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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Lexus Experience Amazing Drive Event

Last Saturday I attended the Lexus Experience Amazing Drive Event, which is a hands-on driving demonstration that showcased much of the Lexus lineup and its technology, similar to performance driving events I’ve attended for Jaguar numerous times, and Kia featuring the Stinger head-to-head with direct performance competitors from Porsche, BMW, and Audi.

I’ll be first to admit that, until this weekend, the only hands-on experience I’ve had with any of Lexus’ marque has been briefly sitting in each Lexus on display at the Washington Auto Show each year (including the new (as of 2017) LC 500). So, although this was my first time driving or even riding in a Lexus, it was not my first time sitting in and playing with Lexus’ top-of-the-line car. Nobody I know owns a Lexus; I simply have more experience with their direct competitors such as Jaguar, BMW, Audi, and Infiniti, as these are the brands I and my closest friends own and drive. The day started off with a presentation about Lexus’ history and the emphasis on craftsmanship, and some factoids about the LC 500 flagship sports coupe.

Copy of Liquid Lunch: Summer of 2019

Immediately following the introductory presentation, the group was led outside the tent to a series of ES 300h and LS 500h sedans for a ~2mi suburban circuit test-drive of each model. Driving the cars themselves was fantastic; each vehicle handled sharply but comfortably and predictably, and the interior craftsmanship (with the exception of the UX, which I’ll get to later on) was top notch. Truly refined, with comfortable leather in pleasing colors that coordinated with the dark wood tones found elsewhere in the cabin. The ride was quiet, even with A/C blowing, and the hybrids’ had the only Start-Stop system I’ve found completely unobtrusive - in fact, it was so quiet and gentle I didn’t know it was equipped with one for the first half of the drive until I started paying attention for it specifically (Start-Stop is a major pet-peeve of mine, but I can happily report that Lexus’ is the only Start-Stop I don’t hate). The only negative about a vehicle I can even mention from this demo isn’t really a negative; it’s a nit-pick. The ES 300h is slow. Even in Sport, it’s slow; in fact, I could not tell a difference between Normal and Sport. Even in “manual” (quotes because Lexus does not offer a single manual gearbox) in Sport, my passenger didn’t believe me when I told them I had the accelerator floored; its 8.1s 0-60 felt like my car at half throttle. But let’s be real here; nobody is buying the ES 300h for performance, with its 215hp drivetrain - it is a fuel-sensible luxury appointed mid-size family car, and a great one at that, eating the miles up at 44MPG. The LS 500h, with its 354hp, was impressively fast for its size and hybrid drivetrain, reportedly clocking a 5.1s 0-60 time.

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Next was the main event; a hot lap in the LC 500. Lexus’ flagship grand touring luxury sports coupe is equipped with a 5.0 liter V8 producing 471hp mated to a 10 speed automatic transmission produced by Aisin - note, it is not a DCT. The LC 500 goes 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, with a top speed of 168MPH. A 354hp hybrid model is also available, but I won’t be discussing it as it wasn’t present at this event, nor would it interest me unless it were being placed head-to-head against a BMW i8 much like the Kia Stinger was pitted against a Porsche Panamera 4. Sitting in the handsomely appointed interior, the first thing you notice is how incredibly quiet the car makes the world around you; the interior is a truly serene place - quiet, and engulfs occupants in the finest upholstery offered in Lexus’ sophisticated modern design language. The immediate attenuation of the outside world was the first thing I noticed when I sat in the LC 500 at an auto show two years ago, and that incredible soundproofing is still present in the production version. All that quiet allows the driver to enjoy the symphony, be that from the Mark Levinson audio system (which I did not test in any of Lexus’ cars), or more importantly, the LC’s throaty, exotic exhaust note. And it’s quite important to point out that in an age of electronic sound symposers from the likes of BMW, the LC 500 has clear influences from Lexus’ LFA halo car, in that the exhaust note you hear is 100% generated by the car itself, and not faked through the speakers. Surely the LC has undergone some form of sound optimization just like the LFA’s exhaust was tuned by Yamaha to create its unmistakably distinct note. The LC 500’s sound is more Aston Martin than the LFA’s F1 exhaust note, but with a base price of $93,000, you can buy four LC 500s for the MSRP of one LFA (or more, considering the LFA has only gone up in value, and as of this writing, only five of the 178 LFAs in the US are currently for resale), making the LC a bargain exotic.

