The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Fri, 20 Oct 2017 07:29:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Schumin Web 32 32 37838674 Buses, fire trucks, ambulances, trains, and… moo cows? Fri, 20 Oct 2017 03:17:34 +0000 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… Sat, 30 Sep 2017 04:29:32 +0000 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… Sun, 17 Sep 2017 22:25:06 +0000 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,


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.


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 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.


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:


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.


Sheila Sarem
KIPP Recruitment Team

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


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.


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… Sat, 09 Sep 2017 17:32:18 +0000 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… Fri, 25 Aug 2017 16:30:24 +0000 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… Fri, 18 Aug 2017 05:25:20 +0000 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:


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… Sun, 13 Aug 2017 17:55:52 +0000 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… Sun, 30 Jul 2017 06:39:41 +0000 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… Sun, 23 Jul 2017 07:53:54 +0000 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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Yes, about that historic French cemetery… Mon, 10 Jul 2017 03:55:41 +0000 Sometimes, you really have to give someone the proverbial “smackdown”.  Such was the case of a recent copyright infringement issue that I had with a death metal band called Barbiturate.  As you may know, I periodically skim the Internet looking for unauthorized usages of my photography, which I then submit to Pixsy, a company that goes after these copyright infringers for royalties, therefore making the illegal usages legal.  I really don’t care when people use my work elsewhere.  I actually find it somewhat flattering.  However, if you are making money (and by that, I mean taking in revenue, regardless of whether you turn a profit) with my photo, you can afford to pay me for that usage (i.e. “F— You, Pay Me“), either by licensing it up front, or by having me chase you down via Pixsy.  Or at the very least, you can ask me for permission, because I do occasionally authorize use of my work for free.  But generally speaking, I don’t work for free, or for some vague notion of “exposure”.  I have a Flickr account and other outlets that give me plenty of exposure, thank you very much.  I don’t need anyone’s help getting exposure for my work.

In the Barbiturate case, I found this photo in Pixsy’s image search:

Nice graphic.  Black-and-white image of a cemetery with the band’s logo at the top.  The photo depicts Edge Hill Cemetery in Charles Town, West Virginia, which I photographed in October 2013.  I published the full set of photos on Flickr in January 2014, but published one photo as a photo feature in October 2013 to coincide with Halloween.  The Barbiturate graphic used the photo feature cut, where I hiked up the contrast to give the image a “horror movie” feel.  The Flickr set has a more natural appearance, though a cemetery in the fog is still pretty eerie.

Regarding the copyright case, this photo was taken and published at the tail end of Schumin Web’s Creative Commons period (late 2005 to early 2014), and so, not knowing if the date of publication for Barbiturate was within the four months that this image was so licensed, I treated this as a possible legal use, provided that the Attribution-ShareAlike license was followed.  However, I found no attribution on either the ReverbNation page that Pixsy found, nor on the YouTube videos that the band linked to on their ReverbNation page, and where they used the graphic as a background.  Thus, it was time to nail them for it.

As a side note, companies that host content need to make DMCA takedown notices easy to submit.  YouTube has one of the easiest processes for submitting takedowns for content hosted on their site.  You locate the content in the search results, add it to a list, and then submit one massive takedown request for all of the content on the list.  Upon submission, the affected videos are gone within minutes.  ReverbNation, on the other hand, has a takedown process that is a pain in the butt, where you have to fill out a cumbersome PDF form and then attach the form to an email to their legal department.  And they don’t include a space to link to the offending graphics, so I had to submit it as a separate attachment.

I submitted all of the takedown notices and then left to go to work, because as fun as it would be to do Schumin Web full time, I actually make my living playing with trains.  When I checked my email on a break at work, I heard back from a representative from Barbiturate.  No name – they signed the email as “Barbiturate”, even though it appears that there are multiple people behind the band.  The highlights of the email included:

The band holds all copyrights for the music, and the logo, as well as numerous other singular items of artwork, so we understand the nature of keeping ones content secure and protected.

