Blog

The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Chicago: March, 2019

Wow, April was such a busy month; I’ve been sitting on these pictures since my most recent trip to Chicago in March, and am just now getting around to sharing them with you. As you may recall, I was in Chicago in February for a photoshoot, but due to circumstances outside my control, that photoshoot was unable to take place, requiring me to reschedule for the next month. I’m happy to say this this time everything went off without a hitch!

In February, once I’d exhausted all options to try and get the photoshoot to work out, I spent the remainder of my time available exploring nearby Milwaukee - I didn’t get to see everything I’d wanted to, so this trip I’d debated spending my spare time checking out the spots I’d missed. Instead, however, I chose to not have any real plan in mind in case there was trouble with the scheduled photoshoot again. Luckily once the photoshoot was knocked out no problem, all my stress was received and I could relax a little.

IAD - ORD

By chance, I was able to spot all four of Chicago’s nearest airports while on approach to ORD. Interestingly, although I was flying on a 737-900, my flight was the day after all 737 MAX aircraft got grounded by the FAA, and it actually impacted my flight. ORD already had heavy ground traffic upon landing, causing a 20 minute taxi to the gate, but upon arriving at the gate my aircraft was blocked by a 737 MAX being tugged from the adjacent gate to a hardstand, but the tug moving the aircraft broke down, blocking out entrance to the gate - my aircraft was stranded on the taxiway for an hour waiting for another tug to arrive to move the MAX out of the way, while we were sitting there watching from our windows just a mere 200 feet from our jetbridge. I ordered a ribeye and tall porter upon finally arriving at my hotel.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 1.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 2.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 3.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 4.jpg

Photoshoot Day at ORD

The night before my photoshoot I only got 3 hours of sleep thanks to stressing out whether the shoot would actually happen or not, despite having confirmation of the necessary paperwork. Luckily, on that drizzly morning, everything went just fine, and after returning to the hotel to deliver some requested preliminary images, I fell asleep at my computer after uploading the images. I slept long and deep that night, knowing I finally had the images I hadn’t been able to capture a month prior.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 5.jpg

Downtown Chicago

I didn’t even set an alarm; I needed the rest, and wanted my Friday to be a stress-free celebration of the previous day’s success. The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry had been recommend to me by pretty much everyone I have ever spoken with who’s been to or lived in Chicago, so I decided to finally check it off my list. I didn’t want to waste time dealing with the CTA, plus there’s no stop nearby the museum anyway, so I ordered an Uber all the way from my hotel in Rosemont; my driver actually shot some sports photography I found out.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 6.jpg

Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

Transportation Gallery

Unfortunately the Science and Industry Museum has extremely limited hours, and closes at four, so by time I’d gotten there through some freak midday traffic, gotten my tickets, and gotten inside, I only had about 3 hours to explore the museum - I missed the vast majority of the museum because I decided to focus on several exhibits that interested me rather than try and get a rushed view of everything. I scheduled a tour for 20 minutes after I arrived, and I killed that time in the small Transportation Gallery and Great Train Story next door.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 7.jpg

The Great Train Story

I’ve seen professional train sets before, but this one takes the cake. Not only was it build around a scale model of downtown Chicago, but it featured mountains, tunnels, and even elements from other major US cities. There is even a scavenger hunt of Easter Eggs hidden all over the map, but I didn’t know about this until reading more about the exhibit at a later date.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 8.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 9.jpg

There was also this mad scientist kind of display on the way over to my next stop, but I’m not sure which exhibit it was supposed to be a part of, or what all it was representing - look closely, because the harder you look the weirder it gets.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 10.jpg

German Submarine U-505

One of my favorite movies is U-571, which tells the tale of an American submarine capturing a stranded German U-boat to obtain its onboard Enigma code machine. This Matthew McConaughey film is extremely fictionalized, and in fact the real U-571 was never captured; it was sunk via depth charging by the RAAF off the coast of Ireland. During the course of WWII, approximately 15 Enigma machine or Enigma codebook captures were made by the Allied Forces, only one of which was by US forces. In June, 1944, the US Navy captured the U-505, which provided much of the premise for U-571. However, unlike the film heavily implied, it was actually British forces that captured the first Enigma, three years prior when HMS Bulldog captured U-110 on May 9th, 1941. U-571 presents an amalgamated plot of the captures of U-110 and U-505. Although U-505 was not used in filming U-571, film crews reportedly visited and extensively studied the submarine to partially recreate parts of it for the film.

