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A trip to New Jersey with Elyse and Woomy…

August 14, 2022, 7:57 PM

On Thursday, July 28, Elyse and I took a trip up to New Jersey.  The main purpose of the trip was to visit the Scrub Daddy headquarters in Pennsauken, where the company has a retail store.  Then we built a day around this in order to justify the trip.  We were no stranger to Scrub Daddy by any means, as we had previously stopped by their facility on the last day of our Atlantic City trip back in January, just to see where it was.  I remember how excited Elyse was during that visit to Scrub Daddy’s headquarters, and on that occasion, we just photographed the outside of the building, since the retail store wasn’t ready yet.  I could only imagine how excited Elyse would be going in and actually seeing the place.

We left the house around 10:00 AM, and got as far as Delaware House by noon.  This was to be our potty stop on the way up.  Elyse noticed an Edwards Integrity on the outside of the facility, and got some photos of it:

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A day up in Pennsylvania…

July 22, 2022, 8:30 AM

On July 15, Elyse and I went up to Pennsylvania to photograph a very specific target: the western portal of the Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel, which is one of four tunnels on the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike.  I’ve been wanting to photograph a Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel for a while, but distance plus operational challenges caused this to be back-burnered for a long time.

My first thought was to photograph the tunnels the old fashioned way: on the turnpike itself, from a vehicle.  I did this on my shoot from 16 years ago where I photographed Breezewood and then did the turnpike to Carlisle.  I do not recommend that anyone do this, at least not the way that I did, because I was driving with one hand and photographing with the other.  At the relatively young age of 24, though, I thought that I was good enough to handle it, but looking back, I’m fortunate that nothing went wrong.  If I had someone else with me doing the driving, this would have been a better option, but I didn’t have one.  Of course, even then, you really only have one shot at it.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a toll road, and a relatively expensive one at that, plus the exits are spaced fairly far apart.  Thus, in the case of Kittatinny Mountain (and the adjacent tunnel through Blue Mountain), having to go back to take another crack at it would require about 25 miles of extra driving, considering that the exits on either side are spaced about 12 miles apart, plus the distance to actually turn around at both ends.  Plus extra tolls and the fuel to do that round trip.  Pulling over and shooting some photos from the roadside is also not a viable option, because as I understand it, the PTC does not look favorably on that.  General rule of thumb is that outside of the service plazas, the PTC does not want you outside of your vehicle on their property at any time except if you absolutely have to, and will come check on you if you are outside somewhere that you’re not supposed to be.  So that led me to do some research on Google Maps in order see if there were off-turnpike places to photograph any of the tunnels.  Allegheny Mountain is too far west, being more than halfway to Pittsburgh, plus there’s no off-turnpike access.  Tuscarora also had no access.  No access at Blue Mountain, either.  But at Kittatinny Mountain, Route 641 goes over the turnpike just west of the tunnel portals.  Therefore, we have a winner.

Finding that, I then turned to Elyse and basically said, “Help me justify this outing by building a day,” and sent along a map of my target and the intended route there.  That’s how so many of our adventures happen: there’s something that one of us wants to do, but we can’t justify the time commitment or expense of a trip for it it all by itself.  So we add more stuff and make it into a full-on adventure that typically gets us home around midnight.  Elyse wanted to see a siren and some other stuff in Shippensburg and Chambersburg, so there was the rest of our adventure.

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No more cutesy safety messages?

January 7, 2021, 5:18 PM

On January 4, 2021, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a ruling providing “an official interpretation of the provisions of the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) related to changeable message sign messaging”.  In a nutshell, this ruling bans all of those cutesy safety messages that highway departments love putting on those overhead message signs, such as this one:

"Wear shamrocks, not handcuffs. Drive sober."

