The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Mon, 08 Feb 2016 18:46:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 No DriveCam to set off this year… Tue, 02 Feb 2016 23:46:24 +0000 This past Wednesday, Elyse and I went to the Washington Auto Show.  We checked out the cars, and then went down to see the Metrobus display.  This year, Metro had an Xcelsior artic on display.  Remembering last year where I inadvertently set off the DriveCam on the demo bus, I was surprised to see that there was no DriveCam on the demo bus this year:

I wonder if they remembered Elyse and me from last year, and thus waited until after the Auto Show was over to install the DriveCam.  In any case, it was interesting checking out this Xcelsior artic.  It’s a little different from the New Flyer DE40LFA and Neoplan AN460 artics that I’m more familiar with, as it has folding seats in the hinge area (I’ve only seen regular seats there), and it has rear-facing seats right in front of the hinge.  It also has white destination and window block signs, vs. the amber signs on most buses.

I also finally got my own photo of bus turn signals, mounted on the floor.  And here they are:

Bus turn signals.

Those two buttons on the floor are the turn signals.  I think you probably can tell which does which.  The turn signal only operates while you’re holding down the button, which I didn’t realize at first.  On my first day driving a transit bus, I was clicking the button with my foot to turn it on, and then clicking it again to turn it back off until I realized that it didn’t work like that.  And then I suppose people were wondering why I was turning without signaling.  Remember that before I got a transit job, I initially learned how to drive a bus on a school bus.  School buses have turn signals on the steering column like a car, whereas a transit bus has nothing on the steering column except for the wheel tilt knob.  I prefer the turn signals on the floor, because it gives the left foot something to do, and keeps both hands on the wheel.  I’m surprised that school buses don’t have that.

The folks running the Metro booth were giving out souvenirs, and so Elyse got a foam rubber Metrobus, which she is holding in this photo, taken on the artic:

Elyse in the back row of 5480.

It’s a New Flyer Xcelsior in the MetroExtra paint scheme, numbered 7091.  Not bad.  She also got a similar Xcelsior in the red scheme, numbered 7001.  This expands her WMATA fleet to four, as she has a model NABI artic that she got at last year’s show, and then she also has a GMC RTS model in WMATA colors, and a small model Flxible Metro painted in WMATA colors that she got from a friend.

We also each did the “Manny the Metrobus” coloring page:

My "Manny the Metrobus" page. I did something like a typical Orion V scheme, and numbered it 2137.  Elyse's "Manny the Metrobus" page. She came up with her own paint scheme.

My drawing is on the left, and Elyse’s is on the right.  I did mine in something resembling an Orion V paint scheme, and then Elyse did hers in something totally unique.  Someone needs to photoshop Elyse’s scheme onto a photo of an actual bus to see how it might look in real life.

Outside of the buses, we checked out a few cars, and I discovered how poor of a fit I am in many cars.  Apparently, people with long legs are not supposed to drive cars.  It’s like the Toyota Sienna that my mother used to have.  In order to reach the pedals, the steering wheel would be too far back, requiring an un-ergonomic reach in order to steer.  In order to have the steering wheel in the right spot, my knees would be smashed against the dashboard.  Not fun.  Even the big SUVs suffered from the same problem.  You know, these:

Sitting in a GMC Yukon XL SUV.

You would think that with as much room as those things have inside, they would have made a wheel that telescopes far enough out to accommodate taller folks.  I commented that in order to drive a really big SUV, not only do you have to be poorly endowed, but you must also have short legs.

Otherwise, these two cars at the Toyota booth were pretty cool:

Toyota Mirai, complete with gull-wing doors
Toyota Mirai, powered by fuel cells

Toyota Coms
Toyota Coms electric vehicle

Regarding the Mirai, I just would love to have a car with gull-wing doors.  However, I wonder how well doors like that would work in a tight parking space.  Regarding the Coms, that thing reminded me of an Isetta (you know, the car that Steve Urkel had on Family Matters) because of the single rear wheel, though unlike the Isetta, this car seats only one person, and the door is on the side like a normal car.  I do, however, wonder how it handles on the road, or if this thing would even be street-legal in the first place.

And just to tweak Elyse a little bit, I was pronouncing “Toyota” as “Tyota” (TIE-oh-ta).

Then when Elyse and I got back to my house, I took some photos of the foam rubber Metrobuses like they were the real deal:

Toy 7091, photographed in my kitchen at a similar angle to how I would photograph a real bus.

Toy 7001, photographed in my kitchen at a similar angle to how I would photograph a real bus.

Despite being foam rubber toys, I enjoyed photographing these like they were real buses.  Compare these to my photos of real Metrobuses on Flickr.

So all in all, the Washington Auto Show was pretty fun.  I wonder what they will have in store for next year…

]]> 0
Snowzilla! Mon, 25 Jan 2016 03:55:25 +0000 So the “Snowzilla” (as named by The Washington Post) storm has come and gone, and it left a large pile of snow in its wake – enough to kill part of the roof of the Safeway in Bel Air, Maryland, and the roof of Wayne Lanes in Waynesboro, Virginia.  Thankfully, I came through this storm just fine, and it was just a matter of digging out.  This storm dropped light, powdery snow (as compared to wet, heavy snow), and there was a lot of it.  I got more snow on my balcony in this storm than I did in 2009 and 2010’s major winter storms, for one.  Check this out:

The reach of the snow on my balcony: all the way in!

In this case, the snow reached all the way up to the sliding door, even piling up in front of the screen.  Compare this to December 2009’s “Snowpocalypse”:

Snowpocalypse's reach.

That was also the light, powdery snow, and there, the snow came about a foot short of reaching the door, but still got pretty far in.  Still pretty impressive considering that my balcony is almost completely covered by the roof.  And then this is how “Snowmageddon” from February 2010 came out:

Snowmageddon's reach.

Snowmageddon was the heavier, wet snow, rather than the powdery stuff.  Note how the balcony railing took far more snow than the balcony itself did in that case.  That was fun to push off.  Then Snowmageddon also took out the gutters on my building.  I watched the final gutter collapse from my living room, and it was like, whoosh, as it sailed downward past my balcony.

Whenever it snows, there are only two things where clearing the snow is solely my prerogative: my car, and my balcony.  I always do the balcony first, because it’s fairly straightforward.  You just take the shovel and push the snow over the side.  I was amazed, however, about how much snow was up there.  First of all, I had two or three inches right next to the door:

I've never had this much snow this close to the door!

That’s a lot of snow.  That’s after I cleared the snow that had piled up on the screen door, and then took a scoop so that I could get out and close the door.  Then to give you an idea about how much snow was on my balcony, here are some cross-sections, taken after I dug a row through the middle:

Pretty sure that’s about 30 inches (i.e. 2½ feet) on the end of the balcony.  And snow all the way back to the wall.

Then, interestingly enough, I had some icicles going at an angle:

Icicles that formed at an angle.

Had never seen that before.  I guess that’s from the significant winds that came with this storm.

Then the real work was in digging out the car.  This is what I saw when I came out to dig out the car:

I saw this and thought, "Oh, God, I'm in trouble."

I saw this and thought, “Oh, God, I’m in trouble.”  That was a waist-high pile of snow sticking out about ten feet in front of my car.  And it all had to disappear before dark, because I had to go to work the next day.  But remove it I did:

Taking a bite out of the snow.
Taking a bite out of the snow.

Another bite, and I changed my strategy somewhat after a plow came by. Now, rather than pile the snow up across from the car, I focused on just breaking up and moving the snow out for the plow to get on its next pass through.
Another bite, and I changed my strategy somewhat after a plow came by. Now, rather than pile the snow up across from the car, I focused on just breaking up and moving the snow out for the plow to get on its next pass through.

I found my "RESERVED" marker! One of the things about reserved parking is that the space is yours. No one else can park there... but no one else is going to clear it when it snows except for you.
I found my “RESERVED” marker! One of the things about reserved parking is that the space is yours. No one else can park there… but no one else is going to clear it when it snows except for you.


Found the "KIA" emblem and part of the grille.
Found the “KIA” emblem and part of the grille.

Got most of the front opened up.
Got most of the front opened up.

Got the whole front cleared out.
Got the whole front cleared out.

Getting the car warmed up in order to (A) help clear the windshield, as well as (B) wiggle it around a little bit to determine what else needs to be cleared in order to achieve forward movement.
Getting the car warmed up in order to (A) help clear the windshield, as well as (B) wiggle it around a little bit to determine what else needs to be cleared in order to achieve forward movement.

Free at last. I am going to work tomorrow!
Free at last.  I am going to work tomorrow!

