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The taming of the stroad?

December 1, 2022, 10:00 AM

About three weeks after the accident that claimed my HR-V, I read on The MoCo Show about another accident that occurred on the same stretch of road at Russell Avenue, a block away from where my accident happened, that looked very similar to mine.  Additionally, I remember an accident that occurred at the same intersection as mine in May 2020 that Elyse and I encountered while we were out and called in to 911.  Taken together, it tells me that Montgomery Village Avenue (MD 124) between Interstate 270 and Midcounty Highway is a poorly designed road that probably needs to be rethought and redesigned in order to increase safety along that stretch.

For those not familiar, Montgomery Village Avenue, along with quite a number of other roads in Montgomery County, is what is often referred to as a “stroad“.  Wikipedia defines a stroad as “a type of thoroughfare that is a mix between a street and a road”, and the word itself is a combination of the words “street” and “road”.  Basically, it’s a road that wants to function as a local city street and as a major highway all at once, and often fails at both roles.  These roads are typically designed for relatively high speeds, but their functioning as a city street with pedestrians and so many private accesses means that the posted speed limits are typically well below the road’s design speed.  Do you remember that Journal entry that I wrote in 2013 about people who were getting run over at bus stops in Montgomery County?  All of the streets in question were stroads.  Georgia Avenue in particular is the textbook definition of a stroad, being a six-lane divided highway with private access, including single-family residential, directly off of the main road from Silver Spring to all the way to Olney.  The speed limit for much of that road is 35 mph from Silver Spring to Leisure World, with a posted speed of 25 mph through Wheaton.  I speak from experience from ten years’ time living just off of Georgia Avenue that it is very difficult to maintain that speed limit when traffic is moving well, and I often found myself exceeding the speed limit without realizing it and then having to slow down once I do notice.  That’s because the road is designed for much higher speeds than traffic is actually allowed to go, and people tend to drive in a way that befits the road design, especially during off hours.  They say that if you can speed on a road and not realize it, and not feel that your higher-than-allowed speed is actually dangerous, then the speed limit is too low for the design of the road.  In other words, the usual go-to argument of, “LoWeR aLl ThE sPeEd LiMiTs!” is a major non-starter for me, if because the speed limit was already too low for the design of the road, and people weren’t following it anyway, what’s the point of lowering it further?  They weren’t following it when it was 35, so what makes you think that they’re going to follow it at 25?  I also find the way that people are so quick to blame drivers 100% for accidents to be problematic, because the design of the road can also be a legitimate contributing factor to accidents, such as roads that are designed for much higher speeds than anyone probably ought to drive.  It’s kind of like how the “no u-turn” sign is often a symptom of poor road design, because with a better-designed road, you wouldn’t need signage that disallows obvious and mostly reasonable moves to get around the poor road design.

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A long-awaited resolution to a surprisingly contentious issue…

November 18, 2022, 10:00 AM

Sometimes, when it comes to elections, the ones that we lock onto most are little local issues.  For me, it was the courthouse issue in Augusta County, Virginia.  For those not familiar, Augusta County is the area where I grew up, and the courthouse is located in Staunton.  That means, due to all cities’ being independent from counties in Virginia, the Augusta County courthouse is technically located outside of the county (though that is not unique to Augusta County by any means).  As I understand it, for quite some time, Augusta County has been short on space for its courts, and has been looking to replace its courthouse with something bigger and more modern.  Then to add another wrinkle to this, the rest of the Augusta County government had moved out to nearby Verona, located just north of Staunton, long ago.  When we moved to the area in 1992, the Augusta County Government Center was a relatively new building in Verona, and since then, a regional jail has been built in Verona, the sheriff’s office moved to Verona, and the school system headquarters moved to Verona (though the schools moved from elsewhere in the county, not from Staunton).  The only thing left in Staunton was the courts.  The kicker there was that the location of the courthouse determined what town was the county seat, and moving the county seat required a referendum to be placed before the voters.  And as you know, voters can be an odd bunch.  Sometimes they perform the way you want or expect them to, but sometimes they don’t.  And generally speaking, some things will never pass by referendum.  If you’re raising taxes, for example, it will fail when taken to the voters, because in all fairness, who is going to vote to raise their own taxes?

