The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Sun, 10 Dec 2017 22:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 https://www.schuminweb.com/wp-content/uploads/Clouds-Facebook-icon-150x150.png The Schumin Web https://www.schuminweb.com 32 32 37838674 I suppose that this is why you buy a Kia… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/12/04/i-suppose-that-this-is-why-you-buy-a-kia/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/12/04/i-suppose-that-this-is-why-you-buy-a-kia/#respond Mon, 04 Dec 2017 19:59:47 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26567 I suppose that what happened to me recently is exactly why you buy a Kia.  My car had been making some funny noises for a while, but since the check engine light had not come on yet, I figured that I had time to deal with it, and put it off until later.  This past Monday, the noises got noticeably worse, and the “check engine” light finally came on.  That’s when I scheduled a repair with a Kia dealer (since I suspected it might be covered by the warranty) and booked a rental car for the upcoming repair.  Then the car finally quit on me on the way to work, i.e. it just cut off in the middle of Georgia Avenue in Olney.  Thankfully, I was able to coast to a safe location to call for a tow truck.

The car ended up riding on the back of a tow truck from Olney directly to the dealer, and then I took the bus the rest of the way to work.  Then the next day, Elyse and I took a bus down to Rockville to pick up the rental car and talk to the people working on my real car.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone on that one, because I had planned a trip to IKEA during that time anyway, so I rented a truck.  So for a few days, I went from a Kia Soul – a compact – to a Ram 1500 pickup truck.  That thing was massive:

My rented Ram 1500 pickup truck

Talking to the people at the dealership, meanwhile, was perhaps the best thing that I had happen all day, because of one simple phrase: “The repair is under warranty.”  That was an excellent thing to hear, because the sentence right before it was, “It needs a new engine.”  The dealer also agreed to cover part of the cost of the rental car while I was getting the repairs done.  The truck was a higher tier than they would pay for, but considering that I would have had to rent something for my IKEA visit anyway, I wasn’t very concerned about it.

My new temporary ride, meanwhile, was definitely a change.  That thing was bigger and wider than I was used to, and I didn’t know how it handled.  Interestingly enough, my first instinct was to drive it like I do when I drive a bus, meaning riding the curb lane and using the “roping” method for steering.  That lasted until I got more comfortable with the truck.  Then I started driving it more like I drive the car.  The truck made me appreciate why so many people who own these things have footboards on their vehicles.  Mine didn’t have any, and it was a bit of a challenge getting in and out.  That muscle where the thigh bone meets the hip (hip flexor?) was sore from the constant climbing up and down.  It also had a V8 engine in it, which is twice as much engine as I’m used to, as the Kia Soul has a four-cylinder.  Very easy to speed in that thing.  It also had a massive fuel tank, and gobbled up fuel like there was no tomorrow.  When I filled it up the night before I returned it, for two days’ driving around town, it had consumed the equivalent of an entire tank on the Soul.  That’s the kind of car that will eat you out of house and home in fuel costs.  I’m not saying that this truck wasn’t fun to drive, but it’s definitely not something that I would ever buy for myself.

But it served its purpose at IKEA.  I had planned a trip to IKEA with Elyse and our friend Dave in order to get some furniture for the house.  I needed a new complete bedroom set (Elyse got my old one), plus Elyse needed a few pieces to complete her own setup, including shelves, a nightstand, and a desk.  I ended up getting Hemnes again for myself, since it had served me well over the last ten years.  One important thing when I bought the house was seeing this during the showing:

IKEA Hemnes dresser, when I first saw the house

Nothing helps you mentally furnish a house when you’re going to house showings than finding your exact model of furniture in place.  My new dresser is going in the same spot – once I put it together.

Elyse, meanwhile, got these:

Elyse got two of these 2x2 Kallax shelves.
Elyse got two of these 2×2 Kallax shelves.

She also got this Fredde desk.  This is going to be her gaming station.
She also got this Fredde desk.  This is going to be her gaming station.

We also peeked at area rugs, and I found this, among other things:

Green shag carpet.  Nooooooooooooooooooope.
Green shag carpet.  Nooooooooooooooooooope.

That rug gave me flashbacks to my time living in Rogers, Arkansas, when we had green shag carpeting all throughout the house.  That was as ugly back in 1985 as it is today.  We pulled some of that carpet out within a year or so of moving to Rogers when we replaced the linoleum in the kitchen and the laundry room, and made the dining area linoleum as well.  Then we ripped all of it out in September 1991, replacing it with a beige berber carpeting (and turned the dining area carpet again).  I remember that the berber carpets that we got back then didn’t wear that well, and when we moved in less than a year, they didn’t look that great.  I imagine that those berber rugs are long gone by now, considering this description in the most recent real estate listing:

Newly renovated 4BR home with mother-in-law suite. New appliances, granite, windows, siding, floors, & paint. Huge deck to enjoy secluded backyard. 3 full baths & cozy fireplace. Move-in ready!

Something tells me that the “mother-in-law suite” is our old utility room, where I used to go to play Atari in the last couple of years that we lived there.  That room had a random toilet in it as well as a utility sink.  I imagine that this is now the third full bath that didn’t exist when we were there.  Likewise, it sounds like the kitchen is unrecognizable from our time there, now with granite and such.  I just hope that they left all of the built-in storage in the family room.  That was great for storing toys.

But in any case, there will be no green shag carpet in my house as long as I have anything to say about it.

Then after we picked up all of the boxes for our stuff, I encountered this:

"Some people are squirrel-handed.  Gregor is a weird name."
“Some people are squirrel-handed.  Gregor is a weird name.”

And then our haul fit neatly in the bed of the truck:

Our haul.

That was about $1500 worth of stuff right there, waiting to be assembled.

And then on Friday, the car was ready, having been fully repaired.  I picked her up on Saturday, and she was just gleaming:

Glad to see you again!

As much fun as I had with the truck, it’s always good to see your real car again, that is completely paid for.  Meanwhile, I realize that this is silly to think about, but I can’t help but think that just maybe the Soul was jealous of all the attention that I was giving to houses, and this was its way of saying, “Don’t forget about me!”

And with the return of my real car, we had to say goodbye to the truck:

Returning the truck to Enterprise

I was glad to get rid of it, but Elyse was sad to see it go.  She had even named it “Kevin Wiggins”.  The “Kevin” part came from Elyse’s less-than-perfect vision and my driving it right after an eye exam.  The dilating drops temporarily made me quite farsighted, and so a message that said “Key in ignition” looked like “Kevin” to both of us.  Then the “Wiggins” part is a twist on the usual “wiggles” names that Elyse sometimes gives things.

So all in all, I think that the truck was a fun adventure, and with a new bed in my possession, hopefully it won’t be long before I can deflate the air mattress and sleep in a real bed again.

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I suppose that I live here now… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/11/26/i-suppose-that-i-live-here-now/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/11/26/i-suppose-that-i-live-here-now/#respond Mon, 27 Nov 2017 04:58:26 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26563 So as of this writing, I’ve been living in Montgomery Village for about a week and a half, having moved on November 16.  The new place is starting to feel like home, even though I’m not entirely unpacked yet.  That is a process, and it will take time.  However, I think that the weirdest thing about the whole move process was watching my home of ten years get dismantled and carted out the door.  I hired movers to pack and move everything, so all that I had to do was keep Elyse occupied, make sure that the movers didn’t take the cleaning supplies (for the post-move cleaning that I am obligated to do, but have not done yet), and answer any questions that the movers might have.  Afterward, I was struck by what felt like the finality of it all:

The only thing left was a box for trash, the cleaning supplies, and some coolers to transport the food in the refrigerator, which I did the next day on the way home from work.  Before I left, I captioned a photo for Instagram as, “Wow.  I suppose that I don’t live here anymore, do I?”

Then we all broke for lunch.  Elyse and I ate here:

The Murderers' Choice!

This is the Boston Market in Aspen Hill.  Elyse and I call it “The Murderers’ Choice”, because the DC snipers, as well as a more recent shooter last year who fired shots in the parking lot at Montgomery Mall and the Aspen Hill Giant Food store, all ate there.  I had also never been to Boston Market before, so this was a new experience.  The food reminded me of Thanksgiving, though admittedly, no one does Thanksgiving better than my father.

After we finished at Boston Market, we headed over to the new house and prepared for the movers’ arrival.  First thing in was the couch:

I knew what to do with that: sit down and keep Elyse occupied, while answering the movers’ questions.  Once everything was in, I thanked the movers and bid them well, and then it kind of hit me that I now lived in Montgomery Village.  I captioned a photo as, “Okay, then. I guess that I live here now.”

Then the process of getting settled began.  Elyse got settled in pretty quickly, since she didn’t have much to begin with.  My old bed and dresser went in her room:

Elyse's room, with the bed under the ugly chandelier, meaning that I can't hit my head on it anymore

And then my bedroom looked like this, as viewed from the mezzanine above:

My bedroom, viewed from the mezzanine

That “bed” that you see is an air mattress, which I’m using as a bed until I can get over to IKEA for a real bed.  The sleeping surface is 22 inches off of the ground, and it’s queen size, i.e. the same size as my old bed.  That height sold me on this model, since it was bed height, and thus didn’t feel like I was camping on an air mattress.  Once I put my sheets and blankets and such on it, everything looked good.  Surprisingly, with my bedding on it, even though it was a new bed in a new place, I slept surprisingly well for a first night.  Normally, the first night somewhere isn’t exactly good sleep, because our brains are acting like night watchman to an extent, but I passed out, slept well, and woke up rested in the morning.  It must be a sign that I picked the right house.

I inflated the air mattress for the first time the night before, and got photos:

The air mattress, deflated

The air mattress, filled about halfway

The air mattress, fully inflated

As it blew up for the first time, I kept thinking, “IT’S ALIVE!  IT’S ALIVE!”  It is surprisingly firm, which I appreciated, but I’m looking forward to getting a real bed again, as well as a dresser.  I’m more or less living out of laundry baskets and boxes until I get my new bedroom furniture.  Then once that happens, the air mattress will be deflated and stored, and will come out for guests staying in the back bedroom.

Then since moving in, I’ve slowly but surely gotten the place together and made it home.  While Elyse worked on her bedroom, I got the kitchen together.  All of the dishes and such needed to be washed and put away, and everything needed to be arranged.  That took a few days, but it’s finished.  Only thing left to do in there is buy some counter stools for my breakfast bar.  Sitting at it with a regular chair makes me feel like a child, since the counter comes up to my chest, and I feel like I should be sitting on a few phone books.

Then I went up into the mezzanine and set my computer up:

My computer is all together again!

Now it’s starting to feel like home, though that chair mat is going to take some getting used to.  Also, take note of how clean my desk is.  I promise you, it will never be this clean again.

With the computer set up, I’m focusing on electronics.  My television from the apartment is in the mezzanine next to my computer (just out of frame to the right), and then I bought a big 50″ 4K television for the living room.  That purchase surprised me.  It was my original plan to go lower end with the television and get a 1080p set, since I’m not a big TV watcher, mostly using it to cast YouTube with my Chromecast.  But taking the upgrade turned out to be a no-brainer: a 4K television only cost $50 more than 1080p and had the Chromecast built in.  So when you consider the Chromecast and all, it was only an extra $15.  I’m sure that I’ll enjoy that once I get it up on the wall.  Imagine playing video games on that.  Elyse has several different game consoles, including a Nintendo Switch, which we recently bought that HD Street Fighter II game for.  I can’t wait to hadouken on that thing.  Should be fun.

Then once I get everything unpacked and declare myself “settled”, I have a list of improvement projects that I want to do.  Among other things, that ugly chandelier is coming out, I’m planning to paint Elyse’s room, the basement bathroom, and the living room, and I want to do some power washing outside.  Then I also have a bunch of other small things that I want to do just to make the place more my own.

