great point of reference to watch the snow pile up.
4. The trees show the strength of the wind, and you can see thick waves of snow as the heavy bands of the storm passed through the blizzard.
5. There are a few times when the sequence seems to jump, it’s actually the GoPro automatically adjusting to the building flood lamps being turned on and off.
6. The clouds…at about 1:00. This is the hidden gem, because there’s a small sliver of the sky at the top of the frame and you’ll be able to watch the skies clear out after the storm.
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Late to Dulles 


It’s 3:18. I’ve just finished shaving. Lauren is looking at me the same way the Eagles faithful stare at Chip Kelly. I can feel her gaze evaporating my insides.

Our flight leaves at 7:45 from Dulles.

“We said we’d be leaving at 3:30.”

“No, we said between 3 and 3:30!”

“It’s 3:18!”

“And you’re not even ready!” Stare intensifies, my appendix just dissolved.

We walked out the door at 3:30. This is standard operating procedure whenever we go anywhere. I’m always late. Lauren’s always early. But together…we’re on time (actually we’re still early, which Lauren defines as on-time).

Some of the anxiety here is because we’re flying out of Dulles, which is five or six time-zones away. The only time we fly out of there is when we’re flying international, and Lauren is a steadfast believer in the get-there-three-hours-early policy.


This IS NOT faster than the 5A!

Oh, I failed to mention we’re flying to London by way of Iceland.

We’re staying with friends, and then heading up to Edinburgh for a couple days before coming home.

This means 90 percent of the trip planning has gone into just getting to Dulles. Seriously. We debated longer than Republicans on immigration whether to take the 5A from Rosslyn or the Silver Line to Weihle-Reston East. Silver line won, and at every hangup Lauren said, “the 5A is quicker!”

It may be…but without empirical evidence I will say that we made it from our door to the ticket check-in counter by 5:00 on the nose. So walking, to Red Line to Silver Line to Dulles Express to airport in 90 minutes during rush hour. Total price tag about $10.


The future!

I have a secret love affair with Dulles. Maybe it’s because it’s exotic, all tucked away in the countryside a few states away. Or, more likely, because it’s the one piece of brutalist architecture that’s ever worked in the history of mankind. Eero Saarinen’s design still feels futuristic five decades later. It’s like walking around the set of a 1970’s sci-fi space drama. The font is the type you’d find at Kennedy Space Center, it says “Welcome to Battlestar Galactica!” The main terminal feels like a massive concrete wing that could take flight at any moment.


Look at that font!

Even passing through the security checkpoints has a certain sci-fi feel, albeit in a more dystopian sense. The light stands with four fluorescent lamps combine with the staggered gates and the actual act of passing through security always make me feel like I’m in some sort of alien prison camp. I know…that’s pretty weird.

During the holidays though, something really magical happens. The sci-fi feel of Dulles is thematically hijacked by the action genre. With every Christmas tree I pass, I expect John McClaine to come jumping out, guns blazing as a rogue team of ex-military terrorists zoom across the airport grounds on snowmobiles while taking control of the entire airport. All the meanwhile, all the planes circle endlessly because the next closest airport is 15 hours away. If I look closely, I can still see the burn mark on the tarmac where a line of spilled fuel saved the day.

(By the way…the most unrealistic part of that entire movie is the snow-mobiling. It never snows that much here!)

Oh the things you imagine while waiting for the flight you’re on-time (obscenely early) for.

Yippee-ky-yay motherf%#@er.


She’s never even seen Die Hard!?!?


Even this train looks like the future (empty b/c we’ll all have Google driverless cars)


John McClaine is hiding behind this tree…


Or is he hiding behind this tree???


More fonts from the future.


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Opt Outside 


Oh, how I hate Black Friday…let me count the ways…

I hate that it’s no longer one day, but now instead many days..

I hate that people camp for big screen TV’s along the walkways…

I hate the busy parking lots, and I hate the clogged highways…

I hate trying to shop amid a post-Thanksgiving meal malaise…

I hate the look of insanity and I hate the look of craze…

I hate that commercials trying to sell me a couple Chevrolets…

I hate Black Friday more than I hate a thousand Michael Bays…

and that’s a lot.

So, needless to say that when REI announced that they would be closing on Black Friday I was intrigued. I mean I get it, this is a shrewd marketing move. But, it’s one I can buy into. If only we, as a society, spent more time outdoors and away from some of our most caustic customs I think this world would be a better place.