In reality, the U-505 sunk 8 ships over the course of its 12 patrols and two year service history. The US Navy launched a six ship Task Group to hunt U-505 when British Ultra intelligence intercepted generalized locations of German U-boats off the coast of Spain. The Task Group, consisting of one aircraft carrier and five destroyers, made sonar contact with the U-505 on June 4th, 1944, shortly after Captain Daniel V. Gallery had called off the search as the Task Group had exhausted their fuel. With air support from aircraft carrier Guadalcanal, destroyer Chatelain dropped depth charges that crippled the U-505, forcing it to surface. Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant) Harald Lange ordered his crew to abandon ship and scuttle the boat, but the 59 man crew could not disembark before the nine member US boarding party was able to board the U-505, close the valves filling the submarine with seawater, and disarm scuttling charges set by the German submariners.

All but one of the U-505’s 59 man crew survived the Allied assault and capture, and only three other crew members were injured. The crew was ferried to Bermuda aboard the Guadalcanal, before being transferred to a POW camp in Ruston, Louisiana several weeks later. To maintain OPSEC and the illusion to Germany that the U-505 had been sunk with no survivors, the POWs were kept separately from others in the prisoner population, and all letters or attempts to communicate outside the camp were confiscated; a direct violation of the Geneva Convention. The imprisoned crew members even constructed makeshift balloons out of cellophane and hydrogen yielded from mixing cleaning chemicals in order to convey their letters over the camp walls with the hope residents of the nearby town would find them and forward the messages to their family, but these attempts were unsuccessful. Some of the POWs learned and played baseball with members of the US Navy baseball team who were tasked as guards at Camp Ruston. Upon the end of the war in 1945, the interned crew began being returned to Germany, with the last remaining captives repatriated in 1947.

As for the U-505, the United States and Allied forces had to hide the submarine to maintain the illusion to the Axis powers that they had captured the missing boat and the valuable Enigma ciphers and codebooks it carried. The U-boat was ferried to a naval base in Bermuda to be studied by US intelligence and naval engineers. To further hide the captured German U-boat, the U-505 was painted to resemble a US submarine, and renamed the USS Nemo. By 1946, US intelligence had gathered all useful information from the U-boat, and dismantled most of the ship’s interior. Having no more use for the ship, the Navy planned on using the U-505 for target practice until it sank. Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery got wind of the plan, and through his brother connected the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry with the Navy to form a plan to donate the U-505 to the newly formed museum, which was already planning on acquiring a submarine to exhibit. On September 25th, 1954 the U-505 was dedicated was dedicated as a permanent exhibit, and a war memorial to all sailors whose lives were lost in the first and second Battles of the Atlantic. In 2004, due to over 50 years being stored outdoors, the U-505 showed heavy wear from the elements, and was subsequently restored and moved to a newly built permanent dry dock inside the Museum of Science and Industry’s East wing.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 11.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 12.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 13.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 14.jpg

An interesting bit of U-505 history conveniently left out of the PG exhibit and tour: the U-505’s 10th patrol endured a very long and severe depth charging. Crushing under the pressure, Kapitänleutnant (Captain lieutenant) Peter Zschech committed suicide during the depth charging, shooting himself in the head in front of his crew in the U-boat’s control room pictured below. First Watch Officer Paul Meyer took over command and ensured the U-505 survived the depth charge attack. Upon returning to port, Meyer, in typical authoritarian dictatorship fashion, rather than being awarded for his quick action to take command, successfully thwart the attack, and save the boat, was simply “absolved from all blame” for the “embarrassing incident” by the Kriegsmarine.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 15.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 16.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 17.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 18.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 19.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 20.jpg

Henry Crown Space Center

After touring the U-505, I head over to the small space exhibit. I will never not look at space stuff. I did, however, speed through since we have two Air and Space museums here in DC, and I spent almost an entire day exploring Space Center Houston in 2016.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 21.jpg

Fast Forward & Genetics

This part of the museum was a little confusing, as I thought they were the same exhibit at first. I sped through these because I was mostly just interested in seeing the baby chicks!

Fast Forward: Inventing the Future was mostly conceptual exhibits about future-tech. Genetics interested me, but was overrun with kids and I chose to explore other parts of the museum rather than fight a horde of 6 year olds to read the exhibit placards.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 22.jpg

Science Storms

Unfortunately by time I reached Science Storms the museum was 10 minutes from closing. I got an up-close view of the several story tall tornado, but didn’t stay for the last demonstration of the day to instead check out the museum gift shop; they had lots of things I wanted, but none that would be convenient to carry around the rest of the day, particularly with the plans I’d made for later in the night.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 23.jpg

Pioneer Zephyr

The Pioneer Zephyr is a diesel luxury train from the 1930s that makes you feel like a character from Murder on the Orient Express by just standing nearby. On May 26th, 1934, the train set a speed record by covering the 1,015 trip from Denver, Colorado to Chicago, Illinois "Dawn-to-Dusk," in 13 hours 5 minutes, with an average speed of 78mph and a top speed of 112.5mph.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 24.jpg