And a really big thank you goes out to several of my neighbors, who helped me out in the final stages of getting the car loose.  I really appreciated it.

Then if it tells you anything about how deep the snow was, as well as how hard I worked to clear it, this is what my pants looked like when everything was said and done:

Frosty pants!

That was heavy walking with that layer of snow around my legs.

But that is, as they say, that.  Thankfully, the temperatures are supposed to go above freezing this week, plus it’s supposed to rain on Tuesday, so hopefully, all of this snow will be short-lived.  I just hope it’s not quite as short-lived as the Blizzard of 1996, though.  Recall that in that case, the snow happened over the weekend, and then a big rainstorm came the following Friday, which quickly melted all of the snow, but caused a lot of flooding due to the rain plus the melting of two or so feet of snow that had been on the ground from the earlier snow event.  I remember in that case, we were out of school on Monday and Tuesday for the snow, went back to school for two days, and then were out again on Friday because of the flooding.  Still, it was weird to go to bed with two feet of snow on the ground, and then wake up and see the grass again.

And now, of course, the question is whether we will see any more big snow events this year.  I hope the rest of this winter is more like last winter, where we had a few moderate snow events, but nothing too major.  We shall see, I suppose…

]]> 0
Getting a “big boy” camera… Wed, 20 Jan 2016 18:44:06 +0000 Last Thursday was a lot of fun.  I got together with Elyse, with the intent of getting some sample material to evaluate for the future purchase of a new camera.  This new camera will be a digital SLR, as I am quite confident that I have outgrown the “prosumer” level of camera that I have operated on since Big Mavica in 2002.  I discovered that in 2014 when I photographed Brighton Dam and Triadelphia Reservoir with a borrowed Nikon Coolpix P510.  The photos with that camera came out well enough, but other than a few extra pixels because of the higher resolution on that camera, I didn’t get any better features than my existing camera.

But first, after Elyse and I got together, we had lunch at Jimmy John’s.  I had a sandwich, and Elyse just had one of the day-old rolls that they sell:

Elyse eats one of the day-old rolls.

I commented that with a photo like that of her eating something, she could totally run for office.  After all, you can’t hold elected office until someone has taken an awkward photo of you eating, right?  Seriously, go Google “politicians eating”.  You’ll thank me later.

After lunch, we headed up to Micro Center in Towson.  There, I pulled out my laptop, fished out an SD card, and plopped it in a camera to start firing off some test shots.  After all, I was going to do this camera testing in a methodical way: I was going to take photos, and then evaluate them at home later.

I started with the Nikon D3300:

The carpet.
The carpet.

Close-up of Elyse.
Close-up of Elyse.

To the left of the camera display.
To the left of the camera display.

To the right of the camera display.
To the right of the camera display.

Then I went to the D5500:

The back of Micro Center.
The back of Micro Center.

Close-up of the keys on my laptop.
Close-up of the keys on my laptop.

Part of a burst shot. Elyse was wearing my coat and flapping her arms around.
Part of a burst shot.  Elyse was wearing my coat and flapping her arms around.

The next shot in the burst series.
The next shot in the burst series.

I shot a video. No idea what that weird sound is.

Then I went to the D3200:

The camera display. Unfortunately, those Canons were secured in such a way that you couldn't put an SD card in them, because the security mount blocked them.
The camera display.  Unfortunately, those Canons were secured in such a way that you couldn’t put an SD card in them, because the security mount blocked them.

The side of Micro Center.
The side of Micro Center.

Another test movie.

Being unable to test the Canon models, we were done at Micro Center.  We later found ourselves at Best Buy, and we continued, starting with the Nikon D7200:

Wheelock MT up on the wall.
Wheelock MT up on the wall.

Fiddling with the selective color feature.
Fiddling with the selective color feature.

The other display cameras.
The other display cameras.

Elyse got a photo of me with the selective color still on. Because of the coloration, Elyse said it kind of looked like I had eaten a smurf.
Elyse got a photo of me with the selective color still on.  Because of the coloration, Elyse said it kind of looked like I had eaten a smurf.

Then I tried the Canon EOS 7D Mark II:

The Wheelock MT, again.
The Wheelock MT, again.

Elyse smiles.
Elyse smiles.

Then finally, the Canon EOS Rebel T5i:

Close up of Elyse's eye.
Close up of Elyse’s eye.

Elyse fiddles with my phone.
Elyse fiddles with my phone.

Elyse also got an action photo of me while she had my phone:

Playing with a tethered camera.

We also swung by the Sprint store near White Marsh, since I’m eligible for a phone upgrade, but not quite ready to take that plunge just yet, since I’m not dealing with a new phone until after I replace the camera.  So I just got a feel for what the field looks like, and tested the camera for the Note 5:

Elyse, once again.
Elyse, once again.

The front of the Sprint store.
The front of the Sprint store.

Group selfie.
Group selfie.

Individual selfie.
Individual selfie.

So all in all, the field looks pretty good.  I’m probably going to go with a Nikon model for my next camera, since the Canon models were a bit more expensive, and didn’t seem to provide as much bang for your buck.  In any case, I’ll let you know what I get, and then, of course, the first photo set with the new camera will be forthcoming some time after that.

For those keeping track, speaking of cameras and first photo sets, Wal-Mart was the original Mavica’s first set, Autumn Leaves was Big Mavica’s first set, NSM Counter-Protest was Duckie’s first photo set, Operation Sea Arrrgh was the Kodak’s first set, and then March on Crystal City was the Canon’s first set.

Most amusing was whenever we would inadvertently set off an alarm at any of the places.  We would always be quick to rat out the other person to the salesperson who came to turn the alarm off.  “HE DID IT!” and “SHE DID IT!” became common phrases whenever that happened, depending on who actually set the alarm off.  Of course, I’d like to know who decided what the length of those bloody tethers should be in the first place.  If most of those places would add about three or four feet to the tether, it would make it far easier to actually test the camera, and probably cut down on accidental alarms.

And lastly, Elyse and I went to Tilted Kilt for dinner.  This is when I realized how bloody mature I have become.  For those not familiar, Tilted Kilt is one of those restaurants where the servers are all women, and are wearing skimpy outfits, designed to show off certain parts of the body.  The clientele, as you might imagine, is mostly men.  Ten or so years ago, I would have so totally enjoyed the view, as some photos at Hooters from 2003 can attest.  At Tilted Kilt, with similar, likely even skimpier outfits, I barely noticed.  I noticed the acne scars on the face of one of the servers more than any of the servers’ outfits.  And Elyse and I commented more on the fact that the guys were also wearing kilts.  That surprised me more than the women’s outfits.  I guess I expected that the guys would have worn pants.

And the only photo that we took?  The food:

Dinner at Tilted Kilt. This is their southwestern wrap.

And I will say that the food was pretty good.  This was their southwestern wrap, and Elyse and I both enjoyed it.  So, yes, I went to Tilted Kilt and just read the articles.  If you don’t believe me, ask Elyse.

]]> 0
A lesson on where not to store soda… Thu, 14 Jan 2016 06:26:55 +0000 …and apparently, the place where not to store soda is the refrigerator.  Seriously.

I put a bottle of diet root beer in the back of the refrigerator, and apparently it was too close to the vent where the cold air came out.  The contents of the bottle froze, and the additional pressure found a way out through a small weak point near the top of the bottle.  That created this overnight:


The root beer stalactite on the top of the fridge.

Root beer juice in the bottom of the fridge.

Just the thing that I wanted to discover when I opened my refrigerator in the morning, right?  Everything had diet root beer syrup spattered on it, apparently from the minor fountain that occurred inside my refrigerator.  Note the new stalactite on the top of the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, I put the bottle outside:

The root beer bottle, out on the balcony.

The way I figure, that can stay out there where it won’t mess anything up until it melts.

In any case, now I had to clean the refrigerator.  Thankfully, with everything in packages, I just had to rinse all of the syrup off.  The only casualty in this process was the root beer, and that cost less than a dollar.  Nonetheless, it probably took me about two hours to completely empty the refrigerator, rinse and dry all of the contents, and then clean the fridge itself out.

Most of the root beer landed on this pack of cheese:

I think I found a flavor of cheese that will never catch on...

This was not a big surprise, because it was on the shelf directly under the root beer.  And then apparently whatever didn’t land on the cheese landed on the bottom of the fridge, above the drawers:

Root beer juice, all over the bottom of the fridge.

Just lovely, isn’t it?  Thankfully, however, everything just rinsed clean, so it was a pretty straightforward process.

That said, I certainly can make a refrigerator sparkle:


Yes, when I was done, the fridge looked better than it did prior to the bottle’s leaking all over everything.

