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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Christmas in St. Louis, 2017

As many of you know, much of my family lives in St. Louis, Missouri.  As always, I took along my camera, however given my still-recovering knee I brought it with no intentions of photographing anything in particular; my plan was to sit and let it heal, and that's largely what I did.  I did, however, shoot some photos as I saw them, so I'm including some highlights of my trip here.

Before I could leave town, however, I had to find someone to care for the bonsai Alyssa gave me.  I may have decorated it beforehand though...

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Roadtripping there led to I-70 to visit with Bernie and Natalie in Indianapolis while there was clear weather along the Northern route.  First though was a stop at a West Virginia rest area with an overlook of the carved-through mountain.  This mountain pass is usually completely coated in shimmering ice by December, so it was a new sight to see its bare rock in direct sunlight.

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Next stop was seeing Bernie and Natalie at a Steak N Shake not far from their home in Indianapolis.  Interestingly, we've done this enough times that some of the wait staff recognize us now, and gave us free coffee for the road.  Can you say *you're* a regular at a restaurant 600 miles away?

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Upon arrival in St. Louis I may have decorated my hotel room...

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I've developed somewhat of a tradition of taking my cousin Carrie's kids out each year to see the latest Star Wars.  This year, however, I had been doing a bit of punking and when they asked me when we were going to see The Last Jedi I told Ryan and Alex I'd already seen it a few days earlier (true).  "But we always go!"  Sarcastically feigning pain, "Ow, my knee *really* hurts...  I don't think I can see it..."

And then I started in on the mix of spoilers:  Han Solo dies!  Luke drinks green milk fresh from a teat... then he tickles Rey's hand with a leaf!  It's just like Battlestar Galactica except there's no whiteboard!  Kylo Ren kills Han Solo, and boy oh boy do I have some bad news for you about Carrie Fisher... BOOM!!!  *feigns gasping for air*

Obviously you wouldn't know what of that is true or false unless you've seen the movie; little did they know it's all true... but with a 2 ton asterisk on the end, and none of it is central to the plot.  Also little did they know I'd already bought the tickets.  So, Christmas morning came and I'd given them a Christmas card simply signed "Han Solo dies!!!" inside, with the tickets to Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi in 3D for the next day.  The reaction of them realizing what it was was pretty worth it.

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Fast forward a few days to my mom's birthday, and we're all sitting around my grandpa's kitchen table visiting with him.  He's 98, and last year I gave him prints of some aerial photos I've taken, and pictures of me taking some of them; he's always been intrigued by flight, and is always asking what kind of aviation stuff I'm taking pictures of, so it was a fitting gift - I think he lives vicariously through me a little since I've been on some flights he didn't even get to experience in the Army.  This year I accidentally left this year's new prints at the hotel on Christmas, so I instead gave him the prints a few days later; it was for the best - he was more awake and focused than on Christmas with all the tiring activity.

This part really made my day - this is my 98 year old grandfather reading an article on AirlineGeeks.com profiling me and my marketing photography work in the aviation industry.  Here is my only remaining grandparent soaking in every word of an article about me.  His only question was "what is a Plane Pull?"  I showed him pictures and explained the charity event.

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This was almost a two week trip, but it flew right by, and as you've seen I don't have too terribly many photos to share from it due to my own preference of rehabbing my knee (12-weeks post MPFL Reconstruction surgery as of that week), and extreme caution to avoid ice and any slippery footing; St. Louis always harsher, more annoying Winters than DC - almost every day it is in the teens or single digits, accompanied by freezing rain, snow, or sleet.  There were only ~2 days of the entire stay that didn't have some kind of Winter precipitation - not a welcome sight for post-op knee safety, even if at 12 weeks my gracilis tendon has *in theory* fused with my bones and become a new ligament.

That same Winter weather was tracking North, so the I-64 Southern route was the obvious choice to return to DC.  St. Louis has a lot of decay in certain areas; I find it beautiful, although those aren't areas I would recommend going on a touristy photo-walk unless you're an experienced urban explorer (I am not).  The highway out of town takes you straight past some of these spots, so I always love seeing the decaying abandoned industrial buildings leaving St. Louis and into Illinois.