The problem with the courthouse in Augusta County has been longstanding.  The Augusta County courthouse had fallen below state standards for court facilities some time ago, and because of that, the county had been given a “show cause” order to improve the courts.  County leaders also stated that they were unable to renovate their existing court facilities to meet current state standards.  Thus it was necessary to build a new courthouse.

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Walmart circa 2006…

November 15, 2022, 1:17 PM

Recently, a commenter on my post about the 2005 remodel of the Lexington Walmart remarked about the evolving interior of these stores.  They said, “It’s so interesting seeing as this company is a backbone of America, but people barely document the constantly evolving exterior and interior of a place that millions of people visit every day.”  It’s true.  Walmart looks very different now than it did ten years ago, which is also very different from the way that it looked ten years before that.  After all, ten years ago, in 2012, Walmart stores were mostly blue and yellow on the inside, as the Project Impact store design had been rolled out to most stores.  Ten years before that, in 2002, Walmart stores mostly used a lot of blue and red, and had white or gray walls.  What we think of when we think “Walmart” constantly is evolving.  In the early 1990s, they used fairly simple red signage for departments.  Then they switched to larger signage with patterns and photos on it.  Then there was the black decor, and Walmart’s switch soon after from red, gray, white, and blue to a brown color palette.  Then there was the era of the large wall signs, with small signs that looked like pylons scattered throughout the rest of the store.  Then there was a short-lived variation on that wall-signs package that incorporated the new logo.  Then there was Project Impact\, which was rolled out in a very concerted effort chainwide, and really made use of the new logo on everything.  Project Impact was surprisingly long-lived, with some stores’ being remodeled to the design twice.  Then there was another design that we called “Black 2.0” which was fairly minimalistic, and now uses a much warmer color palette and lots of signage.

All of this serves as something of a reminder that what was considered cutting edge one day is considered vintage or otherwise outdated later on.  Back in 2006, when I still worked at Walmart, the company had announced their newest store prototype, which had a completely different signage package than my store had, and looked quite flashy for the time, and represented the latest attempt by Walmart, a pretty lowbrow company, to try to convince people that it’s highbrow.  I later learned that the Walmart in Culpeper was being remodeled, and was getting this new store design.  So on Sunday, September 17, a day that I was off of work from my own store, I headed up to Culpeper to see what it looked like and document it, because I’m a bit of a nerd like that.

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Categories: Virginia, Walmart

And the outer walls begin to fall…

November 3, 2022, 8:09 AM

On October 26, Elyse and I took a one-day trip down to Augusta County in order to change to the “permanent temporary solution” for my car problem, i.e. Mom’s Scion xB, following the HR-V’s untimely demise in an accident two and a half weeks prior.  I don’t necessarily like doing these sorts of trips in a single day because it’s a lot of driving and I’m not 25 anymore, but that’s all I had time for based on my schedule.  I also couldn’t really postpone this trip, because things were going to get a bit more expensive for me if I didn’t do this trip when I did.  For those not familiar, when you have Progressive for your insurance and your car is totaled, your rental coverage ends three days after you are notified of your car’s total loss.  That notification occurred while Elyse and I were on a weeklong trip to Tennessee, and so Progressive, taking my length of time as a customer (18 years!) into consideration, they extended my coverage until the day after we got back from our trip.  Then Enterprise Rent-A-Car would let me pay the insurance rate for my rental for another week beyond that, after which I would have to pay the (much higher) retail rate.  My original plan was to switch cars on the way back home, returning the rental car in Staunton, and then doing the last leg of the return trip in Mom’s car.  As the trip continued on, though, I soon realized that we would be cutting it far too close with that plan, considering that it was also our Roanoke day, so I opted to postpone the car swap by a week and do the visit with my parents on the way home as we had planned to do it prior to the accident, i.e. it would just be a visit.  So the primary focus of this trip was just to swap cars, on the day that the retail rate would have gone into effect, i.e. if you don’t return this car right now, you will be paying a lot more for it going forward.  The addition of this new trip down also changed the plans for the last day of the Tennessee trip.  Since there would now be an extra trip down to Staunton, I skipped a Staunton Mall update that I had planned for the return trip to save time, since I would be going right there the following week.