So on Black Friday I was curious to see just how many more people were out and about hiking instead of shopping. And the answer was A LOT. Now, I’m not saying this was because of the REI #OptOutside thing. In fact, out of the 20 or so people I talked to only two cited that as motivation to go for a hike. It was a gorgeous day with temperatures surging into the 70’s. Most people said this was a good chance to get out with family in town and do something a bit different.

Still though, the trail was busy. The Billy Goat Trail is always busy, but not this busy. Weather was certainly the main driver, but I also think it’s possible that the #OptOutside campaign seeped into our collective consciousness enough to be that seed of inspiration as families sat around trying to figure out how to spend their Friday.

It’s great to see trails get a lot of use. As much as I enjoy the solitary hike far from any semblance of civilization, I’ve also learned to appreciate the busier trails. They serve as an entry path to an outdoor lifestyle. And that tends to bring a person more in touch with this planet…and only good things can come from that.

The largest proportion of the masses chose to stick to the C&O Towpath, but enough veered onto the rocky outcroppings of Billy Goat to cause traffic jams as the trail narrowed near the Potomac. At least twice the Montgomery County River Rescue Squad was in action with the aid of a U.S. Park Police chopper. I don’t think anyone fell into the river, but the rocks are just remote enough to necessitate a rescue by river or by air.

The moral of the story: if you’re thinking about going for a hike, be at least a little prepared. Even a short jaunt along a packed trail can go south in a hurry if you’re not paying attention. Please hike! That’s a good thing. But, maybe find a friend who’s done it before…or at least look for directions on Youtube.

And don’t go shopping on Black Friday, what you save on deals you lose in soul.



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The Getaway 


I’m sitting on the stainless steel railing underneath one of the escalators that carry thousands of people every day from curbside drop off at DCA to terminals B and C. My phone is tethered to the wall, suckling electricity so I can write this post.

According to my Fitbit I’ve taken 9,478 steps since getting here this morning. And I’m not flying anywhere. I’m reporting on the holiday rush (except there is no rush). It’s the getaway.



Seven hours and a dozen live hits in and I’m really beginning to appreciate how Tom Hanks felt in The Terminal.

I’m well-versed in the best sellers list, or at least which publishers are willing to pay to give their books prime placement at Hudson News. I don’t know if I’m more excited to read Sarah Palin’s latest tome Sweet Freedom (which I can only imagine has something to do with patriotic diabetes) or Jenny McCarthy’s Bad Hair (which is presumably about hair that’s been vaccinated.) My…what a time to read books on aeroplanes!

I have all of the “Special Security Announcements” memorized. All bags are securely strapped to my back.

I’ve talked to scores of people about their travel plans…and almost all of them look at me like I’m asking the question in Latin. Most responses: it’s been a pretty effortless journey. There’s some news.

I’ve moved on, the phone is adequately charged. Now I’m sitting in a massage chair, tiny little pulses are shaking my ass into oblivion. I feel like super-speed Shakira. I’m not entirely certain that this is enjoyable or advisable.

But. I. Can’t. Move.

I ate Qdoba earlier…like tons of it. I think this chair just dislodged a fist-sized glob of queso from my upper GI tract. I’m out of this chair before there’s a mess.

Time to do another live hit anyway. The news watch never stops, even when the news is that everything’s OK.

There’s a natural ebb and flow to the day. The security line stacks up, and then within a few minutes it’s back to normal. Although for the fliers in those lines I’m sure like it always seems like forever. It’s like that planet on Interstellar where every minute is like ten years.

I just took my picture high fiving a cartoon turkey, and the moon is rising over the hills of Anacostia. It started as a red bulge, and minute by minute the familiar landscape of the moon presses past the horizon distorted and contorted by the refraction of photons in the last femtosecond of their journey to my iris. Like a droplet of water falling in reverse the moon finally breaks from the horizon restored to its spherical state, its soft light reflecting off the Potomac.

I have one more hit. I just passed 11,000 steps. I’m also qualified to work at the information desk.

Restlessness aside, there’s something about watching this great migration of humanity as we jet to far-flung destinations to return to our familial roots. Even being hurtled through the air at hundreds of miles an hour, there’s something primal to this. An innate urge to reconstitute the whole. And thousands of us connected through time and space as we pass along this singular place.

Some of us taking pictures with cartoon turkeys, like me…and this woman Christina who was among the scores I interviewed today while staring at a flat-screen display of everyone else who took a picture with a cartoon turkey.

