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A few flights over Pennsylvania…

December 31, 2021, 11:13 PM

Just before Christmas, Elyse, Evan Stone, and I made a day trip up to Pennsylvania.  The goal was to visit the Lancaster area.  Elyse left the house ahead of us and flew up to Lancaster via Southern Airways Express, while Evan and I went up by car and met up with her in Lancaster.  On the way up, Evan and I took our respective drones for a spin over Hanover, the Susquehanna River, and Lititz.  I have my DJI Air 2S, while Evan has the original DJI Mavic Pro.

The first flight was over downtown Hanover, and it was a solo flight for me.  Evan saw a building where he wanted to know what the elevator was, and I entertained myself with a drone flight.

The building in the center of this photograph is the building that Evan found interesting, that he went to check out.  I don't recognize the logo on the building, though.  Anyone recognize it?
The building in the center of this photograph is the building that Evan found interesting, that he went to check out.  I don’t recognize the logo on the building, though.  Anyone recognize it?

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A day out in parts of Virginia that we don’t normally visit…

December 14, 2021, 11:03 PM

From December 9-11, Elyse and I took a little weekend trip down to Staunton, Virginia, where we stayed at Hotel 24 South.  We call the place our little home away from home, as we always stay there when we do these trips every 2-3 months.  Typically, we do something simple on the first day after we get down there, have a full-day adventure on the middle day (the Staunton Mall photo set came out of one of these middle-day adventures), and then do a few things and go visit my parents on the last day before heading home.  It’s a good routine, and it’s a lot of fun.

This time around, our middle-day adventure took us down to Clifton Forge, Covington, and Roanoke.  I had not been to the Clifton Forge and Covington area since 2005, and Elyse had never been.  Roanoke wasn’t part of our original plan for the day, but as we had not been to Roanoke since 2018, we were probably due for another visit.  I had low expectations for the day, considering that the weather was expected to be cloudy (which means gray photos), but I got a few useful things out of the day.

Our first stop was the Howard Johnson’s on Route 11 north of Lexington.  I had first become aware of this place after seeing it on Highway Host, and so we decided to visit it again.  Elyse wanted to film the elevator, while I was more interested in the architecture.  My understanding of the history of this location is that it has always been a Howard Johnson’s ever since it opened in the 1970s, though the attached Howard Johnson’s restaurant later went independent under the name Hilltop Diner, and had closed entirely by 2004.

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Categories: Friends, Roanoke, Virginia, Woomy

Clearly, I know how to break a drone…

November 24, 2021, 2:54 PM

I haven’t mentioned it on here yet because it’s discussed in an upcoming photo set, but I got a new drone last month while I was on my trip to North Carolina and Hampton Roads.  My DJI Mavic Mini threw a propeller blade and crashed nearly 400 feet up in the air while I was photographing a shopping mall in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.  I was positioning the drone for my first shots of the mall, and then I noticed a “motor error” message and saw some uncommanded rotation.  Then I saw the view start to tumble, and the connection with the remote dropped.  I was soon able to reestablish contact, and found the drone on the ground, laying on its back in the grass about 500 feet away.  Here’s what it looked like when I picked it up:

The drone after falling from the sky

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What is the point where elected officials have killed their credibility?

November 18, 2021, 11:41 AM

Starting Saturday, November 20, Montgomery County, Maryland implements mask mandate number three.  This is based on rules that the Montgomery County council, sitting as the Board of Health, determined in August and October, where seven consecutive days of “substantial” COVID-19 transmission by CDC guidelines (50-100 cases per 100,000 people), based on raw case counts, automatically triggers an indoor mask mandate, and seven consecutive days of “moderate” COVID-19 transmission by CDC guidelines (fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people), again based on raw case counts, automatically rescinds an indoor mask mandate.  This continues until 85% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  The result of this auto-on, auto-off policy has been a yo-yo effect, where it’s masks one week and no masks the next.