For this particular Staunton Mall visit, noting the pace of the progress that I had observed in June, August, and September, I already had a decent idea about what to expect.  I figured that by my next visit, the remainder of the mall’s interior would be gone, and they would probably then start working on demolishing the exterior walls, which had remained mostly intact up to this point, which meant that Staunton Mall still largely looked like Staunton Mall from the road during most of the demolition up to that point.  I also knew that I didn’t have much time on site this time around, and that the demolition crew would more than likely be on the property.  Therefore, this was to be a high-level visit solely by drone, flown from well above the property where I could see my vehicle around the entire mall without having to reposition myself, and staying well clear of the demolition crew, since I didn’t want to get in their way at all, and I also didn’t have any time to discuss any special access with them, as I did in September to photograph what remained of the mall’s interior.  All of that said, I made a quick ten-minute flight where I flew from the Orchard Hill Square shopping center across the street, and made a pass across the front of the mall, looped around the entire property, and then dipped down near the Belk entrance where there were no workers present for a momentary peek at that area before returning to the launch site.

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May the HR-V rest in peace…

October 20, 2022, 8:32 AM

In the early morning on October 9, I was involved in a car accident on the way home from work.  At the intersection of Montgomery Village Avenue and Christopher Avenue/Lost Knife Road in Gaithersburg, the driver of a red Nissan Pathfinder on Christopher Avenue ran a red light at what appeared to be full speed as I was going through the intersection, and despite my slamming on the brakes, there just wasn’t enough space to stop in order to avoid a collision.  As a result, my car got T-boned on the left side on the front fender and the driver’s door, with enough force to deploy the side curtain airbags and knock my car about 150 feet before it came to rest next to a curb.

After the impact, I remember that I was sitting in the car and noticed that the airbags had gone off, and also noticed that the windshield was shatered at the bottom left.  Then I remember hearing a male voice telling me that I needed to get out of the car.  I quickly realized that would probably be a good idea, because considering that the car had just gone through a pretty hard collision, for all I knew, it might be on fire.  I tried to open my door, but I couldn’t get it open, so I ended up climbing out through the passenger side door.  I was quite shaken, I was bleeding above my left eye, my left knee felt sore like it had been scraped, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses anymore for some reason, but nonetheless, I had managed to walk away from it.  Then I saw the person who had been telling me that I needed to get out of the car.  It was a gentleman wearing black eye makeup (kind of like what the band Kiss does) from an event that he had been at earlier from who was also an EMT, and who had witnessed the entire thing.  He also quickly told me that the accident was absolutely not my fault, which I appreciated hearing.  There was also a woman present who had witnessed the accident, who also agreed that I was not at fault.  One of them must have also called 911, because I certainly didn’t, but the police and EMS were there pretty quickly.

When EMS arrived, they quickly took care of me, wrapping some gauze around my head for the bleeding, and taking my blood pressure.  Yes, they took my blood pressure.  I’m standing on the side of the road next to my now-wrecked car, visibly shaking from the accident, and then the guy tells me that my blood pressure is “kind of high”, coming in at 172/116.  I did not need to be told that.  I’m usually pretty nice, but I just shot back, in a pretty sarcastic tone, “Gee, I wonder why.”  He removed the blood pressure cuff from my arm and went away.  Yeah, I just survived a pretty major car accident, got hit by an airbag, had to crawl out the other side of my car, was bleeding from my head, had no glasses, and was shaking.  My blood pressure is high?  No kidding.  I would have been more surprised if it was 120/80 right then rather than some astronomical amount.  I refused transport, feeling that it was unnecessary.  Then the cops got my information, and took my statement.  I also let Elyse know what had happened, and she quickly got an Uber to take her to the scene.