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Later, in Kentucky, one of the rest areas just a few miles from the Woodford Reserve Distillery had a display of Kentucky Whiskey memorabilia and selections from local vineyards.  I'm much more of a scotch person, but I think I'd really enjoy visiting the Woodford Reserve Distillery.

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Finally, some sights heading into Louisville, Kentucky; it's always seemed like it would be a really cool city to explore and perhaps even live in, but I've never understood why a city most famous for its baseball bats only has a AAA team which feeds into an Ohio team.

I've seen a few sitting in parking lots, but I've mostly only seen these when I visit the Infiniti dealer for service; this is the first time I've spotted a CV37 generation Infiniti Q60 driving on the road.  I do kinda like it, but it still just seems like a mashup of BMW 4 Series / Mazda 6 / Honda Accord to me; in other words, as a whole, unoriginal.  There is also the glaring omission of a manual transmission option.  I'll spare you the full car review, but I have quite a few complaints about the interior as well.  That all said, it's still a really sharp looking car.

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Hands down my favorite sight along I-64 is this oil refinery; the steam is always distinctive and visible for miles, and between the steam clouds and thousands of sodium lamps, it's roadside industrial Christmas.  This is the first time I've ever seen them burning off excess gas; the industrial candle lit the lumbering overhead plumes even brighter, adding depth with its flicker.

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That night, while editing some photos, I again felt compelled to decorate my hotel room; these AA powered Christmas lights are the best $7 I spent all of 2017!  They served as the perfect nightlight while editing that evening (the room lamps were all just too bright), and the perfect warmup in my groggy, pre-coffee state the next morning.

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By morning the band of snow in the North had swirled down and reached an arm down to the I-64 corridor; the <1" of accumulation was welcome in comparison to the >36" the same storm had dropped in a matter of hours North in Pennsylvania overnight.

West Virginia's capital building has always drawn me to visit, but I still haven't had the chance.  It looks very beautiful, from the quick glimpses you spot it passing through Charleston.

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Alyssa in DC: 2015

This post is overdue.  Long overdue.  Like, almost a YEAR overdue.  I even got our New York pictures up way sooner!  It's all my fault; honestly the pictures from Day 2, hiking in Harper's Ferry, just left me reeling.  They were so uncooperative, and left me frustrated as a perfectionist.  This is a personal post; I put my paid work before it, perpetually backburnering this and other personal work.  But it's here finally, for Alyssa and all my friends who hear all about "that Rhode Island friend of mine."

Day 1: Arrival • Annapolis, MD

Alyssa was due to touch down at BWI in just a few hours; I was coming from Rachel and Andrew's wedding shoot from the day before and drove direct to BWI in time to get her.  Leaving Rachel and Andrew's, I photographed one of their horses grazing in the dawn fog.  On the way to BWI I passed a convoy of various military equipment.

This was the first time I'd met Alyssa in person after about two years of long-distance friendship thanks to iMessage and FaceTime.  We happened across one another on the Internet mid-2012, and found we had a lot in common, as we're both photographers.

I hadn't planned anything in particular, so I chose to take her to nearby Annapolis for lunch and a bit of exploring through Old Town.  Annapolis is one of the region's most charming cities; it's a place I've explored a little bit, but not to the extent I'd like to.  Every time I visit Annapolis I can only think of how wonderful it must be to live there, right on the Chesapeake Bay.  I'm desperate to continue my love affair with Maryland's capital city.

It was a hot day; I took Alyssa to a tavern on the shore for authentic Maryland crab cakes, and eventually we gave in and got ice cream, which we devoured because it was melting quickly!

After this, Alyssa got her first taste of a DC traffic jam; it took several hours and a thunderstorm to get us back to Fairfax.

Day 2: Hiking in Harper's Ferry, WV / MD

Harper's Ferry is a little Civil War town at the crossroads of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.  It is where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers converge, and is the only point where all three states can be seen at the same time.  The town itself is in West Virginia, right along the Appalachian Trail, with the popular Maryland Heights Trail physically in Maryland, not West Virginia as popularly thought (it's in the name, people!).

