Posts Tagged ‘D.C.’

The Orchid Room at the United States Botanic Garden

During today’s lunchtime bike ride, I started off the month by once again stopping by the United States Botanic Garden, located near the U.S. Capitol Building at 1st Street & Maryland Avenue (MAP) in Downtown D.C.  In operation since 1850 and in its current location since 1933, the United States Botanic Gardens houses numerous themed rooms, and is home to almost 10,000 living specimens, some of them over 165 years old.  During this visit I stopped by to spend some time appreciating the flowering plants in The Orchid Room, which are presented annually in collaboration with the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection.

With blooms that are often colorful and fragrant, orchids are easily distinguished from other plants based on some very evident, shared derived characteristics, know as apomorphies.  Among these are:  bilateral symmetry of the flower, also referred to as zygomorphism; many resupinate flowers; a nearly always highly modified petal  orlabellum; fused stamens and carpels, and; extremely small seeds.

Orchids showcase a wide spectrum of color, shape, size, habitat, and scent, and with approximately 30,000 species are one of the two largest and diverse families of flowering plants.  The other are daisies.  And over the past 80 million years, orchids have successfully colonized every continent except Antarctica, and almost every conceivable habitat, from remote Mediterranean mountaintops to living rooms around the world.

And one of the secrets to their success is unusual and highly specialized pollination methods.  Many orchids provide food for insects and birds and even more have symbiotic relationships with micro-organisms that assist with nutrient cycling in the ecosystem.  Butterflies and moths are enticed to pollinate orchids that resemble flowers they normally feed on or orchids that provide a landing area and sufficient nectar rewards. Moth-pollinated orchids tend to have strong nighttime fragrances to attract their pollinators from great distances.  And in higher-elevation cloud forests where there are fewer pollinators, some orchids have evolved to have brightly colored tubular flowers with large nectar rewards to entice hummingbirds.

But the most unusual method is employed by the Ophrys apifera, also known as the “bee” orchid.  The bee orchid, or the “prostitute” orchid as it is less politely called by some botanists, has what is probably the most unusual pollination method.  It can best be described as sex, or pseudo-sex.  Small but flamboyant, the bee orchid is one of nature’s great mimics. Perched within the large pink sepals are petals shaped and colored like a visiting bee. The pink sepals look like wings and there are furry, brown lips that have yellow markings just like a bee.  But the deception goes further than visual appearance alone.  The flower takes on the tactile experience, and even emits the scent, of a female bee.  But the orchid offers the bee no nectar reward or pollen meal.  Instead, it attracts amorous male bee pollinators with the promise of bee sex to ensure its pollination.

So the next time you are walking through The Orchid Room, or admiring the beauty of some orchids, keep in mind that there is often more to them than meets the eye.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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28 Blocks

During today’s bike ride on the Metropolitan Branch Trail I encountered a large mural on the facade of the Penn Center building at 1709 3rd Street (MAP), in northeast D.C.’s Eckington neighborhood. In addition to its massive size, what initially caught my attention was the realism and unusual yet simple gray tones that give the mural the appearance of an old black-and-white photograph.

The mural is entitled “28 Blocks,” and is the creation of American artist Garin Baker. Baker resides in New York City and is a traditionally trained realist painter, but his professional career spans across artistic disciplines. Baker spent four months hand-painting the 60’ by 160’ mural on 156 sections of parachute cloth in his studio. He then brought the work to D.C., and used a special polymer glue to attach the mural to the facade of the building, followed by a final coating and varnish that add UV and graffiti protection, thus requiring only minimal maintenance for many years.

The mural gets its name from the 28 blocks of marble used between 1914 and 1922 to erect the Lincoln Memorial’s iconic 120-ton marble statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln. But the mural isn’t intended to honor Lincoln. In fact, even the image of the Lincoln statue within the mural is only a peripheral image to provide context to the focus of the work. The mural depicts and is intended as a tribute to the men who are responsible for cutting out, hauling, carving and erecting the iconic Lincoln Memorial statue, which was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French and planned by architect Henry Bacon. Most of those men were first or second generation black men who were born free, or Italian immigrants.

A quote from Frederick Douglass is also prominently featured on the mural. It reads: “Without culture there can be no growth; Without exertion, no acquisition; Without friction, no polish; Without labor, no knowledge; Without action, no progress. And without conflict, no victory.”

According to Baker, the color scheme of black, white and gray is intentional and carries symbolism. “People see things in black and white, but it’s really not the full story,” he said. “Only through all the shades of gray do we see the full truth.”

