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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Chicago: March, 2019

Wow, April was such a busy month; I’ve been sitting on these pictures since my most recent trip to Chicago in March, and am just now getting around to sharing them with you. As you may recall, I was in Chicago in February for a photoshoot, but due to circumstances outside my control, that photoshoot was unable to take place, requiring me to reschedule for the next month. I’m happy to say this this time everything went off without a hitch!

In February, once I’d exhausted all options to try and get the photoshoot to work out, I spent the remainder of my time available exploring nearby Milwaukee - I didn’t get to see everything I’d wanted to, so this trip I’d debated spending my spare time checking out the spots I’d missed. Instead, however, I chose to not have any real plan in mind in case there was trouble with the scheduled photoshoot again. Luckily once the photoshoot was knocked out no problem, all my stress was received and I could relax a little.

IAD - ORD

By chance, I was able to spot all four of Chicago’s nearest airports while on approach to ORD. Interestingly, although I was flying on a 737-900, my flight was the day after all 737 MAX aircraft got grounded by the FAA, and it actually impacted my flight. ORD already had heavy ground traffic upon landing, causing a 20 minute taxi to the gate, but upon arriving at the gate my aircraft was blocked by a 737 MAX being tugged from the adjacent gate to a hardstand, but the tug moving the aircraft broke down, blocking out entrance to the gate - my aircraft was stranded on the taxiway for an hour waiting for another tug to arrive to move the MAX out of the way, while we were sitting there watching from our windows just a mere 200 feet from our jetbridge. I ordered a ribeye and tall porter upon finally arriving at my hotel.

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Photoshoot Day at ORD

The night before my photoshoot I only got 3 hours of sleep thanks to stressing out whether the shoot would actually happen or not, despite having confirmation of the necessary paperwork. Luckily, on that drizzly morning, everything went just fine, and after returning to the hotel to deliver some requested preliminary images, I fell asleep at my computer after uploading the images. I slept long and deep that night, knowing I finally had the images I hadn’t been able to capture a month prior.

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Downtown Chicago

I didn’t even set an alarm; I needed the rest, and wanted my Friday to be a stress-free celebration of the previous day’s success. The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry had been recommend to me by pretty much everyone I have ever spoken with who’s been to or lived in Chicago, so I decided to finally check it off my list. I didn’t want to waste time dealing with the CTA, plus there’s no stop nearby the museum anyway, so I ordered an Uber all the way from my hotel in Rosemont; my driver actually shot some sports photography I found out.

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Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

Transportation Gallery

Unfortunately the Science and Industry Museum has extremely limited hours, and closes at four, so by time I’d gotten there through some freak midday traffic, gotten my tickets, and gotten inside, I only had about 3 hours to explore the museum - I missed the vast majority of the museum because I decided to focus on several exhibits that interested me rather than try and get a rushed view of everything. I scheduled a tour for 20 minutes after I arrived, and I killed that time in the small Transportation Gallery and Great Train Story next door.

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The Great Train Story

I’ve seen professional train sets before, but this one takes the cake. Not only was it build around a scale model of downtown Chicago, but it featured mountains, tunnels, and even elements from other major US cities. There is even a scavenger hunt of Easter Eggs hidden all over the map, but I didn’t know about this until reading more about the exhibit at a later date.

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There was also this mad scientist kind of display on the way over to my next stop, but I’m not sure which exhibit it was supposed to be a part of, or what all it was representing - look closely, because the harder you look the weirder it gets.

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German Submarine U-505

One of my favorite movies is U-571, which tells the tale of an American submarine capturing a stranded German U-boat to obtain its onboard Enigma code machine. This Matthew McConaughey film is extremely fictionalized, and in fact the real U-571 was never captured; it was sunk via depth charging by the RAAF off the coast of Ireland. During the course of WWII, approximately 15 Enigma machine or Enigma codebook captures were made by the Allied Forces, only one of which was by US forces. In June, 1944, the US Navy captured the U-505, which provided much of the premise for U-571. However, unlike the film heavily implied, it was actually British forces that captured the first Enigma, three years prior when HMS Bulldog captured U-110 on May 9th, 1941. U-571 presents an amalgamated plot of the captures of U-110 and U-505. Although U-505 was not used in filming U-571, film crews reportedly visited and extensively studied the submarine to partially recreate parts of it for the film.

