Happy Pepper Day!

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

To celebrate Pepper Day, I will tell you about the day the music returned.

When the pandemic hit, music around the world ground to a halt. The last concert I attended was a show by Transviolet at a small club in downtown Orlando on March 1st. The week after that, I was in New York for work, and some of my co-workers saw Broadway shows on the last few nights before the Great White Way went dark.

By the third week of March, everything else started to shut down. Every concert I had remaining in South Florida – and several in other states- was either canceled or postponed. Conventions were pushed off. A big family gathering on the west coast was postponed, which killed my plans to see Portland and Seattle on either side of the family stuff.

By the time the dust settled, every single concert, convention, trip, or airplane ride I had planned for the year was wiped clean from my calendar. The few shows that did get rescheduled were all pushed off to next year, no earlier than springtime. I resigned myself to nothing live, just live streams and prerecorded stuff until the pandemic was behind us.

Then I learned about the Birchmere.

The Birchmere is a music hall in Alexandria, Virginia. First opened in 1966, the Birchmere has been home to rock, blues, jazz, country, R&B, and bluegrass artists. The main hall seats 500, with a smallish stage and food service.

The food is the key here: Because the Birchmere has food, it was able to open in July under Virginia “kinda-sorta restaurant” guidelines. Smaller crowds were necessary because of the reduced capacity during Covid, but the music continues.

On October 19th, I went to the Birchmere for the first time, to see a rock guitarist named Samantha Fish. This was one of two sold-out shows- where sold out is still roughly 25 percent of the music hall’s total capacity.

The Birchmere has had a lot of amazing shows, and their entry hall walls are lined with concert posters and framed photos, many of them signed by the artists. I haven’t the foggiest clue what made me decide that the Spin Doctors was the best example of this legendary musical talent represented in this hallway, but this is the one photo I took of the walls.

Because this was my first time at the Birchmere, I arrived a little earlier than was really necessary. Once I arrived, they took my temperature at the door and guided me to a table. I was seated up front, just a few feet from the stage and spaced a table’s length from any other people. I ordered the fish and chips and a Red Stripe while I waited for the show to start. This was my view.

I’m not going to lie- it felt weird to be out at a concert while the pandemic is still ongoing. Even with everyone masked, it was the first time I’d been around that many people in more than six months.

It was all worth it, though, when the show started. When the music returned.

And Samantha Fish began very seriously to rock.

What was the last concert you saw?

43/52 (and 22 of 30!)

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

One of my favorite parts of the Smithsonian is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The Udvar-Hazy is a part of the National Air & Space Museum, but it’s not on the National Mall. The National Mall has limited space, so in 1999 they had the brilliant idea of putting a giant hangar near Dulles Airport in Virginia and filling it with all kinds of cool stuff that wouldn’t fit in the main Air & Space Museum.

If you have a long layover at Dulles Airport, this is a GREAT way to kill some time. Fairfax Connector operates a bus from Dulles to the Udvar-Hazy Center every hour. The trip takes less than fifteen minutes, and it only costs a few dollars.

They’ve got hundreds of fascinating historical aircraft, as well as a restoration hangar where they can work on several airplanes at once. This is a BIG place. They have Felix Baumgartner’s capsule, ultralights, stunt planes, dirigible cabins, and so much more. They have cool space stuff like the Gemini 7 space capsule. They’ve also got an SR-71 Blackbird. And an Air France Concorde. And the freaking Enola Gay.

And they have a Space Shuttle. Guys, this place is SO COOL!

There are four space shuttle orbiters left, after the tragic destruction of Challenger and Columbia. The remaining four are all retired into museums. Endeavour is at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California. Enterprise is at the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum in New York. Atlantis is at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. And Discovery is here, at the Udvar-Hazy.

I’m not likely to ever see Endeavour because I have no interest in going back to Los Angeles. I’ll see Enterprise next time I’m in New York for work, post-pandemic. Nikhil and I went to the Kennedy Space Center this summer and saw Atlantis. (Editor’s note: I thought I had blogged the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, but I don’t see it here. I’ll have to come back to write that post later because the spacecraft on display are amazing.)

I mentioned Lorrie’s weekend visit back in my post about the Air Force Memorial. That same weekend, we drove out to Chantilly to see the Udvar-Hazy, and to get some quality time with Discovery.

An STS Orbiter is a very, very large thing. Larger than you might expect. The rockets at the back are just insanely large. Until you see them up close, it’s difficult to describe the immensity.

I call this photo “Lorrie looks at Shuttlebutt.”

The space part of the Udvar-Hazy has some displays pertaining to pop culture and how it intertwines with our space exploration. There are items from Babylon 5, Star Wars, and Buck Rogers, among others. There’s also a hero model used in the filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You don’t ever see it in the movie, but there’s a bunch of little things glued onto the model in various places to give it more detail. Like trucks, and mailboxes, and R2-D2, seen in the photo below. (Here’s a fun pop culture trivia- there’s also a small R2-D2 on the deck of One-Eyed Willie’s pirate ship in The Goonies. That little droid just gets everywhere.)