So all in all, being a homeowner is going to be an exciting journey.

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I’m a homeowner now, and so many things to think about… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/11/14/im-a-homeowner-now-and-so-many-things-to-think-about/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/11/14/im-a-homeowner-now-and-so-many-things-to-think-about/#respond Tue, 14 Nov 2017 19:12:15 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26550 Good news: I closed on the house on Thursday, and I am now a homeowner.  About a thousand signatures later, my longtime fantasy just became reality.  There are certain occasions in life where an event leaves you mentally drained at the end of it, and closing on the house was one of those things.  And now that the closing is done, there are so many more things to think about.  There is some minor electrical work that I need to have done.  The paint needs to be updated in some places.  I need to buy curtains.  I need to buy a new bedroom set for myself, since Elyse is getting my old one.  I need to get an air mattress to sleep on until I get the new bed.  The cable gets installed on the 15th.  Moving happens the following day, on the 16th.  I need to change my address in a zillion places.  And it goes on.  Such is the joy of homeownership, I suppose.

But in any case, the house is now mine.  Check it out:

Wheelock 7002T on the breakfast bar
Wheelock 7002T on the breakfast bar in the kitchen.  I used this photo for a “Welcome home” post on Instagram.

The living room, almost completely bare.
The living room, almost completely bare.  Elyse is sitting on the only piece of furniture that I currently have in the house: a beanbag chair.

I’m excited to get my furniture and my stuff in there on the 16th, because then it can really start to feel like home.  As it is, I’ve already moved the wallhangings:

The various wallhangings in the living room, awaiting placement

I never thought that removing all of the wallhangings from the apartment would be as difficult as it turned out to be, though.  I lived in that apartment for ten years.  It had become quite familiar, and I finally decorated in 2014, making every wall a reflection of something about me.  Taking all of that down and seeing the nail holes, and the emptiness of the walls was harder on me than I expected.  It vaguely reminded me of a Stripping of the Altar ritual that I had seen at a Maundy Thursday service one time, when everything was taken down and carried out of the church.  As I removed everything, I piled it up in a corner, and then the next day, I loaded it into the car and carted it up to Montgomery Village.  The removal was something that I didn’t want to do, but I knew that I had to do it.  Removing the decor that was added in 2014 felt fairly straightforward, since that was completed as a single project.  Removing the mirrors over the bed was difficult for me, because they had been there since 2008, and felt like part of the space.  But the hardest thing to bring myself to remove was the Metro map.  I hung that up within the first two months of living here, and that, more than anything, felt like part of the space, especially since that wall was the perfect size for it.  It seems fitting that when I removed the map, you could see a mark on the wall where it used to be.

Elyse, meanwhile, found the removal of the decor to be a bit too much for her, even though she understood why it had to happen.  The removal of the decor was hard on me emotionally, even though I didn’t show it outwardly.  Her solution, however, was something that I didn’t realize that I needed until I saw it.  While I was away at work yesterday, she took some paper and a box of crayons, and redecorated.  This is what I came home to last night:

The mirrors over the bed are back - in some form.

The mirrors over the bed are back - in some form.
The mirrors over the bed are back – in some form.

This drawing stands in for Dinosaur Canyon.

This drawing stands in for Dinosaur Canyon.
This drawing stands in for Dinosaur Canyon.

Replica of an Amalgamated Transit Union poster that I had in the hallway.  These posters were printed with "I AM A MAN" and "I AM A WOMAN" on the back, and I admit that I peeked underneath to check.
Replica of an Amalgamated Transit Union poster that I had in the hallway.  These posters were printed with “I AM A MAN” and “I AM A WOMAN” on the back, and I admit that I peeked underneath to check.

I was particularly impressed with Elyse's replica of the "sick copier" drawing that I did back in 2009, which I had hung over the printer.  She drew this from memory, and it's very faithful to the original.

I was particularly impressed with Elyse's replica of the "sick copier" drawing that I did back in 2009, which I had hung over the printer.  She drew this from memory, and it's very faithful to the original.
I was particularly impressed with Elyse’s replica of the “sick copier” drawing that I did back in 2009, which I had hung over the printer.  She drew this from memory, and it’s very faithful to the original.

The Metro map.  Unlike the original, which is from 1996, this map has Rush+ and the Silver Line on it.

The Metro map.  Unlike the original, which is from 1996, this map has Rush+ and the Silver Line on it.
The Metro map.  Unlike the original, which is from 1996, this map has Rush+ and the Silver Line on it.

This was such a wonderful thing that Elyse did.  While she was rather vocal about the lack of decor’s making her uncomfortable, I knew that things felt off, but these temporary wallhangings restored a sense of balance for me that I didn’t realize that I had lost when I took everything down the night before.  The night after I removed everything, I didn’t have a good sleep, even waking before my alarm clock.  Even though it was the same apartment and the same bed, it felt like unfamiliar surroundings.  Last night, on the other hand, with these temporary wallhangings in place, I slept quite well.

I imagine that the lack of wallhangings won’t be an issue in the new house, though, because I have nothing to compare against there.  I have a blank slate upon which to place a new decor design.  Plus I’m waiting until I paint some of the rooms before I start putting things up on the walls, since the paint in certain areas needs to be redone either because it’s no longer looking spiffy, or, in the case of Elyse’s room, it’s just an ugly color.  The way I figure, I didn’t take much issue to having nothing on the walls in the first seven years in the apartment because there was nothing to compare against, therefore, delayed decor at the house won’t be much of a problem.

Now, though, I need to get things ready to move in.  I’m going grocery shopping on Wednesday night after the cable goes in, since I deliberately ran down the food supplies in the apartment in preparation for this move.  I have almost no food in the house right now, since that would just be one more thing to have to transport over.  Plus, who wants to carry all of that stuff up and down the stairs to and from a third floor apartment, when the kitchen is on the main floor in the house?  Considering that I have both a Giant and a Safeway within a mile of the house, and a Walmart and a Target in nearby Germantown, I ought to be okay there.  I think that I put it best in 2002 when I moved into the dorm for senior year, and then went on a shopping run that night.  Even if you just moved in, a shopping run isn’t moving.  Moving sucks, but shopping is more enjoyable, even if you still have to lug it in at the end of the day.

So that’s that, I suppose.  All goes well, next Journal entry should be the first posted from Montgomery Village.

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So… I’m buying a house! https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/11/05/so-im-buying-a-house/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/11/05/so-im-buying-a-house/#respond Sun, 05 Nov 2017 19:45:16 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26430 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.

However, my plans were again put on hold in April 2016, when I transferred from bus to rail at work, and so while I was still interested in getting a house, I had too much going on with rail training to worry about it.  I didn’t mind this delay, though, because being a train operator was something that I had wanted to do from the outset.

In November 2016, I was ready to get things moving.  I spoke to Elyse’s father, who works in real estate, and we got started.  I found a mortgage company, and then once I got preapproved for a loan, it was time to house hunt.  I wanted a townhome at this point in my life.  I wanted more than one level in order to provide separation between living and sleeping spaces, and I also wanted my own entrance.  My original plan was to look in the area where I live now, but I quickly learned that I was priced out of Aspen Hill for the kind of house I wanted.  The only things that I could afford in Aspen Hill were either condominiums (i.e. an apartment that you owned instead of rented), or townhomes that were more or less unlivable without major repairs.  So I shifted my focus a little bit, and ended up gravitating towards Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village.  Being a little further out, the prices were lower, and the houses in my price range were move-in ready.

It took about six months to find the perfect house.  In that time, I looked at plenty of places.  I looked at traditional townhomes, back-to-back townhomes, quad-style townhomes, back-to-back townhomes in a row where four units shared a common entrance, townhomes with attached garages, townhomes with detached garages, two-story townhomes, three-story townhomes, four-story townhomes, townhomes with modern kitchens, townhomes with horribly dated kitchens, you name it.  I got to know Montgomery Village very well by the end of it.

I ended up finding what I thought was the perfect house in the middle of June.  It was a back-to-back townhome: three stories, no basement, and no front yard.  The first floor was the living room, dining area, half bath, and kitchen, with laundry in the kitchen.  Second floor was the master bedroom, master bath, and a small den off of the master bedroom that overlooked the living room.  Then the third floor had the other two bedrooms and a bathroom.  There was also a massive window over the living room.  By this time, I had described many of these back-to-back townhomes as “all stairs”, because they never had a basement, and almost everything required going up and down stairs.  This one, however, was different, and I think it was because the stairs had a railing on one side instead of walls on both sides like most of these “all stairs” houses, plus there was a skylight above to provide natural light (most of these “all stairs” houses were relatively dark inside).  Take a look:

The stairs on this back-to-back townhome.  I'm standing at the third floor level, and Elyse is standing at approximately the second floor level.  As you can see, light and openness makes everything better.
The stairs on this back-to-back townhome.  I’m standing at the third floor level, and Elyse is standing at approximately the second floor level.  As you can see, light and openness makes everything better.

I put an offer in on it, but quickly learned the old rule of house hunting: it’s never your first offer.  The seller had received better offers, and thus I was out.  Oh, well.  Back to the hunt.

About a month and a half later, I found the perfect place.  It was a traditional-style townhome, with three levels above grade, and a finished basement.  The basement contained a bedroom, a utility room, and a full bath.  The first floor contained the living room, the kitchen, and a half bath.  The second floor contained the master bedroom, a smaller bedroom, and a bathroom shared between them.  Then the master bedroom also had a mezzanine level, which overlooked the rest of the master bedroom.  The kitchen was modern, and it also had a unique little bar space on the other side.  Check it out:

Living room, facing the back of the house.
Living room, facing the back of the house.

Living room, facing the front door.
Living room, facing the front door.

The kitchen.  I've never had an electric stove before (always gas), so this will be a new experience.
The kitchen.  I’ve never had an electric stove before (always gas), so this will be a new experience.

The bar area in the kitchen.  This excites me, because my apartment has a breakfast bar, but it's mounted too low to actually be useful for that purpose, and so it ends up holding junk.
The bar area in the kitchen.  This excites me, because my apartment has a breakfast bar, but it’s mounted too low to actually be useful for that purpose, and so it ends up holding junk.

The back of the house.  Note that there is both a deck and a backyard.
The back of the house.  Note that there is both a deck and a backyard.

This chandelier is in the basement bedroom.  It's the AF Lighting 7050-6H "Ramblin' Rose" six-light chandelier, and it's certainly unique.
This chandelier is in the basement bedroom.  It’s the AF Lighting 7050-6H “Ramblin’ Rose” six-light chandelier, and it’s certainly unique.

Meanwhile, Elyse sat and played on her phone.
Meanwhile, Elyse sat and played on her phone.

I had looked at other houses in this neighborhood with similar floorplans, and this one seemed to have it all.  It had a window at the mezzanine level, which increases the amount of light that can come in.  It had lots of ceiling lighting, which more than made up for the areas where the sunlight couldn’t reach.  The kitchen had a built-in eating area.  The basement was a walkout, and completely covered by pavers.  The deck above was very comfortably sized.  There was no fireplace, which meant that I had extra living space that would have otherwise been taken up by said fireplace.  And the flooring was wood throughout most of the house, and tile in the kitchen and the bathrooms.  The only carpet was in the mezzanine and on the stairs leading down to the basement.

I put an offer in on the house, and, much to my surprise, it was accepted.  Considering how nice this house was, I was sure that I wouldn’t get it.  As it was a short sale, it took two months for the third party approval to come back.  Once that came back, this GIF of Ron Paul immediately came to mind:

IT'S HAPPENING

So I’m excited.  Now I’m thinking about movers, as well as a brand new bedroom set for myself (Elyse is going to use my current set), plus figuring out where everything is going to go.  I was thinking about putting my desk up in the mezzanine, and then turning the back bedroom into a rec room of some sort.  Elyse will be in the basement bedroom, with the chandelier.