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Categories: Roads

Apparently, this happens to me once a decade…

September 20, 2020, 2:32 PM

Saturday night’s drive home was definitely a more eventful one than I would have preferred.  Driving home from work (I currently work out of a division in Virginia), I tend to take Route 267 to the Beltway to I-270 and then to Route 355 (i.e. Rockville Pike) on my way north to Montgomery Village.  The details in MoCo tend to vary depending on my mood.  Sometimes I take 270 all the way to Shady Grove and cut over there, and sometimes I get off lower down and do more travel on Rockville Pike.  Saturday night was the latter, where I got off on Democracy Boulevard and took Rockville Pike all the way from North Bethesda to Gaithersburg.

At the intersection with First Street (the one with the CVS and the Wendy’s with the glass sign), I was sitting at a red light in the middle lane, and I saw a car run the red light at a high rate of speed in the right lane.  They were going quickly enough that I could feel their wake as they went by (and I felt them before I saw them).  Then a few seconds later, just as the light turned green, a Maryland state trooper went past me, again at a high rate of speed, with lights off, to my left.  I kind of assumed that they were related, and that I would see the trooper pull the other vehicle over at some point on my way home.  So I had my eyes peeled, as I expected to see blue lights at some point.

Then, just before the intersection with Mannakee Street, a deer darted out in front of me, and with not enough space to swerve to avoid and not enough distance to stop, we made contact.  I remember screaming as we hit, and I saw the deer sort of stagger away.  I stopped the car immediately, right there in the center lane.  I got out, looked at the front of the car, and saw a brand new hole where the grille used to be, pieces of the front of the car sticking out of the front, as well as bits and pieces of the Honda logo on the road.  Then, realizing that the engine was still running, and seeing nothing dripping out from underneath, I moved the car to the parking lot of Cameron’s Seafood, and after letting Elyse know that I would be delayed, called 911 to report the accident.  Surprisingly, 911 told me that for a deer strike, they weren’t going to send an officer to take a report, and just to follow up with the insurance.

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Categories: Driving, Honda HR-V, Rockville

Drive carefully, everyone…

May 17, 2020, 12:21 AM

You may have noticed the photo feature that is currently running on the front of the site depicts a vehicle on its side following its being involved in an accident.  First of all, before you ask: we were not involved in this accident.  Elyse and I saw a car with a bashed in front in the middle of the road and a second car on its side at the intersection of Montgomery Village Avenue and Lost Knife Road while we were on the way home from dropping off a package at a UPS locker, and, seeing no emergency vehicles around, stopped and called it into 911.  Thankfully, no one appeared to be seriously hurt, as both drivers were able to walk away from their respective vehicles.  However, I suspect that the driver of the smashed car hit her head on the windshield, as there was damage to the windshield consistent with that sort of impact.  Additionally, both drivers did ultimately leave the scene in ambulances, presumably to get checked out.

Once we were finished talking with 911, we got some photos of the scene.  Here are some of mine:


The overturned vehicle, an Acura MDX.  The driver had not yet turned the car off when this photo was taken.

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No, this is not the solution to kids’ getting run over…

November 4, 2018, 2:59 PM

Last night, Elyse shared a photo with me from Facebook depicting a school bus making a stop way out in the middle of the road:


Photo: Dana Shifflett Farrar

The photo was captioned, “With the string of school bus accidents, I loved how this bus driver intentionally placed itself [sic] in the middle this morning.  At first I wondered what they were doing, then I realized the kids had to cross the road.  Well done, sir.”  I don’t know where this specific location is, but considering that the person who posted it is from Shenandoah, Virginia, this likely depicts a location in Shenandoah County, Virginia, and as such is most likely a Shenandoah County school bus.  This was likely done in reaction to recent news stories where children have been injured while going to school.