Still, though, I could have come up with a hundred better ways to spend an evening besides cleaning out the refrigerator.  But it had to be done…

]]> 0
Now, about that boot… Wed, 23 Dec 2015 22:12:43 +0000 You may recall that this past September’s splash photo showed me posing with a broken merry-go-round at Pentagon City Mall, i.e. this:

At Pentagon City Mall, sporting a boot cast.

Note the choice of footwear.  I’m wearing a Crocs shoe on one foot… and a massive boot cast on the other.  It was posted without any explanation other than a mention of its presence, but clearly, something was up, because I don’t normally wear a boot around like that.

Truth be told, I was in the boot because I had broken my foot the month before in what could best be described as an example of why there needs to be a concrete pad at every bus stop (write your local officials and ask them to make it so).  On August 6, I was working my regular assignment during the evening rush hour.  Elyse and another friend were “bus stalking” me on that particular day, so they were on board, along with the regulars for that route.  About halfway through the route, the bus wouldn’t go up a hill.  This was not a big surprise to me, as the bus had started indicating problems at the beginning of the trip, i.e. I figured it might die on me.  I had experienced a problem like this before, relating to the transmission, and restarting the bus solved it at that time.  Okay, then: parking brake, neutral, turn the bus off.  Start it back up.  Release the parking brake, and… it wouldn’t go into gear.  That took care of that, I suppose.

Okay, then: time to attend to the bus, and prepare to be broken down for a while.  I was on a hill, so wheel chocks were definitely in order.  I also got the road triangles ready to go.  I started walking towards the rear of the bus, and stepped on an uneven part of the road surface.  I briefly lost my balance, and I heard a loud cracking sound.  Catching myself, I set my right foot down and felt a crunching feeling coming from inside my foot.  That was not a nice feeling.  It also hurt to stand normally on my right foot.  I could only walk on the left side of my right foot.  To do otherwise would cause me great pain.  I finished putting the triangles and the chocks out, and then took a photo of the area where I had stepped:

The area where I got hurt. Note the uneven quality of the road.

From this low angle, you can tell that it’s fairly rough.  However, from a standing height, it looks even.

I called the bus and my foot in, and soon, there was an ambulance to retrieve me.  The EMS people let Elyse and the other person come along, with Elyse in back with me, and the other person in the cab with the driver.  We went to Washington Adventist Hospital.  On the way, an amusing moment came up.  Elyse is no stranger to hospitals, relating to various medical issues that she’s had.  We all got a laugh when I said, “So is this your first time riding in an ambulance not on your back?”  This was my second time riding in an ambulance, as the previous time was when I dislocated my right shoulder in April 1999, having fallen in the bathroom at my parents’ house.

Arriving in the emergency room, they got me signed in and everything, gave me a hospital bracelet, and found out what happened.  While they were getting things prepared, the guy in the space next to mine (only separated by a curtain) was talking, trying to figure out what the drug that they used on the anthrax patients was.  I said, to Elyse, in a somewhat quiet tone, “That’s cipro, no?”  The guy then said, “Yeah, that’s the one!”  Laughter ensued.

Then the news came in: it was a fracture, at the base of the fifth metatarsal:

The fracture.

They gave me a copy of the x-rays on a CD, and wrapped my leg up in a splint:

The splint.

Then they gave me a set of crutches to help me walk around.  Fun stuff.  After we were done in the ER, Elyse, our other friend, and I parted company, as I had to attend to more work stuff back at the division, and also figure out a way to get home at that late hour, since I had broken my driving foot.

And by the way, going up stairs on crutches is no fun.  I never realized how far it was to the third floor until I had to go up all of the stairs to my place on crutches.  After getting through the main door, I just pushed myself up the steps on my behind with my good foot.

The next day, I found an orthopedist and made an appointment, and Mom was kind enough to come up and help me out for a while, since I was clearly in need of assistance.  My friend and swimming buddy Suzie helped me out with the car situation, as my car was still at work.  She took Mom to the car, and then Mom drove my car back to the house.  For that, I was greatly appreciative.

On Sunday, we went shopping, and so I got to use those electric carts at a few stores.  Big surprise: Roots Market in Olney doesn’t have any sort of electric cart or even a courtesy wheelchair.  That was really lame on their part.  Apparently, people who eat the all-natural and organic stuff never get hurt.  In the other places that we went (Whole Foods, Giant, Target, Walmart), there were electric carts.  And it’s funny, too: despite having been to all of these places many times before, and having taken a regular cart through all of these stores before, using the electric cart was a completely different mindset.  I wasn’t walking through the store: I was driving, even going so far as to use the (pathetic) horn on the cart.  I also took out a few displays in the process, since I wasn’t used to how to turn it, with no mirrors and a different seating position than a car or a bus.  The phrase, “You’ve had five accidents and someone’s done cussed you out!” came to mind.

In going around to all of these various places, we took my car, with Mom driving.  That was a different experience, being a passenger in my own car.  It also gave me a newfound appreciation for what Mom went through while I was learning how to drive.  When you’re a passenger in someone else’s car, you assume that they know what they’re doing in it, since it’s their car and all.  However, when Mom was driving my car, I was watching Mom’s driving style, and thinking about how I would have done it differently than she was doing.  I was watching lane positioning, as well as timing on moves, and was thinking about how I would do them – especially since we were driving in MoCo, where I live.

On Monday, I had my appointment with Dr. Rockower at Capitol Orthopedics and Rehabilitation.  There, they removed the splint, and replaced it with a boot.  An amusing moment was when I saw a model skeleton on the floor:

I asked, “What happened to him?”  Their response was, “He didn’t pay his bill.”  I was amused.  That happened at a subsequent appointment as well, where there was a skeleton that was in the proper position, but was missing its face, and I asked the same question.  Turned out that he didn’t pay his bill, either.

Following the appointment, things were greatly improved.  I now could walk again, with the goal of working myself off of the crutches.  The idea was to go from two crutches to one, and then to none.  That took about a day and a half to complete, and in any case, I was glad to be rid of the crutches, because I never really got the hang of walking with one leg plus crutches while on the splint, and I had far too many close calls with the ground.  Boot with crutches was better, but I wanted to be rid of them.

The day after the appointment, we worked on getting around a bit.  After all, I couldn’t drive, so I had to master transit with the boot.  All I have to say is, thank heavens for low floor buses.  We got around, taking the Y7 from my street to Wheaton, taking the Red Line from Wheaton to Gallery Place (Mom’s first 7000-Series ride!), we took the 70 in an Orion V from E Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, and then took the Yellow Line from Archives to Pentagon City.

We spent some time going around Pentagon City Mall, and I even got a mirror selfie at Nordstrom:

Boot selfie.

After going around the mall for a while, taking the Yellow Line from Pentagon City to Petworth, taking the 79 to Silver Spring, and then taking the Y7 back home.  There was one slightly awkward moment on the 79, though: my parents had come up to ride my bus the weekend before this all happened, and so my mother had seen me in action on the bus.  Mom turned to me on this trip and said, “You’re a better driver than she is.”  Even though she said it quietly, it was still a tad awkward.

You also learn how rude some people can be to a person on crutches.  I was taking the escalator from the mezzanine to the platform at Pentagon City, and a train started coming in.  Now, in my state, there was no way that I was going to run to catch it, but a person behind me was intent on catching it, and yelled, “Excuse me!” towards Mom and me.  When we got to the bottom of the escalator, I stepped off, and the man just about plowed me over in his rush to catch the train.  I should have hit him with my crutch.  And we both caught this train, too.

In any case, I was confident that I was good to go at this point.  Mom stuck around until Thursday, though, because we all thought it made sense for her to stay with me for a preexisting engagement with a high school friend of hers who lived near Annapolis.  Rather than meeting halfway between Annapolis and Stuarts Draft (i.e. around Front Royal), we just came to Annapolis.  So that worked out.

Then after Mom left, I was pretty good to go.  I took the bus to work one day so that I could participate in the then-ongoing pick.  I also went down into DC and had lunch with some former coworkers from Food & Water Watch.  Amusing was when one person saw me in the office and said hello like it was nothing, and then did a double take.  After all, I hadn’t worked there in more than two years.  All in all, we had fun.  I also did some grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s on 14th Street while I was down that way, and then took the bus home.

I also hung out with Elyse on a number of days.  I’m thankful that her parents were so accommodating, because she and I had a lot of fun on those days.  Normally, the arrangement is that she finds her way down here (she lives in Ellicott City), which she typically does via public transportation, and I’ll take her back.  With my being unable to drive, her parents came down to get her at the end of the day whenever we got together.  Her birthday came during this period, and so we went railfanning.  Then when we got home, I cooked some sort of birthday dinner, consisting of hamburgers, vegan mac and cheese (Elyse can’t do dairy), and “brownie bites”.  Not a bad time.