In any case, this is going to be fun, and I’m glad to finally be investing in myself rather than giving money to a property management company with nothing to show for it except a pile of passive-aggressive memos.

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I’m not even going to try to recall how many times I made Elyse cross the street… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/10/31/im-not-even-going-to-try-to-recall-how-many-times-i-made-elyse-cross-the-street/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/10/31/im-not-even-going-to-try-to-recall-how-many-times-i-made-elyse-cross-the-street/#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 18:30:40 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26510 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

We started as far out as we would go, and then worked our way inward, photographing different signals along the way.  The first signal that we photographed was a variant on a HAWK beacon on East Gude Drive in Rockville, near Fisher Lumber:

Two signals on a mast arm over East Gude Drive.
Two signals on a mast arm over East Gude Drive.

Directions on how this signal functions.  Basically, solid double red meant stop, flashing double red meant stop, look, and then proceed.
Directions on how this signal functions.  Basically, solid double red meant stop, flashing double red meant stop, look, and then proceed.

Flashing yellow light on the bottom.  This signal functioned more or less like a HAWK beacon, but unlike a true HAWK beacon, which goes completely dark when not activated, this signal has a flashing yellow light when it's not active.
Flashing yellow light on the bottom.  This signal functioned more or less like a HAWK beacon, but unlike a true HAWK beacon, which goes completely dark when not activated, this signal has a flashing yellow light when it’s not active.

And here it is in action, i.e. I sent Elyse across the street for this:

After we finished up at East Gude Drive, we went to the subject intersection, i.e. Veirs Mill Road and the Matthew Henson Trail.  There, I filmed the warning lights as they existed at that time, and documented the intersection from all sorts of angles.

The warning lights approaching the crossing for eastbound traffic.
The warning lights approaching the crossing for eastbound traffic.  I am embarrassed to say that before this intersection got some media attention, I didn’t even realize that these lights existed, because no one ever used them.

The lights in action:

These lights ran for about 45 seconds as soon as the button was pressed.  One problem here was that with the signals’ being 500 feet upstream from the crossing, it took eight seconds for the first vehicle that saw the illuminated warning lights to reach your destination, assuming that they’re going the 45 mph speed limit (and we know that everyone follows the speed limit).  Drivers in the first eight seconds after pressing the button never saw any sort of warning about pedestrians and bikes crossing, because they were already past the sign when the lights started flashing.

Eastbound crossing.
Eastbound crossing.

Eastbound crossing.
Eastbound crossing.

The crosswalks for the two sides of this crossing are offset, and this section of sidewalk in the median connects the two.  As I understand it, it's laid out this way to prevent cyclists from running both sides in a single motion.
The crosswalks for the two sides of this crossing are offset, and this section of sidewalk in the median connects the two.  As I understand it, it’s laid out this way to prevent cyclists from running both sides in a single motion.

Westbound crossing.
Westbound crossing.

Well-worn desire path along the side of westbound Veirs Mill Road.  There are no sidewalks in this area, and this path runs from Havard Street all the way to the subject crossing at the bottom of the hill.
Well-worn desire path along the side of westbound Veirs Mill Road.  There are no sidewalks in this area, and this path runs from Havard Street all the way to the subject crossing at the bottom of the hill.

Westbound crossing.  Note the stop line and warning signs.
Westbound crossing.  Note the stop line and warning signs.

We then headed over to University Blvd (MD 193) and Reedie Drive in Wheaton.  That location had another HAWK variant, though this one covered both roads with different signals.  The intersection doesn’t see much cross traffic for cars, so a standard traffic signal is unnecessary, but University Blvd is one of those roads where angels fear to tread, because it’s wide and fairly busy.

Signals facing traffic on eastbound University Blvd, where traffic normally does not have to stop.
Signals facing traffic on eastbound University Blvd, where traffic normally does not have to stop.  The signal functions similarly to the signal on East Gude, where the bottom light flashes continuously when the signal is not activated, it flashes quickly when it’s activated, and then goes yellow to red, stopping traffic.  However, unlike East Gude, there is no flashing red light.  When the cycle is over, it goes right back to bottom yellow flashing.

Signal for traffic on Reedie Drive.  Along with this signal, traffic on Reedie Drive also has a stop sign.
Signal for traffic on Reedie Drive.  Along with this signal, traffic on Reedie Drive also has a stop sign.  The pattern is top flashing red when the signal is not activated, then both red lights flash when the signal is activated, and then solid red on both lights, after which the signal resets.

The two sides together.
The two sides together.

And here’s video of the signals in action:


University Blvd signal.


Reedie Drive signal.


Both sides together.

We then headed over to East-West Highway (MD 410) at Summit Hills Apartments, which is a flag crossing next to a well-used bus stop.  There, pedestrians are supposed to grab a flag and carry it with them across the street, and place it in a holder on the other side of the street.  There were no written instructions on how to do this anywhere that I could find.

Warning sign with a cup containing some yellow flags.
Warning sign with a cup containing some yellow flags.

Approach to the crossing for westbound traffic.  Lots of lines on the road in approach to the crosswalk.
Approach to the crossing for westbound traffic.  Lots of lines on the road in approach to the crosswalk.

The crossing itself.  Note no median or pedestrian refuge island.  That meant that you had to do all four lanes at once, with no signals or warning lights, with a 35 mph speed limit for traffic.
The crossing itself.  Note no median or pedestrian refuge island.  That meant that you had to do all four lanes at once, with no signals or warning lights, with a 35 mph speed limit for traffic.

Elyse demonstrates the use of the crossing flag.

Elyse demonstrates the use of the crossing flag.
Elyse demonstrates the use of the crossing flag.

I’m not going to lie to you: out of all of the crossings that we did, this one made me the most nervous.  Traffic is moving relatively quickly, and there’s a lot of it.  It also doesn’t help that traffic is moving uphill in approach to this crossing in both directions, and there are curves on either side.  It really was a matter of grabbing the flag, looking both ways, and then praying that you don’t get run over while you’re crossing.

DC used to have a similar flag crossing on Connecticut Avenue NW at the intersection with Northampton Street, but that was upgraded to a HAWK beacon a few years ago, i.e. traffic is now required to come to a full stop when the signal is activated via call button.  Montgomery County should consider doing the same here, and be proactive about it, i.e. doing it before there is a fatal accident.  However, I do wonder how well it would work at this location, considering that there is a fully signalized intersection approximately 650 feet east.  Considering the volume that this road does at certain times of day, I wonder if a full stop here during busy periods would cause it to spill into the nearby intersection.  Who knows.

Then the last signal that Elyse and I documented was a true HAWK beacon in DC, at the intersection of 16th and Jonquil Streets NW.  This one was a challenge to film because unlike the others, which are activated via call button, this one was sensor-activated, and it’s harder to make a sensor go off than it is to just press a button (I didn’t realize that this was sensor-activated until we got there).

The pattern was standard for HAWK beacons, i.e. fully dark when not activated, flashing yellow warning when it’s about to change, solid yellow just like a traffic light, and then double red while pedestrians have a walk signal.  When the pedestrian signal changes to the flashing hand and starts counting down, the lights flash in a wig-wag pattern.  Then the beacon goes dark again when the don’t walk sign is solid.

Overview of the intersection.  The HAWK beacon governs traffic on 16th Street NW.  Jonquil Street traffic has a stop sign.
Overview of the intersection.  The HAWK beacon governs traffic on 16th Street NW.  Jonquil Street traffic has a stop sign.

Sign directing pedestrians to stand next to the pole to activate the sensor.  The call button is apparently obsolete, as it didn't do anything when I pressed it.
Sign directing pedestrians to stand next to the pole to activate the sensor.  The call button is apparently obsolete, as it didn’t do anything when I pressed it.

The sensor, mounted to the pole that the HAWK beacon is on.
The sensor, mounted to the pole that the HAWK beacon is on.

So there you have it.  Even though I never used the material for its intended purpose, hopefully someone finds this material useful.

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No tire problems this time around… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/10/25/no-tire-problems-this-time-around/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/10/25/no-tire-problems-this-time-around/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 07:17:17 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26488 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”.

My goal was to mosey over from where I parked on 9th Street down to the fishing pier and back, photographing everything along the way.  I had missed the fishing pier last year (it had closed for the evening by the time that I got over there), and so I was determined to get it this year in daylight, and see what there was to see.  I also went on Facebook and acknowledged a reality of ocean photography: “The thing about photographing the ocean is that the horizon needs to be level. If the water isn’t level, fix it until it is.”

Only slight cloud cover over the beach.  Perfect photography weather.
Only slight cloud cover over the beach.  Perfect photography weather.

8th Street, viewed from the boardwalk.
8th Street, viewed from the boardwalk.

I took a lot of sea gull photos.  I got them moving around on the beach, I got them flying around, you name it.

I took a lot of sea gull photos.  I got them moving around on the beach, I got them flying around, you name it.
I took a lot of sea gull photos.  I got them moving around on the beach, flying around, you name it.

The boardwalk, facing north from just south of 8th Street.
The boardwalk, facing north from just south of 8th Street.

I got a photo of these guys because I found it curious that they were walking around wearing helmets.  It later made sense when we spotted them on motorcycles as we were leaving.  Made a lot more sense then (duh!).
I got a photo of these guys because I found it curious that they were walking around wearing helmets.  It later made sense when we spotted them on motorcycles as we were leaving.  Made a lot more sense then (duh!).

Dinosaur skeleton-themed play structure.
Dinosaur skeleton-themed play structure.

With few people on the beach, it was neat to see the effects of the wind on the sand.
With few people on the beach, it was neat to see the effects of the wind on the sand.

Finding Nemo knockoff on the beach.  I call it "Finding Ocean City".
Finding Nemo knockoff on the beach.  I call it “Finding Ocean City”.

Man using a metal detector.
Man using a metal detector.

Heavy equipment moving some pallets around.
Heavy equipment moving some pallets around.

Ocean City's equivalent of the no-swearing sign like Virginia Beach has.
Ocean City’s equivalent of the no-swearing sign like Virginia Beach has.

Sea gull in flight.
Sea gull in flight.

I was very surprised to see the ferris wheel at Jolly Roger undergoing what appeared at a glance to be demolition.  I later asked online about what I saw, and as it turns out, this is part of a major overhaul project that the ferris wheel goes through every ten years, where the ferris wheel is dismantled, refurbished, and reassembled in time for the next operating season.
I was very surprised to see the ferris wheel at Jolly Roger undergoing what appeared at a glance to be demolition.  I later asked online about what I saw, and as it turns out, this is part of a major overhaul project that the ferris wheel goes through every ten years, where the ferris wheel is dismantled, refurbished, and reassembled in time for the next operating season.

Ocean City fishing pier, viewed from the northwest.
Ocean City fishing pier, viewed from the northwest.

A man goes fishing in the ocean.  Was surprised that he was walking around barefoot!
A man goes fishing in the ocean.  Was surprised that he was walking around barefoot!

Ocean City fishing pier, viewed from a wide section about halfway down.
Ocean City fishing pier, viewed from a wide section about halfway down.

View of the beach and the waves from the fishing pier.
View of the beach and the waves from the fishing pier.

A person walks along the beach, south of the fishing pier.
A person walks along the beach, south of the fishing pier.

"Love lock" placed on the fishing pier.  Based on the date, this was placed four days prior to our visit.
Love lock” placed on the fishing pier.  Based on the date, this was placed four days prior to our visit.

