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.


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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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!

2016 Washington Auto Show

UPDATE:  This post was featured on Jalopnik's homepage on February 2nd, 2016, garnering 13,000 readers in the first 24hrs alone.

Last year was the first year since 2009 that I didn't attend the Washington Auto Show; ironic because I skipped it to go out and actually buy a new car (the most valid reason you could give, if you ask me).  Needless to say, even though I was content to fall absent last year given my reason, I was excited to explore the show this year, since it's now been two years since my last visit.

Before going further, I should note that my focus this year was exploring the state of the 2016 car market's product offerings rather than collecting photographic documentation.

Over the years I've seen the cars evolve, the focus of the show change, and manufacturers rise and fall.  This year many manufacturers are going to shake up US roads; many things are coming to our automotive market that European countries have enjoyed or been influenced by for a very long time.  In the last two years, Fiat's acquisition of Chrysler has brought about a lot of changes within Chrysler's marquees, some good and some bad.  2015 was the first year since 1995 that the US market was blessed by Alfa Romeo's presence as a retailer.  2016 is the year Alfa will begin to expand on our roads.

Last December I saw my first 4C on public roads - a red example waiting at a stoplight in Reston; I grinned from ear to ear the rest of the day - I've always had a soft spot for the beautiful Italian designed cars of all vintages.  At the Washington Auto Show, a yellow Spider 4C was breaking necks (as much as the lovely woman presenting Alfa's two-seater offering to North American roads).

Another great move on Fiat's part is the revival of the Chrysler Pacifica.  I know this van has gotten a lot of heat since its announcement, but I'm a fan; it's a very exciting entry for the minivan market, and as a friend put it upon seeing the interior, "you could baby so hard in that thing."  This van is meant for some serious modern family-ing (including the annoying TV show if you want - look at that awesome rear-seat TV screen setup!).

Unfortunately 2016 will also mark the last year for the Dodge Dart; a mistake if you ask me.  The Dart is a car that I favorably reviewed previously; I know not everyone has had as many nice things to say, some of which I agree and mirrored in my evaluation.  I never said it was perfect; though it isn't the most valuable car in its class, it is the most exciting (which always comes at some price), and it isn't perfect, but the major problems I found were ones which currently plague most other vehicles in the Chrysler / Dodge / "SRT" (lol) lineup.  In other words, the designers are still finding their groove.  I WILL touch your Dart, thank you very much.

Also on hand was an example police-spec Charger.  To Punish and Enslave...

Something I found disconcerting was Ford's trucks' frame examples - the "new and improved" frame was bent out of shape and easily bendable in my fingers; if it can't stand up to an auto-show, how would it stand up to daily driving, let alone abuse and accidents?  I must be missing something, because I know and like Ford trucks - I've driven them more than any other brand.  If you know what's up with this, tell me in the comments, because I honestly didn't read the placard on the display - it just stuck out to me while taking a quick break.

A segment of the Washington Auto Show that is painfully missing is vehicles and technology aimed at helping those with disabilities.  I'm glad there is a renewable energy section, but Washington Auto Show organizers, I challenge you to create a Disabled Access section; incentivize auto makers, retrofitters, and accessory vendors specializing in motoring access for those with disabilities to display vehicles and booths in their own section at the 2017 Auto Show.

The only example I saw this year was Toyota Mobility's Sienna with Auto Access Seat.  Amazing how it works, however the people I saw around it seemed to think it was a sports tailgating feature - that's not really the image this kind of innovative product deserves.

Toyota is wonderful for letting its designers explore the outer-reaches of conceptual design; the Tron-inspired FV2 was on display last year as well, and is a good example of a modern proving-test-bed for future ideas and technology.  For this, I give Toyota a great deal of praise.  Toyota makes great cars - the 2016 Corolla, Camry, Highlander, and their trucks are good, solid vehicles.  The Toyobaru is great.  It's when it comes to production time for vehicles like the Prius and Mirai that Toyota falls flat.  The Prius is the car that car guys love to hate, partially because of its looks and specs, and partially because of its typical owners.  Oh, and then there was that awful song too.  I’m all for what the car stands for - energy savings, renewable energy, saving the environment... but it’s such a damn committee car! Just about every car maker out there has now proven that you can make a hybrid / electric car that’s *exciting*. The Prius has a massive following, which is great - the car is here to stay, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s good that a hybrid is so popular. The problem is that it’s such a boring, ugly car. It seems that Toyota has tried to make the Prius (alongside the Mirai concept) more exciting by making it more distinctive... the problem is that “distinctive” isn’t always good. In this case, the committee made it derpy. Actually, the only auto maker with more committee / group-think ruined cars is Toyota’s direct competitor, Honda, whose cost-saving but not cost-reducing shortcuts are evident the second you sit down; I want to like their cars, but they’re overpriced for what you’re getting. So, I don’t know what the Prius team was thinking, but this is the ugliest iterations of the car I’ve seen yet.