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A little adventure in Virginia, mostly in the woods…

October 6, 2022, 8:06 AM

From September 13-15, Elyse and I had a little weekend adventure in Virginia, where we went down to Augusta County stayed in Staunton like we usually do.  This one was a little different than most because it was partly a solo adventure.  Prior to this trip, Elyse had been down in Roanoke attending to business related to a nonprofit that she volunteers with, so she traveled up from there on Amtrak, and we met up in Charlottesville.  My original plan was to go the easterly route down, taking I-95 to Fredericksburg and then taking Route 3, Route 20, US 15, and a few other routes that would take me through Locust Grove, Orange, and Gordonsville.  However, at the last minute, I had a change of heart, deciding that (A) I didn’t feel like wading through traffic on the Beltway or 95, (B) that easterly track would get me to Charlottesville far too early, meaning that I would have to kill time before Elyse would arrive, and (C) I had ideas that necessitated taking other routes.  So I took the westernmost route, which primarily utilizes I-81, and took the “alternate” version of that, which goes through Harpers Ferry and Charles Town in West Virginia via US 340, and then taking Route 7 to meet I-81 in Winchester.  Yes, I’m going north to head south, but the distance and time for going out to Harpers Ferry is almost the same as it is to go through Northern Virginia on I-66, so it works.

My first point of interest was a relatively obscure sign in the middle of a field in Verona:


Image: Google Street View

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A question about what is okay to critique…

September 19, 2022, 12:04 PM

This is something that happened back in November of last year, and it’s something that I still question because it leaves something unsettled that I had previously considered to not be a question at all.  My understanding was, when it comes to a person’s appearance, the only things that are okay to to critique are hair and clothing, because those are choices that the person made, and that they can readily change.  That comes with a lot of caveats, though.  You don’t critique things about hair if it’s something that they can’t change, like baldness, though anything that they can still change is fair game.  Likewise, with clothing, you wouldn’t criticize the fashion choices of someone who clearly can’t afford anything else.

So, with that said, here’s why I ask.  Last year, I was off on Black Friday, and Elyse had planned an adventure for us on that day.  She planned a shopping adventure that day, and she wanted to go out and check out the “doorbuster” events.  Me, having spent four Christmases working in retail, I wanted nothing to do with any of it and would have preferred to just sleep in and work on the website or Flickr, but I wouldn’t have gotten a moment of peace if I stayed home – so out I went.  We chose to go to Annapolis so that I would have something to do, with the idea of my going out to Sandy Point State Park to fly the drone over the water while Elyse shopped.  Unfortunately, however, when I got to the park, I judged the wind to be far too strong to fly, so the drone never even came out of its carrier.  After sitting in the car for a while feeling annoyed about the circumstances, having driven out to the bay for nothing, I headed back to the mall, feeling somewhat defeated, and met back up with Elyse and joined her on her shopping adventure, because nothing was going up into the sky other than my frustration.

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Thirty years ago, we arrived…

September 5, 2022, 6:10 PM

August 31, 2022 marked 30 years from the day that my family came to Virginia, after having lived in Arkansas for the previous seven and a half years.  Thirty years is a little less than three quarters of my life thus far.  It just seems so weird to think about it that way.  But it really does mark the beginning of an era in my life, because unlike more recent moves, the move from Arkansas to Virginia was a clean separation, leaving a lot of elements of my life behind and starting new in Virginia, especially in those pre-Internet days, when there was no social media to keep in contact with everyone.  Additionally, having no family out there, I have not been back since we left.  The moves since then were not quite as clean of a break as the move from Arkansas was.  My 2007 move to Maryland was only me, and my parents stayed where they were.  Plus, as it’s only a few hours away, I can go down there almost any time I want, including down and back in the same day.  Then my 2017 move was local, so nothing else changed in my life other than the location of my house, and my commute to work.  I just upgraded my living situation, and that was it.

