Love The Run You’re With

It’s that time of year again. Time for my annual contribution toward the $20B spent for the Valentine’s Day holiday. Oh yeah, I’m an active and willing participant. Sort of. I defy a few categories and have made up a couple of my own. I generally fall in the (mostly) practical gift guide–and categories-not-really-named. I use the time as an excuse to pick up clothes–the kinds Ames never picks up for herself. Lame excuse to help with her wardrobe but it’s worked for a few years. I also normally pick up a few bags of candy–not as direct gifts rather as candy-dish fillers for guests and as a treat in lunches. Again, lame but it works.

Setting our own category has grown a bit of a life of it’s own the last few years. We’ve been fortunate to live where V-Day couples runs take place–and the climate’s favorable enough to hang out for a few hours afterwards with friends. This year we chose the neighborhood run purely out of convenience.  Fall out of bed 45 minutes before the start and I still had five minutes to spare. A little above freezing with perfectly calm conditions. Perfect.

Even more perfect is the coup scored by the neighborhood Champps sports bar. More than 1000 participants in the run and by 10:00a.m. –when on a normal Sunday they’re not even open until 10:00a.m. Almost every table and barstool was filled with racers. Free flowing mimosas likely helped. Announcing event winners may have played a little part. Showing the Olympics on all 100+ TVs surely played a part. Playing bizarre music (think karaoke friendly–Jack & Diane and a couple by The Little River Band that escape me.) Karaoke. Instead of turning on the Olympics volume. That didn’t help their cause–but didn’t seem to cause anyone to leave. 350+ (stated capacity–surely more were present) * $12/per = $4200 before noon. Pretty good take for a constantly confused bar (we normally avoid it).

Not exactly the typical Valentines outing but it’s what’s worked for us the past few years. If only we can figure out what to do with the odd race-bag freebies…..

Race Goodies--Yes, That's a Red Blanket in Each Bag. Odd.
Race Goodies–Yes, That’s a Red Blanket in Each Bag. Odd.


And yes, any animals in the house always get something for the sweetheart holiday–this year Samantha will get this giant hoof thing–not the tiny single $3 version; we’re talking about something that looks as if the beast was chopped just above the ankle and that whole section put on ice, preserved and wrapped. It’s pretty graphic looking. She’ll love it.

FoTo FriDay 01.24.14

Yes, it does snow (a little) in the South. 
Yes, it’s bizarrely paralyzing (for days!) to virtually every school and business

Mt. Vernon Trail @ National Airport

(Note the proper name of the airport,,,,,)

National Aquarium

Six weeks post-closure and the critters of the shuttered National Aquarium in DC are still in the process of making their way to their new home. While a few hiccups along the way have occurred, including a broken-down transport vehicle in College Park, most are now in the Baltimore area. Several remain in their holding facility, not their final destination, while tanks continue to be prepared and fortunately no casualties have been recorded. Whew! 
When the aquarium first made its appearance in DC, after originating in Cape Cod in the late 1800’s, it would have been impossible to predict its long-term path and fate. 
Non-Descript Entrance

The National Aquarium traces its roots back to the 1870’s when it was tucked under some sort of federal commission. A couple moves after its original digs, including one that found at the site of the Washington Monument, it landed at its Department of Commerce location where it spent the next several decades. In the basement of one of the Agencies. A fully below grade museum in an Agency office building no less. Who does that? Dark,  a little musty, cramped. Unimpressive. 

Why in Commerce? The Commerce building at the time was the largest public office building in the country and houses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.  NOAA = people who know water.  It starts to make more sense…..

Beginning in the early 1980s federal funding was stripped and the museum was forced to reestablish as a self-sustaining non-profit to remain viable. A decade ago, similar to other private businesses, it entered into an agreement another firm. This arrangement with the Baltimore location is ultimately proving to be its saving grace.