In reality, the U-505 sunk 8 ships over the course of its 12 patrols and two year service history. The US Navy launched a six ship Task Group to hunt U-505 when British Ultra intelligence intercepted generalized locations of German U-boats off the coast of Spain. The Task Group, consisting of one aircraft carrier and five destroyers, made sonar contact with the U-505 on June 4th, 1944, shortly after Captain Daniel V. Gallery had called off the search as the Task Group had exhausted their fuel. With air support from aircraft carrier Guadalcanal, destroyer Chatelain dropped depth charges that crippled the U-505, forcing it to surface. Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant) Harald Lange ordered his crew to abandon ship and scuttle the boat, but the 59 man crew could not disembark before the nine member US boarding party was able to board the U-505, close the valves filling the submarine with seawater, and disarm scuttling charges set by the German submariners.

All but one of the U-505’s 59 man crew survived the Allied assault and capture, and only three other crew members were injured. The crew was ferried to Bermuda aboard the Guadalcanal, before being transferred to a POW camp in Ruston, Louisiana several weeks later. To maintain OPSEC and the illusion to Germany that the U-505 had been sunk with no survivors, the POWs were kept separately from others in the prisoner population, and all letters or attempts to communicate outside the camp were confiscated; a direct violation of the Geneva Convention. The imprisoned crew members even constructed makeshift balloons out of cellophane and hydrogen yielded from mixing cleaning chemicals in order to convey their letters over the camp walls with the hope residents of the nearby town would find them and forward the messages to their family, but these attempts were unsuccessful. Some of the POWs learned and played baseball with members of the US Navy baseball team who were tasked as guards at Camp Ruston. Upon the end of the war in 1945, the interned crew began being returned to Germany, with the last remaining captives repatriated in 1947.

As for the U-505, the United States and Allied forces had to hide the submarine to maintain the illusion to the Axis powers that they had captured the missing boat and the valuable Enigma ciphers and codebooks it carried. The U-boat was ferried to a naval base in Bermuda to be studied by US intelligence and naval engineers. To further hide the captured German U-boat, the U-505 was painted to resemble a US submarine, and renamed the USS Nemo. By 1946, US intelligence had gathered all useful information from the U-boat, and dismantled most of the ship’s interior. Having no more use for the ship, the Navy planned on using the U-505 for target practice until it sank. Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery got wind of the plan, and through his brother connected the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry with the Navy to form a plan to donate the U-505 to the newly formed museum, which was already planning on acquiring a submarine to exhibit. On September 25th, 1954 the U-505 was dedicated was dedicated as a permanent exhibit, and a war memorial to all sailors whose lives were lost in the first and second Battles of the Atlantic. In 2004, due to over 50 years being stored outdoors, the U-505 showed heavy wear from the elements, and was subsequently restored and moved to a newly built permanent dry dock inside the Museum of Science and Industry’s East wing.

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An interesting bit of U-505 history conveniently left out of the PG exhibit and tour: the U-505’s 10th patrol endured a very long and severe depth charging. Crushing under the pressure, Kapitänleutnant (Captain lieutenant) Peter Zschech committed suicide during the depth charging, shooting himself in the head in front of his crew in the U-boat’s control room pictured below. First Watch Officer Paul Meyer took over command and ensured the U-505 survived the depth charge attack. Upon returning to port, Meyer, in typical authoritarian dictatorship fashion, rather than being awarded for his quick action to take command, successfully thwart the attack, and save the boat, was simply “absolved from all blame” for the “embarrassing incident” by the Kriegsmarine.

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Henry Crown Space Center

After touring the U-505, I head over to the small space exhibit. I will never not look at space stuff. I did, however, speed through since we have two Air and Space museums here in DC, and I spent almost an entire day exploring Space Center Houston in 2016.

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Fast Forward & Genetics

This part of the museum was a little confusing, as I thought they were the same exhibit at first. I sped through these because I was mostly just interested in seeing the baby chicks!

Fast Forward: Inventing the Future was mostly conceptual exhibits about future-tech. Genetics interested me, but was overrun with kids and I chose to explore other parts of the museum rather than fight a horde of 6 year olds to read the exhibit placards.

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Science Storms

Unfortunately by time I reached Science Storms the museum was 10 minutes from closing. I got an up-close view of the several story tall tornado, but didn’t stay for the last demonstration of the day to instead check out the museum gift shop; they had lots of things I wanted, but none that would be convenient to carry around the rest of the day, particularly with the plans I’d made for later in the night.

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Pioneer Zephyr

The Pioneer Zephyr is a diesel luxury train from the 1930s that makes you feel like a character from Murder on the Orient Express by just standing nearby. On May 26th, 1934, the train set a speed record by covering the 1,015 trip from Denver, Colorado to Chicago, Illinois "Dawn-to-Dusk," in 13 hours 5 minutes, with an average speed of 78mph and a top speed of 112.5mph.