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One of many ways the LC 500 demo event could have been improved is by pitting the LC 500 head-to-head against their RC F, which was on static display, but not even a standard RC 300 was available for test driving and comparison the entire event. The two cars are indeed in slightly different classes, with the RC standing as a direct competitor to the M4, Q60, and C63, and the LC 500 is pitted against the 840i, SL 550, and F-Type, and even the i8, NSX, and R8, but in a large way the comparison isn’t far off at all. A head-to-head comparison would have easily solved several event shortcomings with one fell swoop - course familiarization, which was totally absent, would be taken care of, especially with a mandatory “slow” lap, which could be marketed as a lap to try out normal driving dynamics before switching into Sport+ for subsequent performance laps, the RC would actually be represented in Lexus’ lineup, and participants would get more wheel time than a single lap and 5 VERY slow MPH through a chicane.

PS: Lexus, if you’re reading this, pretty, pretty please give the RC F a 6 or 7 speed manual transmission option - you’re losing every manual-loving potential customer to BMW and Porsche!

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The LC 500 itself is fantastic. In addition to the interior you’ll never want to get out of, and the exhaust note you’ll never tire of hearing, it handles beautifully, with safe and predictable understeer rather than erratic or temperamental oversteer, and the brakes stably guide the car into corners quickly and evenly. Even the trunk is surprisingly large, and could easily stow luggage for a weekend getaway, or a couple’s golf trip. The back seats are predictably low on headroom, but this is the only comfort gripe, and on a car like this it’s not an actual problem; the prospective buyers who actually care about rear headroom (all zero of you) can wait for the upcoming convertible model of the LC 500. In fact, the only negative about the LC I can even write about is its throttle response, and this seems to be more a symptom of the 10 speed transmission than the engine itself. Even in Sport+ there is noticeable throttle lag when pinning the accelerator, especially coming out of corners; it seems that the transmission, despite its 0.12 second shifts, can’t choose a gear and rev-match quickly enough to match demand. The engine itself revs quite freely, so lag seems to come from the drivetrain. It’s possible Lexus chose to forgo a DCT in order to avoid gear hunting lag they can also sometimes suffer from; shifting “manually” via paddles alleviates some of this throttle lag. At the end of the day, it’s a nit-pick issue, as it’s just a quirk of this car that owners will get used to as they become familiar with driving it, plus this is a GT car - it is a car meant to eat up miles on the highway, turn heads in the city, and drop with the valet. It’s not a track queen; it’s a luxury cruiser with performance capabilities refined beyond most of its competitors. And for the drivers who somehow need even more excitement than the already exquisite LC 500 offers, “an unnamed performance model” is in the pipeline - expect an LC F Sport model to be formally announced in the next year or so with a twin-turbocharged V8 supplying over 600hp.

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Next up was an agility demo of the new UX 200h. This course was tight, meant to simulate parking lot maneuverability. Participants were allowed to drive any of the available standard and hybrid UX models through the course as many times as they desired, which meant this demo provided the most wheel-time of any of the models demoed.