This lock had a surprising story.  I took this photo by chance, as I was moving down the fishing pier to head back to the boardwalk.  I posted it on Instagram the next day, and who responds but the person who locked it to the pier.  Turns out that it was put there in 2011 by a friend of Elyse's, and he was surprised that it was still there.
This lock had a surprising story.  I took this photo by chance, as I was moving down the fishing pier to head back to the boardwalk.  I posted it on Instagram the next day, and who responds but the person who locked it to the pier.  Turns out that it was put there in 2011 by a friend of Elyse’s, and he was surprised that it was still there.

I found an unopened bottle of iced tea sitting on the railing, so I took a few photos of it.  Wonder if Kermit the Frog misplaced his tea?
I found an unopened bottle of iced tea sitting on the railing, so I took a few photos of it.  Wonder if Kermit the Frog misplaced his tea?

Some people were throwing pretzel bits to the birds, and so I had a bit of a field day photographing the birds, getting them both in the air and on the ground.

Some people were throwing pretzel bits to the birds, and so I had a bit of a field day photographing the birds, getting them both in the air and on the ground.
Some people were throwing pretzel bits to the birds, and so I had a bit of a field day photographing the birds, getting them both in the air and on the ground.

Caramel corn.
Caramel corn.

Painted-out "The future is now" graffiti.
Painted-out “The future is now” graffiti.

All in all, I had fun on my photo walk, which ended up taking around four hours.  Time well spent.  Meanwhile, Elyse and Aaron didn’t fare as well.  They made it as far up as 27th Street, but unfortunately for them, almost all of the places that they had wanted to see were closed for the season, meaning that they had no access to the facilities that they planned to see.

We met back up around 5:30, and went to dinner.  We ended up going to The Dough Roller, which is a local chain of pizza restaurants.  It was nothing that you would necessarily write home about, but it wasn’t bad, either.  The most interesting feature was the lighting.  All of the fixtures shared a common theme, but no two fixtures were the same.

After dinner, we headed north into Delaware.  Gotta see Rehoboth, after all.  Arriving there, I got another photo of Elyse with the dolphin:

Elyse and the dolphin

That made a nice companion piece to last year’s photo, though this year, the dolphin wasn’t wearing a t-shirt.

We then wandered around the Rehoboth strip, which generally runs perpendicular to the beach.  We eventually found our way to Cooter Brown’s Twisted Southern Kitchen and Bourbon Bar, because Aaron needed to use the restroom.  He was initially punted, with the employees’ citing a “patrons only” policy.  However, shortly after Aaron came back out and reported back to us, the manager then came out and invited Aaron back in to use the restroom.  We all went in, and Elyse and I sat at the bar.  I had a water, and Elyse got herself a Jack and Coke:

Elyse's Jack and Coke

I suppose that this is why you shouldn’t have a “patrons only” policy for your restroom.  If they hadn’t invited Aaron back in to use the restroom, we would have just continued on.  However, because they let Aaron use the restroom, they sold a $7 cocktail.  I’ve watched enough Bar Rescue to know that liquor is typically one of the higher-markup items in a bar, so I’d say that the goodwill gesture of letting Aaron use the restroom off of the street paid off fairly well for them.  After all, it got us inside, and Elyse was thirsty.

Then on the way out, we discovered once again that there is no “direct” route to Rehoboth from DC as there is to Ocean City from DC.  You’re still taking a bunch of small, dark roads back.  We took Delaware Route 1 to Milford, where we changed to Route 14.  Then Route 14 becomes Maryland Route 317, you then take Route 313 for about two minutes, and then take Route 404 to just east of the Bay Bridge, where you join Route 50.

Last year, we made a wrong turn fairly early on as we were leaving Rehoboth, and the GPS just updated and kept us moving, so we went through a lot of little tiny roads as it sent us towards the Bay Bridge.  This time, we followed the “correct” route, and while we didn’t have to make as many moves, it still felt like a convoluted route, going past houses and encountering multiple stop signs (yes, stop signs – not traffic lights).

However, during our two minutes on Route 313, we did spot something interesting during a restroom stop.  We spotted milk being sold in quart-sized jugs that were shaped like the gallon, but smaller:

Quart-sized jug of milk, with Elyse for scale.

Quart-sized jug of milk, with Elyse for scale.
Quart-sized jug of milk, with Elyse for scale.

How unusual.

And that was that, I suppose.  I would say that a fun time was had by all.

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Buses, fire trucks, ambulances, trains, and… moo cows? https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/10/19/buses-fire-trucks-ambulances-trains-and-moo-cows/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/10/19/buses-fire-trucks-ambulances-trains-and-moo-cows/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 03:17:34 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26469 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.

Ride On 5909, an Orion VII CNG.
Ride On 5909, an Orion VII CNG.


Ride On 5301 (left) and 5313 (right).  These buses are both Gillig hybrids.  5301 (originally numbered 5751) is a 2006 model.  Those buses had more white in their paint scheme than in 2007 and 2008.  The 2007 buses had the same paint scheme, but with black trim framing the white areas.  5313 (originally numbered 5763) is a 2007.  I’ve ridden both of these buses many times on the 51 route.

Labelscar showing the original number of bus 5301.  The early Gillig hybrids were originally numbered starting with 5750, and were later renumbered starting at 5300, though I don't know the date that this change was made.
Labelscar showing the original number of bus 5301.  The early Gillig hybrids were originally numbered starting with 5750, and were later renumbered starting at 5300, though I don’t know the date that this change was made.

There was also a former Ride On Orion I that had been painted for the fire department, but surprisingly, I didn’t get any photos of it.  However, Elyse did:

The fire department bus.  I am told that this is former Ride On bus 5267.
Photo: Elyse Horvath
The fire department bus.  I am told that this is former Ride On bus 5267.

Then we headed over to a University of Maryland medevac helicopter, N329PH, that was on display across the lot.  That was a lot smaller than I imagined.

Exterior of N329PH

Interior of N329PH

I certainly hope that any patient being transported here isn’t claustrophobic.  It’s a tight space!

Meanwhile, this amused me:

"Cleaning stuff". Okay, then.
“Cleaning stuff”.  Okay, then.

Helicopter controls.  Note the iPad to the side.
Helicopter controls.  Note the iPad to the side.

We also got to watch it take off:

Then while I was taking stills, Elyse got video of the takeoff:

After the helicopter left, we headed over to the emergency vehicles.  One of the vehicles on display was the bomb squad’s vehicle.  Here’s the bomb robot:

Another robot, being used to pick up a water bottle:

We also saw this vintage Cadillac ambulance:

Anyone else immediately think of the car from Ghostbusters?  Beyond that, though, I was amazed to see an ambulance built on a car platform.  I’ve always known ambulances as being on a truck platform.

Then here’s the interior:

Front seat.
Front seat.

The back of the ambulance.
The back of the ambulance.

Then we headed closer to Muncaster Mill Road, where we saw something very familiar:

WMATA railcar 4020, now being used for first responder training

I trust that you know what this is.  This is WMATA railcar 4020, still with its mate 4021, at the Public Safety Training Academy.  I’ve ridden this pair 13 times over the years: six times aboard 4020, and seven times on 4021.

We weren’t allowed to board, but we could certainly walk around and see the exterior.  Elyse and Dave had never seen underneath the trains before, so this was their opportunity to take a look at the stuff below the platform level.

I was surprised to see that they didn't connect the two cars back together after they arrived at the training center.  Metro trains operate in married pairs, and so I would have figured that they would have set them in that configuration again.
I was surprised to see that they didn’t connect the two cars back together after they arrived at the training center.  Metro trains operate in married pairs, and so I would have figured that they would have set them in that configuration again.

One of the wheel trucks on 4020.  Note the Breda builder's plate on the truck.
One of the wheel trucks on 4020.  Note the Breda builder’s plate on the truck.

Horn assembly on car 4020.  The two things that look like horns are the traditional train horn, while that Wheelock 34T is a smaller horn used for other purposes.
Horn assembly on car 4020.  The two things that look like horns are the traditional train horn, while that Wheelock 34T is a smaller horn used for other purposes.

Elyse poses for a photo with the 34T, pointing at it.
Elyse poses for a photo with the 34T, pointing at it.

I also got photos of both Elyse and Dave pretending to climb into the train:

Elyse poses like she's about to climb into the train

Dave poses like he's about to climb into the train

And then here’s an angle that you don’t normally see for a Metro train:

4021, viewed straight on from below.
4021, viewed straight on from below.

From here, we stopped to watch firefighters climb ladders on a training building:

Then we headed over to the high bay facility, which can simulate various scenarios, such as a row of stores and an apartment building:

This place had everything.  The simulated buildings are on one side, and there are traffic lights, road signs, and everything else that you might encounter as an emergency responder.  They even had simulated fire alarms:

Gray Edwards Integrity horns with blue strobes, used as a simulated fire alarm

These gray Edwards Integrity horns with blue strobes were simulated fire alarms.  The blue strobe differentiates it from the real fire alarm, which is made by Wheelock and has the normal white strobes.

Then this sign amused me:

CHS Pharmacy. I wonder what that's supposed to represent...
CHS Pharmacy. I wonder what that’s supposed to represent…

Then on the way out, we saw two cars stacked somewhat on top of each other, to simulate an accident:

And by then, the event was over, and we headed out.

Elyse had wanted to go to South Mountain Creamery up near Middletown for a while, and so we decided, why not.  I had never been to Middletown before, and so this was a bit of an adventure.  South Mountain Creamery is a working dairy farm, and they make and sell their own products on site.  We had the ice cream, and Elyse also bought a small pack of cheese to share.

After we had our ice cream, we toured some of the farm, going to the place where the recently born calves live.  I was surprised to see a calf that had been born earlier that day in one of the pens:

A newborn holstein calf, born earlier that day

I guess my surprise came in that I didn’t quite know what to expect as far as what a newborn cow looks like.  I never would have thought that they were that large when they came out of the womb.  Nor did I imagine that they would be that hairy when they come out, either.  I suppose that I expected that a newborn calf would be bald, just like most human babies are born bald, and that the hair would grow in later.

We got a chance to talk to the employee tending to these calves.  We learned a lot from her.  We learned that the calves are raised to the age of two before they become productive.  The bulls are then sold to other farms, and the cows begin to have calves of their own and produce milk for the farm.  When the cows reach the end of their useful milk-producing life, they are also sold.

We each also got to name a cow.  Elyse named a cow “Wiggles”.  Dave named this bull “Dave”:

Dave the bull

Then I named this bull, which had brown spots instead of black, “Gordon Brown”, after the British Prime Minister of the same name:

Gordon Brown the bull

Then on the way out, we saw a retired fire truck on the property:

Plymouth Fire Company truck

This fire truck is from Plymouth Township, Pennsylvania, which is near Philadelphia.  Considering our activities earlier in the day, this seemed rather fitting to see.

So all in all, I’d say that we had a fun time.  Very educational day on many different subjects, for sure.

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Renting out eight rooms… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/09/30/renting-out-eight-rooms/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/09/30/renting-out-eight-rooms/#respond Sat, 30 Sep 2017 04:29:32 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26408 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.

Otherwise, Elyse and I did some railfanning, plus got together with a few folks.  We did some railfanning in a place very familiar to me: Stuarts Draft, near the railroad crossing on Route 608.  This was part of the Norfolk Southern Shenandoah Valley Line.  There, they had some vintage signals for a switch entering and exiting a 5,842-foot siding that runs from just east of the 608 crossing to approximately one mile west of the next crossing, at Patton Farm Road.  The nearest milepost is 153:

Milepost 153

And here are the signals:

Vintage signals in Stuarts Draft  Vintage signals in Stuarts Draft

I’ve known of those signals ever since we moved to the area in 1992, and Elyse estimated that they’re likely older than me.