“I think it’s humbling to be on this page with all these other people, this is our touch point for the day. It makes us all part of the same thread that’s weaving us all together.”

Travel safely.

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Stop Freaking Out. Just stop.


Some guys belonging to a terrorist group may or may not have mentioned Washington, D.C. in a rant about how they plan on blowing up the world.

And now people are freaking out.

Well, not really people here…just people everywhere else. For a lot of Washingtonians this is, unfortunately, business as usual. The threat level’s been high since 9/11, and you could make an argument that we’ve been extra wary long before that.

This is the nation’s capital, after all. And it’s a nation that enough people around the world dislike just enough to consider doing something really bad. That looming threat is enough to always keep security on edge…and thus practiced.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of people cancelling vacation and business plans to D.C. And that really sucks, because that’s a lot of money that doesn’t get pumped into our economy. It’s livelihoods that are now threatened by a threat. I talked to a guide today who said the National Mall was the emptiest she’d ever seen it.

That’s just sad.

I’m actually picturing Abraham Lincoln with a sad face now. That doesn’t go away…

So here’s why you shouldn’t be freaked out:

  1. The FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Capitol Police, U.S. Park Police, Marine Corps and the Metropolitan Police Department are all on the case…all of them.
  2. You’re more likely to choke on the stray onion ring that makes it into your fries than you are to be killed by a terrorist.
  3. All those guns you and your neighbors have, yeah…those are also more likely to kill you. Same with all those cars on the road…and maybe even an e coli laced burrito from Chipotle. (maybe this is 2a)
  4. There’s nothing you can do about it anyway. An extremist shot up Fort Hood. Another guy shot up a Navy recruitment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. These are awful things that happened in places no one could have predicted.
  5. There have been 50 national security level events in the United States and half have happened here in the District. And we survived.
  6. If it’s safe enough for the pope…it’s safe enough for you!
  7. We’re used to security threats, we have inaugurations every four years. And people from Maryland drive on our roads every single day.
  8. Your a very bad risk assessor. It’s ok, all of humanity is.

So friends, stop freaking out. Don’t cancel your trips. Come celebrate democracy, or at least come for some snowballs at Ted’s Bulletin.

Sure…something could happen. But I choose not to live my life based on remote probabilities…and even if I did, I think there’s medication for that.



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Some Thoughts on Paris


My streak is broken, the resolution shattered. But, truthfully and honestly, I’ve been in no mood. Few things highlight the frivolity of a travel blog like an actual international tragedy. And as the details tweeted their way across the Atlantic I recoiled in the same horror as many Americans.

This post has nothing to do with travel.

The echoes of 9/11 still rattle about my brain. And living in what is clearly a target city, there’s always an edge. To be brutally upfront, rare is the day that I don’t look at someone suspiciously. My spider sense is always set to light tingle. Still though, I go about my day…not ignorant of the threats, but also not imprisoned by the possibilities.

A little more than a year ago I watched a guy get held up at gunpoint in the courtyard of my apartment building. For a moment, I was paralyzed. My brain couldn’t comprehend what my eyes were seeing, what my ears where hearing. That moment felt like an eternity as I let out a shout while calling 911. The robber fled, running and hopping into a car that sped away. The police arrived quickly, but, as far as I know, there was never an arrest.

I live on a very safe street by any metric. But, for months, I was hyper-vigilant as I walked to and from the Metro or my car. It wasn’t a good feeling, it was an anxious feeling. It was like surfing a wave, but never being able to stand. The irony in situations like this is that the best way to feel secure, to feel safe…but also to live, is to acknowledge that risk is a part of life. And the more you try to control that risk, the less you live. (you can take that surfing analogy wherever it leads you)

I’ve been deep in thought through this weekend, which has dissuaded me from writing…thankfully. If I had written Friday night, it would have been angry and caustic and it would have added nothing to the conversation. Through Saturday and Sunday I found myself vacillating between turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and eye-for-an-eye hawkism.

I’ve been to Paris, and like 99 percent of humanity I love Paris. But, it’s deeper than that. There are Parisian bits of DNA woven into the genetic fabric of our own republic. The District of Columbia stands as a civic monument to the beauty of Parisian design. Names like L’Enfant and Lafayette and Rochambeau grace our landmarks, our Metro stations and our maps. We are a child of many nations, but few have left an imprint as indelible as France.