To be fully transparent, I didn’t even know the UX existed until arriving to the Lexus Experience Amazing Drive Event; I’d simply never heard of it or ever seen one. Naturally, I knew nothing about it, and while test driving it one of my friends was reading the sticker, and asked me to guess the list price - I was a full $9k over its $34,000 starting price for the hybrid model. At $32,000 for the standard model, I think the UX 200 is extremely competitively priced for what it offers, which is style and comfort in an affordable upscale CUV package, and there’s even AWD available on the higher trim UX 250 with either standard or hybrid drivetrains - that’s a huge deal! The UX is Lexus’ newest and more affordably priced crossover offering, seemingly geared toward the millennial yuppie; it offers a hybrid model, and seems to be the replacement for the CT 200h wagon, which I always admired. Undoubtedly to cut costs, the UX features abundant plastic in lieu of the wood and leather appointed interiors of the rest of Lexus’ lineup, but the supple, supportive seating NuLuxe surfaces feel identical to the leather in Lexus’ higher models, as is the optional premium infotainment and driver’s technology. And let’s just take a second to appreciate how beautiful the Nori Green Pearl paint job is paired with Glazed Caramel seating surfaces; my group couldn’t stop talking about it, because it’s nice to see a luxury marquee with paint offerings beyond monochrome variations. Unfortunately for you readers, since this was the least restrictive portion of the drive event, I spent my time demoing the UX rather than photographing it; you’ll have to check out Nori Green Pearl on Lexus’ website.

The final demonstration, on a 3rd course, was of the NX and RX’s agility and driver assistance and safety technologies. The course was, again, meant to simulate neighborhood and parking lot maneuvering, which is where these models thrive, as stereotypical soccer-mommy-mobile family-grocery-getters. These mid-size SUVs are ubiquitous in the parking lots of Whole Foods, World Market, Pottery Barn, and the like, and for good reason, as Lexus has made an exceptional family SUV product - after driving and riding in them, I now see why they are so popular. The RX is SO. COMFY. Although I was expecting the RXL to have a reclining rear seat, I was pleasantly surprised it also adjusted fore and aft, which meant that my already plentiful legroom expanded to an even larger expanse of flat floor surface area - and this RXL didn’t even have the optional rear captains chairs. The NX offered a sportier road feel through the steering wheel, and the RX was more plush, but both were equally pleasant to either drive or be driven in.

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The key demo for this portion of the Experience was the Pre-Collision System, which will automatically fully deploy the brakes in the event that front or rear sensors detect an object or pedestrian in the vehicle’s path, even if your foot is completely off the brake. To demonstrate this, participants back into a parking spot containing an obstruction, and are instructed to leave the vehicle to brake on its own (touching the brake will override the system, indicating that the driver is in control, and will allow objects to be struck). My group tried this several times, from a stop, at a single car-length from the obstruction, which meant vehicle speed was low enough that the Pre-Collision System emergency-stopped the SUV before striking the barrier - this can be seen in the video at the end of this blog. Next, someone tried testing the system at a slight angle to the flat barrier - the Pre-Collision System did stop as intended, but struck the barrier, knocking it over, before stopping in time. Finally, I chose to test the system at idle speed (the RX won’t reach idle on its own in a single vehicle distance), simulating the inevitable idiot driver who will buy one of these and think this system means they don’t need to use the brake while parking anymore; the Pre-Collision System again, predictably, stopped on its own, but not before striking and knocking over the barrier. Some of the event staff didn’t believe us when we said we were completely off the brakes when it hit the barriers, but to be clear, the Pre-Collision System worked completely as intended (and advertised on Lexus’ website), and this behavior isn’t entirely unexpected; the laws of physics always apply - greater kinetic energy requires greater stopping distance. While one staffer seemed annoyed and disbelieving, another who was much more helpful and informative was genuinely curious how we got the system to actually hit the barrier, and it sounded like they were going to try stress-testing it out more themselves after participants had left - we were all happy to describe the different things we had tried and the results for them to try it for themselves.