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Categories: Driving, Honda HR-V, School

Please don’t stop for me when I’m waiting to cross the street…

August 25, 2018, 1:51 PM

On Thursday, while I was waiting for a bus, I witnessed a near accident involving a pedestrian at a crosswalk on Layhill Road near Glenfield Local Park in the Glenmont area of Montgomery County.  In other words, this location, seen from approximately my vantage point:

Layhill Road and Saddlebrook Park
Image: Google Street View

This view is facing approximately south, putting the northbound lanes on the left and the southbound lanes on the right.  There is a median in the middle of the road.  Southbound traffic has a turnout for traffic making left turns into the park police station (entrance visible at left).  There are wide bike lanes on either side of the road.  There is also a Metro facility entrance at this location (out of frame to the right).  This intersection is not a big one by any means.  There are no signals.  Ride On has a bus stop on either side of the road at this location.

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Categories: Roads, Silver Spring

A walk down an abandoned road…

May 24, 2018, 5:40 AM

On May 17, 2018, I took a solo trip up to Centralia, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, Centralia is something of a modern ghost town, having gradually been abandoned due to a coal mine fire that’s been burning uncontrolled beneath the town since 1962, likely caused by deliberate burning of trash in the town’s landfill, which was on top of a former strip mine.  As of 2013, the town had only seven residents remaining, and when those remaining residents pass on or otherwise leave the town, their properties will be seized via eminent domain.

I had done some research about the site, but was a bit iffy on whether it was going to be good or not.  I was concerned about its being a bust, but it was still intriguing enough to make the trip.  And as it turned out, it was pretty cool.  The biggest “attraction” at Centralia is an abandoned section of road known as the “Graffiti Highway”.  That road came about when Pennsylvania Route 61 began having subsidence and visibility issues due to the coal mine fire.  The state built a new alignment for the route on more stable ground in 1993, and the old alignment was abandoned.  Since then, many people have come by and left graffiti tags on the road, which gave the road its nickname.  Besides the road, there are also several cemeteries in Centralia, as well as one remaining active church, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

When I went up, I wasn’t quite sure how it would work out.  Based on my research, as well as a little Google sightseeing, there were the roads of the former town surrounded by empty land and a few houses, and the possibility of seeing steam from the mine fire rising from the ground.  The Graffiti Highway was most intriguing.  I’d heard mixed reports about how accessible the Graffiti Highway was, though.  When it was still under state ownership, my understanding was that police tended to chase people away on a routine basis.  I didn’t want to travel that far just to get chased out.  But last fall, the state vacated their easement, i.e. they gave up the right of way, determining that it will never again be used for a road, and ownership of the land reverted back to adjacent property owners.  So I believe that the old road is now on privately owned land, and as such, the heavy enforcement went away now that the state no longer owns the land.  In any case, no one bothered me on my visit.

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I’m not even going to try to recall how many times I made Elyse cross the street…

October 31, 2017, 2:30 PM

Here’s some “new old stock” for you.  Back in March 2016, I had the idea of writing about a fatal pedestrian accident that happened in December 2015 at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road (MD 586) and the Matthew Henson Trail in Rockville.  It was an area that I was very familiar with, as one of the routes that I did on the bus went through this area.  I did the field work for that planned Journal entry, photographing the area in question, as well as a few other pedestrian control devices in Montgomery County, in order to have a discussion similar to the one I did in March 2013 about an intersection on Georgia Avenue.  Unfortunately, however, life got in the way, as I got a promotion at work, and the several-months-long training program that came with that promotion took precedence over the planned Journal entry.  The post eventually got shelved, and now it’s a moot point, as the intersection was initially upgraded with yellow warning signals directly over the crossing (vs. 500 feet ahead of it as before), and then after a second fatal accident in the same location, the crossing was upgraded again with signals that actually require traffic to stop vs. only warning drivers of the presence of pedestrians.

I was always a bit disappointed that an entire afternoon’s work never got used.  Like the Breezewood photo shoot in 2006, evidence of the shoot showed up fairly soon after the work was done – in this case, a single photo feature – but the intended final product never got made.  In hindsight, I’m not too worried about it, because what I would have advocated for in the intended Journal entry came to pass, though I wish that it hadn’t happened as a result of a second fatal accident.