I also made an interesting discovery, in that there appears to be evidence that the railroad crossing at Route 608 may have been three tracks at one time.  There’s the main track that’s still there, then the siding appears to have once continued further west.  Rather than cleanly joining the main track, there’s a crossover, and then the siding track continues to a point shortly after the switch.  A derailer protects this area, as there is no bump post or anything at the point where the track ends:

The derailer, set to guide any vehicle that crosses it off of the tracks

Then I also found this, on the opposite side of the main track:

I don’t know what this track did.  It’s a very short section of track that ends within view of the camera, and there appears to be part of a switch at the end of it.  I can only assume that it’s been abandoned for a very long time, since I’ve always known the 608 crossing to be only one track.

Then we also got some photos of one of the crossbucks:

Crossbuck for northbound traffic (traveling towards 340)

All in all, not a bad time over by the tracks.

We saw Mom while we were down there, got together with Aaron Stone and his brother Evan, and then we all went down to Staunton to have dinner and do stuff.  Elyse and Aaron checked out the Masonic Building, which elevator filmer Andrew Reams made somewhat famous.  I had previously been to this building in April, and apparently, the joke was on Elyse.  While Mom, Evan, and I were chatting across the street, we saw Aaron come out of the building alone.  Then I got a phone call from Elyse, and she told me that she was stuck in the elevator.  Okay, then.  Thankfully, she managed to get herself out on her own just as I got over there.

However, the highlight of the day was during dinner at Shenandoah Pizza.  I saw my old Spanish I teacher!  It had probably been around 20 years since I’d seen her, and so that was pretty awesome.  Lots of catching up there.

Then after dinner, we parted company with Mom and dropped Evan off, and the three of us went to Waynesboro.  Was surprised to see what hideous shape that the old Leggett building was in.  I remember when it was Leggett, and then after it closed in 1993, it became Cycle Recycle, a bicycle shop, which moved from the building next door.  Now, the building had been mostly gutted, and it’s full of mold.  Apparently, there was an aborted renovation project, based on these signs:

Demolition permit.
Demolition permit.

Stop work order.
Stop work order.

I have no idea why the work was ordered stopped, because the cited section of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code describes the authority of officials to issue “stop work” orders, rather than the violation itself.  In any case, apparently the people followed suit, because the building was partially gutted, and left as is.  I imagine that at this point, the mold has rendered the building beyond economic repair.  You only have to approach the doors to get a good whiff of the mold.  Orbit “Bubblemint” gum to the rescue again.

Meanwhile, Elyse had gone to a nearby bar while Aaron and I checked out the back of the building.  Still pretty bad, though the ceiling was still partly intact in the back.  When we got back around, we headed over to the bar where Elyse went.  The bartender was pretty cool, as he said, “Oh, you’re with Elyse?  She’s a regular here!”  We spent a few minutes there while Elyse finished her drink, and then we headed out.

We eventually made our way to Walmart, i.e. my ex-store, and wandered around a bit.  The store had been remodeled twice since I worked there, including removing the floor tiles, and I didn’t see anyone from my time working there.  It really felt like I was at any Walmart, i.e. it didn’t feel like the store that I used to work in anymore.  That’s probably a good thing.

And that was about it.  A fun time was had by all.

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I think this takes the cake for condescending job rejections… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/09/17/i-think-this-takes-the-cake-for-condescending-job-rejections/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/09/17/i-think-this-takes-the-cake-for-condescending-job-rejections/#respond Sun, 17 Sep 2017 22:25:06 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26380 If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’ve probably, at some point, received a rejection letter from a company.  It’s that lovely little note that says “thanks, but no thanks” in a way that typically attempts to deliver the bad news while also attempting to soften the blow of said bad news.  Most of them are fairly straightforward, but some people try a bit too hard to make people feel better in their rejections, usually to the opposite effect.  On the /r/jobs board on Reddit, which I help moderate, this came through, which I believe takes the cake when it comes to rejection letters that try too hard to make people feel better:

Looking at my desk full of fantastic applications is like looking into a box full of puppies – you wish you could keep them all.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, and I’m sorry to tell you that your experience and skill set is not the perfect match we are looking for to fill this position.

I regret that I cannot give you a positive answer, but I have no doubt that there are many companies that will be thrilled to hear from a talented candidate like you.

We wish you all the best for your future endeavors and success finding the perfect match.

Best regards,

[Name]

I know what you’re thinking: did they really just compare jobseekers to a box of puppies?  Yes, they did.  They actually spoke to someone that way in a professional context.  In their attempt to be cute and soften the blow of a job rejection, they make it fifty times worse – particularly that line that says, “no doubt that there are many companies that will be thrilled to hear from a talented candidate like you.”  When you don’t have a job and are having trouble finding one, that sort of line really hurts.  Even more so, the letter doesn’t say that they went with another candidate.  Rather, it’s a problem with you.  The problem is with you, and that’s why we’re rejecting your application.

I don’t know about you, but I really want to know what company this is, because that sort of nonsense needs to be called out for exactly what it is: condescending and unprofessional.  If I ever spoke to someone like the person who wrote this rejection letter did, I guarantee you that I would find myself sitting across a table from my boss, being asked to explain the unprofessional manner in which I communicated with people.  It is never a good idea to talk down to someone, no matter who they are.

When I worked at Food & Water Watch, I was the one who took care of job applications.  I proofread the job ads (because my boss couldn’t be bothered to use spell check), I posted the job ads, I received the applications, and I forwarded the applications to the proper person for consideration.  I was also the one who fielded calls and emails from applicants.  I treated everyone well.  Did you all receive my application?  Let me see.  What was your name?  Yep – we got it, and it was forwarded on to the hiring manager on whatever date.  I didn’t make the hiring decisions (because I certainly wouldn’t have hired a few of the clowns that I worked with), but at least I could confirm to applicants that their application was sent to the decision maker for consideration.  A customer service mindset with job applicants goes a long way when it comes to maintaining a good reputation.  People remember that.

One applicant who inquired in this way turned out to be an old friend from college, and we reconnected through that exchange.  I didn’t recognize the name at first, and replied cordially, as always.  I got a response back to the effect of, “Wait, are you the same Ben Schumin who was an RA in Potomac Hall?”  So that was pretty awesome, though unfortunately, they didn’t get the job.

In any case, the best rejections are the short ones that communicate the necessary information without making extra effort to avoid hurt feelings.  In other words, the drier the better.  It’s not that they’re going out of the way to hurt people’s feelings, but they’re just not trying to soften the blow.  When I was searching for a job back in 2013-2014, the best rejection letter was this one from Georgetown University:

Dear Applicant:

Thank you for applying to Georgetown University Campus Ministry’s office manager position. We are grateful for the interest of many qualified candidates. The position is now filled.

Sincerely,

Office of Campus Ministry
Georgetown University

Thank you for applying, but the position has been filled, sincerely, Georgetown.  Nothing to it.  No attempt to avoid hurt feelings.  Just quick and to the point.  It also was about a month after I applied, which was reasonable enough.  I hadn’t heard anything, which either meant that I was not being considered for a position, or it was a slow process.  Universities could go either way on speed of hiring process, and go quickly like a private company, or slowly like a public agency.  In any case, okay, time to move on.  It also didn’t hurt that I considered that position to be an unlikely prospect in the first place.

Then there’s this one, from Albemarle County, Virginia, where I had applied for some web position:

Dear Benjamin Schumin,

Thank you for your interest in working as a Communication Specialist with the County Executive’s Office. We appreciate your interest in Albemarle County Local Government. We had a number of qualified applicants and this was a difficult decision; however, after careful review of your application, other candidate’s background and skills more closely fit our current need.

We appreciate the time you invested in applying for our position. Please continue to review our current openings at www.albemarle.org/jobs for other positions you may wish to pursue.

Again, thank you for your interest in a career with Albemarle County. We wish you much success with your search.

Sincerely,

Kimberly Schick

HR Generalist

You know how, when you put your foot in your mouth and immediately realize it, your further attempts to mitigate it just make things worse, and you dig yourself into a deeper hole?  There you are.  This letter is just a trainwreck.  Right out of the gate, they’re thanking you twice for applying: first for the position, and then for the county as a whole.  And next comes the ham-handed attempts to avoid hurt feelings: “We had a number of qualified applicants and this was a difficult decision; however, after careful review of your application[…]”  I don’t care about how many applicants you had.  I don’t care how difficult your decision was.  Just tell me “no” and let’s all move on.  You’re not going to hurt my feelings by telling me “no”.  Just rip the band-aid off and call it a day.  Don’t peel it off slowly, because we all know that just hurts like hell, and prolongs the unpleasantness.

Then, of course, timing is key, too.  For a private-sector or nonprofit organization, if you apply and don’t hear anything back within a week or two, it’s usually a good indication that the answer is “no”.  Imagine my surprise to find this message in my inbox on May 8, 2014:

Dear Benjamin

Thank you for your interest in a position with the Association of American Medical Colleges.

We are fortunate to have many qualified candidates apply to each of our positions. We have reviewed the qualifications of each candidate and after careful consideration, we have determined that the qualifications of other candidates may better fit our needs at this time.

Please accept our best wishes and thank you for your interest in the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Warm regards,
Human Resources

I applied for this position on September 14, 2013.  Trust and believe that I had written this organization off about a month after sending in the application, and moved on.  This message seemed to just open up old wounds for no real purpose, since seven months and 24 days without a response is a clear indication of “no”.  Plus they put in some wording that tells me that they tried to prevent hurt feelings, when, after seven months of silence, it was clear that they didn’t give a rat’s patootie.  This sent me into a small rage, and I let them have it via social media:

Just got a rejection from an organization that I applied to seven months ago. Let me return the sentiment: FUCK YOU. #insulted @aamctoday

Yeah, it was a little unprofessional for someone who, at that point, still didn’t have a job, but damn, if that didn’t feel good.  I had also changed career trajectories by then, having gotten a CDL and moved my focus away from nonprofits and office work.  And as things would work out, I would get hired by my current employer one week later.

Then there are some companies that have some major nerve.  One place that I applied at was KIPP, a public charter school in DC.  I applied for two positions with them, and got rejection notices for each of them a week later.  It wasn’t that surprising, because they made high school and college GPAs a required field in their application.  I don’t remember or care what either of those numbers are, and I also wasn’t going to go back and research them, because with high school and college’s at that time being 14 and 10 years in my past, respectively, it really didn’t matter anymore, because I wasn’t the same person that I was in high school or college anymore.  So I fudged them as well as I could (i.e. I was in the ballpark, but not exact), but my old GPAs shouldn’t matter anyway.  I suppose that any organization that judges a candidate on their high school or college GPA after they have a number of years of work experience is nowhere that one would want to work anyway.  But that’s not the part where the nerve comes in.  I got the second rejection email on October 9, 2013.  Fast forward to May 22, 2014, and I got this email from them:

Hello,

I’m emailing you today on behalf of the KIPP Recruitment team. We’re assessing our application and hiring process and our records indicate that you looked into employment opportunities here within the past year. We would greatly appreciate it if you could take the time to answer a few questions about your experience. Your feedback is extremely valuable to us, and will help us better serve our candidates, students, and schools in the future.

Please click here to fill out the survey: KIPP Candidate Survey

The survey is for information-gathering purposes only. The survey is anonymous, and your responses will be kept completely confidential and private.

Thank you for your interest in KIPP and for sharing your feedback with us.

Sincerely,

Sheila Sarem
KIPP Recruitment Team

And then I got a second email on May 30 from Sarem:

Hello,

If you have already filled out the KIPP Candidate Survey, we are extremely grateful! Thank you for your time.

If you have not yet filled it out, this is a quick reminder. I’m emailing again on behalf of the KIPP Recruitment team. We’re assessing our application and hiring process and our records indicate that you looked into employment opportunities here within the past year. We would greatly appreciate it if you could take the time to answer a few questions about your experience, regardless of where you are in the application process. The survey is for information-gathering purposes only and your responses will be kept completely confidential and private.

