Blog

The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Fredericksburg Antiquing

Heading to the DC Big Flea tomorrow? Kick off your weekend with some Fredericksburg antique shop finds from last weekend!

I didn’t pick anything up this time, but window shopping in antique shops is exciting to me enough on its own, plus I discovered a new favorite singer in one of the stores, so I have new albums I’m eating up as a result.

Always bring home memories, even if they’re not physical.

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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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The New York City Empty Sky Memorial

All photos from this post, and more, can be viewed fullscreen here.

View photos of my 2015 visit to The National September 11th Memorial & Museum here.

September, 2000

In September, 2000 my family had gone on a trip making its way North along the Eastern seaboard.  One of the stops was in Liberty, New Jersey to see The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island - we never went into Manhattan proper much to my disappointment.

This was WAY before I knew anything about photography - I just liked taking pictures on my little Kodak Advantix.

This is a picture I shot at age 12 in the year 2000 from the Northern side of Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey - now the current site of the Empty Sky Memorial.  I remember my parents bickering over whether "those two tall buildings are the Twin Towers or the World Trade Center."  I said I thought they were both; the same thing.  Fast forward a year, and everyone in the World knew the answer without a doubt.

It's incredible to me that I even have this picture, that I shot it myself.  I was 12.  The majority of my life has been post-9/11, working at IAD and DCA.  My entire aviation related career arc has directly resulted from that day in 2001.  This photo is a relic of a time before that; before the TSA and DHS existed, before all the post-9/11 security and societal changes that resulted.

Here is that photo I unwittingly took at age 12.

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September, 2018

This August I travelled to Rhode Island to visit my friend Alyssa on her birthday, however due to a need for flexible scheduling, I made the journey by car rather than flying this time. It occurred to me by doing this I could make a quick stop at Liberty State Park in Liberty, New Jersey and see the Empty Sky memorial, which I’d only learned of its existence about a year prior thanks to my friend Natalie (who happens to live just 5mi away in Weehawken - I got to visit her on my stop as well :-D). I knew it was the same spot I’d taken that photo as a 12 year old, but it wasn’t until the night before leaving I realized I could try and replicate that photo and compare the New York City skyline across 18 years of history. Before going to bed, I printed a scale copy of my 18 year old photo of the New York skyline (the original print would stay safely at home).

Remarkably, the weather was visually similar to that day in 2000. Textured overcast, but no fog obscuring skyscrapers’ upper floors. Inspecting the original picture, I counted 12 light poles visible, which would give me a good starting point to get me close to the same spot for that matching perspective. To my surprise, the park benches and even the trash cans hadn’t changed in all this time. In order to fit all 12 light posts in-frame, I walked back parallel to 13th light post from the end, and incredibly the perspective aligned almost perfectly - even the park benches lined up, though some trash cans moved, as you’d expect they would over the course of 18 years.

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I’d come here with a purpose, and to my surprise it took me longer to walk to this spot from my car than it did to fight the wind in correctly lining up my photograph in the shot. Next, I wanted to capture a modern view of the same angle. Taking these photos even required me a lower my camera a little bit to account for my shorter 12 year old stature.

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And here are the photos, 2000 and 2018, side-by-side. History in both pictures; the Twin Towers visible in 2000, and One World Trade Center erected adjacent to the empty sky where they once stood. Many other buildings have also sprung up across the skyline, and the freshly planted trees in my original picture are all grown up today.

Continue reading for more views of the New York City skyline later in this post.

Empty Sky

Next stop was the Empty Sky memorial, just steps away, visible in the righthand side of the photos above. Empty Sky was dedicated on September 10, 2011, the day before 9/11’s 10th anniversary. Designed by Jessica Jamroz and Frederic Schwartz, Empty Sky is comprised of twin 30ft tall walls spanning 208ft 10in engraved with the names of all 746 victims of the September 11th attacks; on one side, I beams from the Twin Towers stand solemnly - on the other, directly across the Hudson, lies Ground Zero, and the empty sky in the New York skyline where the Twin Towers had stood. The memorial is impressive at all times of day.

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New York City

New York’s sky today is still beautiful, just different. New buildings have sprung up, and One World Trade Center now watches over the city, with the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and 432 Park Avenue all overlooking the city uptown. The last five times I’ve been to this city, I’ve been in the city, so this was also happened to be my first opportunity to photograph New York’s cityscape since I was here at age 12.

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Houston, Texas: July, 2016

Lately I've been catching up on some personal work leftover from last Summer.  Today I'm bringing you pictures from my short trip to Houston to be a part of Imran and Hina's wedding.  Since I was there for several days, of course, the wedding was only a portion of everything I did while on my first trip to Texas.

Arrival

This was only my second time flying out of DCA even though I am there often enough for photoshoots.  It was a pretty day, although it had a low, hazy ceiling, so I captured some pretty pictures of the airport while taxiing, but began battling haze with a little altitude.  I did still manage to catch some great shots of the new MGM Casino (it was still under construction at this point) , and National Harbor... and the DC Water and Sewer Authority; water treatment plants look pretty cool from the air too.

Arriving in Houston, the terrain is noticeably very flat, with long stretches of interstates and service roads, cookie-cutter neighborhoods, and snaking rivers.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) reminded me a lot of Dulles, however their facilities seem to be more spread out and reliant on shuttle busses.

Reaching downtown Houston was a shocker; not only was downtown very small at only a few blocks of city space, but on a Saturday, at noon, there were *literally* no people to be found.  There was no traffic downtown; never once did I have to stop and wait for traffic when crossing streets.  There were no people walking around.  Half of the businesses weren't even open.  I was the only customer in a coffee shop which, inexplicably, had three employees working.  There was an international grocery store with an amazing wine selection upstairs that had a few customers inside, but that was about it - Houston, at lunchtime on a Saturday... completely dead and devoid of life.