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Hyde Park

It was 4PM and I still hadn’t eaten anything except half a chicken wrap while waiting for my Uber, so I walked the few blocks over to Hyde Park for lunch. I ended up at some local place that had multiple award winning chili, so I was expecting something to rival Ben’s Chili Bowl; the chili was so bad I didn’t even finish it, but the rest of my food was what I expected. After a bit of exploring, coming across a delightfully creepy ivy-clad house, I settled down at a Pâtisserie to relax and unwind with some coffee and macarons before heading uptown to the only thing I’d really planned for the day.

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Check out how this house looks in Summer when the ivy is growing. For bonus points, change the display date and watch as the ivy slowly grows up the side of this home over the last 15 years! It’s beautiful.

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Buddy Guy’s Legends: Nellie Travis with Tommy McCracken

Now for the only thing I’d really planned on, if you can even call it that. The previous evening, while eating dinner after my photoshoot, I noticed that Buddy Guy has a blues club downtown. Although Buddy hails from Louisiana, he is a true legend of Chicago Blues… with his own Southern influences that create his unmistakable, unique tone and style of playing. Today he calls Chicago home, which isn’t too surprising.

I bought tickets to whatever show was playing on my only free evening, without even looking up who Nellie Travis or Tommy McCracken even are - if they’re playing at Buddy Guy’s own club, they’re gonna to be good. I went knowing there was a chance Buddy Guy might even be present, but that was secondary; I intended to relax with creole soul food and cocktails for the night, and enjoy some live music. And that’s exactly what I did - they had an oyster po’boy on the menu! Two of my favorite foods, combined!

Even though I arrived late - Tommy McCracken and his band started playing as I walked in the door - I got the last open seat at a front row table despite the rest of the club being standing room only!

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After the one-hour opening set from Tommy McCracken, it was time for Nellie Travis, who delivered wit with her soulful voice. Some of her songs even included audience participation - she may or may not have put her microphone to my lips during “Sweet Home Chicago…”

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Toward the end of Nellie’s first set, about five minutes before he took the stage, I spotted Buddy Guy walking through the crowd and nodding to Nellie. My suspicion turned out to be correct; Buddy Guy, the blue legend himself, took to the stage to sing a few songs with Nellie’s band. Or, if you’re familiar with Buddy, his music, and his personality, talk about life and give relationship advice.

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Buddy’s relationship advice for the night can be summarized:

  • Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so treat your lady right.

  • And ladies, treat your man right.

  • Respect one another; don’t run around playing. You’re playing with fire, and you’re gonna get burned.

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Buddy only plays full sets at select shows in January, so no guitar this time :-( But that’s okay; watching him talk with the audience with his strong, unmistakable voice was more than I could have asked for.

It was late, so after chatting with a girl at the front desk about some of her most memorable experiences working at such a unique venue, I dipped out as Nellie Travis was beginning her second set.

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ORD - IAD

Sadly it was time to head home the next morning; Chicago has really grown on me - the only thing I don’t enjoy is the cold, which is true anywhere I go. Although this trip was still chilly, the little remaining ice on Lake Michigan from February’s Polar Vortex I saw on the flight here had seemingly melted by time I flew back to DC three days later. Of note, despite all the flights I’ve taken, this was my first time on a 757. Til next time, Chicago!

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Chicago • Milwaukee: February, 2019

This February brought another travel photo assignment; my third assignment in Chicago. Some extraordinary circumstances were leading up to my travels this time around; namely, the 35 day long government shutdown, and the January–February 2019 North American cold wave which sent the Polar Vortex plunging into the midwest - both were impacting air-travel in the weeks preceding my scheduled trip to one of the cities most severely impacted by these events.

Both the government shutdown and polar vortex ended the same week, just one week prior to my travel dates. Because of the government shutdown, I wasn’t able to complete my interview for Global Entry (and more importantly to me, TSA Pre✓; the real goal since I’m currently only flying domestic, and have been well-versed in air-travel since 2005), despite having my pre-clearance for a while. I actually still haven’t my interview yet because I’ve been anticipating another government shutdown on February 15th (although today’s news indicates another shutdown may be averted).

Seeing the images out of Chicago during the worst of the Polar Vortex, I was glad to be home during the fierce cold, which at its worst reached a wind chill in the -50ºFs… but a tiny part of me wished I was there to witness temperatures colder than the Arctic.

IAD - ORD

As always, I schedule my travel days to be as relaxing as possible - the goal is to get there and get settled, along with some good food. In fact I have the IAD - ORD - IAD route down to a science now, taking the exact same departure and return flights, and staying at the same business hotel in nearby Rosemont.