The slide in question was created by a graphic designer whom we employed from the internet utilizing a paid service. As far as I understand it, the image was of a historic cemetery in France; one which was utilized under a creative commons agreement. The band was assured that the photo was above boards, and complied with copyright rules, etc, so I’m not really sure where your claim is coming from, but we take these things seriously none the less.

Additionally, we’re all reasonable here and we could have been contacted directly in lieu of being shut down in this manner.

So, with that said, we respectfully request that you withdraw your claim against out videos. If these photos of the French cemetery were in fact taken by you, and you can justify this, we humbly offer our apologies, and additionally, would be happy to cite you directly for your work etc.

It’s funny that, for a band whose representative claims in the first excerpt that it holds all of the copyrights to its works and takes copyright seriously, they admit in the second excerpt that they only got assurances from the designer that they found online that the graphic containing my photo was legal for their use.  It’s clear that they did not verify the legality of the photo’s use for themselves, because that photo had strings attached to it, and they didn’t follow the rules.  And if they had done their homework, they would have figured out that the photo of the “historic French cemetery” that they were using was actually taken in West Virginia.

Additionally, the third paragraph drives home an important point: everyone wants to be treated like an adult, but no one likes actually being treated like an adult.  I treat people like adults when it comes to copyright.  You choose, as a responsible adult, to use my photos without obtaining the rights to do so, and so I choose, as a responsible adult and the copyright holder, to utilize all of the tools at my disposal to blow the infringing usage off of the Internet.  I see no reason to confront the copyright holder directly, because adults who want to be treated like children rather than adults tend to balk if I come to them directly about copyright infringement, or ignore me outright.  So I have no reason to go to the infringers directly, because it rarely produces results.  If I can bypass the infringers and take care of it directly, I will, because I don’t have time to fool around and hold these people’s hands, and say, “Naughty, naughty,” about their copyright infringements.  And besides, it’s not like they even took responsibility for the violation anyway.  When they got caught, they blamed the graphic designer!  Hmmm, I wonder who decided to hire this graphic designer…

And lastly, notice in the fourth paragraph that the most that they are offering me is a photo credit, and that’s only if I can prove that the photos were actually my work.  Cheapskates.

So with that sort of message from them, I slaughtered them, dissecting their points one by one in my response.  Sometimes, these sorts of things are difficult to write, but this one flowed naturally.  First, my opening statement, which set the stage:

First of all, there’s no nice way to say this: you got ripped off by your graphic designer.  I don’t know what amount you paid them, but it was clearly too much.  Not only does the photo in question not depict an historic French cemetery as you were led to believe, but it’s also being used in violation of copyright.

Then I established my copyright claims over the graphic in question:

The photo depicts Edge Hill Cemetery in Charles Town, West Virginia, on a foggy morning in October 2013.  The cemetery has some graves from the late 1800s, but most of the interments are from the 20th century, and the cemetery is still actively selling burial plots.

Here is the full album on Flickr from that shoot:

Here is the photo that was used in the graphic in question:

Your graphic designer used a different edit of the photo than that which is on Flickr.  They used the version from my website, Schumin Web, which is cut differently, and where I hiked up the contrast to create an effect resembling that of a horror movie:

Then I laid out the copyright issue in question:

The photo was made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license from the time of its publication in October 2013 until February 20, 2014, at which time the CC license was withdrawn, and existing usages were grandfathered.  No new usages under Creative Commons were allowed after that date.  The Attribution-ShareAlike part of the license requires two things on the part of the downstream user to be legal.  First, it requires credit to the copyright holder, i.e. a byline of some sort.  Second, it requires that the resulting derivative work (i.e. your modification of the photo with your logo) be released under the same license as the original.  Your graphic containing my photo failed to include the requisite credit in any location where I found it in use, on both YouTube and ReverbNation, and therefore was not a legal use under Creative Commons, as the terms of the license were not followed.  Therefore, this is a run-of-the-mill copyright infringement case.