For some history on this, the Montgomery County government first implemented a mask mandate in April 2020, not long before the governor issued a statewide mask mandate.  That mandate was rescinded in May 2021 when everyone else did after the CDC said that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks anymore.  When the county had reached a 50% vaccination rate, they abandoned their own COVID rules and began following the state’s guidance instead, which included no more masks and a full reopening of everything.  Then in August, after the CDC revised its guidance again, and the county council watched as case numbers went up, Montgomery County started implementing its own rules again separate from the state, and brought back the mask mandate.  The idea was that the mask mandate would last until there were seven consecutive days of “moderate” transmission, after which time it would automatically be rescinded.  This happened in late October, and the mask mandate was rescinded effective Thursday, October 28.

Right after this is where they started to shoot their credibility, and it demonstrates what is wrong with looking at raw case numbers as a metric for determining public policy.  On October 30, two days after the mandate was rescinded, they were already talking about reinstating the mask mandate, as they soon returned to “substantial” transmission territory, and announced a return to masks less than a week after they were rescinded, to be effective on Wednesday, November 3 (i.e. six days from rescission to reimplementation).

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The master at work…

November 14, 2021, 8:52 PM

Most of the time, when I’m doing photography, I only get to see the end result, which typically ends up on my Flickr page, along with other places.  It’s far less common for me to see candid shots of myself, just because I’m usually the one doing all of the photographing.  But when you go on a trip that is explicitly photography-oriented, and when everyone is shooting, I end up seeing some candid shots of myself.  Recently, from October 15-21, Elyse and I went on a trip to North Carolina and Hampton Roads, where we photographed a lot of stuff, some familiar, and some less familiar.  The parts of North Carolina that we visited were almost entirely new territory for both of us, while Hampton Roads was a more familiar setting.  In North Carolina, we got together with my friend Patrick, whom I’ve known for a very long time, and had a quick meetup with another friend who formerly lived in the DC area.  Then in Hampton Roads, we spent time with Aaron and Evan Stone.  I’m not going to go into too much detail about the trip itself right now, because I’m working on a much larger photo set about the adventure for the Life and Times section, so for all of the details, stay tuned, but it will be a while before it releases, because it’s going to be a big one.  In any case, some of these shots are posed, but a lot of them are candid.  If it tells you anything, when Elyse and I were reviewing them on the big screen in the living room, we put on “Yakety Sax” and laughed a lot.

In any case, here they are.  These shots were all taken by Elyse, unless otherwise noted.

Group selfie at the North Carolina welcome center on I-95 southbound.  From left to right, there's Elyse, Woomy, David (a clownfish), and me.
Group selfie at the North Carolina welcome center on I-95 southbound.  From left to right, there’s Elyse, Woomy, David (a clownfish), and me.

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Virginia governor’s race? Not at all surprised…

November 3, 2021, 4:17 PM

On the evening of November 3, I, like so many others, checked in on the various news websites to learn that Republican Glenn Youngkin had defeated Democrat and former governor Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial election.  I saw this result, and I was like… meh.  The pundits all said it would be close, and the results seem to bear that out, with Youngkin’s winning with 50.9%, McAuliffe’s coming in with 48.4%, with Princess Blanding, who was running on a “Liberation” ticket, taking the remaining 0.7%.  In any event, it seems like Youngkin did his homework and pulled it out.  It seemed like he had the better campaign overall, while McAuliffe tended to run on, “Hey, remember me?  I’m not Donald Trump.  I was also your governor back in 2014, and I’d love to have another go at it!”  In other words, while McAuliffe may have done his homework in 2013 and come out on top, the same can’t really be said for 2021.  I also did quite a bit of traveling through various areas of Virginia during the last few months of the campaign, and I saw way more campaign signs for Youngkin in my travels than I did McAuliffe signs, to the point where seeing a McAuliffe sign in my travels was noteworthy.

Terry McAuliffe’s win in 2013 was unusual because it broke the pattern of Virginia’s voting opposite of the president’s party.  Virginia, along with New Jersey, votes for its governor in what is called an “off-year election“, the year after the presidential election.  Since Barack Obama had been reelected president in 2012, by the usual Virginia pattern, Republican Ken Cuccinelli should have won.  I would suggest that people just didn’t want to vote for someone like Cuccinelli, because based on the public statements that I’d heard him make as attorney general, I had long come to the conclusion that he was nuts.