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Chicago O'Hare International Airport Safety Fair

The next morning was my scheduled photoshoot. Unfortunately, due to a paperwork technicality beyond my control, the photoshoot wasn’t able to happen; I’ll have to reschedule for next month. Sometimes things just don’t work out as planned; all you can do is your best.

As I was retreating back to the hotel after a long morning trying to find a solution, I came across a curious gathering in O’Hare’s Terminal 2; as it turned out, I was there the same day as ORD’s annual Safety Fair. Or Faire as this should be called!

I introduced myself to one of the organizers and was invited to participate since I was wearing my airport credentials. O’Hare has a safety fair annually, which has a different theme each year. This year’s was medieval times… but given the Polar Vortex, I think they should have just called it “Winter is Coming,” or “Winter is Here!”

Stations included airport security, wheelchair safety, and first aid, among others. Quite cleverly, the blood / spill cleanup practice station was a CPR dummy in a guillotine - Halloween, be still my heart!

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A Day in Milwaukee

At this point, I’ve seen the majority of attractions Chicago is known for, outside of a Cubs game and its museums such as the Museum of Science and Industry and Adler Planetarium, all of which are on my list for future visits. This time around I wanted to do something different. My original plan was to rent a car to have it for dinner at Pequod's Pizza after my photoshoot (Pequod's isn’t feasibly accessible by train). The mishap with the photoshoot threw a wrench into that plan, because our Hail Mary plan was to try and get the required paperwork filed for the next morning - that plan of course didn’t work out either.

I spent my Friday morning assessing my options, forming a plan to get the pictures I needed, and finally talk with my client (who is based in London, by the way) about the situation and how to proceed. Work is always first priority. Exhausted of options to get the pictures I needed for this trip, there was no other option but to begin organizing a reshoot upon returning home.

Now I had the remainder of this day free, which meant I had the rest of the day to go for my plan to go explore nearby Milwaukee. Given the changes to my plans, this meant I had to rent the car that morning, rather than already have it and just be able to hit the road 1hr 20min North to Brewery City. No big deal; I just wouldn’t have as much time in the city as I’d originally expected.

Mercedes-Benz CLA Mini-Review

Seeing my options for rentals, I settled on a Mercedes-Benz CLA. The CLA has a reputation for being driven aggressively by… jerks… and although I’ve never liked the car from an outside perspective, I wanted to see if it there was a reason it caused this behavior to earn its reputation. First stop, however, was O’Hare’s new rental car facility, which was interesting because I’d already been to it in October, but without renting a car.

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My review of the CLA requires no more than a paragraph: I didn't like it. Not one bit. It felt cheap and plasticky, and the fact it was a baseline with only a panoramic roof that I couldn’t even use (because it was, ya know, 13ºF out, which incidentally is warmer than it was when I was here in December) didn’t help. The seats were comfortable, but were sport-styled single-piece-backed buckets that would be more at home in a boy-racer sport coupe than a car billed as entry-level luxury. Beyond the logo on the wheel and infotainment display, I honestly felt like I was in a glossy mid-2000s economy car; modern offerings from Mazda and Honda are simply nicer. Furthermore, I find it very interesting that Mercedes doesn’t list an MPG rating for the car on their website - I only drove the car from Chicago, to Milwaukee, and back, and had used over half the tank with interstate driving only. Remember, the CLA has a 208hp 2L I4 (with a 7 speed DCT that was very nice, I’ll add); I’m not sure where that much fuel went - my suspicion is its range suffers from its 13 gallon fuel tank. In conclusion, the body looks nice, but it’s poseur-luxury, that gets its impolite reputation from the owners, not any characteristic the car lends to the driver.

I hope the Volvo is available next time.

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Downtown Milwaukee

I may have missed the Polar Vortex by a week, but the effects were still there. Milwaukee River was now the Milwaukee Ice Rink, and all main roads had burns of not snow, but solid ice like curbs on each side. It was warmer this time than my last jaunt along Lake Michigan, but there was still a windchill of -7ºF.

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First stop was lunch. I had no plan for the day except find some local food for lunch, find some breweries to tour, and maybe find some cheese if I can. Arriving in the heart of downtown, I looked up some nearby restaurants to see what would appeal - Milwaukee Brat House sounded amazing, and I wasn’t wrong. Later in the day I’d find out my instincts were more than right - it’s a very highly-regarded German pub known of all over the city, with connections to the Milwaukee Brewers. 10/10 would recommend and return to.