The move to Virginia was the culmination of something that was a long time coming.  My parents never really wanted to live in Arkansas to begin with, but it was a good career move for Dad with Scott Nonwovens, so they begrudgingly did it, and so we left New Jersey for Arkansas in February 1985.  I remember Mom’s mentioning a number of times early on about wanting to move back to New Jersey.  And in all fairness, that was understandable.  Dad had something to do in Rogers, as he was the one with the job.  Mom didn’t know anyone, and her primary role at that time was to take care of a newborn and a preschooler.  She had left everyone she knew when we left New Jersey, and it took a while to meet people and form new relationships, though that improved once Mom got a job at the Walton Life Fitness Center in Bentonville.  We also didn’t get along with our next door neighbors on one side, as their kids were out of control.  That ultimately led to something of a falling out.  We put slats in our existing fence on that side so that we wouldn’t have to see them when we were in the backyard, and they built an entirely new spite fence on their side so that they wouldn’t have to see us.  The neighbors on the other side were a retired couple, and they were awesome.

Meanwhile, the education situation in Rogers had really come to a head.  I had just completed fifth grade, which was my worst year from kindergarten through high school, without question, and that had followed third and fourth grade years that were pretty rough as well.  My parents had gone about as far as they could with the school system, and no one was looking forward to another year at Bonnie Grimes Elementary.  I was also hearing all kinds of rumblings at the time from my parents about changes afoot.  One was that we would not be returning to Grimes Elementary again, and I was also hearing things about moving, which made me think that something big and life-changing was coming, but nothing concrete as of yet.  It had been rumored that Scott had wanted to transfer my father to their corporate office in Philadelphia, and so it seemed like we would probably be moving back to New Jersey, as Mom had wanted all along.  I didn’t want to move, because unlike my parents, Rogers was pretty much all that I knew, and I was used to it.

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An afternoon looking at Legos…

August 21, 2022, 7:06 PM

On August 6, Elyse and I headed out to Chantilly for BrickFair, which is a Lego show held at the Dulles Expo Center.  This was my second time going to BrickFair, following my previous visit in 2018.  Like in 2018, I had fun, and I photographed a lot of Lego creations with my phone, while Elyse checked out all of the vendors.  I am always impressed with what I see at these events, because it puts whatever Lego creations that I made back in the day to shame.  My stuff was decent, and I always took pride in the way that I engineered things to work with the parts that I had available, but this stuff is worlds beyond anything that I ever did.

There was so much to see here, and while I got around to all of the tables, I definitely didn’t see everything there, because there was just that much to see, and we had only budgeted four hours.  Here are some of the highlights of what I saw:

The Chicago Theatre.
The Chicago Theatre.

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Categories: Events, Fairfax County

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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An unexpected Staunton Mall update…

August 13, 2022, 10:00 AM

On Thursday, August 11, 2022, I made what you might call an unexpected trip down to Augusta County.  Since the previous Sunday, Elyse had been down in Roanoke attending to some business related to a nonprofit that she is involved with, and was supposed to come back on Wednesday evening via Amtrak.  However, due to some heavy thunderstorms across Virginia that day, her Amtrak train was significantly delayed due to flooding and fallen trees, which meant that she only got as far as Charlottesville before delays on top of more delays meant that she would not arrive in Washington for many hours.  She ended up getting off the train in Charlottesville, and stayed overnight at my parents’ house.  That was a strange thing, with Elyse sending me photos from my old bedroom and all, while I was at home in Maryland.  Then since I was off on Thursday, I ended up coming down there to scoop her up and bring her home.  I figured that this was a good excuse for a road trip, so I gathered up my DSLR and my drone and hit the road.  We did a lot of stuff on this one-day trip, including spending quality time with the parents, but photographically, my main push was to get another update for Staunton Mall, after I had previously given an update in June.