The mural is conveniently positioned adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which gives cyclists, joggers and walkers a front row seat to view it. But not only that, the trail runs parallel to the train tracks that not only carries commuters and other riders on the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and NoMa-Gallaudet University and New York Avenue stations, but also ferries people from New York to Union Station, allowing them to see the mural out their windows just before reaching the station. Officials with the city’s Department of General Services say 50,000 or more people a day can see the mural. I’m glad I was one of them today.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

A Ghost Bike in DuPont Circle

On this bike ride, in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood, as I was riding near the intersection of M Street and New Hampshire Avenue (MAP), I saw a sight that no one, especially a cyclist, ever wants to see – a ghost bike. A ghost bike is a bicycle that is painted white and left as a memorial at a site where a cyclist was fatally injured by a collision with a motor vehicle.

This particular ghost bike was put there in memory of Jeffrey Hammond Long, a 36 year-old D.C. resident who was struck and killed at about 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 7th, just ten days ago. Jeffery was riding in a designated bike lane when a large truck, which was travelling in the same direction as Jeffrey, turned into the bike lane as it attempted to make a right turn onto New Hampshire Avenue. The truck crashed into Long, causing him to fall beneath the truck. Medics took Jeffrey to a hospital, but he was pronounced dead the next day.

Many cyclists, and even pedestrians, who are familiar with the intersection say it’s known to be unsafe. And I agree. I have been through the area and that particular intersection numerous times. And although I have never been involved in an accident, I have seen vehicles parked in the bike lane, or even traveling in the wrong direction on M Street. So later, after my ride, I looked into it and discovered that at least seven other crashes have occurred at the intersection involving cyclists in the past three and a half years. And a collision two years ago resulted in the death of a pedestrian crossing the street.

And a few days ago the District Department of Transportation agreed that the intersection is unnecessarily dangerous, and removed four parking spaces on M Street near the intersection to allow for better visibility for drivers making a right turn across the road’s bike lane. DDOT also announced that the sidewalk will be widened in the near future. It’s sad that DDOT did not make the changes prior to the devastating accident that took Jeffrey’s life. It was an accident that was preventable. But hopefully they will learn from this and proactively work to make other known dangerous areas safer before another cyclist dies.

The D.C. Department of Transportation said on Twitter that it is working with the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District and other city agencies to expand the sidewalk along M Street. The agency said plans are to realign the M Street bike lane adjacent to Duke Ellington Park, but more details will be provided by the business group later this month.

UPDATE (07/19/2018):  In response to the death of Jeffrey and other recent preventable deaths in D.C., the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) hosted the “Rally For Streets That Don’t Kill People” in front of the John A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue today. I attended the rally, along with between 150 and 200 cyclists and concerned citizens.

Three years ago, Mayor Bowser committed to eliminating traffic fatalities in D.C. by 2024. But since then the numbers have only gone up. Since then, more than a hundred people have died on the city’s streets. The rally was intended to demand swift action to stop the deaths on our roads, and to communicate that every single one of those deaths could have been prevented and the city just isn’t doing enough.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Edward R. Murrow Park

The late Edward R. Murrow was the first journalist to have Federal parkland named after him, when a tiny triangle of land on Pennsylvania Avenue just west of the White House was dedicated to him almost 40 years ago. And during today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the park to see it.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown district, it is just opposite the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA), which Murrow headed from 1961 to 1963. The USIA’s successor, the International Communication Agency, is now headquartered in the same building at 1776 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Edward R. Murrow was born Egbert Roscoe Murrow at Polecat Creek, North Carolina in April of 1908. He was the youngest of three brothers born to Quaker parents. When Murrow was six years old, his family moved across the country to Skagit County in western Washington, just 30 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border. He attended high school in nearby Edison, excelled on the debate team, and was president of the student body in his senior year. After graduation from high school, Murrow enrolled at Washington State College, where he was also active in college politics. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1930, he moved back east to New York.

It was in New York that Murrow joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as director of talks and education in 1935, and remained with the network for his entire career. He first gained prominence as a broadcast journalist and war correspondent during World War II with a series of live radio broadcasts from Europe for the news division of the CBS. During the war he recruited and worked closely with a team of war correspondents who came to be known as the Murrow Boys.

A pioneer of radio and television news broadcasting, Murrow produced a series of reports on his television program See It Now which helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Fellow journalists Eric Sevareid, Ed Bliss, Bill Downs, Dan Rather, and Alexander Kendrick consider Murrow one of journalism’s greatest figures, noting his honesty and integrity in delivering the news.