For some reason, there’s even a tiny model of the Space Shuttle in the Space Shuttle’s wing, complete with tiny people. I love miniatures, so this was extra fun for me.

I took hundreds of photos in the Udvar-Hazy. If I showed the rest of them inline like this, the post would be insanely long. Instead, I’ll just throw 78 of them into a gallery!

Have you ever been to the Udvar-Hazy Center?

35/52 (and 14 of 30!)

Inside The Pointy Obelisk

Long time readers of my blog know that I absolutely love tall things. Whenever I get into a new city, I generally like to find the tallest thing around and climb it. I get a little bit King Kongy, albeit from the inside. If it’s got an observation deck, you’ll observe me wanting to go to there.

When I arrived in Arlington in August, however, the Washington Monument was closed to inside visitors. It had only just reopened in September of 2019 after a three-year renovation to the elevator controls and security screening area and then had to close down again six months later because of Covid 19.

As you might imagine, I was incredibly stoked when they announced that it would reopen on October 1st, even with a limited capacity. In order to visit now, you have to get a timed entrance ticket from the recreation.gov site. A very limited number of tickets would be available each day, and each group would only get 10 minutes at the Observation level. They opened the Monument on schedule, and I tried a few times a week to snag one of the precious few visitor slots for each day that I might be able to visit.

On October 28th, I was finally able to snag a slot for the following day, soon after I finished my work for the day. I was incredibly excited to finally get to go up inside the Monument.

I wasn’t paying attention to the weather, though. Hurricane Zeta had just made landfall, and all the leftover rain was coming our way– it was slated to rain all day long, including well past the end of my time slot to visit the monument. I briefly considered not going at all since I would be trudging through rain and the views would be hampered, but after a series of should-I-go-or-not coin flips, I finally grabbed a rideshare to the National Mall. (Normally I would go via the Metro, but my workday and the visit timing were too close together, and I needed a slightly more direct route. I took the Metro home afterward.)

I don’t need to talk about the two shades of marble again, do I? I just talked about that the other day.

By the time I arrived, my feet were wet, and I was well and truly damp despite my coat and umbrella. You can’t quite tell in the photo above, but it was raining. It was raining a lot.

One unexpected benefit of going to the Washington Monument in the middle of what’s left of a hurricane, however, is that there was nobody else there. No tourists, I mean- the staff of Park Rangers was all there, waiting at the entrance of the security area for visitors. I was the only person visiting, though. I went through security in moments, and they let me into the lobby, past some VERY large metal security doors, to the elevator.

I was alone in the elevator, and after a moment I reached the observation deck at the top. There was nobody with me except for another Park Ranger, so I had all of the windows to myself. In hindsight, I really should have taken pictures of the observation deck’s interior to show how I had the place to myself- that’s never going to happen again. It was kind of magical.

Anyway, here’s what I could see out of the little slot windows at the top of the monument. Visibility was hampered by all the rain, but I could still see quite far. Looking East, I could see the National Gallery of Art on the left, the National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian on the right, and all the way in the distance, the United States Capitol. The Library of Congress and the Supreme Court are back there too, but the rain made those nearly invisible.

Facing South, I could see the Tidal basin and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The Tidal Basin is where they have the Cherry Blossom Festival when it’s not a pandemic year. I still need to visit the Jefferson Memorial; I haven’t been there.

Continuing my clockwise walk around the top level, this is the view toward the West. The World War II Memorial is in the foreground, then the Reflecting Pool, then the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. On a clear day, you could see the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from here, along with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. I could not.

Lastly, I looked to the north. That big round path around grass is the Ellipse, and sitting behind that is the White House.

Here’s an obligatory selfie of me pointing toward the White House. I promise, that’s what I was pointing at.

After a few minutes looking out the various rain portals and up toward the capstone, I was ready to go back down to the ground. There’s an exhibit level just below the observation level, but it was closed during the pandemic. Stupid pandemic.

I really need to go back on a clear day.

After a brief but lively chat with a friendly Park Ranger, it was time to go back down to the ground. One more very heavy security door and another vestibule, and I was back outside. There was another group of about three people about to go in as I was leaving. Even though it was still raining, I decided to try getting some more National Mall photos- I’d never seen it that empty before. This is looking toward the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.

…and of course I had to take the “It’s right behind me, isn’t it?” photo. My camera lens was fogged up from all the rain, but there you go.

After that, it was time to walk along the National Mall, in the direction of the Capitol toward the Metro, and on toward home.

Have you ever been inside the Washington Monument?

34/52 (and 13 of 30!)