Since my last visit, the mall has continued to be hollowed out.  When I visited in June, the interior walls were mostly demolished, with only the exterior walls remaining, from JCPenney to just past the Peebles.  From the end of Peebles to Montgomery Ward was where most of the demolition was occurring, as the roof was off of the mall corridor, while the stores were mostly still there.  The Wards building and the Belk wing were still mostly intact.  Now, the Wards building has been hollowed out to the exterior walls, as has the Belk wing up to the mall entrance next to Family Barber & Beauty.  I imagine that there is a reason behind the way that they’re doing this, demolishing the interior while leaving the exterior mostly intact until the end, but I don’t know what the reason is.

I followed the same process that I did before when it came to documenting the demolition of Staunton Mall.  I first drove around the property in order to figure out what was worth checking out, and then took the drone up for some flights near the areas that I wanted to photograph.  After all, why send my soft, vulnerable little body in there where things are unstable and could fall on me, when I can send a robot in my place and live vicariously through its eyes, while remaining in a place of safety at all times.  In this case, I parked in front of Boston Beanery to check out the south end of the mall, and then repositioned in front of Family Barber & Beauty to do the north end of the mall.

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Yes, I really did meet Andre the Giant back in 1991…

July 26, 2022, 7:42 PM

Back in the summer of 1991, my life was quite different than it is now.  We lived in Rogers, Arkansas back then, and I had just completed fourth grade.  My father worked as a quality manager for Scott Nonwovens (now part of Berry Global following a series of acquisitions over the years).  My mother worked as a fitness instructor at the Walton Life Fitness Center (WLFC) in Bentonville, i.e. Walmart’s corporate fitness center.  That job of Mom’s provided a lot of benefits for the entire family, as we all got access to the fitness center facility, of which we made good use.  We were there so much that the fitness center almost felt like a second home at times, what with my taking swimming and Taekwondo classes there, as well as a little fitness camp called “Kids Kamp” during the summers.

One of the benefits that came with the fitness center as far as Mom was concerned was the Walmart employee stock purchase program.  I participated in it when I worked for Walmart in the mid 2000s, and as far as I know, the company still has this program.  Basically, you elected to set aside a certain amount of money per paycheck, which was then used to purchase shares of Walmart stock in your name.  As such, you were afforded all of the rights and privileges that came with being a shareholder, such as voting on issues presented to the shareholders, as well as attending the annual shareholders’ meeting.  Back then, Walmart was a much smaller company than it is now, so much of the annual shareholders’ meeting occurred at their corporate headquarters in Bentonville.

One part of the Walmart shareholders’ meeting, at least at that time, was a trade show.  A bunch of companies that you’ve probably heard of if you’ve ever shopped at Walmart had booths set up and they were showing off all of their new offerings.  In 1991, this was held at the Walmart corporate office (in 1992, it was held in a former Walmart store nearby that they had recently vacated following a relocation).  Among various things that we saw there, I got to take a Super Nintendo for a spin and play Super Mario World for the first time at the Nintendo booth, about two and a half months before it was released to the public.  I remember being surprised to see so many different buttons on the controller (six compared to two on the original Nintendo), and seeing Mario do two different kinds of jumps, i.e. the spin jump and the regular jump.

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Categories: Arkansas, Childhood, Walmart

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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Saying goodbye to the Orion V…