Regardless of your political persuasion, most people can agree that we could use a lot more honesty and integrity in our current news reporting. I guess you could say that society needs another Edward R. Murrow. Unfortunately, there was only one.

         

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Two of the most well known murals in the city are located on either side of the iconic restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  The one on the east side of the building, entitled “Alchemy of Ben Ali,” depicts the restaurant founders, Ben and Virginia Ali.  But it is the other one that became controversial, leading to its removal.

In 2012, the Ali family commissioned its first mural with backing from the city’s graffiti prevention initiative, MuralsDC.  A few years later, however, public pressure to redo it started to grow as sexual assault allegations began to accumulate against one of the prominently featured people depicted in the mural – comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused and has subsequently been convicted of sexual assault.  Last year, the mural was first whitewashed, and eventually replaced.

The old mural featured local disc jockey Donnie Simpson, D.C.’s Chuck Brown – the Godfather of Go-Go, President Barack Obama, and Cosby.  Three of those men returned on the replacement mural.  Cosby, who had been a longtime friend of Ben’s, did not.

The newer mural, entitled “The Torch,” painted by D.C. muralist Aniekan Udofia, who also painted the original mural, celebrates D.C. history and black culture.  The mural depicts abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman holding a lantern that spreads light onto the other figures in the mural.  In addition to the three holdovers from the previous mural, those figures, who were chosen through a public voting process on the restaurant’s web site, are:  boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; former D.C. mayor-for-life Marion Barry; comedian and D.C. native Dave Chappelle; singer Roberta Flack;  comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory; actress and singer Taraji P. Henson; D.C.’s non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton; the late singer Prince; longtime local newscaster Jim Vance; D.C. rapper Wale; local radio disc jockey Russ Parr, and; former First Lady Michelle Obama, who now accompanies her husband.

But Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, says the decision to repaint was based on the state of the mural alone, which she contended had become so soiled, damaged and weather-beaten.  Which means, years from now the mural may need to again be replaced.  So despite not making the cut for the current mural, I still have a chance.  I’ll just have to be patient and wait.

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Original Mural

The Whitewash

The Torch

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Today’s Capitals’ Victory Parade and Rally

With the Washington Capitals winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history last week, D.C. celebrated its first major sports championship in 26 years with a victory parade today. It all began with truly fanatical fans congregating near the parade’s stage before 4:00am, a full seven hours before it was scheduled to begin. As the morning progressed, Metro stations and downtown streets were clogged with fans clad in red. And by 8:30am thousands had already lined the parade route, although the start of the parade was still more than two hours away.

The parade finally kicked off at 11:00 a.m., starting at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street (MAP) near The Washington Monument, and proceeding east along Constitution Avenue to Seventh Street. There it turned right, where it culminated with a rally on the National Mall (MAP).

During the away games throughout the Stanley Cup finals series, thousands of people packed the streets around the Capital One Arena in downtown D.C. for watch parties. And when the Caps actually won the cup, police said they dealt with a mostly peaceful crowd. In fact, not one person had to be arrested. But it was difficult to predict what today’s celebration would be like because there was a big unknown factor when it came to today’s parade and rally. And that was the size of the crowd which would show up.

D.C. is certainly no stranger when it comes to hosting parades and marches. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the March for Our Lives on the National Mall earlier this year. But it’s been awhile since the city hosted a victory parade.

A massive crowd of more than 600,000 fans showed up for the Washington Redskins’ Super Bowl XXII victory parade in 1988. That prompted the D.C. police to limit the size of subsequent celebrations. So in 1992, when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI and held a victory rally on the National Mall, a more moderate yet respectable crowd of 75,000 people showed up. And in 1997, when the D.C. United won the Major League Soccer title, there was a nine-block parade along Pennsylvania Avenue. The Washington Post said “several hundred” people showed up for that parade and described the crowd as “small, but enthusiastic.”

But with different variables and unknown factors, such as it being the city’s first National Hockey League championship, the parade being held on a weekday when many people had to be at work, and whether yesterday’s rain would stop in time for the rally, it was a matter of wait and see when it came to the crowd size and what would happen.

Eventually a crowd estimated at around 100,000 people (100,001 if you include me) showed up to line the parade route and “Rock the Red” in support of the Stanley Cup champions, and watch the procession led from the rear by team captain and future hall of famer Alexander Ovechkin, who was atop a double-decker, open-top bus holding the Stanley Cup aloft for all to see. He was preceded by marching bands, Mayor Muriel Bowser and other officials, a Clydesdales-drawn Budweiser beer wagon, his teammates, and even a Zamboni.