Mom came back for my second appointment, and I got some very good news: even though I wasn’t healed enough to go back to work yet, I could take the boot off and drive my own car again, just as long as any pain from the break wouldn’t cause me to hesitate when hitting the brake.  The next day, we put that to the test.  Mom drove my car to the church across the street from my house, where there’s a big parking lot, and I took the car for a spin while Mom sat at a nearby picnic table.  I would take the car up to a decent speed, and then did a panic stop, i.e. enough to set off a DriveCam if I had one.  Success.  The October splash photo was of my face when I realized that driving was a “go”:

All smiles, back in the driver's seat of my own car.

I loved having my freedom back.  As appreciative as I was of having Mom drive me around, I was delighted to finally be able to drive her around again.  We then went to Montgomery Mall, with me driving.

It’s also funny how things work out, too.  During the six weeks I was out, I got caught up on stuff.  I completely cleared my photo backlog on Panoramio and Flickr, and also got professional licensing set up on  And I posted the New York City photo set from the trip that I did with Doreen in June.  And I’m still on top of it all, which impresses me even more.

I returned to work near the end of September, feeling refreshed and excited to return to work.  I was delighted about how smoothly everything went during the whole process, too.  Everyone was extremely helpful, from the people at work, to the worker’s comp company, to Dr. Rockower and crew, and everyone in between.  I never had to call any of the ambulance-chasing lawyers that sent me mail advertising their services.  And if I ever do break something again, I know where I’m going to get put back together.

And in the end, I’m just glad to be back on two feet once again, having had a complete recovery, and therefore able to put the whole experience behind me.

]]> 0
Fun with music… Sun, 20 Dec 2015 17:41:45 +0000 This past Thursday, among other places, Elyse and I checked out a store called Bill’s Music in Catonsville.  What a wonderful place this was, with professional-grade equipment for sale at professional-grade prices (but you’re paying for quality).  The store has every single piece of musical equipment that you could imagine, including some stuff I hadn’t seen in years, like real xylophones and such.  Elyse actually knows a thing or two about music, unlike me.

The first thing that we discovered was a metallic xylophone (metallophone?).  I hadn’t played one of these since sixth grade music class, a six-week “exploratory” course at Stuarts Draft Middle School.  It was pretty awesome, working not so much with singing, but mostly with musical instruments – primarily xylophones.  We learned some very basic songs on them, and apparently I still remember a couple of them:

This one was pretty simple, only involving three notes.  I want to say it had some basic lyrics to go with it (probably as a learning aid), but for the life of me, I do not remember what they were.

Now for this one, also involving only three notes, I managed to retain the lyrics.  They go like this:

Here they come,
Marching down the street,
Marching, marching, marching, marching,
Aren’t they neat?

I never explored this sort of thing beyond the single sixth-grade course, unfortunately.  Looking back, I think it might have been fun.  Still, I’m impressed that I remembered the tunes, considering that it’s been more than 23 years.

We later found our way over to the electric pianos.  My whole idea of interacting with pianos on display like this is to peck at the keys a little bit, play with the different sounds that the piano can produce, and tap out something extremely basic.  I have tapped out “Go, Go, Power Rangers” before (literally just those six notes – not the whole theme), the basic idea for the theme to Today’s Special (with much difficulty and many mistakes), and a few other random things.

Now in this case, I went to an old favorite, playing “Cabbage” on the piano:

Yes, this is the “magic spell eraser” from the Today’s Special episode “Pianos“.  After Muffy accidentally turned Jodie and Sam into mannequins after saying the “Hocus Pocus Alimagocus” phrase that normally brings Jeff to life backwards, Jeff played the C-A-B-B-A-G-E notes on the piano to bring everything back to normal – after, of course, being reduced to small size after Muffy used a size-reduction spell, intended for the piano, on him.

I also played “Cabbage” on the piano with some narration based on the episode:

“It worked!”
“Hooray, hooray, you saved the day!”
“Stumblin’ Steinways!  What happened?”
“I think we just got freed from a magic spell that backfired!”

Meanwhile, unlike myself, Elyse has actual talent when it comes to music:

Though I’d heard about Elyse’s musical abilities before, this was my first time seeing it.  I was quite impressed.

After we finished with the pianos, we went into the back area of the store.  There were lots of things on the shelves there, as well as a large, wooden xylophone.  That was closer to what I remembered from the aforementioned music class in sixth grade.  Xylophone with wooden bars, and sticks with the ends covered in some sort of yarn.

I have a feeling that my original intention was to do that G-G-G-B-B-B-G-G-B bit again, as well as the “Here they come” bit, but fate would intervene.  The first note I hit was one that should sound very familiar to the riding public in Washington DC and vicinity, and the rest wrote itself, with my being the transit nerd that I am:

Yep… nerd cred confirmed.  Also, until I heard the xylophone make that sound, I had never given any thought to what kind of instrument made the door chime that I had heard hundreds, if not thousands, of times before.  But now we know: xylophone.

So that was a fun time.  I love going to stores like this where you can kind of just explore around and have a little fun with the merchandise.

]]> 0
Cranberry sauce. From a can. Fri, 27 Nov 2015 03:09:52 +0000 First of all, I hope that everyone had a happy Thanksgiving.  I certainly did.  Since I have Wednesdays and Thursdays off for the current pick at work, Thanksgiving worked out perfectly, so I went down to Stuarts Draft on Wednesday and came back Thursday.  Not bad.

That said, one of the things that we had with our Thanksgiving dinner was cranberry sauce.  My opinion on cranberry sauce is that if it doesn’t look like the can it came out of, it’s not cranberry sauce.  Last year, I posted this photo to Instagram, and captioned it thusly:

"This is that weird kind of cranberry sauce that doesn't look like the can it came out of."
“This is that weird kind of cranberry sauce that doesn’t look like the can it came out of.”

I’m sure that says something about how we do food in America that people prefer cranberry sauce in that form, and how, as a child, I didn’t understand why it was called “sauce” when it resembled Jell-O more than anything I’d come to know as a sauce.  Similarly, I wrote this in 2009 about cranberry sauce when we went up to New Jersey one year:

I remember one year when we went up to New Jersey for Thanksgiving, Uncle Bruce served real cranberry sauce – not the gelatin-like stuff that comes out of the can – and the group actually panned it. The next year, the cranberry sauce looked like the can it came out of, and people just ate it right up.

All of that said, the cranberry sauce at our table looked like the can that it came out of, and I really had fun with “preparing” it.  First, it went into the can opener for its debut:

I can see the shape of the can already...

Getting it out of the can was surprisingly easy.  I just shook it gently a few times, and it slid right out:

Cranberry sauce on a plate, still very much can-shaped.

Cranberry sauce on a plate, still very much can-shaped.

There’s something very satisfying about when the cranberry sauce slides out of the can and hits the plate intact like that.  I don’t exactly know what it is or how to describe it, but perhaps it’s just because I was generally having way too much fun with this.

Then Dad told me that the cranberry sauce needed to be on its side, so I took a knife and fork and gently lowered it to this position:

Cranberry sauce on its side. I don't think it could be any more perfect than this.

Cranberry sauce on its side. I don't think it could be any more perfect than this.

And finally, served:

The finished product, still shaped like the can that it came out of.

The finished product, still shaped like the can that it came out of.

Not bad, if you ask me.  During dinner, I noticed some juices oozing out of one end, and, much to my parents’ amusement (because they knew that I’d had way too much fun with it already), I used a fork to tamp down on it slightly, causing the juices to come out a little bit more quickly.  For those keeping track, this is called “playing with your food”.

And then eventually, Mom, Dad, and I sliced off parts of the can-shaped dish to eat with dinner, and it tasted like it ought to.

I think half of the appeal of cranberry sauce is the novelty of its looking like the package that it came out of.  The hell with those Jell-O molds.  In the midst of this beautifully-prepared feast, there’s that dish containing cranberry-flavored goodness, and still looking like a can.  And it tastes good, too, so it’s a win-win, being both entertaining for those easily amused such as myself, as well as tasty.