All of that said, that’s why you had copyright claims filed against you on both YouTube and ReverbNation.  Your designer failed to use proper due diligence when they created the graphic for you using the “historic French cemetery” that’s actually in West Virginia, and your organization also chose not to independently verify the claims that the designer made about the photo’s subject as well as its copyright status before using it.

In other words, they screwed up, and I told them exactly how they screwed up and how badly they screwed up.  I then offered a solution, whereby they could negotiate terms of a license with me to make their usage legal.  In that case, upon receipt of the licensing fee, I would withdraw my copyright claims, and we could all go about our business.  No license fee, however, and they could keep their copyright strikes with my compliments.

My offer to negotiate was met with silence.  Clearly, they chose the copyright strikes over a license.  Suit yourself, I suppose.

I hope, though, that they took an important lesson home from all of this, i.e. I hope that they learned the importance of vetting their contractors, as well as the work that said contractors do.  All of this could have been prevented if they had checked the work of their graphic designer before publication.  Then they would have known the copyright status of the images that they were displaying, and known whether or not they were in the clear.  Trust no one when it comes to business, because not doing your own due diligence up front can cost you money later on down the road when someone else catches the mistakes that you missed or chose to ignore.  And I have no sympathy whatsoever for people who find themselves in this situation, because they did it to themselves.

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Yesterday’s future is tomorrow’s memories… Thu, 29 Jun 2017 12:00:38 +0000 This month, the thing that we all knew was coming finally came: Metro retired the final 1000 and 4000-Series railcars.  That means no more of these:

Rohr 1000-Series railcar, photographed at Largo Town Center in 2008

And no more of these:

Breda 4000-Series railcar, photographed at Greenbelt in 2009

That also means no more of this:

Interior of 1185, photographed in 2009

And no more of this:

Interior of 4007, photographed in 2008

And also no more of this:

Flip-dot sign

Yes, era of orange carpet, orange seats, tan walls, rubber handrails, and flip-dot signage has ended.  Yesterday’s future becomes tomorrow’s memories.  These cars, which were state of the art and somewhat futuristic in the 1970s and the 1990s, respectively, are now, for the most part, memories.

Memories, because this is the style of Metro that many of us grew up with.  This is what we all thought of whenever we rode Metro in younger years, before the 5000-Series came in with LED signage and an updated color scheme.  The stations may look mostly the same, but the vehicles definitely don’t look the same anymore, as the 7000-Series, which replaced these cars, demonstrates.

My first Metro ride was on a Rohr, riding the Blue Line from Pentagon City to McPherson Square.  I specifically remember the large red cover over the emergency door release from that ride.  My second Metro ride, going back to Pentagon City, was on a Breda, though I misremembered it for many years as being another Rohr.  Nonetheless, these were the cars where I really discovered things, where my inner foamer really began to form.  On our next trip up to Washington six months later in December 1994, which was the first that originated at Vienna, I noticed that the handrails on the seats were brown rubber rather than metal, as they had been on our first trip.  Looks like someone found a Breda!  Then in summer 2000, on a trip up here by myself, I first discovered the word “Breda” on a builder’s plate:

Breda builder's plate, seen here on a 3000-Series in November 2000

I had never really thought about where Metro trains came from.  As it turned out, many of them came from Italy.  It was later, by reading the history page on Metro’s website, that I learned that other cars were made by Rohr.

I think that this retirement also is a big thing for many of us because for over 30 years, all of the car orders have increased the fleet size rather than replacing cars.  So we always had the older cars running alongside the newer ones.  One Red Line train could be 1000-Series cars.  The next one could be 6000-Series cars.  With the 7000-Series, it’s not only fleet expansion, but also replacement of 592 railcars, as the 1000 and 4000-Series have been retired, and eventually, 7000-Series cars will replace the 5000-Series as well, as Metro opted to forgo a rehab on these cars and instead retire them early.  Once the 7000-Series order is complete, rather than having seven different series of cars, there will only be four: the 2000-Series, the 3000-Series, the 6000-Series, and the 7000-Series.  And the Breda rehabs only have about another ten years before they reach retirement age, meaning more fleet renewal is coming.  More memories.  After all, if the Rohrs and older Bredas defined Metro in the 1970s through the 1990s, the Breda rehabs defined Metro in the 2000s and 2010s.

