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So… I’m buying a house!

November 5, 2017, 2:45 PM

You may recall back in May that I sort of casually mentioned that Pixsy money was helping me get ahead financially and eventually buy a house.  “Eventually” has since morphed into “very soon”.  So I might as well make it official: I am buying a townhome in Montgomery Village, and therefore, I will be leaving my apartment of ten years in Aspen Hill fairly soon.  I am just a ball of different emotions, being both excited and terrified all at the same time.  I’m also picking up a housemate, as Elyse will be living with me.

I have wanted to own my own home for about six years.  Back then, it was an “eventually” thing, and more of a fantasy than anything else.  While some of my coworkers at Food & Water Watch owned their own homes, almost all of those people were married or otherwise in a committed relationship.  As a single person, I could not afford to buy a house on a Food & Water Watch salary.  I also owed a bunch of money on my credit card due to several large repairs that I had to make on my old Sable station wagon, which certainly didn’t help things.  Then when I lost my job at Food & Water Watch, any thoughts of being a homeowner went right out the window for a while as I went into survival mode, having to live off of what should have been retirement money for a little while.  When I started working in public transportation, one of the instructors during bus training gave us some advice: “Get yourself some bricks.”  In other words, buy a house.  My financial situation was not where I wanted it to be yet in order to do that, but I knew that our instructor was right.

In the fall of 2015, I was in the financial position to start considering becoming a homeowner, and I was starting to “hit a wall” with my apartment, as I wanted to do things that I couldn’t do while renting, like paint the walls.  I had creative energies that I wanted to get out, but couldn’t expend them in my place.  So I started fantasizing about redecorating my parents’ house, where the decor is somewhat dated (“stuck in the nineties” is the phrase I would use).  Mom wasn’t very receptive to my ideas for redecorating, unfortunately, as she didn’t see any reason to redecorate.  I also wanted more living space, as it was always hard to have guests over with no spare room and only one bathroom.  Guests sleep in the living room, and so whenever I had visitors over, no one had much privacy.  Plus, with guests sleeping in the living room, bedtime for one basically meant bedtime for all, since no one could really move around without disturbing the other person.

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Categories: House, Montgomery Village

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 2012 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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No tire problems this time around…

October 25, 2017, 3:17 AM

On Tuesday, October 17, with Elyse and Aaron Stone in tow, I headed down to Ocean City for the day.  The plan was to do the Ocean City outing that I had wanted to do last year, but which had been significantly curtailed due to a slow tire leak that I had to get repaired en route.  Remembering that, I was very explicit about wanting to make as few stops as possible.  The only stops were restroom stops and a food stop, and we did well enough on time.  After all, the purpose of the trip was photography, and so I needed proper light in order to get it, and that meant making good time on the road.  Once I’m out of daylight, the photography is over, since I am currently without a functioning tripod, and therefore, my nighttime options are limited.

For those of you who are not familiar, Ocean City is one of those dumpy little coastal resort towns that has a very distinct operating season.  Outside of that season, the place is fairly quiet, as many businesses close for the off season, as do many of the hotels and attractions.  I was fine with this, because the off-season meant that there were fewer opportunities for people to get in the way of my shots, and those people who were out were easier to photograph.

The plan was that I would photograph along the boardwalk while Aaron and Elyse, both elevator enthusiasts, went out to ride various elevators.  We parked on 9th Street, and then once we got settled, I went south towards the fishing pier, and they went north to do some “elevator tourism”.

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Buses, fire trucks, ambulances, trains, and… moo cows?

October 19, 2017, 11:17 PM

This past Saturday, Elyse and I got together with our friend Dave, and we went to the Public Safety Open House held at the new Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy on Snouffer School Road near Montgomery Village.  Then we went out to Middletown and visited South Mountain Creamery, which is a dairy farm that sells products on site.

The Public Safety Open House event was a lot of fun.  There was a little bit of everything for us to see there.  We started out by looking at a row of Ride On buses.  Apparently, this facility is used to train Ride On operators, because there is, more or less, one or two of each type of bus that Ride On operates located at the facility.  We saw two Gillig hybrids, an Orion VII CNG, a New Flyer C40LF, and two Gillig 30-footers.

Ride On 5822, a New Flyer C40LF.
Ride On 5822, a New Flyer C40LF.  We all commented on how the one panel on the front was so faded.  No idea why.  I speculated at the time that it might be from the diagonal parking at the old Gaithersburg division’s causing sunlight to hit that corner more than others, but after thinking some more about it, while certainly plausible, I don’t know if I’d necessarily go with it now.