In any case, the pattern is well-established.  Looking through the list of governors of Virginia, the trend of voting opposite the president has been the case since 1977, when Republican John Dalton was elected governor while Democrat Jimmy Carter was in the White House.  That followed two other Republican governors that were elected following Nixon victories in the 1968 and 1972 presidential elections, which followed 80 straight years of Democratic control of the governor’s office.  Following Dalton’s tenure, there were three more Democratic governors, which corresponded with the Reagan and Bush presidencies.  Then there were two more Republicans that corresponded with the Clinton presidency, and then two more Democrats that corresponded with the George W. Bush presidency.  The pattern then continued in 2009 with a Republican for Obama’s first term, and then McAuliffe broke the pattern in 2013 during Obama’s second term.  After that, the governorship fell right back into the pattern, with a Democrat’s being elected in 2017 while Republican Donald Trump was in the White House.  And now the pattern continues, with a Democratic president in Joe Biden, and a Republican governor’s being elected in Virginia.

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Exploring the penthouse suite…

October 9, 2021, 10:00 AM

Since last October, whenever Elyse and I have traveled down to Augusta County, we’ve stayed at Hotel 24 South in downtown Staunton.  If you’ve followed this site over the years, you might recognize the place.  Under its original name, the Stonewall Jackson Hotel (the name was changed to Hotel 24 South in September 2020), I photographed the neon sign that used to be on the roof of the building back in 2007, and my sister had her wedding reception there back in 2010.  The building dates back to 1924, and was renovated and expanded to its current form in 2005, restoring its original use as a hotel after having served as an elder care facility for a time.

However, during the 2005 renovation, one section of the building was skipped over: the penthouse suite.  As I understand it, the penthouse suite was never available for rental to guests, but rather, was intended as the owner’s private residence.  I was made aware of the penthouse’s existence by some friends of mine, and we located the door to access the space on our December trip (the primary focus of that trip was paying last respects to Staunton Mall).  At that time, however, the entrance was locked, but we did learn that the penthouse space was excluded from the renovation due to lack of elevator access.  On our next visit, in March, they were doing maintenance work on one of the hotel’s elevators (a mechanical room for the elevators is also up there), and as such, the door was open.  So Elyse and I took a quick tour of the space before we went out for the day.

My impression of the space, based on the vintage architectural and decorative elements present there, is that it has not been used for anything resembling its intended purpose for a very long time, though it is not abandoned.  Rather, it appears that the current hotel management uses the space for storage.  The space does have modern ventilation, as evidenced by a modern air duct running through the hallway to the living room, and it did not smell old or musty.

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Categories: Staunton

Going to show that you never know what is going to produce the winning shots…

August 29, 2021, 6:30 PM

On Wednesday, August 25, Elyse and I got together with two friends of ours, Kyle and Pete, and we went up to the Ellicott City area, where we went on a hiking adventure.  We hiked up through the remains of what was once part of St. Mary’s College, and which has since become part of Patapsco Valley State Park.  The goal was to visit “Hell House”, which is the remains of a structure on the former campus.  Elyse was most familiar with this area, so she led the way.  The former campus contains the remains of a number of buildings, and we had a pretty fun time there overall.  Getting to Hell House was a bit of a challenge, considering that the path is not necessarily obvious and required climbing some steep slopes, but in the end, we made it there.

The hike itself wasn’t too photogenic, but we did see a few things:

This tree was growing through what I presume was once some kind of manhole.  It's also grown around the edge of the hole on one side.

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My first true railfan trip…

August 22, 2021, 10:14 AM

I recently came to the realization that it has been a little more than twenty years since my first true railfan trip on the DC Metro system, on July 28, 2001.  Mind you, I had ridden the system plenty of times before that, and I had photographed the system a few times prior to this, but this was my first time going in with the rail system itself as the destination, rather than as the means to an end.  I explored around in DC and Virginia, photographing stations, making recordings of the door chimes, and exploring new areas of the system that I had never been to before.  Back then, there was no Silver Line, the trains were still orange and ran in four and six-car consists, and they stopped in the center of the platforms rather than at the end like they do today.  I was using my original Mavica for the photos, which saved photos at 640×480 resolution onto 3½” floppy disks.  To record the door chimes, I used a boombox-style tape recorder and recorded it to a cassette.