To access the survey, please click here: KIPP Candidate Survey

The survey is being administered by the KIPP Foundation, the national organization that supports KIPP Schools. All hiring decisions are made at the local level by individual KIPP schools and regions. If you have a question about your application status, please use our School Directory to follow up directly with the school or region where you applied.

Thank you for your time. Your feedback is extremely valuable to us, and will help us to better serve our candidates, students, and schools in the future.

Sincerely,

Sheila Sarem
KIPP Recruitment Team

It was bad enough that they sent the survey in the first place.  But then they sent a reminder, like I was obligated to complete their stupid survey, and this was a reminder of my obligation.  I’m sorry, but I don’t see where completing your survey benefits me.  It’s like an exit interview, in that there is nothing in it for the person completing it.  I no longer have any sort of association with your organization, and you’re not paying me for my time.  I laughed at it, while being amazed that an organization would think that they were so important that people would drop everything and respond to their survey when they wouldn’t even give you the time of day.

Of course, I don’t understand why so many companies will treat jobseekers like they are lower than scum in the first place.  People remember bad experiences.  When I was driving a bus, some of the routes that I did took me past the headquarters building for the Association of American Medical Colleges, as well as some KIPP schools.  I remembered how I was treated by them every time I went past their facilities.  It’s why I advocate treating job applicants like customers – because you never know when your paths may cross again.  The idea is that today’s unsuccessful jobseeker may very well be in a position to do business with the company tomorrow.  Or the tables may be completely turned one day, i.e. if I’m in a position to hire you and you are applying for a position that I am responsible for filling.  If you were mean to me the last time we had a contact, I wouldn’t hire you.  It’s like they say – the true mark of a person’s character is how they behave towards people who they consider beneath them.

And then too many jobseekers enable such poor treatment by expressing their gratitude for receiving any sort of response.  Regarding the original message, one person said, “[S]till 100x better than no response, so I’d say let them do what they want.”  I saw other responses in the same thread expressing similar sentiment.  I don’t see it that way.  First of all, it makes jobseekers look like beggars, fighting for any scrap of feedback, no matter how unprofessional it may be.  And it gives people in charge of hiring processes carte blanche to treat people poorly because it’s considered better than nothing.  Actually, silence is better than an unprofessional communication.  Just like how, in hindsight, there have been a few job interviews that I went to that I should have walked out of because it was clear that there was no way that I would ever want to work for those people.

In the end, I suppose it’s a sad commentary on how low our standards have become when it comes to finding work.  I’m satisfied that, when I was in a situation to interact with jobseekers, I always maintained the utmost in professionalism, but I’m disappointed about how many others don’t have the same level of professionalism.

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Saying goodbye to that unique combination of mediocre pizza and animatronic animals… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/09/09/saying-goodbye-to-that-unique-combination-of-mediocre-pizza-and-animatronic-animals/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/09/09/saying-goodbye-to-that-unique-combination-of-mediocre-pizza-and-animatronic-animals/#respond Sat, 09 Sep 2017 17:32:18 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26361 The recent news out of CEC Entertainment, the company that operates the Chuck E. Cheese’s chain of restaurants, was that they were redesigning their restaurants to include the elimination of the animatronic band.  The new concept certainly looks lovely, as they give the dated Chuck E. Cheese theme a modern appearance.  However, I have mixed feelings about the elimination of the animatronics.

First, for those of you who aren’t familiar, here is a brief history of the concept: Chuck E. Cheese was introduced as the mascot of Pizza Time Theatre in 1977, a company founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, which was a pizzeria and arcade with an animatronic show.  Then entrepreneur Bob Brock founded ShowBiz Pizza Place in 1980, which was the same basic concept, but outsourced the show to Aaron Fechter‘s Creative Engineering.  The two were in competition with each other until Pizza Time Theatre declared bankruptcy, and ShowBiz bought them out.  They ran the two brands in parallel for a while, but considering that the ShowBiz show and characters were outsourced, while the Chuck E. Cheese characters were owned outright, that came to its logical conclusion in the early 1990s, where all of the ShowBiz restaurants were converted to the Chuck E. Cheese theme and show.  Then in the late 1990s, they started doing stages with only one animatronic rather than five. Then in the early part of this decade, they began opening restaurants with no animatronics at all, leaving the stage empty so that an employee in a rat suit could dance around.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I loved going to ShowBiz, in part because I loved seeing the animatronic band, The Rock-afire Explosion, perform.  I was extremely disappointed when I went into ShowBiz and found my Rock-afire characters gone, having been replaced by a new show called “Munch’s Make Believe Band”.  As soon as I saw it, I remember thinking, The Rock-afire Explosion was a real band, not a pretend one.  I’m pretty sure that we only went to ShowBiz one or two more times after this.  It wasn’t the restaurant that I knew and loved anymore without the Rock-afire.  That was a quality show that was enjoyable for any age.  I enjoyed those shows as a child, and I also enjoyed watching them when I found a bunch of the shows online a few years ago.

With the Chuck E. Cheese band, their early stuff was less refined than the Rock-afire stuff.  The robots were definitely less sophisticated than the Rock-afire robots, with less realistic movements.  The early shows actually are somewhat funny.  Chuck E. Cheese was a wisecracker that insulted the other characters from time to time, and they even recognized that they were robots controlled by a computer.  One of the more amusing things from this era was turning off Jasper, usually brought on by, “Turn off the dog!”  Hey – it gets a cheap laugh.  When they converted the ShowBiz locations to Munch’s Make Believe Band, the show had evolved to the point where it was similar to what had preceded it, in part because they were trying to replicate the Rock-afire as much as possible without actually being it.  This was the end result:

Munch's Make Believe Band in Laurel, Maryland

Then in the 1990s, they changed Chuck E. Cheese’s voice, going from something that sounded like a mouse from New Jersey ought to sound like, and replaced it with a high, goofy voice.  Thus they began to dumb down the show for the kids.  That’s where you start to lose people, I believe.  As I understand it, the animatronic show was intended less for the kids and more for the parents, i.e. you’re giving the parents something to watch while the kids run around pumping tokens into the arcade machines.  After all, the kids don’t have jobs.  The adults are the one paying for it.  Thus the idea is to aim high – keep the adults entertained, while keeping the show accessible for children.  Don’t be afraid to let a few references or jokes sail right over the kids’ heads.  They’ll figure it out eventually, and then when they find stuff from their childhood on the Internet years later, they’ll be able to say, “Ah, now I get it!”  If you’re aiming at the kids and talking down to them, you’re going to make it pretty insufferable for the adults.

Compare the treatment of children’s songs by the Rock-afire and Munch’s Make Believe Band.  This is a Rock-afire show from the late 1980s where they did a show full of kids’ songs:

Note what Billy Bob says just past the one-minute mark.  He says “And I guess you want to tell everybody that we’re taking them back to their childhood memories today with these kiddie songs, huh?”  Childhood memories.  In other words, the show assumes an audience that has grown past childhood, and thus they can frame it as a nostalgia piece.  It’s accessible to the children, but for the adults, it’s a fond look back.  And the songs themselves were of pretty good quality, jazzed up a bit to make it pleasant to

Now here’s how Chuck E. Cheese handled it:

Note big introduction of Chuck E. Cheese, and then they immediately started singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It“.  Full disclosure: I hate that song.  With a passion.  I always did, even as a child, because it’s just that obnoxious of a song.  The hell with you – I’m not happy and I know that I’m not happy specifically because you’re making me participate in this monstrosity of a song.  And they didn’t even bother to provide any context for the song to the audience.  They’re singing it like they mean it, and it’s aimed squarely at the kids, talking down to them.  If I were a parent there when they put this show on, I think that’s when I would be extremely grateful that they serve beer at Chuck E. Cheese’s.  It doesn’t matter that it’s pisswater beer.  I don’t think I could stand having to be around that stuff sober.  I don’t even drink anymore, and that would drive me right to it.  Gimme a brewski, and keep ’em coming.

Then in my most recent visits to the establishment, the animatronics have clearly taken a back seat.  When Elyse and I dipped into a location fitted with older Cyberamic animatronics, they barely used them.  Most of the entertainment was on the television monitors, which doesn’t do anything for me.  I can watch cartoons anywhere, after all, and their cartoons aren’t very good, again because they’re talking down to children.  Most of what the animatronics did was just move their heads around randomly.  They didn’t perform much at all.  No wonder they are opting to dispense with the animatronics – they’re barely using them in the first place.

I also find the idea of the animatronics’ being outdated as a reason to phase them out to be a bit disingenuous.  Yes, the animatronics at many of their locations are more than 30 years old.  That’s because they failed to invest in their shows, and didn’t upgrade the bots to keep the show new and fresh.  The last major upgrade that many of the shows received was in the early 1990s, when the stages were reconfigured to the Munch’s Make Believe Band design.  That was more than 25 years ago.  It’s stale, and it’s because they didn’t bother to keep it updated it over the years like they should have.  Additionally, over the years, they have cut these older shows back, as the former ShowBiz stages that were converted had a “Junior Munch” character on center stage in the front, a building and moon animatronic in the background of center stage, and a camera animatronic on stage left.  Most if not all of those pieces are now either removed or otherwise no longer in use, making the show just a little less interesting.

It is possible to do good animatronics and keep it fresh and relevant, as long as you choose to do so.  Back in the 1980s, Creative Engineering, which makes The Rock-afire Explosion, was doing exactly that:

That animatronic was a tremendous upgrade from the Mitzi that was in ShowBiz restaurants at that time, which could only tilt at the hip and move the arms up and down.  Unfortunately, though, I don’t believe that this animatronic ever made it to an actual restaurant.

Likewise, look at the movements of the characters on the second generation version of The Rock-afire Explosion:

This has way more movement than the original version of the show that you saw at ShowBiz Pizza Place.  My only complaints about the newer show have nothing to do with the animation, but rather about the arrangement of the characters, and the complete lack of Rolfe and Earl.  Imagine what it might look like if development had continued to the present day.

Bottom line is that it is possible to keep things fresh and interesting with the proper investment, which CEC Entertainment failed to do.  Of course, in an alternative future where they had kept the Rock-afire characters and converted all of the Chuck E. Cheese locations to ShowBiz Pizza Place instead of the other way around and ditching the Chuck E. Cheese characters, I imagine that The Rock-afire Explosion would have eventually been bastardized and cheapened just like they did with their in-house show.  Imagine the “Studio C” concept with Billy Bob, and all of the Rock-afire characters as puppets.  No.  Just no.

Of course, even without investing in new hardware, the effort that the company used to put into the animatronics just isn’t there anymore.  Look at this animation from when Munch’s Make Believe Band was new:

Compare this to recent animation on the same sort of hardware:

The characters seem stiffer, and move less, which makes suspension of disbelief a lot harder.  And these are the good animatronics, too, and not the swiveling Cyberamic characters.

So all in all, if CEC Entertainment is unwilling to properly invest in a show, then I’m fine with their doing away with the animatronics once and for all.  The animatronic shows, which were what set them apart from everyone else, are only an outdated concept because they let their shows become outdated.  Live shows just don’t capture the fun of the animatronic show.  After all, if I want a restaurant with an arcade, I can go to Dave & Buster’s, and truth be told, I do go over there every few months.  The food is better there, too.  Without the show, Chuck E. Cheese will not be missed.