Alyssa had seen the pictures of this hike from several other trips of mine, and wanted to go to "the bird hike," which I am just now noticing I never blogged - one time I went, I photographed from above a variety of birds circling the cliff face - it's a perspective not often seen with bird pictures.  The cliff face itself is ~650 feet above water, and less than 1/4 mile from the West Virginia Shore directly, but the height makes for crazy perspectives especially when paired with 400mm lenses even at f/8.

Harper's Ferry also is home to several active and defunct rail lines.  Because of the frequent rail activity, Harper's Ferry is a popular location for train spotters, both on the peak and at different points below.

We went on a damp day, and the greenery was in full bloom!

That face when she reached the peak...

As usual, I'd packed lunch for the trail, and we ate at the peak.  Much to her dismay, there weren't any birds flying.  She did, however, get to spot quite a few trains.  This was on a weekday, so we had the entire trail and peak to ourselves.  It was very calm; the quiet was only disrupted by the occasional train, and a few trucks in the distance.  I've never heard this trail so quiet before.

400mm lets you really zoom in on things, even at great distance.

It was finally time to turn back; down is always quicker, but we were racing to catch the last shuttle back to the visitor center.  We'd have to explore the town another day; the next time Alyssa visits.  At the bottom we found the only wildlife we saw all day - two geese and their goslings.

Day 3: Washington Dulles International Airport • Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air & Space Museum

Washington Dulles International Airport

The next day, I had a photoshoot scheduled, but that was only for a few hours, so I brought Alyssa along to see how I photograph commercial images of food and concessions for marketing.  In this case I photographed mostly menu items for an airport restaurant.

After the shoot, I showed Alyssa around the airport I've called home for 11 years.  Our first stop was a complete surprise to her, and a place very few people can visit.  The historic, now out-of-use, Air Traffic Control Tower in the center of Eero Saarinen's Dulles Main Terminal Building.  It was another rainy day, so not the prettiest or best visibility, but still awesome nonetheless.

Now it was time for a bit of a drive around the airfield.  Alyssa got to stand under the two largest commercial aircraft in existence; Lufthansa's 747-8i, and British Airways' A380.  Most people only get this close to aircraft of this size when boarding through a jetbridge - standing on the ground next to them will leave you awestruck at the engineering and physics that even allows these birds to fly.

Next, I brought Alyssa over to Airport Operations; to her surprise there was ANOTHER tower: the midfield OPs / Ramp Tower that actively controls all the taxiway and gate area ground traffic.  Operations is a great group at Dulles, and they know how to give a great tour.  They explained how aircraft interface between them and the FAA ATCT (which controls all taxilanes and runways), how mobile lounge traffic is directed, and shared stories from some of the interesting and historic events the controllers have been a part of throughout their stay at Dulles.  Sometimes the controllers will hand over the headset and dictate the radio commands, letting guests give actual live commands to ground traffic; I'm a little disappointed they didn't let Alyssa do that, just because... how many other people (who aren't controllers) can say they've done that?  Even I can't say I've done that.

The Ramp Tower is a little closer to the heart of activity at Dulles, so it offers a the best view for planespotting of all the towers at Dulles.  And yes, planespotters who follow me, I even think it's a bit better than the FAA ATCT, just because the Ramp Tower is a little more diversified in its views.  Yes, the FAA Tower is twice as tall, but you can't see any ramp operations, and you only get a clear view of arrivals on R/W 1R, 1C, and departures on R/W 30 (which quickly grow into ants as they close the two mile length of runway in a few seconds time).  That said, on a clear day you can spot the Washington Monument and air traffic at DCA from Dulles FAA Tower... so there's that.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy National Air & Space Museum

Since it was kinda a dreary day, with patches of blue sky and sunshine, but mostly rain, I thought it would be a good opportunity to use the rest of the day at the Udvar-Hazy Center and complete the aviation theme of the day.

I still have never been up the Udvar's Observation Tower.  We just came from two of Dulles' actual towers, so of course we skipped that and checked out the exhibits.  Unfortunately we only had a few hours before the museum was to close, so our visit felt a bit rushed.