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After lunch, I found a cheese boutique with samples of many of their offerings. Most of the selection was from Wisconsin, with some from other well known cheese regions including England and Italy. After sampling about half the cheeses on display that day, I picked up several Wisconsin cheeses, making sure one of them was cheese curds. Since getting back home, I’ve been asked if there is such thing as a cheese tasting, like a wine tasting. There actually is, and I’ve done it here in Virginia - I think it should be more common though. Pairings are just fascinating to me. And seriously; who doesn’t like cheese?

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Miller Brewery

Next stop was the MillerCoors Brewery. Unfortunately the last tour went out around the time I was arriving to Milwaukee about 2 hours prior, but they still gave me a beer tasting. Those of you who know me know I’m much more of a wine person. As for beer, I don’t dislike it, but I have to be in the right mood for it, and I generally only like dark beers such as porters or stouts, or smooth and balanced beers like red ales and lagers. I do not like IPAs, and don’t understand their popularity. Coors is known for their light beers, which just taste like water to me, but the beertender did give me a Leinenkugel’s Snowdrift Vanilla Porter that I liked (didn’t I just say I like porters?).

It’s a real shame I didn’t get to go on the tour, because I’ve been on the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour in St. Louis, and it was underwhelming; they only walk you around outside and point to buildings and pipes - you see none of the actual production. The Miller tour is reportedly much more comprehensive, and shows guests each step in their actual operating production line.

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Lakefront Brewery

Since Miller brewery didn’t work out like I’d hoped, next stop was a microbrewery that at least five people I’d met that day had recommended (including a few at Miller!). Over I went to Lakefront Brewery, with a ticket to the brewery tour already loaded in my Apple Wallet before I even got there.

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Now I got the tour of a lifetime. The brewery itself is quite small, but the personalities of the staff are huge - don’t miss this brewery if you ever go to Wisconsin! I won’t spoil it for you, but you’re in for some entertainment and audience participation on this tour. Even better if it’s your birthday!

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The brewery has a full-service restaurant specializing in German food and fish-fry, so naturally it was dinner time with some brews. There was a polka band scheduled to play that night, but they never took the stage for whatever reason.

What was fascinating to me was that there were barrels from Catoctin Creek distillery all over the tasting room - I’ve been toCatoctin Creek; it’s just 30min from home for me. Speaking with the beertender about it, he told me that the owners use those barrels for small batches of owner-only beer. Very fascinating!

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I had a hankering for cheesecake, but the brewery only offered cookies and chocolates for desert - that just won’t do. On the recommendation of several brewery staff, I walked across the river to a local favorite pizza place. It was nothing like I expected - this place was more upscale (wine) tasting room than takeout pizza joint it seemed like from the outside. I wish I’d known about it before dinner at the brewery, because I would have preferred to go here for dinner instead. They were playing downtempo lounge and EDM tracks I have on my iPhone while I ate my tiramisu.

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ORD - IAD

The next morning was my flight - it felt really, really strange leaving a city 700 miles from home without the pictures I needed, the only reason I was there in the first place. It was a lot of fun and I got a lot of great pictures, but not the pictures I needed, which left me feeling empty as I waited for my plane to push back.

I did make a friend though. My flight was half empty, and the person in the aisle seat was bringing a Mew home to a little girl. I made sure Mew was safely buckled in for departure.

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Chicago, from the air, at night, is just magical, as I expounded on in this previous post. In daylight I don’t expect such a display from this city, however this time I was in for a surprise. I’d seen the pictures of Chicago during the Polar Vortex the week prior; it looked like scenes straight from The Day After Tomorrow. It hadn’t registered, however, that I’d see some of it for myself. Temperatures were a much more livable 20ºF, but there was still a staggering amount of ice on the lake. When it finally registered what I was seeing below me, my jaw actually dropped. The pictures can give you some sense of scale, but they simply don’t do the size of the expanse of ice justice. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.

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This flight also gave me a new view of Dulles’ airfield, and some of the nearby quarries, thanks to the approach we’d been placed on.

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Now that I’m back, it’s time to start planning when I’ll be going back!

Christmastime in Chicago - The Complete Jaunt

By now you probably read about my small (read: big) obsession with Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal 3 and how ORD decorates it for Christmas, just like in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (Terminal 3 is seen in the original Home Alone, but without holiday decorations).  I shared a glimpse of my early-December trip to Chicago before Christmas, highlighting these decorations at O’Hare.  Today you get to see my entire journey to Chicago in December, not just the Christmas portions.