Further, this is a continued assault on the path to Enlightenment, a movement birthed in Paris and London that hatched into a great experiment of democracy on this side of the Atlantic. It’s the notion that we don’t need kings or queens, popes or caliphs to direct our nations, to determine our rights and our fates.

And, that, perhaps is what’s most gut-wrenching of all about this latest string of barbarism…it has unleashed a reaction that is vile and antithetical to what we should stand for. America should be a grand symbol of hope, not an island of exclusion. The scourge isn’t defeated with bombs and bullets and brimfire. Those methods are but fuel to their message, proof to the fence-sitters that the West will only be satisfied with the erasure of Islam.

Our most powerful ammunition comes in the form of ideas and ideals. This, not force, is the hallmark of a Western democracy. And our ideals dictate that we should welcome all who seek asylum. That we should elevate the great swaths of humanity clothed in poverty to a life of hope and aspiration. These ideals are hard to achieve. It’s easy to shock and awe and believe that the scourge has been eradicated. It’s hard to realize that the scourge doesn’t exist as a matter of geography, but rather as a state of mind.

This is not about religion.

This is about economics and a culture of dominance.

There have been many who have made the case that religion itself should be banished. That idea is almost as stupid as those calling for a carpet-bombing campaign of the Middle East. Religion is but a tool. When used fairly and wisely it provides meaning and purpose, it motivates and inspires. It brings about the best in humanity. When mishandled it’s evil and ruthless, robbing us of character and instinct. It disenfranchises and it excludes. It brings about the worst in humanity.

So yeah, getting rid of religion is an idea. But the next logical step is the abandonment of degrees of reason, the limitation of colors along the spectrum of understanding. Next you have to get rid of political parties, and then state boundaries, and then national boundaries, the list is practically infinite. Getting rid of religion is a silly, simplistic idea…almost as silly and simplistic as insisting that everyone follow the same religion.

Silly is the wrong word.

Extreme is the right word.

And if there’s any single word that needs to be uttered less these days…it’s “extreme.”

I’m not going to debate military policy or strategy. I’m not going to defend the president, nor am I going to attack him. I’m not going to pretend that I have a clue how to fix any of this. But, I will say this: we all have a responsibility to right this ship, and more importantly we all have the ability to right this ship.

In the weeks leading up to Pope Francis’ visit to D.C. I spent a lot of time with volunteers, documenting their efforts to welcome their religious leader. I remember talking to one volunteer, his name was Chris, as he unloaded crates of food from a truck prepared for a line of homeless and hungry stretching down the block. I asked him why he volunteered every Wednesday night to take three hours from his life to help strangers. His answer still resonates with me.

He didn’t say his priest told him to, or that the pope told him to, or that Jesus told him to. He looked at me and said:

“There’s just so much happening in the world, so much negativity…but this, here, is my corner. And if I can change just my little corner for the better, than I’ve done good.”

There is power in those words.

Weeks before that, I sat in the balcony of the Metropolitan AME church in downtown D.C., and I watched as a woman who knew several of the nine killed in Charleston pray for their murderer, just hours after that homicidal spree.

That had power.

Like Thor’s-hammer-to-the-heart-and-mind power.

I’m not saying that we ignore the Middle East or just outright forgive the scourge. But, instead of succumbing to our base human desire for violence and vengeance, maybe we instead try something different.

Ron Fournier at the National Journal floated an interesting idea: Mandatory service for every U.S. citizen. I know, it’s not a new idea, but it’s interesting in this context. Essentially, that by putting everyone in a position to serve, individuals are engaged with ideas and environments different than their own. Which makes them more aware and, ultimately, more enlightened citizens.

I’d take this a step further, lets slash the defense budget by 40 percent (relax, we’d still spend more on defense than any other nation) and throw the remainder into this new program. That’d be more than enough money to put teachers in every school, workers to rebuild our infrastructure, and ambassadors to raise up the poorest parts of the world.

Even without such a program, why can’t we dedicate ourselves to service? Why not find avenues for our energies to push someone else forward? Let us react to senseless violence by individually performing sensible acts of good, showing that that nation, and any nation so conceived, shall long endure.

What better way to combat hate?

It’s better than the alternative of yet another massive land invasion of the Middle East. We’ve tried that…a lot. And as far as I know, it’s never really worked out.

This is not naïveté.

It’s a faith in reason and a conviction to ideals. It’s following the true path that the best of our founding fathers envisioned. That we be world leaders, not through conquest, but by example.