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Renting out eight rooms…

September 30, 2017, 12:29 AM

So apparently, I spoke too soon when it came to the closure of The Inn at Afton.  You may recall that last month, I announced the closure of The Inn at Afton, based on a sign that said that the lobby and hotel were closed.  Elyse and I went down that way again on Wednesday, and one of our stops was to see how The Inn at Afton looked in the daylight after finally going out of business for good.  Much to our surprise, we found that the place was open again.  We stopped into room 211, which was being used as the lobby, and had a chat with the lady working inside.  As it turns out, the hotel is barely operational, with only eight rooms, all on the parking lot side, in service.  None of the rooms on the other side, which has a tremendous view of the piedmont, are in service.  I’m told that the remaining rooms have been stripped, and a walk past some of the first-floor rooms that are not in service seems to confirm this.  That means that out of 118 total rooms, 110 of them are out of service, presumably for being uninhabitable.  That’s an availability of 6.7%.  For that few rooms, it hardly seems worthwhile to remain open, but apparently, they do, likely out of habit.

Meanwhile, the room being used as the lobby smelled strongly of mold, and had visible mold and water damage.  Definitely an unhealthy environment.  We might have stuck around for longer and chatted with the very nice lady working there, but the mold smell was too much.  I imagine that the rooms that are still in service are just as bad, if they are willing to let the room that they’re using as a lobby become so bad.  Thank heavens for Orbit “Bubblemint” gum.  It got the mold taste out of my mouth.

So apparently, and much to my surprise, just when we thought that the book had closed on the operational history of the vintage businesses on Afton Mountain, there’s more to the Afton story to be told.

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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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The other shoe finally dropped on Afton Mountain…

August 18, 2017, 1:25 AM

On Wednesday, I was on a day trip down to Stuarts Draft and such with a few people.  On the whole, it was a fun time.  On the way out, we swung by Afton Mountain in order to give a quick, five-minute tour of the abandoned motels up there.  One pass across the lower properties, then up and across the front of The Inn at Afton.  The Inn at Afton was a lot darker than I might have expected, and I spotted a sign on the window of room 213, which, as we discovered in April, was being used as the lobby.  This is the sign:

"HOTEL CLOSED. LOBBY CLOSED. WILL REOPEN AT A LATER TIME!"

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Categories: Afton Mountain

Going to show that you never know what you’ll find at the thrift store…

July 30, 2017, 2:39 AM

It’s amazing what you find sometimes when you hit the thrift store.  Case in point, at Unique Thrift Store/Value Village in Hillandale Shopping Center, Elyse and I found this:

Elyse holds a "Big Mavica" type camera

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A lovely little road trip to West Virginia and back…

July 23, 2017, 3:53 AM

This past Wednesday, Elyse, Aaron Stone, and I took a little road trip to Jefferson County, West Virginia.  There was some stuff for all of us, as Aaron wanted to see some stuff that Elyse and I had seen before, I wanted to see some stuff that I had spotted in some Instagram pix, plus wanted to get newer photos of some areas where I had been before.

But first, food.  We designed our trip to take us to Sunshine General Store, which is this little hole in the wall restaurant north of Brookeville, at the intersection of Georgia and New Hampshire Avenues.  Their hamburgers are to die for – thick and juicy.  However, you really have to know that they’re there, because at first glance, the place looks abandoned.

After we had our hamburgers, we headed over to Brighton Dam.  The intent was to get some new photos of the dam, but much to my surprise, a dam rehabilitation project was underway, and the park where you got the best views of the dam was closed in order to accommodate the construction work.  The level of Triadelphia Reservoir was much lower as well, presumably because of the dam project, and from the looks of the now-exposed land, it had been lower for quite a while:

Triadelphia Reservoir, with the lower water level.  Compare to the water level in April 2014.
Triadelphia Reservoir, with the lower water level.  Compare to the water level in April 2014.

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Taste testing some novelty sodas…

June 4, 2017, 2:30 PM

This past Thursday, Elyse and I finished up a round of taste tests on a bunch of novelty sodas that we bought at Rocket Fizz in Richmond back in March.  Recall from the second Journal entry about our Richmond trip:

The novelty sodas that I got in March

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Categories: Food and drink, Richmond

A trip to the pinball museum…

May 29, 2017, 10:08 AM

On Tuesday, May 23, Elyse and I, along with mutual friend Brian, went up to Asbury Park, New Jersey for the day.  Our goal was to go to the Silverball Museum, which is a vintage arcade on the Asbury Park boardwalk.

We left in the 10:00 hour, and headed up via the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I-295, and I-195, with a stop for lunch at Maryland House.  On the way up I-295, imagine Elyse and Brian’s surprise when I said, “I think I left my hat at Maryland House,” in that oh, crap sort of way.  Elyse suggested turning around to get it, but we were too far afield to do that.  To turn around would be tantamount to cancelling our trip to return to Harford County, Maryland, just north of Baltimore.  So we continued on, hatless.  After all, we would pass Maryland House coming home, so we could see if it was still there at that time.  I know what I did – I set my hat down on the table next to me when we were having lunch, and I walked off without it.

