Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rustic Fall colors and a Bike Ride

Saturday was a wondrous day to be out enjoying the fall foliage and today it was at its peak. It was a joy to drive along the country lanes with the leaves swirling around in front of me, blue skies with dark heavy clouds skimming past on a blustery breeze. and everything was looking so vibrant through my polarized sunglasses.
I stopped to get gas at a 7/11 that was filled with tourists heading to the Skyline Drive. The lines inside were long and a local in front of me made me chuckle by muttering rather loudly, "Ain't you got trees where you live?" Evidently not because there were hoards of people here. And they would act like lemmings and follow each other up the mountain and down the Skyline Drive in single file. But I wasn't going there, I was taking the low road and it was evident as I drove that none of the city dwellers or tourists had done any research because I was the only one enjoying my scenery. The fall colors were beautiful down here with a crystal clear creek bubbling and tumbling over roads, following me alongside the road as I drove by.
I noticed a couple of other cars doing the same as me, driving along enjoying the leaves and occasionally stopping to get out and take a photo or just breathe in the fresh mountain air. I also spotted a lot of locals also enjoying the day,lounging comfortably on their front porches. This is something that I love about Americans, their joy of sitting on the stoop. It's not something I ever saw in England, but here, everyone does it, whether it's sitting on steps of a crumbling townhouse in the city, sprawling on an old sofa that was once dragged out from indoors to a covered porch, or sitting on a couple of lawn chairs placed under a tree at the front of the driveway, ready to greet other folks as they passed by. I waved at a few as I slowly rumbled by in Stuart and all returned my salute with a smile or a nod and a raised arm.
 I trundled up tiny roads that had no paving and barely met a soul. It was so peacefully quiet that I wanted to just drive through roads like this forever, enjoying the beauty of nature at this time of year. And then I drove over a little bridge and saw a golden woodland with a riverbed of rocks. I parked and walked back. There was a tiny creek trickling through, I had thought the river bed to be dry when I passed. This would be a perfect spot to do some rock balancing. The rocks were quite rough and angular, not the smooth rounded stones of last weekend, so I wasn't sure if I'd have any luck. But nobody was about so I climbed down and started. I got very engrossed in choosing rocks and finding ways to stack them. I was very pleased with one little group until I accidentally knocked one stone, causing all the others to tumble down. but it must have been fate because my next balance looked far better I thought. I sat down and started to photograph the rocks then suddenly became aware that I wasn't alone. I looked round to find a man watching me. I had no idea how long he'd been there but he apologized for startling me and continued his walk along the road. I finished my photos and walked back to Stuart. After a few minutes checking my GPS I looked up into my rear mirror as I pulled away, and spotted the man again crouching down by my rocks and taking a photo with his phone.
I carried on driving along rustic lanes that spidered up and down hills and then followed a valley to a main road. A camp ground was in a wooded area here and I could smell the bonfires as folks cooked late breakfasts or early lunches. I was surprised at how many tents I saw, I failed to see any enjoyment in camping so close to a road that had noisy car engines or motorbikes revving past but none the less my nose twitched at those delicious smells.
I hadn't realized that after some miles I'd been steadily driving uphill and was pretty surprised when after following 2 cars and a motorbike up a hill that had a superb hairpin bend, we drove past a vista that clearly made me realize that I was up in the mountains. The view was spectacular but instantly marred when I looked down and saw a couple of black trash bags on the ground with the remains of animals spilling out. They had been there some time and I wasn't sure whether they were deer remains or not as I suspected the remnants of dogs. A man to my left was also looking down shrewdly at them and not wanting to discuss it, I went back to the car.
I picked another rural road and slowly made my way back down the mountain to the valley and came across an abandoned farm. There weren't any really interesting buildings but there was a lovely old bus parked out the front.
And then as I walked around the back I spotted an old car in the undergrowth. I'm pretty sure it's a '55 Ford Crown Victoria.
This is what it once looked like.
There were also a couple of old trucks that had almost disappeared from view, covered in vines and brambles. I tried to get back there but thorns were digging through and getting caught on my jeans. I will have to come back once winter kills off this aggressive vegetation.
So I made do with taking photos of what I could get to without being attacked. This was a cool little find.
The door of an old garage that had close down.
And I went back over the mountains again, passing the long queues of cars still waiting to get onto the Skyline Drive.
I stopped in Sperryville to pick up some apples and eggs, loving how I just took what I wanted and then got my own change from a cash box left on a wooden table at the farm shop. The two staff were washing eggs and boxing vegetables and apart from saying hello, didn't even check that I'd paid.
And then it was back to Marshall. The skies were getting darker and the clouds were hanging lower.
I stopped to take a photo of a couple of trees, contrasting beautifully with their stormy backdrop, and then at home I had the sun setting at the back of the house seeming to turn the dogwood leaves into flames as the last rays burst brightly in through the windows.
On Sunday I met up with Nancy in Alexandria where we were going to cycle some of the Mt Vernon Trail. It was a sunny bright day but the wind was colder today and as we set off I fervently wished I'd worn gloves that covered my fingers. We both had jackets on and for once I didn't mind wearing a helmet as it kept my head a little warmer although my poor ears still suffered.