(your regularly scheduled travel blog will return tomorrow)




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Instagrammed: November 1-8


UPDATE: I have no idea why these pictures aren’t embedding. But you can see them along the left side of the browser if you’re on a Mac or PC. Otherwise, you’ll have to actually click the links like it’s 2008…sorry.


Ok…back to the Instagrammed tradition that’s not really a tradition. The whole point here is to offer a little background on the pictures, especially since this was also a New Year’s Resolution.


Staring at the stars! #dc #astronomy

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Staring at the stars! #dc #astronomy

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This shot is from our tour of the U.S. Naval Observatory. I wrote a whole post about that if you’re curious!


A Masonic sunset! #dc #secretsocietiesofinstagram

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A Masonic sunset! #dc #secretsocietiesofinstagram

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I was on 14th Street working on a story and after the interview I cut down S Street and ended up stopped at the intersection at 16th. I looked over at the Masonic Temple, which was catching the setting sun beautifully. This is where riding a bike is awesome. I just hopped up on the curb and took a couple shots. This place may be a future post all it’s own. (not pictured: Dan Brown)


I was at the Newseum for a work project previewing a new exhibit. I took a lot of photos of that, but I’m not allowed to share those. Nonetheless, this is the exterior of the building facing Pennsylvania Avenue. A fitting place for the First Amendment. This wall may be my favorite piece of the building’s design. Also, I’m damn proud of that hashtag.


Nobody likes this photo 🙁 That’s OK, I like it! It’s actually a bit confusing if you’re not sure what you’re looking at. I have little nooks all over DC that I use to file my stories. This one is among my favorites. It’s the courtyard between the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The space is enormous, and I have pretty good luck getting a chair and a table. It’s also a gorgeous spot. I often use it after covering Metro meetings, which happen in the cramped concrete brutalist belly of the Jackson Graham Building. Needless to say the courtyard is quite the escape. The picture here is of the roof reflected off my iPad as I write scripts following a Metro meeting.

@julienoblick tries out for a Gap commercial #fallfashion

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@julienoblick tries out for a Gap commercial #fallfashion

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@julienoblick tries out for a Gap commercial #fallfashion

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I only posted one photo from Asheville and kinda dropped the ball on my resolution here. It’s OK, I’m still batting above .900 for the year on this. But, in this case the story why is actually better than any photo I could’ve posted. So Friday was spent driving after work until about 1am when we made it to the cabin/creeper house (more on this in another post). There were no good chances to put a photo up. Then on Saturday, I spent much of the day watching Penn State/Northwestern because we were in the South and the B1G doesn’t exist down there…but at least I got to watch the last three minutes on a real TV (not a good thing). This photo is of my friend Julie acting like she’s never seen leaves before. If you can’t tell, Asheville’s pretty terrific in the fall.


Rock Creek Park is always terrific this time of year! #dc #fall

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Observational Touring


So get this…the U.S. Naval Observatory does tours.

We discovered this little bit of information a few months ago. The tours are offered very irregularly, but it’s well worth the effort and wait. We were able to book this past Monday night.

And of course after like 80 days of sunshine the day started gloomy and damp. Typical Washington weather…it’s only gorgeous when you’re already busy. Or is it. Magically the skies cleared just about a half hour before our tour.

I was really amped for this, mainly because I’m a huge nerd. But, I also let my imagination get the better of me. I had this vision of hanging out with Joe Biden, drinking beers looking through a telescope.

There was no beer. There was no Biden. But there were telescopes.

The tour winds through the original telescope building. After a chat about the history of the Naval Observatory (and why it exists in the first place) they walk you into the library. It’s a beautiful circular room with thousands of books lining the walls and a fountain in the center. I felt smarter just being inside the room. Four titles lay beneath a glass case near the middle of the room, books written by guys with names like Galileo and Newton. Original copies. ORIGINAL.

The nerd baptism ceremony continues with an elevator trip to the telescope. A 12″ Alvan Clark refracting telescope pointed through an open slot in the dome roof. The planets weren’t out yet for us, so we peered through time at a binary star system of blue and gold. I wanted to keep staring, but this was a tour after all.

A dark walk later we were back in a room full of clocks, placed in chronological order. It’s a history of keeping time. And that’s when it hits you, this is a working monument dedicated to space and time. The relationship between the two becomes clear in this place where astronomical observations were critical to keeping perfect time for the Navy.

I’ll leave you with the best line of the tour: “Time is the thing that we probably measure most. And it’s the thing we know the least about.”


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