As I recall, I started at Vienna, stopped off at Virginia Square, went down to L’Enfant Plaza, took the Yellow Line over the bridge to Virginia, got out at Pentagon, checked out the bus bays at Pentagon, briefly took an escalator up into the Pentagon from the station (and then turned around because I didn’t want to visit the Pentagon), went to Pentagon City, visited Pentagon City Mall, then headed to National Airport and Franconia-Springfield.  I stopped at Arlington Cemetery station, and then headed towards Vienna, stopping at East Falls Church and West Falls Church along the way.  Then I got back in the car and headed down to Woodbridge to visit Potomac Mills, where I was trying to get a new optical drive for my computer.  I didn’t find anything at Potomac Mills, but I did remember an optical drive that I had passed up earlier at the Babbage’s store at Pentagon City.  So after leaving Potomac Mills, I drove over to Franconia-Springfield and got back on the Metro, riding back up to Pentagon City and buying that optical drive.  I then stopped at Crystal City and King Street stations on the way back to Franconia-Springfield.

I had a number of firsts on that trip.  I rode between Pentagon City and Franconia-Springfield for the first time, and logged my first visits to Franconia-Springfield, King Street, Crystal City, Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, Virginia Square, East Falls Church, and West Falls Church.  I consider that a pretty good amount of new territory covered.

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Flights over Pennsylvania…

August 8, 2021, 9:00 PM

Back on July 20, Elyse and I made a trip up to Pennsylvania for a little photography.  This was one of those adventures where we had a specific mission that brought us out that way, but that mission was too small to justify the time and distance on its own, so we built a trip around it in order to justify the mission.  In this case, the main objective was to purchase some newly released cans of G Fuel (an energy drink) at a Sheetz that had them, and send them to Shock in order for him to do a review video.  Elyse called around ahead of time, and located the flavor in question at a Sheetz location in Gettysburg.  Then in order to justify the trip, I planned a route, adding some stops.  In this case, Sheetz in Gettysburg was a must, but then I added some stops in Waynesboro and Fairfield to the mix to round it out, creating a little arc across south-central Pennsylvania.  We were originally going to run it all the way out to Hanover, but decided to cut it off at Gettysburg in order to get home at a more reasonable hour.

Our first stop in Waynesboro was the Wayne Heights Mall.  This was by no means unfamiliar territory for us, as this was where the Gordmans that we photographed was located.  Gordmans has since closed, but it was a good flight target nonetheless.  Elyse liked it because she could visit Tractor Supply while I was flying.  So here we go:

Wayne Heights Mall in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

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A fence appears around Staunton Mall…

July 17, 2021, 8:44 AM

While Elyse and I were on that trip to Staunton that I discussed earlier, we stopped by Staunton Mall to check in on the progress there.  It would appear that the redevelopment plans for Staunton Mall are for real, because asbestos abatement appears to be happening in a few places, and a perimeter has been established around the building in preparation for demolition.  Recall that I declared Staunton Mall to be a dead mall back in 2009, but it took until 2020 for the mall to finally close.  That fence around the entire mall building, save for Belk, is a major step towards demolition and redevelopment.

Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.
Fencing in front of the former Wills/Books-A-Million store.

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My first time eating at a real restaurant in a very long time…

July 9, 2021, 3:50 PM

Recently, on a trip to Staunton, I had my first meal in a full-service restaurant since my weight loss surgery in December 2019.  We were visiting family, as my sister and her husband were in from Chicago.  So our party consisted of Elyse and me, my sister and her husband Chris, our parents, and Chris’s parents.  Nice group all around.  We ate at Zynodoa, which is a higher tier restaurant than I typically go to, but it was a good experience overall.

I would say that the timing of things tended to work against restaurants in general.  I had my surgery on December 6, 2019, and so things were still healing for most of December.  I was figuring out through trial and error about what foods would be tolerated by my body, and also determining portion sizes.  When Elyse and I would go out, we typically would stop in at a grocery store with a food bar if we needed to eat, like Harris Teeter, Wegmans, or Whole Foods.  I was typically able to get out of there for about five bucks (I would jokingly refer to myself as a cheap date).  Doing that allowed me to try out a variety of different foods, and only get the amounts that I needed (remember, my tummy is tiny now).