Employee Tending to the Tank

John Racanelli, CEO of The National Aquarium, says he understands the many views people have of his organization. The likes, dislikes and everything between. He also acknowledges the unusually high ticket-price, a shock for most DC tourists. Racanelli says the cost of operating the plumbing is the single largest expense with the entire volume of water turning over every 2-3 hours. 

He has not ruled out a return to DC in the future while maintaining the Baltimore site is a world-class aquarium. He’s offered some feedback about discounts off the standard $30/adult admission fee. Examples include 2/3 off on Fridays after 5:00, dollar-days upcoming in December and Maryland residents morning discount days. Options to keep driving traffic. 

Admittedly I’m a particularly tough client given I’ve:

  • lived for several years in Florida, snorkeling multiple bodies of water in and around the state
  • toured about every major water-life venue throughout Florida
  • lived in cities with phenomenal zoos, a couple of which have had better water displays 
  • lived close enough to other cities with great aquariums as well. 
Hellbender Hiding in the Corner

All that considered; this experience ranked near the bottom of my value-per-dollar experiences over the last several months. Combine the high operating costs, lack of government funding and location I’m not surprised it’s struggled to this point. Really, who visits the DC area to visit an aquarium? Sometimes a case can be made it’s simply unnecessary to put a National label behind everything; many things are better run without governmental aid or administration.

It’s highly unlikely I make it to the Baltimore branch. Based on their admission fees I’d suspect it’s a more rewarding experience. I think I’d like to hold on to my Florida water-life experiences as topping my memories.  Best wishes to the remaining critters as they make their way up to their new Baltimore digs, or tanks as it were. 

2013 Govt Shutdown of Parks? Not Exactly!

Before I left for work (via bike) today I thought I’d better do a test run to see what I might face. What with the alleged impact to our federal lands/parks/trails/monuments. See I ride on/over/through/in each of these as part of my commute. Naturally I leashed up Samantha and we took a run to the closest space that would present all mediums of national land/space: The Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac. I absolutely love this space–and for a number of reasons: It’s relatively easily walkable from home (so also within short run distance), it combines water, trees, animals, quiet, trails, and nice views. Perhaps most importantly it’s dog friendly and has a marina with a public restaurant with dog-friendly outdoor dining! One of our top local spots to visit. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to and/or through it. 
Within a block of the small parking lot of the western entrance I gave a hard tug on Sam’s leash to slow her for the rest of the trip. Ahead were three law enforcement vehicles–not unusual since the other side of the street (literally) is the Pentagon reservation, east side. However, this time all three were tucked close together by the Park entrance so I was fully prepared with my speech of ignorance. Instead we took the sidewalk of the lot down the ramp and stopped at the landing before the bridge. At that spot we saw the National Park Service’s attempt at keeping out people: a couple large orange rubber traffic cones and a smallish wooden barricade. 
West Entrance to LBJ Memorial Grove
All had been moved aside and within a few seconds of stopping a bike whizzed by us and headed across the bridge. I waited a few seconds……..he didn’t come screaming back chased by law enforcement so we headed into the Grove. We saw a similar scene near the end of the marina parking lot so ran a couple trails inside when out of the corner of my eye I saw several guys running what looked to be repeats. We headed in that direction and ran across a number of youngish men with very close-cut hair…..along with water bottles and the expected gear tossed on benches. Oddly the guys were each wearing numbered bibs…..moving in closer I saw three uniformed (military style) with clipboards tucked behind a couple pines. My guess was correct–repeats of the PT type. 
I was relieved I was now highly unlikely to be hauled out of the park as I had what I felt was a pretty decent excuse….the ‘barricade’ was removed before we showed up, we saw a bunch of guys running laps so we thought we’d do the same and get my pup a drink out of the human fountain (which she’s become excellent at utilizing).  

Repeats, Military Style, LBJ Grove
Count me pro-military….but it stung a little that the message was being delivered ‘civilian’ individuals could not use park lands but military staff can. And it hardly seems ‘essential’ that repeats be done during furlough time.
Count me pro-military…but it stung a little  But I’m not enlightened to the intricacies of how things work so I decided I’d live with my own tiny semi-silent protest/expression of freedom of speech by simply finishing our run, again use a fountain and retrace our steps back home. On the way out of the park we encountered two additional cyclists and and three moms just getting out of their cars and strapping kids into strollers.  Perhaps they too were headed into this wonderful park to deliver their own small, silent protest. 