The Jim Henson Statue and Memorial Garden

A few months before I moved up here, I learned that there’s a statue and memorial to Muppet Creator and alumnus Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog at the University of Maryland. Jim created so much of my childhood that I knew I had to go see it when I had a chance. I made a note and tucked it away in my geographic to-do list until I could go to UMD.

Flash forward to last weekend- the weather was really nice, sunny and clear, so I decided to make the pilgrimage to Maryland. Even with the heavy traffic into DC for people celebrating Biden/Harris winning the presidential election, it only took me about half an hour to get onto campus.

I had the foresight to check a map for visitor parking before I left, and I was able to find a parking spot right across from the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, easy as you please. From the parking lot, it was a short walk back around to the front of the building, where the Jim Henson Statue and Memorial Garden is located. It’s really quite easy to find, not hidden away at all. You can see the sculpture as you approach.

A small plaque is visible on the low wall to the left of the sculpture. The memorial and garden were the idea of the class of 1998, after the 1997 event, “The Muppets Take Maryland” which featured an exhibit and workshops with Cheryl Henson. Some of the other classes from the 1990s helped with funding for the memorial, and the statue and garden were dedicated on September 24, 2003, on what would have been Jim Henson’s 67th birthday. There’s a great deal of making-of photos on the Muppet Wiki’s page about this sculpture.

The bronze statue is 450 pounds of bronze attached to a red granite bench. It was created by Jay Hall Carpenter after a national contest to select an artist and a design.

Here’s a closer look at the detail on the sculpture. It looks like Jim and Kermit are deep in conversation. I think this is just wonderful- I like to think of Jim still having these deep conversations even after his passing beyond the rim. Kermit touching Jim’s wrist is a really nice touch.

Here’s a little bit more of the detail… check out the frog belt buckle on Jim!

Of course since the sculpture is set on a bench, the whole place invites you to sit and join them for a little bit. Please excuse the mask hanging off of my ear; I should have just taken it all the way off for this photograph. (Or asked someone else to take the picture. I’m used to doing it selfie-style.)

Kermit is one of my favorites. I love his optimism in the face of unbridled chaos.

It’s a wonderful tribute to Jim Henson.

Since I was already at the front door of the student union, I decided to peek inside. Their Terrapin mascot is masked but their food court is open. The stadium was visible just past my parking lot, but I was there a few hours before their game against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Have you ever been to the Jim Henson statue at UMD? Who’s your favorite Muppet?

32/52 (and 11 of 30!)

Black Lives Matter Plaza, November 8th, 2020

On Saturday, when the news outlets called the Presidential race for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, thousands of people flooded into downtown DC. They came in by car and by metro, gathering in celebration at Black Lives Matters Plaza.

I wasn’t there. I saw pictures of the crowds later, and I saw the traffic going into the city as I drove past it in the other direction on my way to Maryland. Why did I go to Maryland? You’ll have to wait until Wednesday’s post for the answer to that question.

Nevertheless, I was really curious to see what it was like in person though, so I went the very next day, on Sunday the 8th of November. I took the Metro to McPherson Square, which put me back on the street only about a block or so away from all the hubbub. It was not as shoulder-to-shoulder crowded as the news showed it on Saturday, but it was a warm and sunny day and people were still coming by to see. Also there were a lot of reporters doing reporter things. I walked past a guy with a Reuters camera a bunch of times, so if any of you see me in news footage of the day, please let me know.

Some people held up protest signs, some were just there like me to see it in person. A lot of people were there with their children, showing them history in progress.

Here’s something I never realized about Black Lives Matter Plaza before- it’s gigantic. The painted letters are two full blocks long. In the pictures below, I was standing at the intersection of BLM Plaza with I Street NW. In the first picture, I’m looking north. That’s where the street says BLACK LIVES. The second picture is looking south, toward the White House, and that’s where it says MATTER. I didn’t truly realize just how enormous those painted letters really were until I was standing on top of one.

At one point, I put my phone camera right up to the opening in the chain-link fence that runs along H Street. This is as close as you can get to the People’s House right now, and this is two full blocks away as seen through a zoom lens. Pennsylvania Avenue has been closed off since the protests last summer, and Lafayette Square remains fenced off so nobody can come in.

Speaking of that chain link fence, it was just absolutely covered in protest signs, posters, and artwork for most of the distance between 15th Street and 17th Street, anywhere it touched Lafayette Square.

I’m going to skip my usual thing where I intersperse all the photos with commentary and interesting factoids because I don’t think any commentary is really needed here. No context is missing, and no subtle background details need to be filled in.

These are the protest signs of an angry, stressed out, massively divided country finally allowing itself the chance to have a small sigh of relief. I didn’t see a single pro-Trump thing all day until I got back home and looked at Twitter again.

Enjoy the photos, friends.

Did you see any interesting celebrations this weekend where you live?

30/52 (and 9 of 30!)