So, instead of blowing a lot of hot air, I’ll make my suggestion of what I would see as an exciting, attractive Prius. First of all, lose the bubble shape - yes, I know it’s like that for aero; just hear me out. Lose the bubble shape and random body scoops and waves, and go toward a 5-door hatch / wagon design - those have hoods! Imagine if you made a Corolla into a slightly smaller Panamera or Mazda 3, with the styling of the FR-S, but the economical drivetrain, solar panels, and weight / energy saving goodies at the Prius’ core. You’ve pretty much got that with the CT200h; take that concept, and apply it to the Prius namesake, giving it the full suite of Toyota Prius tech and soul. THAT is what I think these cars should be.

That said, I’m just one person (Jalop) with an opinion, and the CT200h vs Prius sale numbers say that Toyota’s right and I am wrong. I’m also quite far from the Prius’ target demographic. I’ve always admired the CT200h though - I’m giddy every time I see one, or the even more rare Acura TL wagon... in metallic brown! :-D

Well, just two more negatives I noticed, and we'll get through those quick.  Firstly, the exhaust pipes on these GMCs (and presumably Chevys? I didn't check).  I love everything GMC makes, but the give-a-damns stopped on the exhaust tip - this looks like you guys used a fence post.

And finally, the one I've been waiting to mention.  BMW.  You guys.  Ugh.  You guys.  You've officially lost it.  You've been acting a little crazy for a few years now, but you guys have officially gone looney with your latest batch of naming convention.  Infiniti went through a bit of a naming crisis in 2012 when it began giving all its models a Q designation, but that quickly worked itself out.  BMW, however, you guys are going through a full-on identity crisis.  Let me give you a hint - you don't have to be good at EVERYTHING.  You currently make multiple cars for everyone - it's unnecessary and confusing, and surely can't be financially sound!

Look at this!

You currently have 25 - 27 models for sale (depending on how you count them), and that doesn't even count trim levels.  And don't get me stared on you calling a 4-door a coupé.  I like the 6 Series Gran Coupe (I like fastbacks), but how about you tidy up your naming convention and bump that over to the 7 Series, along with the awesome Alpina B6?  I also would like to see you and Mercedes go back to your roots of using engine displacement as model designators.  It's ok, if you want to differentiate trim levels, using x and s and i and ci are still great!

I can't wait to see your next iteration of the Z4 (will it be a big enough change to christen it the Z5?).  I love every bit of that car (except it deserves a 6 speed manual option, of course).

Speaking of little roadsters I love, by far the best new car on display at the show was the ND Miata.  The Miata has always been a fun little car, but sitting in the ND is a whole new level.  A whole new experience.  Mazda has hit a home run with this car (with the exception of the derpy headlights and taillights - are derpy lights the new craze for Japanese cars for some reason?  Is there something culturally spurring this in Toyota, Honda, and Mazda now?).  The interior is perfection.  It's comfortable, and everything is easy.  The clutch is light (my Infiniti's is very heavy and long in comparison), and the shifts are extremely short - this is clearly a car meant to get into some (good / fun) trouble with.

I don't have pictures because I was too busy drooling in the driver's seat.

One I was excited to see was the Buick Cascada.  It's so pretty :-)  And I'm very happy to see Buick going in this direction, because I so desperately want them to survive as a brand.  I like what they're putting out; they just need to step up their interior game one little notch.  Hopefully they do so with the Cascada.

Here is the Cascada's top going up in ~15 seconds.

The other car I was excited for at this year's show was Lincoln's new Continental.  If this is the new Lincoln, it needs to trickle down to the rest of the product line - it's *beautiful.*  This is the flagship Lincoln so desperately needs.  If they can up their interior quality in the lesser models from Ford level to Jaguar level, Lincoln stands a chance to be a luxury contender again.  From the distance of its pedestal, the new Continental is doing all the right things inside and out.  Please trickle down and make Lincoln great again!  (Yeah, it's an election year :-/)

The only car I desperately wanted to see was Infiniti's new Q60 - it wasn't on display.

Those are my big takeaway's from this year's show.  I found out how much I like Mercedes-Benz's E-Class while Jake found he just barely still fits in the rear-facing seat.  We also got to sit in a Polaris Slingshot, which I can only describe as a Power Wheels for grown-ups - this was the second I've seen in person.