All in all, I’d say that I’ll miss the old railcars.  I’m glad that 1000 and 1001 will be refurbished and preserved for historical purposes, but I’ll miss seeing the older style of railcar around on a regular basis.

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Sometimes you have to vote with your feet… Fri, 16 Jun 2017 01:18:33 +0000 Sometimes, the fact that the telecommunications market is extremely cutthroat has its advantages from a customer standpoint.  It means that there is no room for loyalty, and also that the big players are more than happy to poach customers from each other.  It also means that if I’m no longer happy with my service, I can bounce at a moment’s notice to someone else who will make me satisfied with their service.

I’ve done that twice in the last five years.  Back in late 2013, I finally took Candice Bergen’s advice and switched to Sprint, replacing Verizon as my cell phone carrier.  The reason for switching at that time was related to my unlimited data plan.  I had an unlimited data plan with Verizon when I got my first smartphone back in early 2010, and kept it with my second smartphone in late 2011.  However, about a year after I got my second smartphone, Verizon announced that they were doing away with unlimited data plans, and that while people on existing unlimited plans were grandfathered in, they could not upgrade to a new phone at the subsidized rate and still keep their unlimited data plans.  In other words, if you wanted to keep your unlimited plan, you had to pay full retail for your device.  I considered that to be unacceptable, so I did my research, and settled on Sprint.  They offered unlimited data plans, and had all of the other features that I was looking for.  So I switched.  Other than a very slight loss of voice quality (Verizon had clearer sound by a hair), I continued to be pleased with Sprint two years later when I upgraded to a new phone, and also when I adjusted my plan a few months ago to a cheaper one that had everything that I already had, plus 10 GB of hotspot service.

Now fast forward to about a week or so ago.  The USB charging port on my Galaxy Note 5 stopped working.  Not good.  That meant that the only way that I could charge my phone was via the wireless charger.  Clearly, this was not a sustainable proposition, since I couldn’t use a wireless charger in a lot of places that I typically charged my phone, like in the car or in a bag.  Plus if I took any photos with my phone, I had to transfer them via the cloud.  I couldn’t just plug in and transfer stuff directly.

So I made an appointment at a Sprint store for technical support at my earliest opportunity.  According to Sprint’s website, appointment holders got priority processing for support, and the appointments typically took around fifteen minutes.  Good.  I could deal with that.

When it comes to cell companies’ retail locations, I will only go to corporate stores.  I absolutely will not go to franchised locations.  I’ve found that I tend to get better service at corporate locations, because they represent the company directly, and thus stand to lose more if you switch carriers.  My experience with franchised locations is that they’re only interested in making a quick buck by selling you phones and accessories, and they don’t care if you’re satisfied or not, as long as they’ve gotten their money.  I had a very bad experience with an AT&T authorized retailer last year relating to a screen protector on Elyse’s phone that reinforced my no-franchises rule.  They did a poor job installing the screen protector, to the point that dust got under it.  We came back within an hour to get it fixed, and after several more sloppy attempts, they basically told us to get lost.  All that said, franchised locations are bad news, so I avoid them like the plague, because they’re not the company that they have on their sign, and are more interested in a quick sale than repeat business.