]]> 0
Spotted a zebra finch today… Sun, 08 Nov 2015 04:42:25 +0000 So I was on my layover right before starting my last trip of the night, when a bird flew into the bus shelter, and ran right into the glass sides.  The bird apparently didn’t hit very hard, because it never even appeared to act dazed.  It was like the Chumbawamba song “Tubthumping“, in that it got knocked down and then got up again.  And here it is:

A zebra finch, standing in the bus shelter

I immediately recognized what this bird was.  That was a zebra finch.  I knew what those were, because I used to raise them in the early 1990s (more on that in a moment).  This one, though, was out in the city, and was clearly having trouble finding its way out of the bus shelter.  It flew into the sides a few more times, and then flew into my behind once.  That had to have been an amusing sight for the passengers, watching their driver react loudly to a bird flying into his butt.  Of course, as my mother can tell you, I’ve never been one to take abrupt surprises like that quietly.  It eventually flew away, and thankfully not into the bus (I didn’t want to have to shoo it out).

Seeing this actually brought back pleasant memories.  When I was very young, back when we lived in New Jersey, my mother had zebra finches.  Then when we moved to Arkansas, we had parakeets (budgerigars), or, as my mother was fond of calling them, pigs on wings.  Their names were Sunny and Sky.  Sunny was a yellow female parakeet, and Sky was a blue male.  The parakeets were neat because you could give them some out-of-cage time, and they would stand around on your finger and such.  Kind of fun, but we eventually gave the parakeets away, because they were too much of a mess.

Then we had another experience with zebra finches in the early 1990s.  I wanted to have birds again, and so in January 1991, my mother got a male zebra finch that I kept in a cage in my room.  We bought it at Walmart (yes, Walmart sold more live pets than just fish until around 1992).  That first day was amusing: while we were trying to transfer it from the box that we got it in to the cage, it got out and flew all around the room.  Mom had to catch it and finally return it to the cage.

I also got a book about caring for zebra finches around the same time.  We quickly learned something from the book: zebra finches don’t do well alone.  It said:

Are you aware that Zebra Finches (like all Estrildidae species) cannot be kept singly?  Since these birds cannot become attached to humans, a Zebra Finch that is kept by itself misses very acutely the company of others of its kind and suffers from loneliness even more than many other (larger) cage birds.  The results are disturbed behavior, susceptibility to illness, and, all too frequently, death.

I showed Mom that, and soon we were back at Walmart again for a second bird.  This one was a female.  I named the newly formed pair Joel and Jane, after two swim instructors at the pool where I had lessons at the time.  And when we got Jane, Joel (the original bird) got out a second time, and had to be caught and returned to the cage.

Those two birds taught me a lot about responsibility: I had to feed them, water them, supply the grit and cuttlebones, and clean the poop out of the cage.  I usually did all of this before school in the morning.  I also got to breed them.  Mom got a wicker nest, and I hung it up in there.  We put some material in the bottom of the nest, and then the birds lined the rest with their own feces (lovely, no?).  And we had our first group of baby birds.  That was fun, watching them grow up.  We ended up forming a relationship with a pet store in Bentonville, where I sold most of the young birds for $1 each, as well as a trade for one.  With this first group, I was able to expand my flock.  I kept two birds from the original group, and then there was the bird that I got via a trade, and I got a third bird from Walmart.  So in total, I now had six finches: Joel and Jane (the original pair), Debbie and Ron (named for friends), and Bruce and Mary (named for my relatives).  Debbie and Bruce were the birds that I bred and kept, Ron was the other Walmart bird, and Mary was the trade bird.

I also quickly learned something about birds and space needs.  I had two dividable breeder cages for Joel and Jane and for Debbie and Ron.  I’m pretty sure that my parents got these cages before I was born, and they housed the zebra finches from New Jersey, then they housed the parakeets, and then they housed my zebra finches.  But for Bruce and Mary, I had a cage that was smaller than I would have liked, but I didn’t have any more breeder-sized cages – just a small one.  And Bruce plucked Mary just about bare.  I don’t remember where Mom and I got another cage from, but we got a second small cage, and separated the two so that Mary’s feathers could grow back while we came up with a permanent solution.

The permanent solution ended up being a new breeder cage.  This thing was big.  It had a double door on the front of it, i.e. a large door with a smaller door inside the large door.  It wasn’t stackable like the others were, but it was definitely a step up from the older cages.  So we shuffled things around a bit: Joel and Jane, as the original pair, got the new cage (seniority has its perks), and Bruce and Mary got Joel and Jane’s old cage.  It turned out that the plucking issue was indeed space-related, and it did not occur again when Bruce and Mary were reunited in the larger cage.  So, awesome.

With all of my space needs resolved, things went well, and I bred a number of birds, and sold them to the pet store in Bentonville.  I was particularly pleased when one of Debbie and Ron’s male offspring was a lightback.  I never really bred for any specific characteristics, though the inspiration behind the expansion from two to six birds was to improve my chances of getting some unique colorings by diversifying the gene pool, since Joel and Jane produced all standard-colored birds.

Then a sad moment came on my birthday in 1992.  I got up that morning, went to feed the birds, and I noticed that Jane was at the bottom of the cage, on her back, and not moving.  It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know what happened: Jane had died overnight.  Well, crap.  I told my parents about the death, and I indicated that I wanted to bury Jane in the backyard.  However, since I had preexisting outside plans that day, I left Jane’s body in the cage for the time being, and went out.  I got with a group from school, and we went to Braum’s for ice cream, and then saw the movie Far and Away at Dixieland Mall.  When I got back home, I was disappointed to find out that my father had cleaned up the body while I was gone, putting it in the trash outside.  I wanted to give Jane a proper burial, but that clearly wasn’t happening anymore.  I was disappointed, but I got over it.  About a week later, we got a new female bird, again at Walmart, and I named her Linda.  So it was Joel and Linda at that point.

However, that pairing was extremely short-lived.  In July 1992, my parents told me that we were leaving Arkansas at the end of August.  It would be impractical for the birds to come with us, so I had to get rid of them.  I was fine with this, because the intention was to get new birds when we got settled in Virginia.  So I visited the pet store in Bentonville for the last time, and sold my birds, and that was that.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be the end of my time as a bird breeder.  I never did get new birds in Virginia, because my father, who never was much of a pet person (and still isn’t), didn’t want to deal with it anymore.  I was disappointed, but with all of the other changes in my life at that time, having just moved to a new area and such, it was fairly easy to move on.

I always have looked back fondly on my days with the zebra finches.  Raising birds was a fun hobby.  I never made any real profit off of it, but that wasn’t the point of it.  It was fun.  I’ve occasionally thought about the idea of doing it all again, but I have mixed feelings on it.  Part of me thinks it would be fun to do, but another part of me wants it to remain a fond memory, since I’m a very different person now than I was when I was ten.

In any case, the bird at the bus shelter certainly brought back some lovely memories.

]]> 0
I feel like I was shooting the photos for those motivational posters… Mon, 26 Oct 2015 03:12:46 +0000 This past Thursday, I went up to High Rock, which is a rock outcropping on South Mountain in Pen Mar, Maryland, in Washington County near the Pennsylvania border.  It reminds me a little bit of both Humpback Rock in Virginia, and the Aqueduct Bridge stub in DC.  Like Humpback Rock, it’s high on a mountaintop, however, unlike Humpback Rock, you can drive up to it and park right next to it, rather than parking down below and then hiking a mile straight uphill.  Like the Aqueduct Bridge, it’s covered in graffiti and a popular overlook point, but unlike the Aqueduct Bridge, it’s a natural feature rather than manmade.  I went up there with the intent of scouting out the location for a potential future set for the Photography section on Schumin Web.  I knew it had a view, but I wasn’t so sure about it.  I arrived just before 5:00 PM, and stayed for about an hour and a half.  While there, I let my curiosity lead the way, as I checked things out at the site and just kind of followed what I found interesting.  I don’t know which intrigued me more: the formation itself, the view, or the graffiti.

So here’s what some of the take from this outing looked like:

View from High Rock facing approximately north, towards Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The bit of stone in the foreground is actually manmade. As much as I can tell, this is some of what remains of an observatory that once stood at this site.
View from High Rock facing approximately north, towards Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.  The bit of stone in the foreground is actually manmade.  As much as I can tell, this is some of what remains of an observatory that once stood at this site.

View facing approximately west, plus peace sign graffiti.
View facing approximately west, plus peace sign graffiti.

View facing approximately southwest, with some of the lower rocks visible.
View facing approximately southwest, with some of the lower rocks visible.

Four teens sitting on High Rock, all checking their phones.
Four teens sitting on High Rock, all checking their phones.

A couple takes photos of the view with their respective phones. View facing approximately northwest.
A couple takes photos of the view with their respective phones.  View facing approximately northwest.

Two people stand on High Rock, looking out over the landscape. View facing west.
Two people stand on High Rock, looking out over the landscape.  View facing west.

Sunset. View facing southwest.
Sunset.  View facing southwest.

Sunset. View facing southwest.
Sunset.  View facing southwest.