This was actually my second time to Chicago for a photography assignment at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in two months - my personal photos from my ATL-ORD-SFO trip in October are in progress; work assignment photos always come first.  You’ll see the photos from that trip at some point this Spring, so you’re seeing these trips out of order.  In October, due to the logistics of my photo assignments, I only had an evening free in Chicago before flying to San Francisco for the next photoshoot, and I was lucky to even get that.  This time, in December, ORD was my only airport to cover, so I was able to schedule an extra day in case of weather or scheduling issues, allowing me to explore a city I’d never truly seen before.

Day 1: Arrival

All journeys have to start somewhere, and Dulles’ slogan is Your Journey Begins With Us - Steve and his team always deck out IAD with new additions every year.  There was new colorful LED uplighting inside Eero Saarinen’s Main Terminal Building this year, but I never got to see it in person this year, departing in daylight.  Here is Dulles’ Main Terminal AeroTrain station all set for Christmas! 

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I think everyone does this, but it’s always fun to spot places you know or frequent from the air.  Living so close to Dulles, on this pattern I always see a shopping center I visit, but got to see my old high school from the air lit up for football thanks to a banking turn.

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I always prefer a window seat anyway, but by far Chicago is one of the prettiest cities to see from the air at night.  If you ever visit this city, you must get a window seat and arrive at night.  Chicago is the only city I’ve truly been excited to specifically see from the air.  This, my second time taking in Chicago’s sprawl, I was joined by a British Airways flight abeam my plane also on final.  For about 5 minutes until we landed simultaneously I spotted the BA flight appearing and dissapearing in and out through the low cloud-cover above the peach glow of the sea of sodium lights below.

 The Grid; a digital frontier.  Maybe one day I’ll photograph the moonrise along the Chicago skyline in tribute to the masterful work of Ron Fricke and Godfrey Reggio.

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My flight on United arrived in Terminal 1, and since it was nighttime upon landing and my photoshoot the next day was in the morning, I took an extra hour to walk all the way over to Terminal 3, stand in awe of the beautiful light display, take pictures of it, and walk all the way back to Terminal 1 to exit and claim my bag - this way I was sure to get photos of the decorations during night and daylight. Totally worth it, and a huge airport bucket-list item checked off.  These lights are seen adorning walkways between Terminal 1 and 2. 

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Made famous in Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Terminal 3 is where the McCallisters perform the McCallister family travel tradition of springing to their gate. The McCallisters fly out of the K Gates in Home Alone, and the H Gates in Home Alone 2, while Kevin gets separated at the Y-split, boarding his flight to New York out of the K Gates. A fun factoid if you watch the movies closely is the Terminal 3 Christmas decorations only appear in Home Alone 2. 

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My travel days mostly only consist of traveling and getting settled in upon arrival.  Before heading to the hotel to settle in, I got to say hello to the O’Hare dinosaur, watching over the silent Terminal on my way back to baggage claim to head to the hotel.  I chose a different hotel this time because I had nothing but logistic problems with the hotel I stayed at in October.  Not only did I get a deal on the room, but this one was much closer, and on the off-chance their airport shuttle didn’t run like the shuttle at my previous hotel, this one has rail service and is only one stop from the airport.  This hotel was much more convenient and gave me reliable and quick transportation.

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Day 2: Photoshoot

During my photoshoot the next day, I got to see Terminal 3’s decorations in daylight; I’d expected and looked forward to this, becuase Christmas lights turn me into a wide-eyed little kid.  It’s beautiful at night and during the day for different and unique reasons.

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Day 3: Downtown Chicago

The day after my photoshoot was free for flexibility or inclement weather, so I decided to go downtown and explore some of the places I didn’t get to in October.  This time I had a few destinations in mind, but was content to explore without a rush.  In contrast to having only a handful of hours beginning at sunset in October, I had an entire day, which let me explore in daylight.  The sun did nothing, however to counteract the single-digit temperatures I was braving this time around.

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A few blocks from the subway, my first planned desination was the Christkindlmarket Chicago; a German Christmas market serving German food and selling German Christmas wares.

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After eating some bratwurst, a stuffed pretzel, and some hot chocolate with Krampus, I set off toward Navy Pier, and decided to stop by Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate along the way; I’d photographed Cloud Gate at night in October (one of only three stops I had planned and successfully squeezed in in October), but decided to see it in daylight as well since I wasn’t too far from it. 

My impression of Cloud Gate is that it is more beautiful on a clear day like this one, but the experience is more enjoyable at night due to much fewer people.  Millenium Park also had sections blocked off for Christmas light displays which hadn’t been present to obstruct some views whe I was here in October. 

The reflection of the skyline is mesmorizing.  Going underneath “the bean” absorbs all the city din, only reflecting echos of gabbing passersby. 