So I arrived at the Sprint store on Quince Orchard Road in Gaithersburg about ten minutes before my appointment time.  When I got in, the first thing that I looked for was a kiosk or something on which to check in, so that the store knew that I was there.  Not finding anywhere to check in, I went over to the counter, where I attempted to catch an employee’s eye to let them know that I was there for an appointment.  The employee whom I was able to get the attention of gave me the dirtiest look that you could imagine, and told me, “There’s only two of us.”  Not, “gimme one moment and I’ll be right over”, or something else along those lines.  Clearly, my presence with an appointment was a bother.  He later came over to me with a tablet and checked me in, still keeping up the attitude that said without saying it that I was inconveniencing him.  I’m sorry that I’m making you do all of your job functions.  But at least I was checked in.  Good.  They knew that I was there, and so I would get seen.

Then they called me up for my appointment.  When I started to explain what was wrong with my phone, they were quick to cut me off and inform me that they only had one technician, and that his queue was first come, first serve, and it would take hours for them to look at my phone because of all of the other phones ahead of mine, including phones from the night before.  Therefore, I would have to leave my phone with them, and come back in a few hours to check on the status of my phone.  Clearly, that wouldn’t work, because I had to go to work later that day.  So I told the person at the store that I would have to come back another day, because I didn’t have that sort of time on this particular day.  In the end, I wasted an hour or so out of my day to be told that the information on the website was essentially meaningless, and that I would be at the back of a very long queue for service.  So thanks for nothing.

Needless to say, I was annoyed about the service that I received from Sprint.  And since this happened at a corporate store, this reflected directly on Sprint itself, and not on some third party retailer.  Sprint itself allowed this, i.e. Sprint management didn’t schedule enough Sprint employees to handle the customer load, and Sprint management also instructed someone to disregard the promises that the website made.  And someone made these employees think that it was somehow acceptable to make excuses for Sprint’s inability to run a Sprint store.

And the thing is, if I had been told going into this that there were no appointments and that support was on a first come, first serve basis, I would have been fine with it, because I could have planned accordingly.  I would have allotted more time for the entire ordeal, likely on a day when I didn’t have to also go to work.

So that was the end of Sprint, as far as I was concerned.  I’m not going to do the “I want to speak to a manager” thing, because that rarely gets me anywhere, instead just hearing the same lame excuses from the next level up.  I will just leave and not come back.  Sprint came off as unwilling to provide repair service when I needed it, and so I did what I had to do in order to get what I needed.  Sprint did not earn my continued business, so I started looking elsewhere.  Other than the unlimited data thing in 2013, I never had a problem with Verizon, and was sad to leave them.  Now, Verizon offered unlimited talk, text, and data, plus unlimited hotspot connectivity.  I know that they throttle you after a certain amount, but history has shown that I have never reached that level.  So all in all, works for me.  They also offered incentives to switch, including paying my early termination fee for Sprint.  I also got a good deal on an Android tablet, which is something that I would have eventually gotten from Sprint had I stayed with them for another upgrade.  Plus Verizon’s sales staff was exactly as I liked: helpful and not pushy.  Additionally, I had always been pleased with Verizon tech support in the past.  So it made sense to go back to Verizon after a little less than four years away.

So all in all, I’m glad to be back on Verizon.  Hopefully they will earn my continued business for a long time to come.

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Taste testing some novelty sodas… Sun, 04 Jun 2017 18:30:04 +0000 This past Thursday, Elyse and I finished up a round of taste tests on a bunch of novelty sodas that we bought at Rocket Fizz in Richmond back in March.  Recall from the second Journal entry about our Richmond trip:

The novelty sodas that I got in March

This was definitely a mixed bag as far as taste went.  We were admittedly a bit heavy on a single brand, as four of the six were from the Lester’s Fixins brand.  But we found out what worked and what didn’t, and were willing to be surprised by what we found.

The first soda that we tried was the one that started this whole thing in the first place: ranch dressing.  I had heard about the ranch dressing soda from someone that I follow on Instagram, and it seemed crazy enough to try.  I said this about it at the time:

"So Elyse and I tried the ranch dressing soda today. It smelled like feet, tasted like sugar and fizz in the moment, and left a ranchy aftertaste."