Arriving at the hotel at William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), I found that directly next door was an... establishment... called "The Landing Strip."  I just found it ironic that Imran's wedding was being held at an airport Marriott with a titty bar a stones throw away.  It actually became a running joke of the trip, culminating in me sitting down in Imran's lap before his wedding, straight out of the shower, wrapping my legs around him and sensually saying, "Hey baby, is this your first time at The Landing Strip?" just to get a reaction out of him; it was pretty funny!  You can't make this stuff up!  That actually happened the next day, while everyone was getting ready for the wedding, but I shot these pictures as the sun set on my first night in Houston.

Johnson Space Center • Imran and Hina's Wedding

Imran's wedding was at night, so that left all day to go explore.  I'd already seen downtown, which was disappointing, to put it politely.  I decided to see something guaranteed to make me smile; I head over to Johnson Space Center, just 20min from the hotel.

Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition

Little did I know until walking inside, the Mythbusters (who had just a few months prior aired their last episode) had a full exhibit visiting the Space Center.  Not only did I get to meet the real Buster, but I got to see artifacts from all my favorite myths; Jamie's steel sphere from "Painting with Explosives," Adam's Flatus Ignition Seat from "Franklin's Kite," Adam's Tornado Shield from "Storm Chasing Myths," and a destroyed hot water heater from "Exploding Water Heater."

By the way, if you haven't seen it already, go check out White Rabbit Project on Netflix; that's where Kari, Grant, and Tori ended up after being cut from Mythbusters.  It's a very Mythbusters influenced show, but with a modernized program format that fixes a lot of the staleness Mytbusters struggled with toward the end, and the extremely high production quality we've become familiar with from Netflix.  I cannot recommend the show enough.

Johnson Space Center

The rest of Johnson Space Center (or Space Center Houston, as the museum portion is called) contains all the space geekery you expect; I love it.  Most of the exhibits here focus on historic space missions, such as the Gemini and Apollo programs.

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Outside the Space Center is of course one of Johnson's most noticeable, newest additions, and the most relevant to me; NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft I photographed and followed for a week in April, 2012, which led to some amazing opportunities for me, and which I consider to be the launchpad for much of my career today.

It was a surreal experience boarding the retired 747 for the second time in my life, knowing that everyone else seeing the aircraft with me that day are enjoying a museum piece, but I was on board while the aircraft was still in service and even met the flight and ground crews, and they autographed copies of my photos on a table that's now blocked off as part of an exhibit.  Knowing that I've been on the upper deck and sat in the pilot's seat of this aircraft, whereas now it's not even open to the public to view... it was a surreal feeling, and it's still truly an honor to have been invited to be part of such a journey in 2012.

For fun below, I'm including some side-by-side comparisons of what the SCA looked like in 2012, and what it looks like now after its decommission and subsequent transformation into an exhibit.  You'll notice that in addition to some hardware being moved and a lot of plexiglass being added, they've also had to add fireproofing and sprinklers for fire code, and they've added carpeting, HVAC, standard glass entry doors, and of course lighting.  Crew-members and mission critical employees have also signed all over the fuselage, as is tradition.

Since it's closed to the public, here is what the upper deck looked like in 2012.

And finally, a few more photos of the SCA in it's final resting place as it is today.  This table is where the crew autographed my photos.

Astronaut Training Facility

Later in the day, after some inclement weather had passed through the area, campus tours finally resumed, however unfortunately there was only time for one tour before having to leave, and I didn't get to go on the tour of Mission Control like I'd wanted.  Seeing the Astronaut Training Facility was still interesting, and I was able to snag some awesome swag at the gift shop before heading out.  I still don't have my SCA 747 & Space Shuttle Discovery scale model though :-(

Imran and Hina's Wedding

Finally was the main event; Imran and Hina's wedding.  I was just a guest, which is an odd feeling for me since usually I'm behind the camera.  I didn't even bring my camera to the wedding; these are a few photos off my iPhone.

Departure

The next morning immediate family (which I'm considered in Imran's family) was invited for brunch.  After that, there were still a few hours to kill before catching the flight home.  Checking out the Texas' Gulf beach and getting some photos of the EcoBoost Mustang rental seemed like the best thing to do.

Mustang on the Beach

I was extremely disappointed with the beach in Texas; it seemed *very* dirty.  The Mustang, however, was very satisfying.  The EcoBoost Mustang, even with two fewer cylinders, makes only 20HP less than my G37, though since it uses a turbo to achieve this, the power came on with a delay.  Still a very peppy, very capable car.  Would I buy one?  No; this rental had less than 3,000 miles on the clock and already had multiple rattles, probably since day one from the factory.  But it was still a fun, very hoonable ride; I may have gotten a few donuts in this thing... which is convenient, because Houston seemed to be a never-ending sprawl of donut shops, fast-food joints, rug stores, and titty bars; between all that and the beach, it was time to skip town.

Departure

Flying home, I got a little work done, but eventually got distracted by the band of thunderstorms we were passing over about halfway home; this was my first time seeing lightning from the sky, and it is a beautiful sight.

With a steady hand, and a bit of luck, I was able to capture this photo of the storm over Charlotte, North Carolina.  I even managed to get some video footage too!

Finally, we landed at DCA (also only my second time flying into Reagan), and the lights of Alexandria was a welcome sight just before touchdown.