Saturday, December 24, 2005

ROAD TRIP: Greetings from Dreary West Michigan

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- There's some snow on the ground, but it's raining too, so from the looks of things, it looks like it will be a sloppy white Christmas, instead of just a white Christmas.

But I almost didn't make it here. I will eventually write an in-depth travel review post.

But to sum up and give you a quick preview, here is what was supposed to happen: My intent was to take an overnight Capital Limited from Washington's Union Station on Thursday afternoon to arrive in Chicago's Union Station on Friday morning. On the train, I would get some writing done, read and enjoy the ride, not in any particular hurry to get to the Midwest. In Chicago, I would wrap up Christmas shopping and meet up with a friend driving to Grand Rapids from Montana and get into Grand Rapids by late afternoon on Friday. That was the plan.

But here is what actually happened: Because of conditions apparently out of anyone's control, I was not able to get on the Capital Limited, nor any other train heading from Washington to the Midwest as they were all sold out. Instead, I was forced to march up to First and K streets NE to the Greyhound terminal and try my luck at taking a series of buses to Chicago. At 3:45 a.m., stuck in Pittsburgh's bus terminal next to the jail, I almost gave up, seriously considering taking a bus back to Washington and skipping Christmas in Michigan. But I endured the trip, made some friends along the way and met a whole host of other interesting folks who were screwed over by Greyhound's inefficiencies -- including soldiers returning from Iraq and evacuees from New Orleans, floating around from city to city, depressed and demoralized.

But those stories and full transportation analysis will come later. Now I have to get ready for Christmas Eve services at the local Latvian Lutheran church and Christmas Eve dinner with family. Merry Christmas to all those celebrating.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

ROAD TRIP: See You in Michigan, Maybe

I'll be traveling to East Grand Rapids, Mich., for Christmas, with a pit stop in Chicago on Friday. See you later.

MUSIC STREETSCAPES: Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge

BESIDES JOHN PHILLIP SOUSA and other patriotic songs, I can't think of a piece of music that can be inextricably tied to Washington, D.C. -- a piece that when you're walking down one of the capital's monumental avenues or standing in a grand public space, there's added emotion and civic texture that is paired perfectly with the streetscape and architecture.

New York, on the other hand, has many such pieces of music. George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which masterfully provides the background music to the opening of Woody Allen's "Manhattan" is probably the best example.

Like many other New Yorkers stranded without the city's subways, Doug Gordon, walked over the Brooklyn Bridge today to get to work. And while crossing the East River, had "Rhapsody in Blue" playing on his iPod:
As I did the walk, somehow my eyes were directed by the music to see the things that fit each movement of the song. The traffic crawling across the bridge below the walkway. My first glimpse of the Empire State Building, which rises as if at the top of a hill in midtown. A straight on view of the mathematically-symetrical cables and brick towers of the bridge itself. I felt like I was living the opening scene of Woody Allen's Manhattan, only in vibrant color and surrounded by a cast of thousands.
Nothing in Washington, I lament, could come close.

AS FOR SIMILAR D.C. MOMENTS, on my last day of work at Roll Call, I borrowed my sister's car to drive my office belongings home in July. I popped in Khachaturian's "Spartacus" into the CD player and drove northwest on Pennsylvania Avenue, leaving Capitol Hill behind in the rear-view mirror. If I remember the piece correctly, it was Adagio of Aegina and Harmodius that came on, giving America's Main Street a beautiful background score.

I wish there were just something for D.C. that would be more obvious. Perhaps something from Dvorak's "New World" Symphony?

>> "Rhapsody in Transit Strike Blues" [Planet Gordon]

Image from borya's Flickr photostream

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

WARD 9: A Dredged-Up Jurisdiction

I NEVER REALIZED that when the McMillan Commission recrafted Washington's monumental core reclaiming tidal flats from the Potomac a century ago, they wanted to create something similar to New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. According to this great photo from Chrisafer, the D.C. government thinks that there is a Ward 9 where the Potomac and Anacostia rivers are. Good stuff.

>> "The Mystery of Ward Nine" [Chrisafer/BBBS]

COFFEE: The Wardman Park Starbucks

I GUESS I MAY BE DOING Jerry and Jacinda a favor here (they haven't documented a visit to the Wardman Park Starbucks yet on their D.C. crosstown Seattle-based coffee franchise journey), but that's just fine. After nearly living a year directly across the street from the Wardman Park Marriott (at left), I hadn't stepped foot inside the hotel's Starbucks outpost until this morning. It's certainly closer than the Starbucks across from the National Zoo and I was certain that the service there had to be better than Woodley Park's other frown-worthy coffee place, the International Cafe.

So armed with a holiday party-issued Starbucks card, I ventured across Woodley Road, and up the driveway to the Wardman Park. It looks like a Starbucks, but it isn't a real Starbucks, but a "franchised" location, a barista told me.

That means they don't accept any Starbucks cards, don't serve breakfast sandwiches, don't have a Washington Post/New York Times stand and probably don't have wi-fi (I forgot to ask).

So how much did I pay for the pleasure of not having regular Starbucks features? For a large plain coffee and a chocolate croissant: $5.75. (But I guess I should have expected that for a hotel.)

If any other coffee chain knew about the competitive advantage they would have setting up shop near the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metrorail station ... How many fantastically mediocre hotel-focused ethnic restaurants are there on the Connecticut Avenue strip? We could stand to lose at least one in the name of a better, quick coffee option.

Monday, December 19, 2005

BLOGGING: Changing of the Guard at DCist

I JUST WANTED TO SEND a quick note of congratulations to Ryan Avent and Martin Austermuhle, the new co-editors at DCist. It's amazing to think how large the site has grown since summer 2004 when Rob Goodspeed and I launched it. Since then, most of the original core staff has moved on to other chapters in their lives, and fresh blood has moved in to replace them. (Ryan started as a sometimes-annoying commenter. When Martin started, he quickly relieved some of the news blogging pressure off of me, churning out posts in rapid succession, like a good efficient Swiss native should.) What great memories. More so than my college paper, which I though would be tough to beat.

The DCist editorship is truly a wonderful -- albeit frustrating at times -- experience. So I hope Ryan and Martin think big and continue to build and develop one of the most important pieces of public infrastructure in the nation's capital.

To Rob, who will be starting a new job in the new year, he has been a close friend and blogging comrade. Congrats on joining the DCist alumni club. This fall, I celebrated my three-year anniversary of entering the blogging world. Rob has been blogging since 2001 and introduced me, and so many others with ties to Ann Arbor to blogging.

Congrats to everyone.