Realize that I basically had to force myself to drink that soda, because it was terrible.  Ranch dressing is lovely and all, but it doesn’t work as a soda.  Meanwhile, when I wrote that post, I had not yet had the complete experience, as I had not burped yet.  And the burp is as much of the soda experience as drinking it.  And it tasted exactly like it smelled: like feet.  All in all, as I’ve been known to say, “G-R-O-C-E gross”.

The following week, we broke out the bacon soda.  This was another Lester’s Fixins soda, and we were hoping that it would be better than the ranch dressing soda.  I had this to say about it at the time:

"So Lester's Fixins 'Bacon with Maple Syrup' soda tastes like bacon bits rather than real bacon."

All in all, the bacon soda was pretty good.  While it did taste like bacon bits, as in like what goes on salads, it was the higher end bacon bits, which are actually made of bacon.  Compare to something like that “Bac’n Pieces” brand, which is made out of something crunchy that was then treated with bacon flavoring.  All in all, I’d buy it again (the soda, not the artificial bacon bits).

Next, we tried the “Grass” soda:

Grass Soda

This was a non-Lester’s brand, and it wasn’t bad by any means.  We were told by the lady at the store that it tasted the way that you think that it should taste.  I expected something that vaguely resembled grass clippings, but surprisingly, it had a very subtle green apple flavor.  Quite a pleasant surprise, though I was a little disappointed that it didn’t taste like something resembling grass clippings.

The following week, we tried the Sweet Corn soda:

Sweet Corn soda

This was probably the best Lester’s Fixins soda out of the whole bunch.  It was the color that you would expect a corn soda to have.  It smelled like corn.  And then when we drank it, it tasted more or less like creamed corn.  In other words, they nailed it.

The following week, we gave the butter soda a spin:

Butter Soda

This is where you recognize that Lester’s Fixins doesn’t always hit it out of the park.  Ranch dressing soda was basically what it said on the label (and was pretty nasty), and the bacon bits hit pretty close as well.  Then the corn was perfection.  But this one was a miss.  Butter isn’t that strong of a flavor in the first place, and in soda, it quickly gets overwhelmed by other flavors.  In this case, the sugar took care of that.  Thus butter soda tasted like sugar water, and nothing more, because the sugar completely overrode the butter taste.  That was a disappointment, because I was looking forward to butter in soda form, and its placement near the end of the line was indicative of our high hopes for this soda.

And last but not least, San Francisco Fog soda:

San Francisco Fog Soda

This soda had a great presentation.  The label gave an impression of a foggy day on the San Francisco Bay, and the soda itself was a grayish white color to match.  The lady at the store told us that it had something of a marshmallow flavor to it, and that was a pretty accurate description of it.  While the name stirs up romantic imagery of San Francisco, the marshmallow soda that Elyse and I consumed was remarkably good.  It all came together quite nicely.

Meanwhile, Elyse and I picked up six more sodas from Rocket Fizz while we were passing through Richmond on our way back from a trip to the Outer Banks (more on that in a future Life and Times set [update: here it is]).  Check these out:

The second round of sodas

The next round of novelty sodas: “Martian”, chocolate, “barf”, Mighty Mouse blue cream, pickle juice, and maple syrup.  Note only one Lester’s Fixins soda this time around, as we went to great effort to select sodas from different manufacturers this time around.  I’ve had a chocolate soda before, but it was cheap stuff that tasted like seltzer water and chocolate, alternating between the two flavors.  I’ve never had a really quality chocolate soda before.  So this ought to be fun.

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A trip to the pinball museum… Mon, 29 May 2017 14:08:33 +0000 On Tuesday, May 23, Elyse and I, along with mutual friend Brian, went up to Asbury Park, New Jersey for the day.  Our goal was to go to the Silverball Museum, which is a vintage arcade on the Asbury Park boardwalk.

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

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

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

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

I sent a photo of the place to Dad, and his reaction was, “Sure looks different.”