However, as the sun started to go down, I realized something: I was shooting photos very similar to the ones that they use on those “motivational posters” that were so popular in the 1990s and 2000s.  Suddenly, my mind started coming up with inspirational and/or motivational captions for my photos.  And for some, I came up with parody captions, like those “demotivational posters” that you’ve probably seen around.

Here are some examples of what I was thinking about.  First the motivational ones:

Opportunity: Opportunity lies ahead for those who seek it.

Perspective: Never forget the big picture.

Sunset: Tomorrow is a brand new day.

And then that photo of the four teens on their phones became a parody one:

Smartphones: Because nothing beats traveling to a scenic overlook and then spending the whole time sitting and staring down at your phone.

I don’t think I could pull off a line of Schumin Web motivational posters, but the photos certainly work for the concept.  I still can’t get over that those teenagers drove all the way up to High Rock only to, you know, fumble around on their smartphones.  After all, you can do that anywhere.

And lastly, I got a photo of the Waynesboro Walmart while I was up there:

Walmart in Waynesboro

Mind you, the Walmart in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.  However, it is possible to get a similar photo of the Walmart in Waynesboro, Virginia, i.e. my ex-store, as well.  You do it from the Raven’s Roost overlook up on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Next time I’m down that way, I’ll see about getting a photo.  Funny to go to a mountain almost in Pennsylvania, and grab a photo of a Walmart in a town called Waynesboro, though.  In any case, this Walmart and adjacent Lowe’s store are really the only major commercial structures that you can make out really well from this overlook.  Most of the view is forest and farmland, as Waynesboro, Pennsylvania is a much smaller town than Waynesboro, Virginia.

In any case, I definitely want to come back here again some time and explore the area a bit more thoroughly.

]]> 1
What happens to a retired Champion… Sat, 24 Oct 2015 02:51:57 +0000 After visiting Diamond Point Plaza just east of Baltimore, Elyse and I set our sights on something else, which she had spotted on South Newkirk Street a few weeks prior.  I’m talking about this:

Bus 5214, a Champion cutaway, intended for Ride On service

This is a former Ride On cutaway, bus 5214.  It’s one of the former Champion models, which were pulled from service in 2012 due to fire concerns.  I rode this particular cutaway on January 23, May 8, June 11, and July 18, 2012, each time as part of my morning commute.  In fact, this was the last Ride On Champion that I ever rode, as I had it the day that the final fire happened, after which the buses were immediately withdrawn from service.

On the outside, other than the Ride On branding and contact information’s being painted out, it still is recognizably Ride On:

We also checked out inside:

The main passenger area looks just like it did in its Ride On days, complete with that multicolor seat fabric pattern.  But towards the front, some stripping has occurred.  The farebox and stop annunciator display are gone, and I’m guessing that Ride On did that for reuse in another bus.  In addition, the cover for the steps into the right-side door on the front are inside the bus.  Go figure.  Meanwhile, I used to always try to sit in that forwardmost seat on the side-facing row, right next to the door.  That way, if the bus caught fire, I could quickly get out of there.

The driver’s area was where it was most evident that this was not a “real” transit bus:

That’s definitely not the driver’s area of a bus.  The column-mounted selector (vs. an Allison transmission pad), the column-mounted turn signal (real transit buses have the turn signals on the floor), the smaller steering wheel, the roll-down window on the driver’s door, and the general look and shape of the dashboard are good indicators that this is no bus.

Just before we left the area, we attracted the attention of and got to have a conversation with the people who now own this former Ride On cutaway.  As it turned out, they bought several of these cutaways, and the plan is to send them to Africa for use over there.  This is similar to how school buses, after being retired for school use, often end up in Latin America and elsewhere, where they see a second career.  So it’s good to see that these buses will still see some use, but I certainly hope that they get to the bottom of the fire issues that caused Ride On to pull them in the first place.  My guess is that these issues will go unresolved, because if these issues were resolvable, Ride On would have kept them in service, rather than quickly replacing them with former WMATA Orion Vs.

So I guess the Ride On Champion story has a somewhat happy ending.  While they only lasted a few years with Ride On (and for good reason), it sounds like they will have a new career overseas.  And who knows: maybe in Africa, they will get the long career that they were unable to get here.

]]> 0
A shopping center full of what once was… Thu, 22 Oct 2015 00:40:18 +0000 On Thursday, October 15, my friend Elyse and I went to check out a rare thing in the area of retail: an abandoned Ames store, with the signage mostly intact, just outside Baltimore.  For those of you not familiar, Ames was a chain of discount department stores, operating, for the most part, in the northeastern United States.  Through the course of its history, Ames acquired and absorbed two other retail chains, purchasing Zayre in 1988, and Hills in 1998, converting stores from their original names to the Ames brand.  And each of these acquisitions was a contributing factor to bankruptcies.  The Zayre acquisition led to a bankruptcy that lasted from 1990 to 1992, after which the company emerged and returned to profitability.  The Hills acquisition led to a bankruptcy in 2001, which led to the chain’s demise in 2002.

The last we heard of Ames was this final voicemail:

Um, just a couple reminders.  Payroll needs to be called in by 10 AM on Monday.  Um, you can call it in at any point.  Leave a message on your payroll representative’s, uh, voice mailbox, um, either with the hours worked, or for salaried associates, number of days worked.  Um, you can call that in at any time between Saturday night and Monday morning by 10 AM.  Please make sure that the mail, um, post office, has been notified of the forwarding address to the Ames home office, 2418 Main Street, Rocky Hill, Connecticut, 06067.  Once again, uh, when leaving the building, um, set the perimeter alarms, bypass the motion.  This will, uh, help reduce the number of false alarms after we vacate.  Interior lights should be shut off by the breaker, leaving only a few night lights on, scattered around on the salesfloor.  The vacate checklist, notate anything that is left, um, from the fixture liquidator, such as any telephone equipment or ticketing equipment.  If they haven’t sold it, it will be left where it is.  The main thing with all of the fixtures and anything that has not sold is that it be left in the building neatly.  Once again, the final vacate checklist.  The photos, stamps, should be forwarded to my attention, and mailed by Tuesday, November 12.  Once again, I’d like to thank everybody for all their help and cooperation over the past few months, and I wish everybody the very best of luck in the future.

Listening to the audio of the voicemail, you can definitely detect more than a hint of sadness in the woman’s voice, especially toward the end.  It’s clear that she was very close to tears as she was recording this, as the finality of everything may have really started to hit home.  But in any case, the take-home point is that the buildings were more or less put into mothball status, and any fixtures that went unsold was left in place.

Now fast forward to this year.  I had been tipped off that there was a former Ames location just east of Baltimore at the Diamond Point Plaza shopping center, with the sign still mostly intact.  I didn’t quite know what to expect here.  I found the location on Google, but other than verifying the Ames building, I didn’t look around much on Street View.  When we got to the shopping center, we were both surprised about how empty the whole place was:

A very empty Diamond Point Plaza

The only thing missing was a few tumbleweeds rolling through the parking lot.  This shopping center was, for the most part, dead as a doornail.  The only business open in the main shopping center was the Chuck E. Cheese’s visible at the edge of the above photo, and a freestanding former Sam’s Club building housed some sort of sketchy-looking liquidation company.  Everything else was vacant.

The Ames, however, was pretty cool.  Though it was missing the front, it was otherwise entirely intact:

The Ames sign

Even the glass tubing inside is mostly intact.  I wonder how much refurbishment it would need in order to work again.  It’s pretty impressive that the sign has survived this long, i.e. that it wasn’t removed as part of the company’s vacating the store, and then has survived a few hurricanes, snowstorms, etc.  I suppose the signage was just like everything else in the store, i.e. if it didn’t sell, it was to be left where it was, neatly.  Considering that I’ve seen photos of a number of former Ames stores where the sign was left in place, I guess removal of the signage wasn’t a priority when the stores closed.  After all, it’s not like anyone would find any more operating Ames stores when they were finished.

Here are some more photos of the exterior:

As a “box store”, the exterior of the Ames was for the most part unremarkable, except for the sign.  I really loved that sign.  I also got some photos of the interior through the front window:

Interior of the former Ames store

Interior of the former Ames store

Clearly, the instruction to leave any remaining unsold fixtures in place in a neat manner was followed here, with the remaining unsold fixtures still stacked together 13 years after Ames vacated.  I also never realized that floor tiles could curl like that in the bottom photo.  However, considering that the roof is clearly in poor condition (an auction website for the property from 2012 also states that the roof, HVAC, and electrical are most likely in disrepair), I guess that the water did its thing.  Considering the amount of water damage that I saw in the building, I honestly wonder if the building is capable of safely housing another tenant, or if the water and subsequent growth of mold and such has rendered the building beyond economic repair.  Considering that the vast majority of this shopping center is vacant as well, I’m guessing that this building will probably never house another tenant again.