The shoot itself was pretty fun.  I brought Elyse with me, and we made a good team.  The way we did it was that I set the camera up on my tripod and pointed it at whatever I needed, started filming, and then signaled to Elyse to activate the signal.  She then crossed the street, in order to give some legitimacy to the signal activation.  After all, I knew that I was stopping traffic on some fairly busy roads for a photo shoot.  I had Elyse cross the street so that I didn’t look like a complete dick, stopping traffic for no reason.  Someone needed to cross the street, so that it didn’t look like I was stopping traffic just to film the signals.  I imagine that Elyse probably did about a mile going back and forth across several intersections in Montgomery County and DC.  After all, every single take (and I did multiple takes) required activating a signal, and that meant sending Elyse across the street

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I definitely didn’t expect to go to New York City on Wednesday…

August 25, 2017, 12:30 PM

Wednesday, August 23 had been planned as a road trip day for quite some time.  Elyse turned 21 two days prior, and this was my birthday present to her, going on a trip up to Asbury Park, New Jersey to visit the Silverball Museum, a pinball arcade on the boardwalk.  We previously visited this facility in May.  Then the plan was to go up to Menlo Park Mall in Edison to go to Rainforest Cafe, where we were having dinner, and I was buying Elyse a drink.  The day that we ended up having was a lot of fun, but definitely more expansive than I had originally planned.

We left the house around 11:00, with Asbury Park as our destination.  We made a quick stop at Maryland House, and then a White Castle in Howell Township:

White Castle in Howell Township

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A “lost” photo set of sorts…

November 6, 2016, 10:10 AM

In doing the writing for an upcoming photo set for Life and Times about a trip that Elyse and I recently made to Pittsburgh [update: photo set published in January 2017], I quickly realized that much of the discussion about the trip up builds on a photo set that I shot in May 2006 with the intention of publishing in Photography, but that I ultimately never completed.

In this case, the subject of the “lost” photo set was Breezewood, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, when one travels to Pittsburgh from the DC area, one of the places that you go through is Breezewood, a settlement best known for a quarter-mile stretch of US 30 that carries Interstate 70 traffic to the Pennsylvania Turnpike – a stretch of road that is loaded with gas stations and motels and restaurants.  I first traveled through Breezewood in 2003 during the LPCM trip to Pittsburgh, and it piqued my interest – even more so when I later learned that there was an abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike nearby, including two tunnels.  I discussed a potential trip to Breezewood for a photo shoot in 2005, and then made a trip from Stuarts Draft to Breezewood – a three-hour drive each way – on May 2, 2006.  About the only bit of evidence of the trip on here was five photo features showing Breezewood, a short Journal entry with no photos, plus a few things here and there on Wikipedia and Panoramio, as was my practice at the time.  The intended Photography set, with the working title “Town of Motels”, was never made.  Kind of a shame that, for a trip that was that far away and entirely dedicated to photography, so little was actually published from it.

I’m pretty sure that I never published the set because I didn’t feel like the photos were up to par, even for the (lower) standards that I operated under at the time, and thus couldn’t find the inspiration to complete it.  Most of the photos had a yellow cast over them, and I clearly didn’t take enough time in composing my shots.  In hindsight, while I had fun doing the shoot, the idea was something of a loser.  After all, it was, for the most part, just a clustering of chain businesses along a unique stretch of highway.  The road configuration, created due to regulations in place at the time that precluded the use of federal funds to build direct connections to toll facilities, was what was unique, but that wasn’t the focus of my photography.  I focused mostly on the chain businesses themselves, which weren’t particularly unique.  The chain businesses looked a lot like “Anytown USA”, i.e. they were much the same as you would find anywhere.