After this spending all day at the show and STILL not seeing everything, it was time to bail; we all went to this amazing sushi place called Momiji right off of H Street.  I need more sushi in my life!

This blog post has been republished by J. David Buerk onto Oppositelock. For the full set of photos, view the album at his Facebook Page. All photography is by J. David Buerk, and is copyrighted All Rights Reserved.

The Renwick Gallery: WONDER

Recently my dear friend and fellow #hashtagger Ellen invited me to join her in touring the newly reopened Renwick Gallery, a modern American art museum operated by the Smithsonian.  I'd actually never heard of the museum, even with its prominent location: it neighbors The White House.

Admittedly, I didn't photograph half of the exhibits.  Actually, we breezed through it pretty quickly.  We both love art, but honesty on a few pieces grabbed us.  The first thing we both noticed actually was the curvy-cut-carpet leading up the stairs, and the LED installation above.

After that, we went back downstairs, where you were supposed to begin and tour in order.  The number of visitors was incredible - astounding to me, for a museum I'd never even heard of.  After visiting, we learned that Renwick is the current fad on Tinder - selfies among the "Photography Encouraged" exhibits; it explains why so many people were taking so many selfies.  Photography Encouraged is something I can get behind though - I wish more places embraced that photography is a non-threatening recreation; the 9/11 fear of cameras being weapons is still unfortunately widespread, probably forever. #PhotographyIsNotACrime

One of the installations that grabbed us grabbed everyone - the colorful suspended threads of Gabriel Dawe.  It's beautiful, it's mesmerizing, it's disorienting, it's fantastic for selfies - you can actually spot a selfie in the making in this picture.

The polyester thread is loomed through eyelets on the floor and ceiling, and woven amongst its neighbors.  The individual threads are so thin that walking past them feels almost as though you are captured within a large, colorful spider web.

Next was Tara Donovan's index card towers, which reminded me of anthills, and Ellen of her dark days in architecture school, building models without seeing sunlight for days on end during finals.  We moved along.

Upstairs we were confused about why so many people were lying on the floor watching Janet Echelman's colorfully lit netting - it's pretty, but we wouldn't view it as if we're cloud watching.  Ellen challenged me to produce a picture of it that made it "not boring."  I definitely win this round, young lady; this is actually my favorite picture from the entire day.

We were also confused as to why there was a line wrapping around all four walls of this room to enter the next - peeking around the door, we saw what was next, and proceeded into the line to continue through.

We were greeted by John Grade's Middle Fork; a wooden sculpture of a hemlock tree.

Ok, I'll admit, this one is tied for my favorite picture of the day.  It's beautiful.  If you want to see it, but with someone's head in the middle, go on Tinder.

Next we saw Chakaia Booker's Anonymous Donor, and Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave.  Booker's piece smelled fantastic to a petrolhead; I commented that it needed some straightpipe hydrocarbon smell to complete it (that's not sarcasm; I really did like it, being a gearhead).  Powers' sculpture deserves some hashtags, since Ellen and I often have entire text conversations in hashtags, and the work itself spurred some discussion which I thought was outrageous, particularly since it is 173 years old.

#NudityIsNotSex #NudityIsNotPorn #BoudoirIsNotPorn #SensualAndSexualAreNotTheSame #FreeTheNipple #EveryoneHasNipples #ItsJustANipple #TheHumanBodyIsArt #ArtMakesYouThink #ArtCreatesDiscussion #WhyAreYouThatOffendedOverANippleYouHaveTwoOfThem #IfSomethingOffendsYouThatMuchDontPurposelyGoToPlacesWhereYouKnowYoullGetOffended #2015TheYearPeopleGotOffended #2015WasLastYearSoStopItAlready #WhyArePeopleOffendedByTheHumanBody #EveryoneHasABody #EveryoneIsArt

Next was the pink, bug filled display In the Midnight Garden, by Jennifer Angus.  This, moreso than the other exhibits, was difficult to photograph because of the number of people.  It was very unsettling  - I really liked it.

Lastly we visited the gift shop; lots of cool, artsy stuff.  I am SO tempted to go back just to buy this journal.  If you know me, you'll know its *very* "me."

The museum was packed to start, but when we left, there was a freaking line to get inside, and guards were metering entrance to the gallery!  Unreal!  Drugged up tiger selfies are so 2014 (thank God - can we please put an end to that? - #SwipeLeftOnTigerSelfies #ExceptForMyOneFriendWhoIsTheNationalTigerSanctuarysPhotographerShesCool).

Love Wins

I happened to be downtown on Friday checking out McLaren's new 570S, and stayed in DC to watch the Supreme Court's ruling on Marriage Equality be announced.

Love wins.

By the way, this is what the Capitol currently looks like.