Arriving in Asbury Park, we located the pinball museum, but first, I wanted to check out a place from my childhood that I had missed during my 2013 trip: Asbury Youth Center, which was a children’s clothing store run by my Uncle Skippy.  I remember Uncle Skippy, and remember his being pretty awesome.  Many of the outfits that you saw me in on the Childhood Days page, such as this one came from Uncle Skippy’s store.  The store closed in the late 1980s when Uncle Skippy retired, and I hadn’t been back there since.  So a quick Google search revealed the address to be 660 Cookman Avenue, and it was off to the races.  This is what the building that housed Uncle Skippy’s store looks like today:

The location of Uncle Skippy's store, now a restaurant called "Taka"

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Red Line to Grosvenor…

May 17, 2017, 11:52 PM

You may be aware that in February, Metro began retiring the Breda 4000-Series railcars, starting with 4054 and 4055.  While most of the retired cars will likely be sold for scrap, not all of them will.  When 4089 was retired, it was cut up and converted into vendor kiosks, intended for use at Grosvenor-Strathmore station.  Today was the first day of this pop-up market, which will run at least through the end of June, and eventually be incorporated into a new development at Grosvenor station.

So Elyse, Elyse’s father Joe, and I gave it a look.  The car is cut up into different sections, with the various sections arranged around the station entrance.  Here’s an overview of one side of the setup:

Overview of one side of the setup

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Categories: Elyse, Montgomery County, WMATA

Seeing where Schumin Web lives…

April 27, 2017, 10:24 AM

On Tuesday, Elyse and I took a big loop trip through Virginia and Maryland.  We started at my house, went up through Frederick (where we had a late lunch at Sheetz), then took US 15 over the Point of Rocks Bridge into Virginia, where we went through Ashburn, and then down into Manassas, and from there, back home via the Beltway.  The plan was to see Manassas Mall, which we both realized that we had never actually been to.

As it turned out, Manassas Mall wasn’t that exciting.  It was a fairly generic one-story suburban shopping mall that contained fairly typical mall stores and a Walmart store, plus it contained an indoor go-kart track, as well as a place called Uptown Alley, which contained an arcade, bowling alley, and laser tag, as well as a restaurant.  Other than the entertainment venues, it was more or less as expected.

However, more interesting than Manassas Mall was a side trip that we made on the way down.  You may recall that, since 2007, Schumin Web has been hosted with DreamHost.  In 2012, DreamHost began operating in a data center in Ashburn, Virginia, and my site was one of many to get moved there.  It makes enough sense, since Schumin Web is based in the eastern US, and the largest segment of my viewership is also in the eastern US.  I remember getting a big boost in speed when the site started serving from Ashburn rather than Los Angeles, which made site maintenance that much easier.  With the site hosted in Northern Virginia, it wasn’t a large leap to imagine a trip to go see where the building that it was housed in was.

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Categories: Schumin Web meta, Virginia

Just when you thought that the mountain couldn’t look any worse than it already did…

April 16, 2017, 5:37 PM

On Tuesday, April 11, I got together with Elyse and Melissa, and we headed down to Virginia for the day.  The plan was to get together with my parents, plus visit Afton Mountain and downtown Staunton.

We left the house at 9:30, and took US 29 down to Charlottesville.  First stop was Moe’s Original Bar B Que, where we had lunch with my father.  Fun time, and my father seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to finding good barbecue.  Every barbecue place that Dad has taken me to has been wonderful, and this was no exception.

From here, we took US 250 across to Afton Mountain.  There, we went to the second overlook, i.e. the Rockfish Valley Parking Overlook, to get some views.  I tend to avoid Afton Overlook, the first overlook, after being propositioned for sex there one night back in 2005.  The second overlook, which is a mile and some change further down the road, tends to attract fewer undesirables.  I suppose it’s because it’s further away from civilization than the first one, which is a minute’s drive from the freeway.  In any case, the view is awesome:

View from Rockfish Valley Parking Overlook

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Soda, toys, and a Kroger like no other…

April 6, 2017, 2:07 PM

So, as promised, here’s the rest of the trip to Richmond that Elyse and I made.

After leaving the Science Museum, we headed over to Carytown.  Elyse wanted me to see Rocket Fizz, which is where she got some bottles of “Stalinade”, a strawberry-flavored soda that, as I said on Instagram at the time, was “Communism in a glass.  Definitely tastes the way that I would expect communism to taste: red.”  They have a very large selection of unique sodas, and some with novelty flavors, and some with novelty names.  I ended up buying a six-pack of novelty flavors.  Here was the take:

Sweet corn, ranch dressing, butter, San Francisco fog, grass, and bacon with maple syrup.

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