We also checked out the building next door to Uncle Skippy’s store, which was once a Woolworth’s, but is now a mini-mall:

That was fun, as we checked out a few of the stores, including one that I had seen on Reddit that sold wooden sunglasses.  I chatted with the owner of that store for a little bit.  Meanwhile, Elyse and Brian went to a store across the way that sold vintage and modern video games, going back as far as the NES era.  I was impressed to see that they sold games for the Sega Master System, as that system wasn’t all that popular, and thus it’s really rare to see those games being sold.  Elyse and I didn’t buy anything, and then Brian bought a Nintendo 3DS.

Then from here, it was off to the pinball museum.  We parked in space 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything – at least automotively), and headed on over.  We all bought our wristbands, and it was time to play.  Unlike other vintage arcades that I’ve been to, this place had signs over the games providing background information about the company that made the game and what that game did that was new and innovative.  It was also my first time seeing mechanical pinball machines.  I grew up in the era of solid-state pinball machines, which used far fewer moving parts than older machines, with the score and other information’s being displayed electronically.

It’s interesting – my father worked at a pinball arcade in nearby Belmar as a teen, plus Palace Amusements and the Casino had video games and such as part of their history.  Much of the boardwalk isn’t about amusements anymore, with gift shops and such in Convention Hall, and most of the businesses fronting the boardwalk’s being restaurants and souvenir shops.  So the pinball museum is something of a spiritual successor to the Palace (which is now a parking lot and other minor structures), the Casino (partly demolished, remainder still somewhat in use), and other amusement attractions at Asbury Park.

Reinforcing the idea that this was something of a spiritual successor to these amusement facilities of the past was this artifact:

This is the old photo booth from Palace Amusements, still in operation.  A sign on the booth explained that it was at Palace Amusements, and then operated in Vermont for a number of years before returning to the Jersey Shore.

Meanwhile, check this place out:


More pinball!

Vintage video games!

Yes, this place is as awesome as it looks.  One could easily spend hours here, playing all of the games.  Some of the games had the flippers in unusual places, like this:

Note the position of the flippers.

Note that the flippers face the opposite direction and are oriented closer to the center.  Definitely a challenge from the usual.  The object of this game was to move the horses around the race track.  This game was also completely mechanical.

This crane machine, which Brian is playing here, was something that I’d never seen before:

The crane machine

The crane machine

The crane machine

This was pretty fun.  Unlike most crane games, this was played for entertainment only, i.e. no prizes.  The object was to pick up the gravel (which was actually lentils) with your crane, and drop them in the hopper, and see how many “tons” you can get in there before time expired.  Very challenging, especially since if you went too fast, you got less material per scoop.  Thus you had to pace yourself to get maximum yield.

Of course, in the end, everyone was having fun, and that means making this face, as demonstrated by Elyse:

Elyse makes her "video game face"

We ended up spending two hours here before doing other things along the boardwalk.  But don’t worry – we’ll be back at the end of August for Elyse’s birthday.

Leaving the arcade, and after feeding the meter again, we headed over to the Casino.  That had seen some changes since I was there in 2013, because now, the carousel house was in use again:

The old carousel house is now in use as a skatepark!

The old carousel house is now in use as a skatepark!

The old carousel house is now in use as a skatepark, operated by an organization called Forth Union.  It’s not being used for a carousel anymore, but you know what?  It’s putting the space to good use for entertainment, and that’s awesome.

The midsection of the Casino, meanwhile, looked the same as it did in 2013:

Looking straight back towards the walled-off carousel house. The former Mad-O-Rama space is back and to the right.
Looking straight back towards the walled-off carousel house.  The former Mad-O-Rama space is back and to the right.

View to the left of the previous view. Pretty sure that this was part of the Casino fun house, but my recollection is a little fuzzy on this.
View to the left of the previous view.  Pretty sure that this was part of the Casino fun house, but my recollection is a little fuzzy on this.

View to the right, showing the Mad-O-Rama space and the areas next to it.
View to the right, showing the Mad-O-Rama space and the areas next to it.