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Obligatory selfie reflection on “the bean.”

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I noticed the fancy scroll architecture in October, but didn’t wander over to see what it was; I imagine seeing a concert here is like across between Wolf Trap and Merriweather Post Pavillion.

Also of interest was stumbling onto the NBC building in Chicago; I didn’t know they had one, but it’s interesting to me since I’ve been inside 30 Rock and toured sets of some of their shows including The Doctors, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Saturday Night Live. 

If the Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon had been open while I was there, I’d have actually considered trying a few laps on it.  (Ice is how I dislocated my knee and tore my MPFL requiring reconstruction in 2017, so this is quite the statement).  I’ve only been ice skating twice in my life, and I’ve alwyas wanted to try it again.  Doing so alone in a city you don’t reside or even know anyone in would have been pretty risky, so in reality I probably wouldn’t have done it.  But maybe I would have.

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I’d been reccomended visiting Navy Pier; a contact from my photoshoot the day before, a life-long Chicagoan, told me there was lots to do at Navy Pier, likening it to Pier 39 in San Francisco (which a life-long San Francisoan from my photoshoot at SFO reccomended I visit).  I was also recomended a few specific hot dog joints, but none of them were convenient to visit along my path. 

Arriving at Navy Pier, it was completely deserted - it was single-digits out after all.  It looked like the building itself was locked up to me, so it wasn’t until I’d walked halfway down the pier that I saw a small group come out some doors, showing me there actually was an interior I could get to (and more importantly, warmth!).  I warmed up and continued to the end of the pier to see what was at the end; all I found was a kids’ Santa Claus event - Navy Pier had been made out to me to be a lot more with a lot more going on than it actually was; during the Summer I’m sure that’s the case, but not in early December.

I stepped outside at the end of the pier just in time for sunset. 

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Now that I knew there was an interior to Navy Pier, I backtracked in warmth, and found out there was a small mall section I’d completely missed.  Staying warm a few minutes longer, I got my first bag of Garrett Mix.

Ready to brave the cold again, I head back West to Michigan Avenue.  Given that I was cold and doing a lot of walking, I’d sworn off shopping this trip, but The Magnificent Mile is still a Chicago staple, nothing is stopping me from window shopping, and it was a direct route to the pizza shop I had planned this time around.   That, and I wanted to see the Christmas lights along Michigan Avenue; this was the Christmas parade route, after all.

Since night fell, and the Christmas lights were on, I went into full Kevin McCallister mode and set out hunting Christmas trees.  In doing so I passed The Wrigley Building, a huge Apple Store, and Tribune Tower, which has a fascinating history.

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Finally, toward the North end of Michigan Avenue (and after a short trip through Water Tower Place), I hit the motherlode. 

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What I didn’t realize until I turned the corner is what building I was standing in the shadow of.  I’d photographed it twice now already; Chicago’s iconic 875 North Michigan Avenue, more ubiquitously known by its former name, The John Hancock Center. 

Visiting this tower wasn’t part of the loose plan I’d assembled, but that’s the point of having a loose plan - unplanned fun.  Two months prior I’d gone up the 110 story tall Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower; the first and primary stop I had planned in my October jaunt downtown), but I found the view from the 100 story tall John Hancock Center more impressive.

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And there is Navy Pier from 94 stories up; remember, I walked all the way from the end of that pier (and further to get there, actually; my only subway usage this jaunt was to get to downtown and to get back to my hotel in Rosemont). 

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Far and away the dumbest thing I heard was while photographing the Eastern side; two girls, about my age, were also taking pictures on their phones, and upon rounding the corner to the East side one exclaimed, “Oh my God, something happened! Something’s wrong with the city!  This side of the city is has a complete blackout!”

You could hear she was scared; I didn’t say anything - I wanted to hear how deep this well of stupidity went.  The other girl was confused at first too, but took about 60 seconds to realize, and explain to the first girl that, “I think that’s the water.”

Without missing a beat, she replied, “but where are the lights?!” 

“I don’t think people live on the water.”

”But, shouldn’t there be boats?  What happened to the boats?  Look, everyone’s trying to get out of the city.” 

No folks; it’s Winter, and sunset was around 4.30 - it’s just rush hour on a Friday in Chicago. 

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After that astonishing display of naivety, and walking the city all day with only light fare in my stomach, it was time to finish the last few blocks and hit my last planned stop: dinner at Lou Malnati’s.  I needed food, and I needed it quick, becuase my cue to leave John Hancock Center was a quickly forming migraine, and I didn’t have migraine meds with me downtown.  I was hoping food would stave it off, since I’m sure it was caused by dehydration and poor diet.