Hyde Park

It was 4PM and I still hadn’t eaten anything except half a chicken wrap while waiting for my Uber, so I walked the few blocks over to Hyde Park for lunch. I ended up at some local place that had multiple award winning chili, so I was expecting something to rival Ben’s Chili Bowl; the chili was so bad I didn’t even finish it, but the rest of my food was what I expected. After a bit of exploring, coming across a delightfully creepy ivy-clad house, I settled down at a Pâtisserie to relax and unwind with some coffee and macarons before heading uptown to the only thing I’d really planned for the day.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 25.jpg

Check out how this house looks in Summer when the ivy is growing. For bonus points, change the display date and watch as the ivy slowly grows up the side of this home over the last 15 years! It’s beautiful.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 26.jpg

Buddy Guy’s Legends: Nellie Travis with Tommy McCracken

Now for the only thing I’d really planned on, if you can even call it that. The previous evening, while eating dinner after my photoshoot, I noticed that Buddy Guy has a blues club downtown. Although Buddy hails from Louisiana, he is a true legend of Chicago Blues… with his own Southern influences that create his unmistakable, unique tone and style of playing. Today he calls Chicago home, which isn’t too surprising.

I bought tickets to whatever show was playing on my only free evening, without even looking up who Nellie Travis or Tommy McCracken even are - if they’re playing at Buddy Guy’s own club, they’re gonna to be good. I went knowing there was a chance Buddy Guy might even be present, but that was secondary; I intended to relax with creole soul food and cocktails for the night, and enjoy some live music. And that’s exactly what I did - they had an oyster po’boy on the menu! Two of my favorite foods, combined!

Even though I arrived late - Tommy McCracken and his band started playing as I walked in the door - I got the last open seat at a front row table despite the rest of the club being standing room only!

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 27.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 28.jpg

After the one-hour opening set from Tommy McCracken, it was time for Nellie Travis, who delivered wit with her soulful voice. Some of her songs even included audience participation - she may or may not have put her microphone to my lips during “Sweet Home Chicago…”

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 29.jpg

Toward the end of Nellie’s first set, about five minutes before he took the stage, I spotted Buddy Guy walking through the crowd and nodding to Nellie. My suspicion turned out to be correct; Buddy Guy, the blue legend himself, took to the stage to sing a few songs with Nellie’s band. Or, if you’re familiar with Buddy, his music, and his personality, talk about life and give relationship advice.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 30.jpg

Buddy’s relationship advice for the night can be summarized:

  • Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so treat your lady right.

  • And ladies, treat your man right.

  • Respect one another; don’t run around playing. You’re playing with fire, and you’re gonna get burned.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 31.jpg

Buddy only plays full sets at select shows in January, so no guitar this time :-( But that’s okay; watching him talk with the audience with his strong, unmistakable voice was more than I could have asked for.

It was late, so after chatting with a girl at the front desk about some of her most memorable experiences working at such a unique venue, I dipped out as Nellie Travis was beginning her second set.

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 32.jpg

ORD - IAD

Sadly it was time to head home the next morning; Chicago has really grown on me - the only thing I don’t enjoy is the cold, which is true anywhere I go. Although this trip was still chilly, the little remaining ice on Lake Michigan from February’s Polar Vortex I saw on the flight here had seemingly melted by time I flew back to DC three days later. Of note, despite all the flights I’ve taken, this was my first time on a 757. Til next time, Chicago!

20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 33.jpg
20190313-20190316 - Chicago March 2019 34.jpg

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.

20190224 - Antiquing in Fredericksburg 1.jpg
20190224 - Antiquing in Fredericksburg 2.jpg
20190224 - Antiquing in Fredericksburg 3.jpg
20190224 - Antiquing in Fredericksburg 4.jpg

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...

STL Christmas 1.jpg

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.

STL Christmas 2.jpg

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?

STL Christmas 3.jpg

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

STL Christmas 4.jpg

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.

STL Christmas 5.jpg

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.

STL Christmas 6.jpg

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.

STL Christmas 7.jpg

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.

STL Christmas 8.jpg

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.

STL Christmas 9.jpg

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.

STL Christmas 10.jpg

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.

STL Christmas 11.jpg

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.

STL Christmas 12.jpg

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.

Christmas in St. Louis 2016

Not every year, but most years, my parents and I travel to St. Louis to visit our family; most of my extended family is from and lives in St. Louis, Missouri - as a result, St. Louis is something of a second home to me.  This year was no different, especially as my last remaining grandparent pushes past 96 years old.

Since this is more of a family trip, I'll be sharing some highlights of the trip.  I think the most logical way to do this is to break it up by day, since every day holds a different event.

Last Photoshoot of the Year

A lot of what I do for the Airports' concessions program is documenting events and brand activation.  This is exactly what I did for my last three photoshoots of the year... with Santa Claus.