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I definitely didn’t expect to go to New York City on Wednesday… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/08/25/i-definitely-didnt-expect-to-go-to-new-york-city-on-wednesday/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/08/25/i-definitely-didnt-expect-to-go-to-new-york-city-on-wednesday/#respond Fri, 25 Aug 2017 16:30:24 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26338 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

White Castle was a fun little side adventure, because I’ve been wanting to try out White Castle for a long time, and this was as good an opportunity as any.  I was told that their burgers, like those by Wendy’s, were square-shaped, and that they were a bit different than your typical fast food burger, being more oniony than most.  My only previous experience with White Castle was the episode of Undercover Boss where their CEO appeared, and so I was kind of excited to give it a try, especially considering that this one is the nearest White Castle to me.  Elyse and I shared a combo, which was cheap (around $7 for burger sliders, fries, and drink), and it wasn’t bad.  It was an experience, though not one that I would necessarily go out of my way to do in the future.

The Silverball Museum was pretty fun, just as it was in the past.  I got to take a number of the vintage machines out for a spin.  Those older mechanical pinball machines, with their tiny little flippers, have a certain charm that the solid-state machines from my own childhood and modern pinball machines just don’t have.  As before, I particularly enjoyed the ones where the pinball feeds another game, such as “Hayburners“, where the actual game is a horse race, and the pinball action moves the different horses.  There, the game chooses your horse, and you win if your horse crosses the finish line first.  There’s another game where the game is a car race, and the pinball action moves the cars around the track, and the player who makes the most laps wins, though the horse game is more fun.  I also took the various video games for a spin, played a puck bowling game, and skee-ball.  Elyse managed to get 91 tons on the crane game.

We also got to see the inside of one of the machines, as one of the employees was repairing it:

In this case, the piece that the gentleman in the photo has his hands on wasn’t functioning properly, and was being repaired.

After the crane game, we made a quick stop at a Kmart in West Long Branch, where we spotted this on the building:

"R" in a diamond

I have been in plenty of Kmarts before, but this sign was new to me.  I also spotted the same sort of sign on the White Castle, but, with White Castle’s being a new concept to me entirely, I didn’t pay it as much mind.  Turns out that this sign is for firefighters, and tells them that the roof is built with trusses.  This is important because of the way that trusses behave in fires compared to other methods.

Additionally, this Kmart had a single checkout queue for all of the registers, instead of each register having a separate line.  It worked really well in this setting, because everyone is handled in the order that they arrive, and if more registers come on, they just join the pool of available registers, i.e. there is no rush to a new line when another cashier comes online.

We then took a number of different roads up to Menlo Park Mall up in Edison.  Driving in New Jersey is always quite an experience, as the drivers are very aggressive and sometimes drive at extremely high speeds.  No wonder they have behavioral signs along the roads, because the people driving up there are nuts.

Arriving at Menlo Park Mall, the Rainforest Cafe was right next to the entrance.  First thing I saw was an animatronic snake:

The snake

Then we fooled around in the gift shop.  We found some animal hats in the gift shop, and I was surprised that they actually fit my big head.  Check these out:

Leopard hat!

Giraffe hat!

Lizard hat!

Then this was the setting upon our getting seated:

We sat right in front of this statue of a naked man standing in a fountain.
We sat right in front of this statue of a naked man standing in a fountain.

The inside of Rainforest Cafe, viewed from our table.

The inside of Rainforest Cafe, viewed from our table.
The inside of Rainforest Cafe, viewed from our table.

The elephants.
The elephants.

And then we got our drinks.  I ordered a margarita for Elyse, and I ordered a Shirley Temple.

Elyse and her margarita.
Elyse and her margarita.

Yes, I really did order a Shirley Temple for myself.
Yes, I really did order a Shirley Temple for myself.

Then the restaurant staff brought out ice cream with a candle on it for Elyse, and wished her a happy birthday:

On the way out, I got a photo of Elyse with the pineapple on the wall:

That was the end of our trip as originally planned.  After Rainforest Cafe, the plan was to return to Maryland via the New Jersey Turnpike.  However, things didn’t exactly work out that way.  While we were up here, Elyse wanted to do the Holland Tunnel.  A quick Google search indicated that the tunnel was only thirty minutes away.  Seemed reasonable enough.  A quick in-and-out seemed pointless, so I looked on the map and found the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and then added home to the itinerary.  So we had about a five-hour trip ahead of us, going into and out of New York, and then down the New Jersey Turnpike to go back home.  We wouldn’t get back until late, but you know, it would be fun.

We ended up following largely the same route that I did to Journal Square during my 2015 trip to reach the Holland Tunnel.  I took a few photos at red lights, sort of as a way to document this strange spur-of-the-moment trip:

Driving through the India Square neighborhood in Jersey City.
Driving through the India Square neighborhood in Jersey City.

On Interstate 78 where it follows a pair of surface roads prior to entering the Holland Tunnel.
On Interstate 78 where it follows a pair of surface roads prior to entering the Holland Tunnel.

There was a bit of a backup going into the Holland Tunnel, as the left lane of the inbound tube was shut down for repairs to a wall.  You had to be aggressive and fight your way in, because if you gave an inch, the other guy would take a mile, and you’d never get there.  Once we got through the tunnel, it was easy moving through Manhattan.  We didn’t stop in Manhattan, simply driving across the island and heading over to Brooklyn.  A minor surprise: the routing that we reviewed at dinner sent us over the Brooklyn Bridge.  Now, the phone was sending us over the Manhattan Bridge.  Well, cool.

In Brooklyn, we found our way onto Jay Street in the DUMBO neighborhood.  We needed to get reoriented, and so we looked for a place to stop.  As luck would have it, I found a spot to park next to the Jay Street-MetroTech subway station.  Elyse went in to check out the station, while I figured out where we were going.  She got this photo from the station:

The A train at Jay Street-Metrotech.
The A train at Jay Street-Metrotech.

Once we figured out where we were going, we went in search of a restroom for Elyse.  We found one at Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar, where it was located on the lower level.  On the way out, Elyse photographed the elevator:

Elyse films the elevator at Rocco's Tacos

I found the padded walls to be amusing, myself.

Returning to the car, we started driving along Flatbush Avenue towards the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  We made a stop at Grand Army Plaza, where I got a few photos of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch:

Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch

Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch

We also got a selfie on a nearby bench:

Then we got back into the car and continued on our way.  Google sent us through a few neighborhoods, and then we got on I-278 to catch the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  That took us to Staten Island, and then the Goethals Bridge took us back into New Jersey, where we caught the turnpike to get back home.

All in all, not a bad time.  I certainly didn’t expect to see New York City on this trip, but it was pretty fun nonetheless.  Plus now I can say that I’ve driven in actual New York City, and not just on I-95, like I did in 2010.

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The other shoe finally dropped on Afton Mountain… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/08/18/the-other-shoe-finally-dropped-on-afton-mountain/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/08/18/the-other-shoe-finally-dropped-on-afton-mountain/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 05:25:20 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26326 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!"

The room was empty except for those signs visible in the bottom of the photo about the nearby Swannanoa mansion.  So it seems like it’s official: The Inn at Afton has finally gone out of business.  Good.  I wonder what caused them to finally pull the plug on the place.  After all, many of the rooms were already uninhabitable.  The swimming pool was mostly empty with nasty green water in the bottom.  The lobby and restaurant building had already been closed, as signage last April was directing people to room 213 for any lobby functions.  In any case, I don’t think that maintenance was ever a priority here.  When we moved to the area in 1992, back when this facility was still a Holiday Inn, my father described the place as “grungy”, and thus we stayed at Days Inn rather than Holiday Inn when we arrived in the area.  We stayed at Holiday Inns for all of the other nights of that three-day road trip.  And just as well.  When I had the occasion of going into the lobby a few times in the early 2000s, the building always smelled like a combination of cigarette smoke and filth.

In any case, I imagine that this is the end of the road for The Inn at Afton as an operating property.  Considering that the other businesses in this area gradually closed in the 1990s and 2000s, and that The Inn at Afton itself was then slowly being abandoned while still operating, this is the logical conclusion.  In other words, I don’t believe a word of that “Will reopen at at later time!” line.  They’re done.  Back in 1998, according to C-Ville Weekly, the Howard Johnson’s, down the hill from The Inn at Afton, never reopened due to a lack of workers when it was time to reopen for the season.  In the same article about the closing, it indicates that owner Phil Dulaney planned to reopen:

Dulaney doesn’t plan to let Hojo’s – which has been on Afton since the 1940s – go gently into that good night. Dulaney, who has a soft spot himself for Hojo’s clam chowder and chocolate milkshakes, predicts that the restaurant will be up and running in the next few weeks. So while you can stop shivering, Chilly, you still might have to wait a bit longer for those nostalgia-inducing buttered franks.

Almost twenty years later, we’re still waiting for Phil Dulaney to find enough workers to reopen the Howard Johnson’s restaurant.  Not going to happen.

So now, there are only two things remaining in this part of Afton Mountain: the Rockfish Gap Tourist Information Center, and King’s Gourmet Popcorn.  Both are operated out of mobile structures by third parties.  The Tourist Information Center used to live beneath a row of abandoned motel rooms until moving to the current (mobile) structure located next to The Inn at Afton.  King’s Gourmet Popcorn is a food truck located in front of the former convenience store.  They are apparently doing well up there, and understandably so – their popcorn was absolutely fabulous when Elyse, Melissa, and I visited on our April trip, and the place had a lot of other customers when we went by.

I also suppose that King’s Gourmet Popcorn is an indication that yes, Afton Mountain is still a viable location for commercial development.  After all, it worked from the 1940s to the 1990s.  No reason that it couldn’t become something functional again.  I suppose the key is that the owners have to care enough to make it successful.  And unfortunately, Phil Dulaney, owner of the mountain site, is all talk and no action.  I suspect that Dulaney has to die and the property go to new ownership before something positive happens on the mountain site, though, and that’s kind of sad.  This site has so much potential, and the views are amazing, with Waynesboro on one side, and the Piedmont on the other.  There’s no reason that a new operator couldn’t build a new development up here with a modern hotel, a new tourist information center, and shops and restaurants.  You just have to care enough about your business to make it happen.

In the meantime, though, I wonder how long the now-abandoned motel will continue to languish, and how long it takes for it to look as bad as the properties below it.  Right now, the utilities are still connected, as the sign still lights up at night, lights were visible in the upper level corridors, and the parking lot lighting still comes on.  So who knows.

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That rare case when a company gets a reformulation right… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/08/13/that-rare-case-when-a-company-gets-a-reformulation-right/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/08/13/that-rare-case-when-a-company-gets-a-reformulation-right/#respond Sun, 13 Aug 2017 17:55:52 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26323 Some of you may have heard about how Coca-Cola Zero (aka “Coke Zero”) is being replaced by Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.  I heard it and I was a bit concerned about this.  After all, we saw how bad Diet Pepsi with sucralose was.  I was especially concerned with this after Pepsi, in response to their own reformulation, then rereleased the old version in parallel to the new one, and it’s very hard to find.  I liked Coke Zero, and I hoped that Coke Zero Sugar would not be the same disaster that the new version of Diet Pepsi was two years ago.

First of all, for those of you who are not familiar: Coke Zero is (was?) a diet version of regular Coke.  Diet Coke is a completely different flavor, and has little relation to the original Coke, other than the name.  I was pleased when Coke Zero was released in 2005, and discovered that it was a diet version of regular Coke.  I just plain don’t like Diet Coke, but Coke Zero was good.  I could drink that.

I was tipped off to Coke Zero Sugar’s arrival by a friend who found it at a local Safeway, so I swung by:

Side-by-side comparison of old vs. new.  Note the additional red on the new version.
Side-by-side comparison of old vs. new.  Note the additional red on the new version.