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I have been to Pennsylvania a lot lately…

August 27, 2016, 6:27 AM

In the span of two weeks, Elyse and I went to Pennsylvania three different times.  We went to Hanover on the 8th, Harrisburg on the 11th, and then Harrisburg again on the 18th.  Two of the trips were to scout out some potential sites for photography, as well as get something out of our system from the earlier bus trip, and then one was to bring the bus back for my friend.

The first trip was to Hanover.  This was one of those “seeing America” kind of trips, about catching a shot of whatever we found interesting, as well as scouting locations for further attention with our SLR cameras when the weather was more accommodating (it was hot and humid out – yuck).  Elyse met me at my house, and then we left for Hanover via Westminster.  On the way up to Westminster, we both knew about a certain street off of Georgia Avenue in Carroll County near Eldersburg and Sykesville (yes, I refer to Route 97 as “Georgia Avenue” all the way up to Gettysburg), and had to get a photo of it with Elyse.  Check it out:

Elyse Court

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Nobody can rope a wheel like I can…

July 30, 2016, 10:52 AM

This past Thursday, Elyse and I went up to Harrisburg with another friend to help test drive a bus.  My friend had been searching for a bus to convert into an RV, and located a school bus as a potential candidate.  I was there because I had a CDL, and therefore could legally drive the bus, and knew what I was talking about when it came to looking the bus over and getting a feel for how it drove.  Considering that my work as of late has had me around rail vehicles rather than buses, I was excited, because I hadn’t driven a bus since April.

The bus was a 2007 Thomas Built HDX.  For those not familiar, that is a transit-style school bus, i.e. the kind with a flat front.  I definitely knew how to drive those, because transit buses have flat fronts, plus I first learned how to drive a bus on a Thomas Built MVP, which is an older version of this bus.  Only thing I did have to get used to with this bus was that the turn signal control was on the steering column, whereas on a transit bus, the turn signals are on the floor.  School buses should have them on the floor as well, for the same reason that they’re on the floor for transit: it allows you to keep both hands on the wheel at all times.  Clearly, whoever placed the stalk for the turn signals had never operated a bus before, because it did feel like something of an awkward reach to operate the turn signal.

I was worried that I might have lost some of my bus-handling skill in the three months that had passed since the last time I had operated a bus, but once I got a feel for the bus, no problem.  As I discovered after being out for six weeks for that broken foot, it’s just like riding a bike.  However, I did have to get used to the pedals on this bus.  Unlike every other bus that I had driven, where the accelerator and the brake pedals are attached to the floor, these were hung from above, like a car.  Go figure.  But once I got over that, no problem.

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Had never traveled a business Interstate before…

July 24, 2016, 8:55 PM

…and now I have.  Elyse and I made an impromptu road trip to York, Pennsylvania on Thursday, July 14.  We got together in Ellicott City, but didn’t know quite what we wanted to do, and so we ended up doing that.

However, our first stop was a completely unplanned one, in Catonsville.  There, the McDonald’s in 40 West Plaza recently closed, and was in the process of being vacated.  At the time that we came by, they had started roofing over the McDonald’s-style mansard, and removed the signage, and were packing stuff up inside.

Exterior, with new roof going on, covering the double mansard that the facility had when it was still in operation. Also note the McDonald's labelscar on the side of the building. Guessing that they paint the exterior in order to hide these labelscar markings.

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The speed van…

July 29, 2015, 9:04 PM

While I was out yesterday, I spotted this van parked on the side of Bonifant Road in Greater Silver Spring (Colesville) near the Trolley Museum and the Intercounty Connector bridge:

White Ford Transit Connect van with "Safe Speed" on the door

This is a white Ford Transit Connect van, with the “Montgomery County Safe Speed” logo on the driver’s side door.  This struck me as something that merited further investigation, because the county has been using Bonifant Road to raise revenue through speed enforcement for years.  I’ve seen police sitting on the road, and there have been fixed speed camera boxes in various places along this road over the years.

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Categories: Driving, Silver Spring