I didn't bother with too many photos as I wanted to enjoy the ride, it's been a while since I'd had a good long pedal on the bike and the scenery was pretty although I was constantly aware of the roaring traffic passing by alongside us. We never really got away from this apart from the few areas where there were boardwalks that left the road and took us closer to the water.
Nancy had mentioned that when she had previously driven past this area she had spotted a white egret that seemed to be a frequent visitor to the area. Today we found out that there were actually lots of them. I'd never seen so many in one place, it was a lovely sight, and we wondered if this was a meeting place for them before they migrated south.
We weren't sure of the total mileage that we cycled but it was in the region of around 20 miles and we were both pleased to realize when we got back to the cars that we could happily have cycled more. So we pledged to return and put in more miles as well as explore other routes in the vicinity in the future. But for now we were happy to load up the bikes and finish the weekend with a stroll into Old Town Alexandria and grab a pizza.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Last Days of White Flint Mall, MD

I took Monday off as a vacation day, planning to spend the whole day working on a website that I'm building for a client, but then I spotted a friend's photos on Facebook of a shopping mall in Maryland. It is nearly completely empty and his photos conveyed a sense of awesome abandonment so that I fully expected to look at the next photo and see a zombie or monster staggering past a desolate escalator or crashing through an empty store window. I had to go and see for myself! So after forcing myself to complete a few hours on the website, I rushed out of the door and drove to Bethesda.
It seems that the closure of the mall wasn't favored by everyone and a few websites were started up for supporters. Friends of White Flint Mall kept a running commentary of meeting minutes, and the Washington Post took a farewell tour of the premises.
Even Lawrence Lerner, the brother of Ted Lerner,who owns the Washington Nationals. sued the owners of the mall in a last ditch effort to prevent the closure. But apparently all to no avail. I arrived at the nearly empty parking lot, and pulling up in front of the mall, noticed immediately the missing Dave and Busters sign, an ugly circular opening at the top of the facade where it had once been.
I threw my camera bag on my back and headed towards the doors, noting that to the right it looked as though some demolishing had already started. Signs warning of asbestos clearing were visible and as I walked through the glass doors the air was musty and a little moldy.
 I took some fun shots at the doors then stepped inside the building proper. The first thing I noticed was that it was freezing! I could hear the AC laboring heavily, probably still running on mid summer settings although it was now fall. The lights were bright but the once colorful and enticing store windows were now blank, dark, many covered with heavy opaque paper. I spotted a jewelers but as I peered inside, my inquisitive look was met with a frosty glare of two people packing up the remnants of display pieces. I turned a corner and saw Lord & Taylors at the end. I knew the store was still open but somehow I wasn't quite sure, there seemed to be a gloominess about the place despite the bright store lights. PF Chang's restaurant next door was also open, but I'd assumed this when I saw the huge horse statues out the front, despite that they'd looked tatty and neglected.
I walked the empty corridors and occasionally came across a flickering light that scuttled my senses a little. There really is something creepy about an empty shopping mall, I guess I've watched too many zombie movies. But the sound of the sporadic wailing screech from the escalators as they slowly rattled round and the distant squealing of kids fooling around in the distance really played on my mind. I only saw two other people walking about, one old man shuffling along with his head down and a young teenager, also with her head down, but in her case looking at her phone.
I had taken quite a few photos and was lining up a last shot of the double escalators when a man approached me and told me to stop taking photos. My finger pressed down, click. I took the one I wanted, glad my shutter sounds had been turned off, then turned to him with a broad smile. He informed me that photography wasn’t allowed and that I should stop. I mentioned that there were no signs on any doors prohibiting photography and that there were already hundreds of public photos of the mall on line. He agreed and asked if I wanted to talk to the building manager. I accepted his offer and we went up to the top floor where I was introduced to a lady with a limp handshake. I knew immediately that this would be a fruitless discussion and I was proved right. She was not open to any photography and even said she’d take down the photos already on line if she could. But she would not give a reason as to why it was not allowed, even when I said folks took photos of shopping malls all over the world. I gave in and politely thanked her for her time, wishing I had the courage to let her know about the huge lumps of mascara on her right cheek, that my focus had drawn to like a magnet, throughout our whole conversation.
I walked out of the building, respecting her wishes not to take any more photos, even though I didn’t understand why, and took a last long look at the battered mall as I turned the ignition key.A quote from About.com says, "The new mixed development project will feature residential, office, retail and public uses including a large central plaza, a 2.3 acre addition to the existing White Flint Neighborhood Park, and an elementary school site. The White Flint Mall project will front Rockville Pike and the eastern part of Executive Boulevard, which, along with Nebel Street, will be extended into the site. A hotel is planned along Executive Boulevard, as well as offices. Residences are planned to include a mix of mid-rise and high-rise multi-family buildings. A series of new streets will be built to include ample sidewalks and attractive streetscapes that encourage walking. The majority of parking for the development will be underground."
A comment on the Washington Post that talked about the redevelopment summed it up for me, " it looks like suburban sprawl is being replaced with urban sprawl."