The pizza was fantastic, by the way. 

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And to finish my day off, the food did nothing to slow the migraine, and after 45min waiting to get into Lou’s, an hour and a half eating, 15min waiting for the train, and an hour ride back to Rosemont, my migraine was way beyond any intervention.  It was the first migraine I’d had in over 2 months, and the worst migraine I had all year.

Day 4: Departure

I only managed about 2 hours of sleep; after at least 8 hours of excruciating pain in my pitch black hotel room, I managed to fall asleep, and woke up with the post-migraine haze I experience when the pain has passed, but I still have cognitive fog while the tail end of the migraine clears up. 

The killer headache the night before meant I hadn’t packed, so after a shower I rushed to fit what is usually a 1hr organized exercise into a 20min disorganized frenzy to pack and catch the hotel airport shuttle... hopefully.   Luckily I was right on time to catch it.  And although I was arriving to the airport a full hour later than I normally would prefer, I still had a half hour to safely get something to eat near my gate.  Among other things, I finally got my Chicago-style hot dog since I never got one the day before.

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The snow-dusted Shenandoah mountains was a fitting sight to end my trip; I’d spotted snow flying over the Sierra Nevada mountain range on my return trip from San Francisco two months prior. 

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Air Line Pilot, April, 2017

Today I have some exciting news to share with you dating back almost a year ago!

Early March of last year, in partnership with the Air Line Pilots Association, I helped commemorate Captain John Prater's final commercial flight before retiring by photographing his arrival landing to Dulles from Paris.  Captain Prater began his aviation career in 1978, going on to be elected President of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) in 2006.

This was an event photoshoot I coordinated with Dulles Airport Operations to capture several key shots desired for the article being written in Air Line Pilot magazine about Captain Prater's retirement; OPS ensured I had speedy access to the airfield to capture the planned shots of the United 787 Dreamliner's landing on R/W 1C, ceremonial water arch in front of the historic Main Terminal Building, and subsequent ceremonial events in anticipation of capturing a cover image.  Unfortunately, even though it was a scene I've captured at previous photoshoots, I wasn't able to capture the image planned for the cover this time due to weather interference; since that was the case, and I never heard any other information after the photoshoot, I thought I'd missed the cover shot and my images would just be included in the article, and didn't think much more about it, moving on to new projects.

Flash forward to December, while assembling my annual "Best of" for 2017, I decided to check for a press release on ALPA's website after coming across my portraits of Captain Prater in the 787's cockpit.  I found the article which included some of my pictures, and on a whim decided to check if there was online access to the magazine so I could see how it looked in a print layout.  What I found caught me completely by surprise.

Air Line Pilot magazine's April, 2017 issue features my photograph of Captain John Prater landing his United 787 at Dulles.  I had my first-ever magazine cover and didn't even know about it until nine months later!

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When I found this, I reached out to my contacts at ALPA to see if I could get any paper copies of the magazine.  I was worried it would be impossible 9 months after publication, but sure enough, they sent me a whole stack of them a week later!

Air Line Pilot has a circulation size of 78,000; that is a lot of magazines and a lot of people who saw my photograph!  I couldn't be happier or more honored!  I say go grab a cup of coffee and enjoy some some aviation!  Thank you so much to my friends at ALPA, and at Dulles Airport Operations who helped make my first-ever cover image possible.

Warmer in the Winter: Winter of 2017

AirlineGeeks.com

A Planespotter’s Dream Gig: A Look into the Life of an Airport Photographer

This morning, AirlineGeeks.com features a profile of me, highlighting my aviation photography, and giving a glimpse into what it’s like when I cover large-scale corporate events.  I invite you to read the full article on the AirlineGeeks website by clicking here or the article preview below.

It is an immeasurable honor that my photography has inspired a profile to be written about me and my work. I’m proud to work so closely with so many people at Dulles International and Reagan National airports, amongst the Airports Authority, the airlines, and their partners, all of whom work hard to keep the DC airports operating smoothly, and welcoming passengers the whole-world over.

I especially have to thank Ryan from AirlineGeeks for shadowing and interviewing me during the Air India inaugural a few weeks ago. I also must thank Airport Operations; without their skilled assistance, I would never be able to cover airfield actives with the depth I capture. Finally I must thank my many partners in the numerous PR, marketing, communications, and media departments and outlets I have worked with over the years - it is because of their efforts on many projects that my photos have been presented to a global audience.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me in growing my career to where it stands today - today marks a true milestone; I can’t begin to describe how honored I am to be receiving such recognition, and I am excited to learn the next heights my career will take. Thank you!