Then the pandemic restrictions came along, which took eating in restaurants out of the picture entirely.  I’ve never been one to do take-out from restaurants.  If I’m eating food from a sit-down restaurant, I’m more than likely going to be eating it at the restaurant.  If I’m getting it to go, I’m going somewhere else, like a grocery store or something else cheaper than a full restaurant.  Thus if I couldn’t eat on the premises because of various rules in place, a full restaurant was of no use to me.  And if I’m getting food to take home, I might as well just eat the food that I already have at home.  All of that said, the pandemic rules came about while I was still forming new habits after having my surgery, and that meant that full-service restaurants were more or less out of the picture, i.e. they didn’t exist as far as I was concerned.

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When your drone starts to act up…

June 7, 2021, 11:20 AM

On Tuesday, June 1, Elyse and I went on a little adventure in Prince William County, Virginia, where the goal for me was to photograph some old AT&T Long Lines infrastructure up close with the drone.  First of all, for those not familiar, AT&T Long Lines is a now-defunct system from the mid-20th century used for telecommunications via microwave transmission.  It has long since been replaced by more modern systems, but many of the towers still remain.  Some have been converted to cell phone towers, with varying amounts of the old Long Lines infrastructure abandoned in place.  I’ve photographed about six of these things in varying degrees of detail, mostly in Virginia, both ground-based and with a drone.

On this particular day, I had two towers in my sights: one near Dumfries, and one near Manassas.  The Dumfries one was directly off of Route 234, and the Manassas one was a little bit further off of the beaten path.  The Dumfries tower was in full form, with its horn antennas still attached, while the Manassas tower had lost the old horn antennas.

Here are some of my photos of the Dumfries tower:

AT&T Long Lines tower near Dumfries

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Categories: Cameras, Northern Virginia

A flight over JMU…

May 15, 2021, 2:12 PM

On May 10, while Elyse and I were on a weekend trip down to the Shenandoah Valley to see the parents and such, we stopped at JMU, and I took the drone for a flight over the far side of campus across Interstate 81.  That is a part of campus that has definitely changed since I was a student, as it’s a lot more built up than it used to be.  There are lots of buildings over there that weren’t there when I attended.  There’s also a new indoor arena over there called the Atlantic Union Bank Center, or, as the folks on Reddit have taken to calling it, the “Algerdome”, after JMU’s current president, Jonathan Alger.  I flew from a facility that was new since I was there, on the roof of a massive parking garage next to the Algerdome, built on the former site of Blue Ridge Hall.  That higher vantage point was helpful because it gave me a better line of sight to my aircraft and a better signal for my remote, as there were fewer buildings getting in my way up there.

And here are the photos:

Potomac Hall

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Categories: Harrisonburg, JMU, Photography

Gordmans, we hardly knew ye…

May 7, 2021, 10:03 AM

Recently, while working through my very large backlog of photos, I processed the various photos that I took of the Gordmans store in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, Gordmans, in the form that I experienced it, was an off-price retailer owned by Stage Stores.  Stage was in the process of implementing a major strategic move, repositioning itself away from department stores and going all-in on the off-price model (like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Ross).  With that, the company had begun to convert all of its department store nameplates, i.e. Stage, Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal, and Peebles, to Gordmans.  The goal was to have all of its 738 stores in 42 states converted to the off-price format under the Gordmans name by the end of 2020.  The Waynesboro store was originally a Peebles, and was an early conversion to Gordmans.

As you probably guessed based on my wording, world events caused a change in Stage’s plans.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, the various “lockdown” orders issued meant that all of Stage’s stores, considered “non-essential” businesses, were shuttered for several months.  With the stores closed and the resulting lack of sales for an extended period, this pushed Stage off of a cliff, financially speaking, which lead to their filing for bankruptcy.  It was ultimately determined that the best course of action was to wind-up operations, and as such, when the stores reopened, they immediately began going-out-of-business sales.

My first experience with Gordmans was on June 1, 2020.  Elyse and I were out doing some photography in the Hagerstown and Waynesboro areas, and happened upon the Gordmans store in the Wayne Heights Mall shopping center, at an hour when it should have been in operation, if not for government orders requiring that it be closed.

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