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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

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!

2015 Film Scans

You guys, I’m super excited! I found some rolls of old, expired film laying around that I’d never gotten developed, so I sent them to the wonderful folks at The Find Lab last week and I just got the scans back!

I had no idea what was on them, but it turns out I shot 3 rolls on the same weekend in October, 2015. These rolls were all expired Kodak Gold given to me to kill off, and were definitely underexposed even though they were all shot at speed; I’m not quite sure why they were underexposed for this reason. Kodak Gold isn’t the best film in the World, and I prefer the soft teal hues of Fuji 400H as opposed to the oversaturated warm tones Kodak films tend to have.

Katie’s Cars and Coffee: October 24th, 2015

Saturday morning I went to Katie’s Cars and Coffee and shot the show on film. I have a hunch I used the 35mm f/1.4L for the whole show and most of the next day in Shenandoah, but I’m not 100%. It was a foreign invasion, with offerings from France, Germany, England, and Japan.

These photos are available for print and download here.

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Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive

The next day was the annual trip to Shenandoah National Park to take in Skyline Drive - this part I shot on film and digital.

I wish I could remember what trail we hiked while there. When the wind chill is bearable and we have the time we often go hiking during our annual trip. This was my first trip to Skyline Drive with my new car, and we spent most of our time there photographing all our cars. This was the first and only time Jake, Patrick, and I had our cars together on Skyline Drive, so the majority of my digital pictures were of the cars, and I used the film for nature and landscape photography. I used a mix of lenses, but I can say for sure the first photo was shot using the TS-E 90mm f/2.8.

These photos are available for print and download here.

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Katie's Cars and Coffee: April 28th, 2018

It's been almost two years since I visited Katie's (though I thought I went last Summer, however don't have any pictures from it).  It was nice to get out to a car show again; I went to the Ferrari Club of America Spring Thaw last week, but Katie's has offerings from every make, model, era, and style, so I find it more enjoyable.

A friend of mine is borrowing a tilt-shift lens for fun to learn how they work, so this time I brought along my under-loved TS-E 90mm f/2.8; Canon's first tilt-shift lens ever, first introduced in 1991, and the world's first telephoto length 35mm tilt-shift lens - at 90mm, this lens is designed for tabletop product photography, such as foods, but I've found use for it as a portrait lens, and in my wedding photography for capturing wedding rings.  As it turns out, the lens my friend was borrowing was Nikon's 28mm f/3.5 PC, which only features a shift adjustment; no tilt - the PC stands for Perspective Correction.  Perspective adjustments via shift are useful for architectural photography; any focus plane effects you see in the photos below are tilt only, as I don't have use for shift in these types of images, plus the effect of shift on this focal length has very few useful applications.

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The RTR Mustang was a spot I almost missed.

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The heavily modified 350Z got a lot of attention.  While it's not my taste, it was well built.  I gathered that this is an example build for a local performance garage (there was a matching Ford truck also at the show).

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Algonkian Regional Park

After Katie's, we met up with Imran and decided to go to Algonkian Regional Park to at least enjoy some of the nice weather, and play with the 28mm f/3.5 PC (Great Falls was too packed).  I still have not been hiking since reconstructive knee surgery in October, and this was also a good warm-up / test, since Algonkian is just a simple dirt path.  There happened to be a 50 mile / 50K / 10K / 5K race sponsored by The North Face going on while we were there, and the thought of such a distance alone makes my knee ache.  I had pushed myself running a 5K the day before (my limit right now seems to be two 5Ks per week), so my knee was already hurting before we even got there.  Though for day-to-day I am 100%, athletically my knee is still recovering.

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2018 Ferrari Club of America Spring Thaw

Spring has sprung (hopefully for good; no more freak April snow events please!) and that means cars and coffee events are about to pick up.  Kicking things off for the year is the Ferrari Club of America's Spring Thaw; a chance to get the cars hidden away in the garage over Winter out and stretch their legs some.

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The Testarossa was one of the cars that got me into cars; as a child, I had a 1:18 size red Testarossa toy car - this is my earliest memory of a specific childhood toy.

The Ferrari Testarossa is one of the most iconic cars for both Italian sports cars and the 80s as a decade.  Although it wasn't the only Ferrari in the show, many people remember the Testarossa from Miami Vice (although I am slightly too young to fall into this demographic).

Like most cars, the Testarossa underwent updates every few years; these small incremental changes can drastically change the value and desirability of a given example.  The very first Testarossas only had one mirror (distinctively mounted on the driver's side roofline), but this changed to a standard two-mirror design a few years into production.

The 512TR was the first major update to the Testarossa, and is often the most sought after model of Testarossa due to the increased power output and usability upgrades, such as improved clutch and shifter engagements.  The 512TR can readily be identified by spotting the facelift front foglights, updated wheels design, and black engine cover / third brake light (US spec).  You can see some of these design differences between the standard Testarossa and the 512TR, including the changes to its flat-12 engine, with the two versions parked side-by-side below.

(I still have never seen an F512M (the Testarossa's final version) in person.)

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I am by no means a die-hard Ferrari fan-boy, but the 599 with its flying buttresses has also always been a favorite; it's a direct successor to another favorite of mine, the 550 Maranello, and going back a few more generations, the Testarossa again (I like grand tourers, if you haven't figured this out yet).  Originally an aesthetic feature with the bonus of aerodynamics, the flying buttress introduced by the 599's design is now an element included in almost all modern supercars, such as the new Ford GT, BMW i8, and numerous McLarens, to name a few.

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Of course the F40 is another icon of racing history; I arrived past the start time and missed a second F40 parked next to it.

Fun fact; even though there were almost 10,000 Testarossas produced and only 1,315 F40s, I have seen more F40s in my lifetime than Testarossas.

Like most kids, I had an F40 Hot Wheels as a kid.

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Somehow a few other cars made it into the Ferrari show; a Maserati GranTurismo, a Porsche 911 GT2, a McLaren MP4-12C Spider, and a... Miata?

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Proof nature says it's Spring:

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Sterling Supercars: March 11th, 2017

Last minute I decided to swing by Ferrari / Maserati / Alfa Romeo of Washington in Sterling, Virginia for the Cars and Coffee that has been known as DC Exotics and more recently SterlingSupercars.  I've been to this Cars and Coffee once before; I don't frequent this one as often as others since it focuses exclusively on modern exotics, and other local car shows are more eclectic.  That being said, it's still a cool show to visit, and since it's sponsored by the (exotic) dealership, it's probably the most upscale cars and coffee event in the area.  Even if the focus is on Ferraris and Lamborghinis, being held at their dealerships, the atmosphere is just as welcoming as any other cars and coffee I've been to.

I showed up at the tail end of this show because I decided to go last minute, but there were still some cool rides there.  I even got to sit in a new Alfa Romeo Giulia.

After the show, I headed out to Sonic in Winchester for lunch, and we came across Dirt Farm Brewing by chance on the way back.  On a whim we dropped in to check out one of the local breweries we keep hearing about, and got flights.  I'm much more into wine than beer, and I only found one I liked.