It still doesn't feel like that long ago, but it'd been three years.  Three years (four years now) since all the Space Shuttle events that so dramatically changed my career.  Looking back, even though it doesn't feel that long ago, it's still be long enough for my photographic style to refine a bit.  Still though, the photo of Enterprise departing on the SCA... I feel it's probably the best photo I've ever taken.  And here she is, Discovery, safe at home.

This was one of those times I only brought one lens with me.  Like usual, I selected the 85mm f/1.2L.  Anytime I do something for fun like this, I travel with only one lens, usually a prime, and challenge myself to get great photos with a set focal range (the hike was a different circumstance; I always bring a telephoto on that hike because I know I can get great bird pictures from that peak).

Day 4: Washington, DC - The White House • WWII Memorial • Lincoln Memorial • Vietnam Memorial • Washington Nationals Baseball Game

Washington, DC's Mall and Monuments

So on Day 4, we spent the afternoon touring around DC's Mall area; pretty basic stuff if you live here, but must-see stuff if you've never been.  Alyssa will surely return for another trip, so let's introduce her to DC's basics.  Because we were carrying our cameras, I opted to drive in and park at the Ronald Reagan Building rather than take the Metro; even though our cameras would be allowed in the baseball park, I never bring mine because I'm happier downing half-smokes, beer, and peanuts than looking through a lens for 9 innings.

I didn't realize that the Ronald Reagan Building was home to a few exhibits, and the Global Entry offices; I'll have to pay another visit later on.

Outside, I spotted a wrapped Jaguar XJ L RS with New Jersey HQ plates - pretty cool to see a production tester out on the streets just a block from the White House.  The car had all kinds of equipment inside and stuck to the windshield (cameras, telemetry, GPS?).

The White House

I didn't tell Alyssa where we were going.  I simply led her through the streets, following the ever-growing crowd until we reached the clearing showing the unmistakable home with the unforgettable address.  For what it's worth, this was the first time I've visited the South Lawn side of the property.

For good measure, I also took her up to the North Lawn, but we weren't there 1 minute and the Secret Service closed off Pennsylvania Avenue, Lafayette Square, H Street, and 15th street for a VIP movement.  Thanks, Obama (Obama wasn't home though).  This was the first time I'd seen the additional fence added after the fence jumping incident earlier in the year.  I snapped this photo as everyone was being pushed back.

World War II Memorial

The way we were pushed several blocks away by the Secret Service kinda put a kink in our plans, especially since Alyssa's one request was to go see "the sitting guy."  Uh, you mean Lincoln?  "The sitting guy!"  You don't mean FDR do you...  "The sitting guy!"  Uh, ok...

So we had to book it back to the Mall and start heading West in a hurry if we were to go see Lincoln and still make it to Nats Park before opening pitch.

Along the way we passed through the WWII Memorial, and got Alyssa her picture with Rhode Island.  We also spotted some DC duckies, for which the Reflecting Pool is famous for.

Lincoln Memorial

Finally we got to the Lincoln Memorial; it was a lot more packed than I was expecting, even on a weekday.

Vietnam Memorial

On our way back to the Ronald Reagan Building I decided to surprise Alyssa once again, and take her to the Vietnam War Memorial ("The Wall") and The Three Soldiers statue since it's so close and so impacting.  Several months later in New York we'd visit the 9/11 Memorial together, which very similarly displays the names of the fallen.  The 9/11 Memorial would have a much larger emotional impact on me than I ever could have expected.

Washington Nationals vs Chicago Cubs

Baseball is my favorite sport.  I watch almost every Nats game - I'm usually editing photos with the game on.  This was a last minute decision - I purchased the tickets just that morning; I wasn't sure what the weather was going to do that week, but everything worked out!  We were seated in nosebleed, but I really don't mind it as long as you're somewhere along the infield, because it gives you a great overview of every play.  That said, PNC Diamond seats are amazing because you get a view of every pitch (and can tell when the umpires make a bad call - I took my Dad to a game behind home plate, which happened to be the one where Papelbon hit Machado with a pitch; only the beginning of Papelbon's troubled stay with the Nationals.  Please, go back to Philly.).