The National Confrontation

Mastering the art of under-the-radar has long been one of my goals. Blending in seems to be one of the easiest ways to observe life in its natural state. Stand out in some way tends to be disruptive to normal life-flow in whatever setting. Example: Stand in line at the box-office in geo-location specific styles results in nary a glance. Show up in the same line with a hair style, voice inflection or outfit choice not normally seen (or heard) results in unconscious freeze-ups by your fellow line-mates. Lost the chance to  observe since they’re now doing the observing. 
With fall approaching I’ve been squeezing in a few more outdoors friendly trips before the snow (likely ice) sidelines my bike-time. I recently made the ride over to the National Zoo to burn a few hours one day. I’ve been blessed (ok, spoiled) by growing up near(ish) great zoos and living near others over the years. I’ve made countless trips to some of them–which may seem odd unless you realize several of them host events–big, sometimes huge events! Henry Doorly, Lincoln Park, JungleJack’s, St. Louis, St. Augustine Alligators, Desert Museum and The Wilds to name several of my favorites. I’ve generally had favorable experiences in each of them–which is surprising to me since I’m not a fan of animal captivity—although I’m inclined to give benefit of the doubt to many of them since it seems the professionals that run them at least want to do the right thing. 
Rock Creek is, by now, quite familiar. Run(ish), ride, walk, hike, picnic, nap, drive. Done it all covering much of the park so no time was spent mapping or scanning details such as bike access or parking. After all, everyone has bike racks everywhere and where they don’t exist we simply grab the nearest sign and lock-up. On top of that the trail cuts right through the grounds—sure I’d fit right in, be normal even. 
I veered off the main trail onto what looked to be the southern most connecting trail to an entrance. Popping out of the all-too-familiar dense foliage cover I was almost immediately on the patio of an entrance. Almost as immediately I heard a voice off to my left so I swung over to look and by then heard in a solid, strong, almost-but-not-quite loud voice, “No bikes. No bikes allowed in the park.”  
I knew that–it’s a zoo after all. Of course I knew that plus a sign off to my right indicated as much (along with a couple other standard -NO- items). 
“I know, I realize that. I’m just looking for the bike racks so I can park.” 
“No bikes allowed, no racks here. No bikes” 
“Yeah, I get that; just looking for your parking racks”
“Racks over at the Connecticut entrance up on the hill.”
“So…..there’s no-place to store my bike here so I can go into this entrance right off the path?”
“What a #$^#@##^^#&*$#”
“Well you need to get the bike out of here and go to a rack up the hill on Connecticut.”
“You know, you DC people are all $&&*#$##%!. Every one of you. This entrance is on the bike path, yet no racks for bikes. Only in DC would you $@#(^*@$%%$$”
Avoiding small children and the damn baby panda were high on my list. Pretty much everything else was still on the table. That was my thought planning as I locked my bike to the sign at the second entrance. That was necessary since no bike racks were anywhere in sight at my second entrance of choice either. 
Aside from the Orangutan sections (which were great!) the place was rather underwhelming. I felt sorry for some of the critters in their sometimes cramped quarters while others looked quite well maintained. Huge spaces for some~~one display even showed the average life span of the species in the wild vs. in captivity. Quite reassuring~~a nice drop in blood pressure when I read that. 
Yup, underwhelming is the most appropriate way to summarize. So much potential as well–the topography is perfect for a world class destination. Carved into the tree covered hills and split by an always flowing cold stream. Missed opportunity. 
Fortunately it appears the place gets lots of use by young moms and grandparents pushing around toddlers–we all need to move more and it’s good for kids to be in a place such as this as opposed to staring at a gaming device all day. We’ll let that be the most redeeming quality.