The arcade, meanwhile, looked the same, other than a fence down the middle:

The Casino arcade

The north facade, meanwhile, looked a little rough:

The Casino's north facade

Does anyone know what happened to the “CASINO” lettering?

We also headed over to Convention Hall, which looked the same as it did in 2013.

After this, we went to Monmouth Mall, where Elyse and Brian filmed a Montgomery Vector elevator at the Lord & Taylor:

I was amused about what was carved into the display:

Scratchitti on the display

Yes, I am immature.

Otherwise, we found a rare specimen: a living Suncoast!

I’ve only seen one other living Suncoast store in the last decade or so, and that’s at White Marsh Mall north of Baltimore.  The company is now owned by the same people that own FYE, and has had similar “format decay” as FYE, i.e. they now sell mostly merchandise tie-ins with popular entertainment franchises, and very little actual media.  However, I did get this photo of two candy containers:

"Grow up and get a life"

I captioned this “Grow up and get a life.”  Fans of Super Mario Bros. will understand this immediately.

And then from there, we headed back home.  We returned to Maryland House on the way back to inquire about my hat.  The guy checked the lost and found, and bad news: no hat.  I’m guessing that someone saw it laying there abandoned, and got themselves a new hat.  And I hope that they enjoy it, as I harbor no ill will towards whoever found it.  I only had that particular hat for six months, and it never quite fit as well as I would have preferred, so I’m not too upset about losing it.  Plus I have the classic hat to fall back on until I get another hat.

So that’s that.  I’d say that everyone had fun.  I like these little road trips.

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Red Line to Grosvenor… Thu, 18 May 2017 03:52:47 +0000 You may be aware that in February, Metro began retiring the Breda 4000-Series railcars, starting with 4054 and 4055.  While most of the retired cars will likely be sold for scrap, not all of them will.  When 4089 was retired, it was cut up and converted into vendor kiosks, intended for use at Grosvenor-Strathmore station.  Today was the first day of this pop-up market, which will run at least through the end of June, and eventually be incorporated into a new development at Grosvenor station.

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

Overview of one side of the setup

Then there were a few different kiosks set up.  One contained a bakery:

Grandma Vera's Bakery

Grandma Vera's Bakery

Interestingly enough, someone was selling clothes out of the back part of the bakery section.
Interestingly enough, someone was selling clothes out of the back part of the bakery section.

Then someone was selling clothes and hats in another section:

Ibhana Creations

Another contained a vendor selling flowers and other plants:

Bell Flowers

Another contained a juice vendor:

Juice Fresh

Juice Fresh

One thing interesting about the juice section is that it contained the center doors:

I checked the door release to see what it looked like:

Release cover for the #10 door on Breda 4089  Surprise: no release handle!
Door release handle for the #10 door.  The seal was missing, but surprisingly, so is the release mechanism.

Then another section contained a table and a computer monitor:

Seats from the car were used as benches:

Seats as benches

Seats as benches

What I would give to have Breda seats in my house, ya know?

And then there was the front section, containing the cab:

The front end of 4089

The front end of 4089

The front end of 4089

The Breda logo on the exterior is still intact.
The Breda logo on the exterior is still intact.

Meanwhile, they let Elyse and me in the cab.  I got photos of Elyse closing the doors, first on the left:

"Step back, doors closing!"

And then on the right:

"Step back, doors closing!"

We also set the ID and destination to make it a proper train to Grosvenor:

Train 205, destination 09. Red Line to Grosvenor!

And then Elyse put her hand on the master controller and pretended to operate:

Then the rest of it looked like Metro:

Then there was also a sculpture made using the various mechanical parts of the car.  It was gone before we arrived, but here it is, taken by a colleague of mine who was there earlier:

The sculpture
Photo: A. Hastings

So all in all, this was fun.  Glad to see a retired Metro railcar given new life.  I hope that this pop-up market does really well, and I also hope to see more Metro railcars get new life in creative ways after they’re decommissioned before it’s all over.

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