Tanner Roark went on to win this one for the Nats 7-5 against Tsuyoshi Wada of the Cubs.  As we left, we watched part of Nats Xtra being filmed live, which is always pretty cool.

On the way back to the car, we had some fun in a fountain, and I tried the iPhone's slo-mo (high-speed) function out.  It's pretty cool if you have the right thing to film!

Day 5: Katie's Cars and Coffee • AOPA Fly-In & Airshow • Wine Tasting

Katie's Cars and Coffee

If you've even briefly followed my pictures, you know I shoot a lot of cars - cars are a love of mine, so I shoot car events for fun when I go... which is quite often.  Seeing these pictures from me for years, she wanted to go to the car show and meet some of my friends.  It wasn't long before Patrick arrived (barefoot as usual).  Our cars look good together ;-)

You should also know that I have a serious lust for Porsche.

At one point, Alyssa wanted to try my camera, so I let her at it, to compare my 85mm f/1.2 to the 50mm f/1.4 she had just gotten (on her crop body the FOV is roughly the same, but with less DOF).  Here are a few she shot that I pulled out and edited.

And here she is ruining a picture.

This was that one day everyone got their food except Jake.

AOPA Fly-In & Airshow

That afternoon we had all planned on meeting up with Ellen at the AOPA show in Frederick, MD, which is basically like Katie's car show, but for aircraft (so it's not every weekend ;-)).  Unfortunately, she couldn't make it this year, and we missed meeting up with her Dad, who owns a glider and aircraft tour business in New Jersey (still haven't gone to check it out yet).

This year Europe's Breitling Jet Team was in town performing in their Czech L-39 Albatros trainers.

They're quite a sight.  Their precision flying is definitely not to be missed.

I was very shocked at how close they let the public get to the aircraft.  Working at Dulles I am used to it, but every other airshow I've been to has had a lot of separation; at the AOPA show the jets just taxied right up to the crowd standing on the taxilane.  After that you were free to just walk up and stick your head in the aircraft - crazy!

Next performance was the Goodyear / Whelen stuntplane.  I actually took a bit of video of him too - it's shaky; 400mm handheld will do that.

After that, we browsed the parked aircraft for a bit, picking up free swag along the way.

Wine Tasting

If you know me then you know my other love, beyond cars and baseball, is wine.  All wine, as long as it's dry.  After the air show, we went back to Virginia wine country to vineyard hop.  The first vineyard we planned to visit was closed for the day for a wedding, so we went a mile up the road to The Barns at Hamilton Station; ironically the local vineyard I've visited the most, but not one of my favorites.  Although their wines aren't my favorite, they do have a cozy atmosphere, and they have a cat!!!  The last time I was there, it just hopped in my lap and cuddled until closing time!  I've actually been back there several times since Alyssa, Patrick, Jake and I went.

If you want more photos, you'll have to bug Alyssa for them, because I was more focused on tastings than taking pictures - left my camera in the car so I could enjoy the vino.

After Hamilton Station at the Barns, we headed over to Fabbioli Cellars; a place none of us had been, but I'd like to go back and try again.  They were interesting to me because they really focused on pairings - they actually give you a paired bite of food with every wine you taste.  If you're new to wine, you'll be in awe the first time you try a great pairing - compare a bitter red to how it tastes after a bite of certain food, and just see how it will open up into a robust, rich flavor with no negative traits - pairings are an exciting part of your wine journey, and are one of the most fun things to experiment with.

Day 6: Departure

I don't have any more photos to share.  Her last day in town, Alyssa and I spent with some family she has living here, and her grandparents who drove up from Mississippi.  We spent the day lounging by the pool and enjoying a nice dinner before I had to drive Alyssa back to BWI to fly home.  The flight to Rhode Island isn't that long; we raced home, me in my car, and her in the plane.  Even though I grabbed a donut at Dunkin before getting lost in the parking garage searching for my car, I still beat her home by a few minutes, all the way from BWI to Chantilly.

One of these days soon we'll plan another trip together.  We already met up again in New York since the trip in this post took place.  Til we meet again...