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That was it in terms of driving opportunities, but static displays of the UX, RC F, LC, ES, and LS were open to explore, but not powered on for tech demonstration like at a convention center auto show - a simple generator running power to all the cars could have solved this. The static displays provided the opportunity to try out the rear seats of the ES and LS, and the back seat is where you want to live in the LS. I have to say, I’m not a sedan person, and personally, in terms of the Lexus lineup, am most realistically interested in the RC F, but the LS 500h made the biggest impression on me. I have always and will always love grand touring coupes, so while the LC 500 was my favorite car of the day, it was exactly as great as I expected; the LS, however, is the one that really surprised me shaped my impression of Lexus. As someone unfamiliar with Lexus, but more familiar with most of its competitors, I’ve always thought of Lexuses as “fancy Toyotas.” I’ve been wrong this whole time. Very wrong. Pitted against the Jaguar XJ, the Lexus LS holds its own, and really just leaves buyers with a choice - do you prefer shiny British style, or modern Japanese aesthetic? The LS 500’s executive rear seats have adjustable recline, headrests, bolsters, lumbar, and the standard climate controls expected in an executive luxury sedan, all controlled through a touchscreen monitor in the armrest.

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I have a deep love of Jaguar’s emphasis on performance, but for an executive saloon, it’s hard to say no to that 354hp hybrid V6 that gets 28MPG. If you like the XJ’s Supercharged V8 470 ponies, Lexus offers the LS 500 F Sport with 416hp and still manages 21MPG for the AWD model; the XJ only offers AWD on the 340hp Supercharged V6 that only manages 21MPG, not the RWD-only 5.0L V8 that averages 18MPG. This comes down to a fundamental difference in direction the two manufacturers have taken - both are competing against German luxury frontrunners BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but have taken on the fuel economy problem in different ways. Jaguar has focused their efforts on all-electric vehicles, with the introduction of the I-Pace, and instead offer more economical Diesel engines on select models. Lexus fights the gas pump through its hybrids, and Toyota has always been the kink of hybrid technology. Hybrids are the immediate future of cars, and the fact that Lexus has so finely mated luxury, build quality, and performance out of a hybrid drivetrain - it’s impossible to ignore that.

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I’m looking forward to Lexus returning to DC next year for another installment of the Lexus Experience Amazing Drive Event, hopefully with an RC F, and eventually the LC F, which is rumored to be on sale for the 2022 model year. And next time I’m behind a Lexus in traffic, I’m sure to pay a lot more attention.

Bayard and Margaret: Married April 13th, 2019

Over a lifetime, certain cities and locations become significant and close to one’s heart.  Sometimes it’s because of experiences, sometimes it’s just a feeling; oftentimes, it’s both.  For Bayard and Margaret, the first city to hold that significance is Williamsburg, home of William and Mary, where they first met.  Washington Dulles International Airport will always be remembered for where they got engaged upon Margaret landing.  But Alexandria is the most recent place of significance for them, because it is their current home, where they celebrated their engagement last Fall, and most importantly, it is the city where they tied the knot this April 13th!

On a beautiful Spring day at Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria, Bay and Maggie said “I do” surrounded by family, friends, and cherry blossoms.  Bay and Margaret have always had a pizzazz about them; I first met Maggie when she was singing karaoke at Nina and Ian’s wedding in 2016.  This is the energy she draws from in planning her famously immersive parties, and this spirit shined at their wedding, from the wedding cake surrounded by cherry blossom trees and protected by his-and-hers Han and Leia porgs, to the Harry Potter candy bar for every house at Hogwarts.

With lots of love (and dancing), Bay and Margaret started a new chapter in Alexandria’s importance in their lives this Spring.  Together, the World holds infinite places for them to discover, collect new memories, and develop new bonds with as they now go and explore the World as husband and wife.  Though the places will change, their love will remain constant.

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I don’t think anybody except my talented assistant photographer Eddie noticed, but if I looked pained at any point during Bay and Margaret’s wedding, it wasn’t because of the wedding!  I woke up the morning of Bay and Maggie’s wedding with what has now been diagnosed as a slipped cervical disc, which caused severe muscle spasm in all muscles in my left shoulder and pec.  It’s an injury I’ve endured a handful of times now, but obviously the timing of this reoccurrence was undesirable, but I didn’t let it impact my performance shooting the wedding!  Luckily now, after two months in PT getting trigger point injections and dry needling + ESTIM, I’m feeling much better.  This injury significantly slowed my progress editing this wedding initially, but with progress recovering I was able to make up for lost time and still get these photos fully edited and online the same week I’d originally projected.