We then proceeded to the rally which, like at the watch parties, was mostly peaceful. But it was not subdued by any means. There were a number of short speeches, including team owner Ted Leonsis, Head Coach Barry Trotz, and each of the players. One of the more memorable comments came from right winger Nicklas Backstrom, who proclaimed, “Finally, we started playing hockey like we can party.” The rally ended with a sing-along of Queen’s song “We are the Champions,” led by Alex Ovechkin. All in all it was a fitting celebration to an historic season for the franchise and for the city.

So now it’s up to the Washington Nationals. If they can keep playing well through the summer, who knows? We may be having another victory parade here in D.C. around the end or October of beginning of November.

        

          
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  While the celebration was going on here in D.C., a full page ad, bought by the Capitals, was running in a Las Vegas newspaper to congratulate the Vegas Golden Knights, who they defeated last week for the Stanley Cup, on having such an outstanding season.

The ad reads, “Congratulations to the Vegas Golden Knights on the most successful inaugural season in the history of professional sports. World class ownership, front office, coaching staff and people. A magnificent team of talented, hard-working players and stars. A fantastic venue filled with passionate, loud and proud fans. It was an honor to compete against you in the Stanley Cup Final. You are truly VEGAS STRONG.”

Now that’s #CapsClass.

Bluestone Sidewalk Along Seventeenth Street

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped to rest on a bench on 17th Street, near President’s Park, just south of the White House. As I sat there for a few moments watching the tourists go by, I noticed that the sidewalk seemed different than what I usually see. In fact, I didn’t recall seeing anything similar here in D.C. Sidewalks throughout the city are typically formed walkways made out of cement. But the sidewalks where I was sitting were made of stone. So when I had a chance later I looked into it, and my research confirmed that they are both unique and historic.

The sidewalk is significant as the last remaining segment of an original streetscape feature used throughout President’s Park. While President’s Park South was filled and completed in the late 1870s, the side of the park along 17th Street was a low, badly drained area until new fill was added to bring it up to grade in the early 1880s. Then beginning in 1887, bluestone flag sidewalks were constructed along the front of the park bordering B Street, since renamed Constitution Avenue. While no date of construction can be firmly ascertained for the bluestone flag sidewalk on Seventeenth Street, it likely dates from this period or soon afterwards. A grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street was later added in the 1920s.

Most of the bluestone sidewalk surrounding President’s Park was eventually replaced with ones constructed with cement forms. As the stones cracked or fell into disrepair, it was decided that it would be cheaper to simply replace them with the same type of sidewalk that is present throughout the rest of the city. This was done everywhere except, for some reason, along 17th Street.

What stone sidewalk remains consists of rectangular bluestone slate flags, six-feet square, and extends along the east side of 17th Street from opposite C Street to opposite E Street (MAP). The sidewalk is separated from the granite curb by what was once a three-foot wide grassy strip, which is now filled in with granite pavers.

The sidewalk is not a tourist attraction. In fact, I doubt anyone walking on it even noticed it was different, let alone had any idea of its history. But I enjoyed seeing it, and thinking back about the way things were at the time when the bluestone sidewalks were constructed. The Civil War had been over for not all that long, and Grover Cleveland was the President.  The Washington Monument was almost completed and would open the following year.  The Catholic University of America was founded, and the first Woodward & Lothrop department store was built. Alexander Graham Bell built his Volta Laboratory in Georgetown. There were no automobiles, so the streets were used by horses and carriages. And form and quality were considerations in public building projects, not just price and practicality.

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Yesterday was National Cancer Survivors Day. And to celebrate I signed up for the Great Cycling Challenge (GCC). Let me explain.

The concept of the GCC is simple. Participants set a personal riding goal for the month of June, and then get people to sponsor them. And all of the money raised from the sponsors goes toward fighting childhood cancers.

As it states on the front page of this blog, I’m not a fanatical cyclist. I’m just a guy who goes for bike rides. I use my lunch break each day at work, or occasionally on a weekend day off, to go for a ride and discover some of the interesting sites and events in and around D.C. I then write about it in this blog.

But I am now committed to some bike riding that is a little different than my norm. I have pledged to ride 250 miles during my lunchtime tides this month. That puts me on a pace to ride a cumulative distance during this year’s lunchtime bike rides equal to the distance between New York City and Los Angeles.

As a cancer survivor myself I know how scary and difficult such a diagnosis can be. But I was diagnosed as an adult. I can’t begin to imagine how much more scary and difficult it is for children. And despite being a parent, I can’t imagine what it is like for the parents of a diagnosed child. I love my children more than my own life and would rather have cancer myself than see one of my children diagnosed.