I also spotted an abandoned Hardee’s on an outparcel:

The building design screams “Hardee’s”, however, that faded flame signage with the section cut out of it on the front indicates that even though the building was built for Hardee’s, it was not the only tenant to occupy it.  I have no idea what this place used to be, though.  If you are familiar with what it was after it was Hardee’s, please leave a comment below!

[Update: I was informed by Reddit that this is Roy Rogers signage]

I also peeked inside through a side door that was not boarded up:

Interior of the former Hardee's

Looks like a typical Hardee’s inside.  I’m not sure how much of this decor is left over from the Hardee’s days, or if subsequent tenants redecorated.  In any case, unlike the Ames, it looks like it’s still in pretty good condition, though I don’t know who would want to open a restaurant in a dead shopping center.

I also spotted this labelscar above one of the vacated stores:

Tandy Leather

If “Tandy” sounds familiar to you, it should: this is the same Tandy name that was associated with RadioShack back in its heyday.  Tandy started out as a leather goods company, and then a few other companies, including RadioShack, in the 1960s.  The company took RadioShack as the corporate name in 2000, and the leather business was spun off to The Leather Factory around the same time.

The inside of the former Tandy Leather store was nothing particularly remarkable, so here it is:

Interior of the Tandy Leather store

Elsewhere in the shopping center, there was only one remaining tenant:

Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza

Yes, the only remaining tenant was a Chuck E. Cheese’s, with a vintage exterior sign.  According to the aforementioned auction website, they are on a month-to-month lease, so it is conceivable they could pull out of the shopping center at almost any time, with or without notice.  Elyse ended up having to attend to a personal need while we were at Diamond Point Plaza, so we went in.  I had never been to a vintage Chuck E. Cheese location before (I was a ShowBiz kid, after all), so I can’t speak much about the layout or decor’s vintageness, nor am I exactly sure when the location opened, but there was a sign for “Show Room” over the entrance to the main dining room, and that’s where I settled in to wait for her.

The show was a “two-stage” setup, with Cyberamic animatronics:

The two-stage setup at Diamond Point Plaza.

This show was, to put it nicely, pathetic.  The sound on the show was turned way down, meaning that you could see the lights and watch the animatronics move, but the only audio that you got was the mechanical clacking sounds that were a byproduct of the pneumatic systems that create the movement.  Generally speaking, if you can hear that clacking sound, then the show audio isn’t up loud enough.  This clacking of the animatronics isn’t particularly loud, and so it doesn’t take much to drown it out.  So if you can hear it, that’s really bad.  The show was actually louder in the restrooms than in the show room, for whatever that’s worth.  Of course, it’s not like the show used the animatronics that much in the first place.  Most of the show occurred on the television screens, and the animatronics just randomly moved around.

I’ve always considered the cyberamic versions of the Chuck E. Cheese characters to be inferior to the ShowBiz animatronics (i.e. the ones built for The Rock-afire Explosion, later retrofitted to CEC characters).  The cyberamic bots don’t have as many movements as the Rock-afire ones, nor are those movements particularly realistic.  Then there are two things that bother me about the cyberamic stage as set up for Munch’s Make Believe Band:

Munch's keyboard
The keyboard.

Pasqually's drum face
The drum face.

The keyboard, in the former Rock-afire shows, was reused from Fatz, the keyboard-playing gorilla.  This same prop was then recreated for the cyberamic stages when they were updated to the same design as the former Rock-afire stages.  That just bugs me in “annoyed” sense, but the drum face is worse.  The image on the drum face is from The Rock-afire Explosion, and it doesn’t make sense with the Chuck E. Cheese configuration.  The Concept Unification video showed a new face on the drum.  It’s one thing for this to be overlooked and left in place on the old Rock-afire stages, but to fabricate new Rock-afire drum faces for the cyberamic show really bugs me, because they had their own design and didn’t use it, instead deploying a design that was alien to the rest of the concept.

And then Elyse and I had matching outfits on this particular day:

Matching Power Rangers shirts, pants, and hats.  Yeah.  It was kind of fun, but I also told her that we’re never doing that again.  Realize that we went a few places after leaving Diamond Point, and at every single place we went, someone thought we worked there.  Seriously.  Two people in matching outfits, people think it’s a uniform, even though it looks nothing like what the real employees wear, and start asking questions.  It’s scary how little people pay attention to their surroundings, and how little they think about things.  In any case, after one too many of those encounters, you really just want to say to someone, “No, I do not f—ing work here, and therefore, no, I do not know which aisle has your hemorrhoid cream.”

We also had a small transit-related adventure on this same day, but I’ll post about that separately.

]]> 2
“He offered her the world…” Thu, 15 Oct 2015 03:50:49 +0000 I’m always surprised to see how some of my photos are used.  I recently got a membership with Pixsy, which skims the Internet for potentially infringing photo usages, and then allows the user to go after infringing users to get them to pay for their usage.  One photo that surprised me as a frequent candidate for infringements was this one from 2003:

This photo is from the Mill Mountain Park By Night photo set, and was one of 29 photos from that set.  Most of the photos from that very old set lacked creativity in their composition and overall came off as uninspired, but the above photo was always a favorite of mine.

I have a feeling that the popularity of this infringement came about via the social media equivalent of “monkey see, monkey do”.  One posted it, and then others followed.  The caption was always, “He offered her the world.  She said she just wanted _______.”  That blank was then filled with whatever the place sold, like pizza, seafood, tacos, breakfast, etc.  While I threw the DMCA book at every single one of these usages that I found, the fact that they all followed the same form made me think of Match Game.  So I presented it to my “panel” on Facebook, and I got the following answers:

  • The rights to this photo
  • A ham sandwich
  • His half
  • To pee
  • About tree fiddy
  • E.T. phone home

Makes me wonder what the likes of Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Marcia Wallace, Richard Dawson, Betty White, and others would have said to this question.  This question also sounds like something that we could work “Dumb Dora” into.  Something along the lines of, “Dumb Dora is so dumb…  (How dumb is she?)  She’s so dumb, that when he offered her the world, she said she just wanted blank.”  (You can hear this in Gene Rayburn‘s voice, can’t you?)

So how would you answer it?  Leave a comment below with your best responses.

]]> 0
An afternoon at the Trolley Museum… Wed, 23 Sep 2015 03:20:12 +0000 This past Sunday, I was at the National Capital Trolley Museum with Elyse.  Unlike most days, where they only run one or two streetcars, this particular day, they were running four.  They were running a streetcar from Brussels (by way of Grand Cypress Resort in Florida), a streetcar from New York City’s Third Avenue Railway, the 1971 PCC car from The Hague, as well as an open-air car referred to as “the boat“.  We got to ride the first three, but the boat had already been brought in for the day by the time we got there.  Ah, well, there’s always next time, as I literally only live two and a half miles away.

These are the cars that we got to ride.  First, the former Brussels car:

Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (STIB) 1069

Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles (STIB) 1069

Then this is the New York car:

Third Avenue Railway System (TARS) 678

And then finally, the PCC from The Hague:

Haagsche Tramweg-Maatschappij (HTM) 1329

Haagsche Tramweg-Maatschappij (HTM) 1329

You may recall the 1971 PCC car from The Hague from a photo feature in late 2013.  I also got a photo of Elyse with the Hague car:

Elyse with the Hague car

I also got a photo of the operator’s console for the Hague car:

The controls of HTM 1329

I find it quite interesting, when watching the people operate the PCC cars, that they are controlled entirely by foot pedals.  Seriously – our operator on this car today was resting his hands on top of the console.  That all-foot control always surprises me, especially since, obviously, buses have steering wheels, and Metro’s railcars use a hand controller.

In addition to all of these other cars, one of the museum’s Toronto streetcars, which I’ve ridden in past visits, was outside on the tracks, but not running in passenger service on this particular day.

We also visited the car barn, seeing a number of other cars in the museum’s collection, including this Washington DC PCC car:

DC Transit's PCC car 1101, next to "the boat"

This car operates on museum trips, but unfortunately, it wasn’t operating on this particular day.  “The boat” is on the adjacent track.

We also spotted an interesting labelscar on one of the older DC cars awaiting restoration:

Note one logo over another.  “Capital Transit” was the name of the streetcar operation until 1956, after which it became DC Transit until streetcar service ended.  I wonder which logo this streetcar will end up with when it is eventually restored.