I bought two bottles.  I figured that was enough to form an opinion about it.  I took some with me in the car on a recent trip to Annapolis, and also had it for my usual morning pick-me-up.  I was surprised that it actually tasted pretty good.  I liked Coke Zero, but you could definitely taste the sweetener.  It was based on regular Coke, but it was unapologetically diet.  It tasted exactly like you would expect a diet version of regular Coke to taste like.  Coke Zero Sugar, on the other hand, is a bit closer to regular Coke. You really can’t taste the aspartame as much as before.  It’s not identical to regular Coke, but it’s much closer than Coke Zero was.

I actually consider this better than regular Coke, for two reasons: first of all, it’s a zero-calorie beverage, which means zero guilt as far as I’m concerned.  Secondly, it’s not made with high fructose corn syrup.  I’m not a big fan of sodas made with high fructose corn syrup because they leave a residue in your mouth.  Thus with those, you have to rinse the goo out of your mouth afterwards.  Yuck.  No residue on Coke Zero Sugar.  It’s also why I like Mexican Coke, because it leaves no residue.  I’d buy that more, but calories and all.

It’s funny – I’m sure that people who work for my previous employer could tell you all about how high fructose corn syrup is going to kill you and how evil the beverage industry is for using it, but I’m far more shallow than that.  I just don’t like the residue that it leaves.  Likewise, I will typically drink some organic fruit beverage with my lunch.  I drink it not because of any alleged health benefits related to either the fruit part or the organic part.  Rather, it’s because it tastes good and has no calories.  I don’t care that it’s “organic”.  It tastes good and doesn’t have calories.

I am willing to put the new Coke Zero Sugar up there in the category of quality diet sodas that taste more or less like their parent beverages without the caloric hit that the parent beverage provides (and the residue-leaving sweeteners).  It’s right up there with Pepsi Zero Sugar (formerly Pepsi Max) and Diet Dr Pepper.

Meanwhile, this amuses me on the back of the Coke Zero Sugar bottle:

The trademark graveyard

I call this the “trademark graveyard”, i.e. where beverage companies put their old logos that they don’t want to die off.  A trademark only keeps its protection as long as it’s used in commerce, and this is their token use of these trademarks in commerce.  Typically, the way Coke does it is that if they market the beverage as “Coca-Cola”, they do the same thing with the “Coke” logo on the back.  Likewise, if they call it “Coke” on the front, it’s got “Coca-Cola” on the back.  This is unusual because it has “Coca-Cola Zero” and “Coke Zero” on the back.  I’m surprised that “Coke Zero Sugar” is not on there as well.  Coke is not unique in putting variations of its logo on its products for trademark purposes.  Pepsi does it, too, putting a pre-1950 logo on the back of its bottles.

So all in all, not bad.  Coke Zero was good, but this is better.

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Going to show that you never know what you’ll find at the thrift store… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/07/30/going-to-show-that-you-never-know-what-youll-find-at-the-thrift-store/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/07/30/going-to-show-that-you-never-know-what-youll-find-at-the-thrift-store/#respond Sun, 30 Jul 2017 06:39:41 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26302 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

Those of you who have followed this site for a long time will recognize what Elyse is holding.  That is a Sony Mavica CD400.  I owned one from 2002 to 2008, and called it “Big Mavica”, because it was my second Sony Mavica camera, with higher resolution than the first.  Thus it was a “big” Mavica.

Last time we saw Big Mavica, it had gotten wrecked in a rainstorm, and was being shipped to a recycler in Michigan to raise money for some sort of charity.  So imagine my surprise to find a CD400 camera identical to Big Mavica on the shelf at the thrift store.  Check it out:

Hello again, Big Mavica.  It was like meeting up with an old friend after a long time apart, as it had been nine years since I’d held a Mavica.  Nonetheless, it all came back:

Just like old times.  Except I had more hair back then.  Elyse also posed for a few photos with it:

I was also amazed about how many memories finding a “Big Mavica” style camera brought back.  Elyse was wondering what the video from Big Mavica looked like.  So I showed her a few videos from back in the day.  I feel like I really started to grow and develop as a photographer during the Big Mavica era, as this was my first “prosumer” level camera. There were lots of settings to fiddle with and learn how to use.  Compare my first Big Mavica photo set, Autumn Leaves, with Downtown Lynchburg, from the middle of that period, with a later Big Mavica era set, Weekend with Katie.  The photography definitely improved quite a bit between the three sets.  Mind you, I now consider my Big Mavica material to be the work of a much younger man, but nonetheless, you can see some growth.

Nowadays, though, Big Mavica has been far outpaced as far as cameras go.  It was a great camera for its time, but that time has since passed.  The cameras that replaced Big Mavica in 2008 both were higher resolution, and beginning with my Motorola Droid phone in 2010, my phone camera has had a higher resolution than Big Mavica.  Plus Big Mavica’s design is very much a product of its time, being relatively large, plus having that big round side.  Compare to my camera today, a Nikon D5300 DSLR, which looks like a traditional camera.  Big Mavica just looks dated these days.

Besides one of Big Mavica’s relatives, we also found some other interesting things, like these handpainted Care Bear figurines:

Grumpy Bear!
Grumpy Bear!

This bear seems like a cross between Cheer Bear and Wish Bear.
This bear seems like a cross between Cheer Bear and Wish Bear.  The shooting star is like Wish Bear, but the rainbow belongs to Cheer Bear.  And that blue color doesn’t match either bear, as Cheer Bear is pink, and Wish Bear is a light turquoise color.

Then there was this giraffe:

Giraffe with a big tongue
That tongue.  What is going on with that tongue?

Then we also spotted this:

Commodore disk drive.  Wonder if this still works...
Commodore disk drive.  Wonder if this still works…

"Target & Blue" mug.
“Target & Blue” mug.  I did a little research on this, and found out that it’s a community outreach program in order to form good relations with local police departments.

And then at the Habitat for Humanity thrift store, we found a piano.  I played a tune:

Yes, that’s me trying to play the tune in the music box from the Today’s Special episode “Music”.  It’s not a bad tune, but I am not doing the tune justice by and means.

So all in all, I’d say that we had fun at the thrift store.  I always enjoy going to the thrift store, even if, in this case, we came out empty-handed.

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A lovely little road trip to West Virginia and back… https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/07/23/a-lovely-little-road-trip-to-west-virginia-and-back/ https://www.schuminweb.com/2017/07/23/a-lovely-little-road-trip-to-west-virginia-and-back/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 07:53:54 +0000 https://www.schuminweb.com/?p=26237 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.

The water in the Patuxent River downstream from the dam was very muddy.  Guessing that this has to do with the rehabilitation project as well, since the water was clearer with a greenish tinge to it in my previous visits.
The water in the Patuxent River downstream from the dam was very muddy.  Guessing that this has to do with the rehabilitation project as well, since the water was clearer with a greenish tinge to it in my previous visits.

After seeing Brighton Dam, we headed out to Frederick.  There, we headed up to the North Market Pop Shop, which is a soda shop similar to Rocket Fizz, which sells novelty sodas and such.  Check these out:

A wall of root beer.  So many different kinds of root beers.
A wall of root beer.  So many different kinds of root beers.

A wall of fruit sodas, ginger beers, and novelty sodas.
A wall of fruit sodas, ginger beers, and novelty sodas.

We didn’t buy anything on this visit, though.  This visit was just to scope the place out, as I still have four of the six novelty sodas from Rocket Fizz that we got on the way back from the Outer Banks.

We then headed over to Frederick Towne Mall, because Aaron had not yet seen this now-disused mall.  The best view of the interior is inside Boscov’s, where part of the gate is papered over, a lot of it isn’t, and you can see the interior of the mall.  Check it out:

Frederick Towne Mall

All of this should have been gone by now, replaced by a parking lot for a Walmart store that was to be built behind the mall footprint.  However, Walmart pulled out of the project in late 2016 despite a groundbreaking ceremony, and as far as I can tell, that put the kibosh on the whole redevelopment.  The mall is not abandoned, though.  The security cameras and siren are new since Elyse and I last visited back in April.

Leaving the mall, we headed out to West Virginia – specifically, Shepherdstown.  I had, by sheer chance, spotted photos of a railroad bridge piggybacked on an Instagram post about an ice cream shop in nearby Sharpsburg, Maryland.  I interacted with the poster, and learned the location of the bridge and the vantage points that were shown.  So we went to look and photograph.

Elyse smiles next to the railroad tracks.
Elyse smiles next to the railroad tracks.

Aaron photographs the railroad bridge.
Aaron photographs the railroad bridge.

The bridge.  Needless to say, considering the length of the bridge and its height, you never want to foul the tracks here unless you can get confirmation that all traffic is stopped.
The bridge.  Needless to say, considering the length of the bridge and its height, you never want to foul the tracks here unless you can get confirmation that all traffic is stopped.

Sign denoting the Maryland state line, across the track from our location, and a reminder that Maryland starts on the far banks of the Potomac River, i.e. the river belongs entirely to Maryland.
Sign denoting the Maryland state line, across the track from our location, and a reminder that Maryland starts on the far banks of the Potomac River, i.e. the river belongs entirely to Maryland.

The track, facing the other way, with the bridge behind me.
The track, facing the other way, with the bridge behind me.

Then we headed over to the Rumsey Memorial, and I got this photo of the bridge:

The bridge as viewed from the Rumsey memorial

Not bad.  We probably came too late in the day to get great shots, but the site definitely has potential.  Seems worth revisiting, though earlier in the day, and when it’s not so humid out.

Otherwise, Elyse got some photos of me getting in position to get that last photo:

Sexy.  This, by the way, is what happens when you hand Elyse your camera to hold while you climb through the railings.  Then she also got this photo of me before coming back through the railings:

There you go, I suppose.

We then left Shepherdstown and headed over to Charles Town.  After the whole dust-up with the death metal band over the cemetery pic, Elyse wanted to see the “historic French cemetery” that’s actually in West Virginia.  So we headed over to Edge Hill Cemetery and took a look.  Much to my surprise, there was an open grave at the east end of the cemetery:

An open grave at Edge Hill Cemetery

I never really thought about the depth of a grave, other than the whole “six feet under” thing.  But it’s deep.  If you fall into an open grave, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to climb back out of it on your own.  Then I also got a photo of Aaron standing next to the open grave, contemplating life:

Aaron stands next to an open grave, contemplating life.

I don’t know whose grave this is, but next time I’m out here, I’ll update, since I want to do more photography in Edge Hill Cemetery.

Otherwise, I got a few photos of the older part of the cemetery, or as Elyse called it, “the French part of the cemetery”:

Photo taken from a similar angle as the photo feature from October 2013.  Notice that they added some poles and chains around some of the graves.  I wish that they hadn't done that, because it destroys the scene.
Photo taken from a similar angle as the photo feature from October 2013.  Notice that they added some poles and chains around some of the graves.  I wish that they hadn’t done that, because it destroys the scene.

Photo taken facing east, past the last chain.
Photo taken facing east, past the last chain.

Headstones for Cleon and Ellen Moore.  Ellen's stone irks me a little, though, because it sort of indicates that her identity is completely tied to her husband, and that she is not an individual in her own right.  It's kind of like people who sign their name "Mrs. John Doe" instead of "Jane Doe".
Headstones for Cleon and Ellen Moore.  Ellen’s stone irks me a little, though, because it sort of indicates that her identity is completely tied to her husband, and that she is not an individual in her own right.  It’s kind of like people who sign their name “Mrs. John Doe” instead of “Jane Doe”.

Headstone for the Reverend Sydnor Gilbert Ferguson.  I'm no expert on these things, but the top half of this headstone appears to be a lot more modern than the bottom half.  I wonder if it wasn't replaced at some point.
Headstone for the Reverend Sydnor Gilbert Ferguson.  I’m no expert on these things, but the top half of this headstone appears to be a lot more modern than the bottom half.  I wonder if it wasn’t replaced at some point.

From here, we headed out to Harpers Ferry to show Aaron the train station, and then we headed back.  All in all, not a bad day.

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