July 5, 2022, 11:15 AM

On Friday, July 1, Elyse and I went on a transit adventure, going down to Alexandria to attend the ceremonial final trip of the DASH Orion buses.  For those not familiar, DASH is one of the local transit agencies in the DC region, serving Alexandria, Virginia alongside Metrobus.  The Orion V is a model of high-floor transit bus manufactured by Orion Bus Industries from 1989 to 2009.  Orion itself went out of business in 2013 when parent company Daimler mostly exited the bus market in North America (save for selling Setra motorcoaches), and New Flyer, another bus manufacturer, bought Orion’s aftermarket parts business.  Long story short, Orion has been gone for a while, and even the newest high-floor buses are now reaching retirement age.  DASH, meanwhile, had been operating Orion buses since its founding in 1984, initially operating the Orion I model, and later the Orion V.  So this event marked the close of an era in DASH’s history, as these were their last Orion buses in service.  DASH’s fleet now consists mostly of Gillig and New Flyer vehicles.  DASH was also the last agency in the region that still operated the Orion V in service, which closes a chapter in the DC region in general as well.  Metro and Fairfax Connector still operate the later Orion VII model in revenue service, but that is a low-floor bus, and is a very different design than the Orion V.

As far as the Orion V itself goes, that is a pretty solid bus.  Most agencies in the area operated them at some point or other.  I’ve photographed Orion Vs operated by Metro, Ride On, DASH, and Fairfax Connector.  I’ve operated Orion Vs plenty of times, and they’re a lot of fun once you get the hang of them.  I found them to be very difficult to handle as a new operator in a training environment because they were a bit bouncier than the low-floor buses, as well as more sensitive in the steering, but once I was out of training and operating on my own, I was able to get the hang of driving them, and had tons of fun with them, to the point where I looked forward to being assigned one.  If the number started with a “21”, I was a happy guy.  I especially liked to take them on runs that had big deadheading (running without passengers) segments – especially on the freeway.  I remember doing a run a few times where the last revenue trip ended up at Prince George’s Plaza station, and I had to deadhead from there all the way back to Rockville, where the bus division was located.  I would take East-West Highway (MD 410) over to Baltimore Avenue (US 1), and then take that up to the Beltway.  Taking an Orion V on the Beltway late at night was a lot of fun.  I just had to remember to limit my enjoyment to about 60 mph in order to keep myself out of trouble.  After all, our buses had DriveCams on them, and those puppies were sensitive.  I was delighted when I got to take an Orion V out for a spin again in 2018 when a friend who helped run a bus museum was visiting.  I got settled in that seat, and it felt like old times again, after I had not operated an Orion V in a little more than two years at that point – ever since I left the bus in order to do trains.  I took my friend, along with Elyse, on a proper adventure in that bus, going over a few routes from my time as a bus operator, and showing it off a little bit.  A good time was definitely had by all.

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Staunton Mall demolition update…

June 10, 2022, 3:15 PM

This past weekend, while Elyse and I were on a trip down to Staunton, we visited Staunton Mall in order to check up on it to see how its redevelopment was going.  You may recall that Staunton Mall had been on a long, slow decline before finally closing in December 2020I published a photo set about the mall based on my final visit, documenting as much about the mall as I could so that it could be remembered, and including older photos from years past.  My last update was from July, and covered the fencing off of the mall building (sans Belk, which remains open), and asbestos abatement in some of the anchor spaces.

Now, demolition has begun in earnest, and a little more than half of the mall is gone.  Interestingly enough, the mall is being demolished from the inside out, as the interior walls and roof have, in large part, been demolished, but the exterior walls, as well as the spaces closest to those exterior walls, are mostly still intact and recognizable.  I have no idea why they’re doing it this way.  I would have expected the exterior walls to come down along with the rest of everything, as they’re clearly working from south to north.  The JCPenney end of the mall is mostly gone except for the exterior walls, while the section between the food court and Wards is only partly demolished, and the 1980s expansion is, for the most part, still intact.  And, of course, Belk remains open for business.

We visited the mall twice: once for Elyse, and once for me.  In Elyse’s case, she was going for something very specific: the panel in the elevator at the JCPenney store.  For those not familiar, Staunton Mall was a one-level facility, however, the JCPenney store had a very small upper level on the west side of the building, which housed the store’s administrative offices.  It’s why the front side of the store was so much taller than the rest.  Elyse rode this elevator for the first time in 2016, and again in 2020 just before the store closed.

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