On our way out of the car barn, Elyse spotted a stack of papers with images of streetcars on them, and a container full of crayons for use with the papers.  She suggested that I give it a spin, so I decided, “Why not?”  I got to coloring, and thought about things.  You may or may not be aware that the streetcar network, after being converted to buses in the early 1960s, eventually became Metrobus.  Metrobus, as you may know, now wears a red livery, whereas the old DC streetcars wore a green livery.  With the coloring page, I decided to envision what the old streetcars would look like in the modern Metrobus livery:

A PCC streetcar in the current Metrobus scheme

Pretty sharp, if you ask me!  And yes, I did forget to color the doors, thank you very much.

All in all, I like the Trolley Museum.  It’s one of those places that I’m always happy to visit with friends and family.  I’ve been four times.  The first time was with Matthew and his mother back in 2011, I went in 2013 with my friend Pete, I took Mom earlier this month while she was in town for the National Book Festival, and then I went with Elyse and her mother on Sunday.  Vintage streetcars are certainly fun.  Mom even said that operating streetcars for the museum might be something fun to do after I eventually retire.  And who knows – she might very well be onto something.

]]> 0
Hello… Roanoke? Wed, 16 Sep 2015 21:46:10 +0000 This past Friday, I was out with my friend Elyse checking out a few interesting shopping centers in the Baltimore area.  We weren’t so much interested in shopping as we were in seeing the centers themselves, and their various eccentricities.  We first visited Owings Mills Mall, which is a large. two-story facility in Owings Mills, Maryland that contains only six tenants: Bath & Body Works, DTLR, Gymboree, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Victoria’s Secret.  Needless to say, this was a dead mall.  Then we visited the Centre at Glen Burnie, which is a small and well-hidden single-level indoor mall off of Route 2 in Glen Burnie.  This was no dead mall by any means, but its being an enclosed mall surprised me.  I’d been by this shopping center many times in the past, and shopped at the Target store there, and never would have guessed that this was an enclosed mall.  Then our third and final mall was Security Square, a mid-sized single-level mall in Woodlawn.  Security Square was interesting for its former JCPenney building, which, after Penney’s closed, was converted to “Seoul Plaza”, a mall-within-a-mall consisting mostly of Korean businesses, though now approaching dead mall status (though the rest of the mall is doing well).

However, the biggest surprise of the day came as Elyse and I were walking through the Sears wing of Security Square.  Does this remind you of anywhere in particular?

A big star on an island of rides

I knew that star, attached to a raised island full of kiddie rides, from somewhere.  It clearly resembled the Roanoke Star, with the red, white, and blue lighting that it sported from 2001 to 2011.  I was initially inclined to think of it as a weird coincidence, and so Elyse and I continued to check out the mall, spending most of our time in the Seoul Plaza area.  Coming back through here on our way out, walking towards it and facing it, it really struck us that this was Roanoke, Virginia.  Check out the full view:

The whole display really struck me at that time.  The mountains.  The railroad track and signal.  The star with the red, white, and blue lighting.  It had to be referring to Roanoke, a railroad town in the mountains of Virginia, with a large, neon star on one of the mountains.

After we left the mall, I did some digging around to determine if it was, in fact, supposed to be Roanoke.  Back in the summer of 2006, I had taken a few photos of Valley View Mall in Roanoke with my cell phone for use on Wikipedia.  The photos were taken from the upper level, and showed the food court area that’s located near the Sears and Belk stores.  Take a look:

Food court area at Valley View Mall in Roanoke, Virginia, June 13, 2006

Food court area at Valley View Mall in Roanoke, Virginia, June 13, 2006

Even though they were taken with a vastly inferior camera compared to what I now use, they contained the information that I needed to confirm my suspicions.  Take a look:

From the top photo.
From the top photo.

From the bottom photo.
From the bottom photo.

The top blue part has been rounded off and the crossbuck is now slightly up and to the left of where it was before, but enough other details match to make me comfortable in saying that it’s the same one.

And, when I was last at Valley View in September 2014, the ride island was gone:

Food court area at Valley View in 2014, showing the ride island missing.

No more rides, as the space has been replaced with additional seating.

Also, interestingly enough, one of the original rides is still there, specifically the space shuttle:

The space shuttle appears in the background of this photo at Security Square.  It's in a different place than before, but still present.

There it is at Security Square.  I commented on the same ride in The Year That Was, a Life and Times photo set from 2006:

At that time, I commented on the design, saying, “On August 9, while in Roanoke, I noticed this ride, designed to resemble the Space Shuttle.  Upon closer inspection, it appears that it was based specifically on Columbia, based on the black ‘chines’ on the wings, and the ‘USA’ marking.”

So I guess we now know what happens to things at shopping malls when they’re removed.  They get sold and end up at another mall, even if certain details made specifically for the original location no longer make sense.

]]> 0
While hunting for a photo… Sun, 30 Aug 2015 01:29:21 +0000 Yesterday, I was hunting through my archives to find a photo to show a friend.  My photo archives are arranged by subject and by date.  If I took a bunch of photos in a single day, then all of those photos typically go into a folder marked with the general subject of the photos and the date.  One-off photos usually get dated, marked with their subject, and get put in a folder with all of the one-off shots for the month.  The photo that I was looking for depicted a bus sign after the normal text for that route had changed.  So I knew what it was, and knew what the photo looked like.  I also knew that the photo was a one-off, since I took the photo at Glenmont on the way home from work.  However, I didn’t remember exactly when I took it.  I had an approximate range for when I took it, but didn’t quite know.  So that meant that I needed to hunt.

First of all, I was successful in finding the photo.  Here it is, dated September 24, 2012:

Route Y5, destination MedStar Montgomery Medical Center

I was trying to find the photo of the destination sign for northbound Y buses that I took right after the destination signs were changed from “Montgomery General Hospital” to what you see here.  It was a mouthful on the sign, but it worked well enough.  This message would later be changed to drop “MedStar” from the sign.

In the process of finding this photo, however, I made a nice trip down memory lane, seeing many old photos, some of which had interesting memories, and a lot of which never got discussed on the website for whatever reason (though they probably did hit social media).

So here are a few selections.

Converting the Million Worker March photo set to WordPress
I took this photo on December 17, 2011.  This was part of the big “Falcon” project from a few years ago, where I converted the entire website to run under WordPress.  This struck me as interesting for a few reasons.  First, my desk looks so different in this photo.  Different speakers, different right-side monitor, different mousepad, and, most importantly, different desk!  Then of course, the content on the screens depicted events that had occurred seven years earlier at the time that the photo was taken, and almost eleven years now.  And then the website looked different back then, too.  This was the last year of the 2008-2012 site design, which used the square pattern.  It’s photos like this that really make you think about how much things have changed, even when you don’t necessarily realize it as it’s going on.

This sign was located next to a tree in front of the Webster House condominium building on P Street NW in Dupont Circle, and was placed in the summer of 2011.  I had to walk past this sign every day when I worked at Food & Water Watch.  With this sign, one really had to question which was the bigger bother: dogs’ doing their business in this area, or this sign.  I’d argue that the sign is worse than the original problem.  Apparently someone agreed with me, because the sign was eventually removed.

A man with a briefcase
I spotted this guy on the Metro on October 18, 2011 while I was heading into work.  I remember thinking about how important looking that metal briefcase looked, and how he must have some important stuff in it.  Imagine my surprise to discover that the important stuff that he was carrying around in that metal briefcase was… his lunch.  I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say it was something of a letdown to see his lunch in there.

USPS 1, Food & Water Watch 0.  USPS 1, Food & Water Watch 0.
I was quite surprised one day to receive this in the mail along with a note from the post office.  Apparently, there was a battle between the USPS’s equipment and the Food & Water Watch bottle, and the post office clearly won.

Trogdor the Burninator, beefy arm and all.
On March 2, 2012, I found myself at the Brookstone store in Tysons Corner.  This overpriced trinket was an electronic tablet that you drew on with a special pen and then pressed a button to erase.  I tested it out with Trogdor from Homestar Runner, and I suppose it did well enough, for whatever that’s worth.

Back on May 15, 2012, I attempted to draw a cow.  Clearly, any connection between this drawing and a real cow requires a bit of imagination to make.  However, I at least hinted as to what it was supposed to be, with the little speech balloon that says “moo”.

This was a poster that I did for some sort of holiday thing at work, though what the exact purpose it was to serve is now lost to time.  It does, however, contain a very subtle easter egg for Today’s Special fans: the snowmen.  It is from the “Which snowman is different?” quiz from “Snow“.

So there are a few old photos of mine.  I hope you enjoyed them.  I might have to do this again next time I go digging around the archives.

]]> 0