Currently, cancer is the biggest killer of children from disease in the United States. Over 15,700 children are diagnosed every year. And tragically, 38 children die of cancer every week.

So I signed up for the GCC to raise money to help these kids and their parents fight back, and to support The Children’s Cancer Research Fund in continuing their work to develop lifesaving treatments and find cures for childhood cancers. And I’m asking you to please go to my personal GCC page and sign up to be one of my sponsors.

I know there are lots of charity options, as well as bills to pay and other demands on your finances. So any amount you can give will be appreciated. All you have to do is go to my GCC personal page, or click on the logo at the top of this post, to donate using a credit card or PayPal. And like the lack of a minimum or maximum number of miles participants can ride, there is no minimum or maximum to the donations.

Anything you can give will help keep me motivated. But more importantly, it will help the kids. And I can’t think of a better was to celebrate being cancer free than do something to help kids with cancer.

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This Year’s Soggy National Bike to Work Day

The month of May is National Bike Month, May 14 through 18, 2018 is Bike to Work Week, and today was Bike to Work Day. And although it hasn’t been raining all month, it has been raining all week. And it continued to rain all day today. But Bike to Work Day is a rain or shine event, but that didn’t stop this morning’s Bike to Work Day event, which went on more or less as planned.

The League of American Bicyclists began Bike to Work Day as part of Bike Month in 1956. Over the years, Bike to Work Day has grown into a widespread event with countless bicyclists taking to streets and trails nationwide in an effort to get commuters to try bicycling to work as a healthy and safe alternative to driving a car. In the greater D.C. region, Bike to Work Day has grown from a small group of a few hundred in 2001 to more than 18,700 participants last year.  This year’s event was coordinated locally by Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) . And even more riders were expected to participate this morning.

Each year WABA, along with local bike shops and organizations, sponsor 100 pit stops along many of the commuter routes in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The pit stop which I signed up for was to be located at Freedom Plaza, the same pit stop where I’ve stopped for the last several years.  But due to the rain it had to be moved across the street and inside to the lobby of the National Theater, located at 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).  I also rode by some of the other pit stops.  They were a little less crowded than previous years’ pit stops have been, but I was able to pick up my free T-shirt, as well as have a nice breakfast of a breakfast burrito, a fresh banana, and a bottle of pomegranate blue acai juice.   They also were handing out other fresh fruit, granola bars, locally-baked bagels, and various other snack items. They also gave away other free items like water bottles, sunglasses, tire repair kits, bike lights and bells, area maps, etc.  And by signing up and stopping at the pit stop I was also entered into a raffle for a new bike.  So the pit stop all served their purpose, including the indoor one, even if I didn’t win the new bike.

         
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Police Week Tributes 2018

This week is National Police Week, and during this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.  I stop by every year during National Police Week because it is one of the most personal and deeply meaningful aspects of the week.  The things you see here in D.C. during the week can be entertaining, like the various vehicles.  And the Blue Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, to include the procession that precedes it, as well as the Peace Officers Memorial Service like the one yesterday, are all quite moving.  But to better understand the sacrifices made by the officers being honored and remembered, and the loss and the pain of the family members, friends and fellow officers they left behind, looking through the tributes left on or near the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is one of the most meaningful ways to do it.

Beginning last year, one of the first things I look for at the memorial are tributes left in memory of Officer Ashley Guindon (see photo above), a local area officer who was ambushed and killed in 2016 on her very first day on the job.  Her name was added to the wall last year.  After that, as I look through the tributes, I try to imagine the stories behind them.  When I see them some of the tributes such as official photos and news articles give me a glimpse into the personality of the hero lost.  And when I see small footprints or handprints made with paint, or family photos taken during happier times, I think about the children who are growing up without a parent.  When I see beer or a couple of shot glasses, I think about the partners and coworkers who used to go out for a drink after their shift or maybe on the weekend, but are now learning to live with the pain of their loss.  When I see hearts or flowers or other personal mementos, I think of the spouses or other family members who will never see their loved ones again during this lifetime.  And when I see tributes to officers who were killed years or even decades ago it shows me that the passage of time does not diminish the losses suffered.

The tributes left behind at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial change every year, sadly, much like the memorial itself, to which names are added every year.  But the names are more than just inscriptions in cold marble.  They are the names of men and women who were heroes.  But they were not just heroes for the way they died.  They were heroes for the way they lived.  And the tributes left at the memorial help convey that to those of us for who they died to serve and protect.

 

[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]