But for now, enjoy this outtake:

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Alitalia at IAD

Washington Dulles International Airport - Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport

This past Thursday, May 2nd, 2019, Washington Dulles International Airport welcomed Alitalia’s A330-200, formally beginning non-stop service to Rome. Fabio Lazzerini, Alitalia CBO, and Armando Varricchio, Italy’s ambassador to the United States, spoke to guests and passengers at the gate preceding a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially mark the beginning of service from IAD to FCO.

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Embassy of Italy

Later in the evening, guests within the aviation and Italian / United States economic and cultural fields gathered at the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC to celebrate the new link formed by Alitalia’s newly launched flight service. Guests enjoyed a fashion show featuring every Alitalia cabin crew uniform since the airline’s inception in 1946 while sampling Italian dishes and cocktails.

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And here I am!

Huge thank you to Ryan Ewing of  AirlineGeeks.com  for capturing me in my element.

Huge thank you to Ryan Ewing of AirlineGeeks.com for capturing me in my element.

Official Communications

Hello photography friends, I just wanted to take a moment to reiterate that all official communications with J. David Buerk - Photography are through myself (David; hi!), and only through my official contact channels and social media profiles. If you encounter any profile that you are unsure or suspicious of, claiming to be me, or conducting business on my behalf, immediately cease communications and please report any suspicious behavior like this to my email, david@jdbphoto.com.

Why I’m Bringing This Up

Although I haven’t received any reports of impersonation, I was recently contacted on one of my official social media profiles by a new, blank profile bearing my name, asking for basic information, which is why I am disseminating this cautionary message.

Official Lines of Communication

Below I am listing all official J. David Buerk - Photography communication outlets and social media profiles; please only interact with these lines of communication (and please Like / Follow / Subscribe / etc if you don’t already!):

Website:
jdavidbuerk.com
NOTE: My old domain (jdbphoto.com) redirects to this site.

Email:
david@jdavidbuerk.com
NOTE: My old email (david@jdbphoto.com) still works! In fact, both emails are the exact same account and inbox. I also accept PGP encrypted email; ask for my key.

Phone:
703.609.3226

Client Galleries (hosted by SmugMug):
clients.jdbphoto.com

Facebook:
facebook.com/DavidBuerkPhoto
NOTE: This URL was changed to mirror my other social media URLS on March 5th, 2019; the old URL (facebook.com/jdbphoto) does not work anymore, as Facebook does not allow masks or redirects.

Twitter:
@DavidBuerkPhoto

Instagram:
@DavidBuerkPhoto

YouTube:
youtube.com/channel/UC4mMZNPzpyd_mTlGbNMzkJw

LinkedIn:
linkedin.com/in/j-david-buerk-59803b8/
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Google+:
plus.google.com/b/116097680376046332431/116097680376046332431
NOTE: Google+ is shutting down April 2nd, 2019; read why here.

Snapchat:
@DavidBuerkPhoto
NOTE: I am not presently active on Snapchat; this profile is not regularly monitored for snaps / messages - please direct all communication to the above email / phone number / social media profiles instead, but feel free to follow in the event I do begin using this profile.

Personal Accounts

I also have personal accounts at many of the services above, and others not listed; I do not use my personal accounts for business purposes, and if I am contacted for business on one of my personal accounts, I will always direct you toward my email, phone number, website, and / or social media profiles listed above. If you encounter an account seemingly impersonating me, either a personal or business account, or to conduct business or not, please notify me immediately.

Thank You, My Fans

Old Rag Mountain, August, 2018.

Old Rag Mountain, August, 2018.

Finally, a thank you to every one of you who follows my photography, shares my enthusiasm, and introduces me to new people who will enjoy my work for years to come. Without you my work would be much less vibrant and diverse, and I appreciate your diligence in ensuring security and authenticity.

Thank you!

-David

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!