After completing that and some photos of new retailers, I popped in to the Airport Managers Office (I used to work in this office at Dulles) to wish all my friend there a Merry Christmas before I left town the next day.  In Dennis' office (this actually used to be my physical office), I found a giant photo of Dennis' head that was apparently left over from some pranks - I had to get a picture with it.

I haven't determined yet if the head is from a picture I shot - my hunch is that it is :-) &nbsp;This joke head will mean the most to folks in the Dulles aviation community

I haven't determined yet if the head is from a picture I shot - my hunch is that it is :-)  This joke head will mean the most to folks in the Dulles aviation community

Arrival

Usually the trip by car has poor weather and slow pacing, but the weather is unseasonably warm and dry, and the trip was made in 15hrs non-stop (barring gas / bathroom breaks and driver swaps), making it one of the rare time the journey was made non-stop on the way there.

In the middle of nowhere Illinois I woke up from a nap and looked out the window to see the most stars I've ever seen all at once in my entire life.  Light pollution really is a shame, and even though I travel this route almost every year, I've never seen such a clear sky - usually the sky is threatening snow this time of year.  The biggest reason I moved to a 1D X years ago (rather than the 5D Mark III at the time) is its incredible low-light abilities.  On a whim, I tried shooting the stars from a moving car.  Even though I really dislike the 24-105mm f/4 IS USM lens (for reasons I may get into in another blog post - I only purchased it to do video work earlier this year), I've found it to be the most versatile zoom lens I've used... so despite its many shortcomings and my many frustrations with it, it is a good travel lens; this is what I brought with me on this trip.

The one thing that does shine on this lens it the image stabilizer, which allowed me to shoot 1 second exposures handheld wide open at ISO 51,200 to capture the stars.  Remember, this is from the backseat of a car going 80MPH - the image stabilizer combined with the fantastic sensor of the 1D X allowed me to really push the limits of what is possible; I ended up with a pretty good picture considering I did it under the most adverse conditions for night sky photography.

1D X • EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM • 24mm •&nbsp;1s • f/4 • ISO 51,200

1D X • EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM • 24mm • 1s • f/4 • ISO 51,200

Christmas Eve

It's been quite a few years since my family attended Christmas Eve mass; as my parents and relatives age, it's made more sense to choose an earlier vigil mass time.  Christmas (Eve) mass with my family at All Saints Catholic Church in St. Peters, Missouri is a tradition I look forward to every year because how beautiful the small church always is at Christmas.  This is the church where my parents were married, I was baptized, and most funerals in my family have taken place. The priest who celebrated this mass actually knows my family very well, since he visits my grandfather (who was a eucharistic minister for this parish until he aged to a point where he can no longer leave home).

Christmas Day

Christmas in my family always works out pretty conveniently.  My mom's side has always had Christmas in the morning (after Christmas lunch), and my Dad's side has always traditionally had Christmas in the evening (after Christmas dinner).  This works great, because it means we can attend both Christmas gatherings without missing any of the festivities from both sides of my family.

My grandfather on my mom's side has always been fascinated with flight, although he never got a pilot's license; he's like me in that sense (though I hope to one day).  He sees all the stuff I get to do with aviation and in a way lives vicariously through me.  This year, someone showed him video from my glider flights, and he's been asking for prints of the photos ever since; this Christmas I brought him prints of the glider flights, plus photos from other helicopter flights and my trip in a hot air balloon.  My cousin's kid Alex always loves to take pictures with my camera, so I asked him to get pictures of my and my grandfather together.

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy: Winter of 2017

I always let him play with my camera, so here is a small selection of ones Alex shot on my camera.  I of course edited these for color to match my own eye, but he's pretty good - no other edits were needed.

Next was Christmas for my Dad's side, at my Aunt Diane's.

My cousin Scott has a new 3 month old puppy, Danica (named after Danica Patrick, of course; Scott is a huge NASCAR fan).  She's a sweet Jack Russell Terrier with energy abound; she made friends with my cousin Sarah's dog Oliver, and the two dogs played non-stop all day.

So here is me with all my cousins on my Dad's side.

Mom's Birthday

My mom's birthday is right by Christmas, so traditionally it marks our last day in town so she can celebrate her birthday with family.  This year, like the last prior few, has been more subdued, and more-so focused spending time with my grandfather, whose age is beginning to catch up with him; that hasn't stopped his sense of humor though.

Departure

The trip back home was pretty regular, and we actually made spectacular time.  During a stop I watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in my entire life... ruined by gas station and power line sprawl.  And conditions were great until they weren't hitting a snowstorm bounding in the mountains of West Virginia; you'll have to watch the video for that.  We did make it home safely and in still in record time for the return trip... I still prefer flying this trip though.

Video Footage

Something I've done a bit more work with over the last year, as you may know, is video; as a result, I've been incorporating video into my personal work a little bit more as well.  Some pretty cool footage of the West Virginia snowstorm at the tail end!