Brian » Trying New Things

Posted 2 years ago

The Silver Line is open after a long, long wait. On Monday, I had to drop off the minivan at the Honda dealer for some recall work. Since the dealer is literally right next to the Silver Line's Spring Hill station, I decided to ride it for a couple of stops to McLean. My train's car was full, but not packed, when I got on. People were boarding at every station in the Tysons area, a bit to my surprise. Also surprising was how long the short tunnel under the high point of Tysons was.

Eventually, I hopped off the train at the McLean station. I probably could have walked the rest of the way to work, but with ongoing road construction on Anderson Road, I decided to try out the Fairfax Connector bus instead. Buses were arriving fairly frequently, and there were quite a few people hopping off and heading to the Silver Line to commute in to DC. I expect there will be a lot of those to start off, but that the reverse commuters (especially those who work at Mitre right next to the McLean station) will start picking up in the next few months. Oh, and that nifty Park and Ride lot at the McLean Station? Total ghost town. So much for the parking apocalypse.

On my way back to the dealer, I took the Fairfax Connector again, this time the one that was replacing the old 24T Metrobus route (which is still signed along the route, but I let Metro know so they can fix it). The bus, as the 24T always was, was nearly empty, making me wonder why they are still running this line with huge buses. It's certainly not for my couple of times a year I use it when dropping my car at the dealer. The route ran right back up to the Spring Hill station, and I walked across the station bridge to avoid trying to cross the umpteen jam-packed lanes of Route 7. Overall, it was a pretty decent commute, made convenient only because of where my car dealer is currently located.

Yesterday, I rode my bike to work and decided to check out the new "upgraded" Route 7 bridge over I-495. What. A. Nightmare. First off, I forgot how steep the hill up Magarity Road is, and my quads were burning, big time. Then came the moment of truth, the attempt to cross over five separate highway ramps. The first two were easy, as the light at Magarity and Route 7 was in my favor, and I was able to get across them without any trouble. In addition, one of the ramps actually has a signal, so I could be sure it was safe to cross. However, that single ramp was the only one with a signal out of five I had to cross. The first problem came when I tried to cross the ramp from I-495 northbound to Route 7 westbound. A steady stream of cars came off the ramp, with no break to see, all proceeding too fast for me to try to get anyone's attention to allow me to cross. With the clover leaf approach, most cars didn't even see me until they were 50 feet away. Finally, after several minutes of waiting, a wonderful gentleman in a Honda Accord stopped and wave me through. PHEW! The walkway on the bridge is nice and wide, but then came the ramp from Route 7 westbound to I-495 southbound. The sidewalk there veers to follow the ramp, then forces a sharp left turn across the ramp, with very difficult visibility of the traffic approaching from behind on Route 7. Luckily, the traffic there was all proceeding westbound on Route 7, and I was able to scoot across quickly. The last ramp also had difficult visibility, this time due to the vegetation growing between the sidewalk and the ramp itself. Honestly, if I was going to ride this route again (which I am not), I would probably wait for a favorable light at Route 7 and Magarity, and ride in the roadway, rather than try to navigate the ramp crossings on the sidewalk. If I was taking this route with any regularity, I would likely choose to ride one of the buses to cross I-495 on Route 7 rather than put myself at risk with the extremely dangerous ramp crossings.

Proceeding west down Route 7, I considered taking Towers Crescent Drive over to Gallows Road, but instead decided to continue west straight to Gallows Road itself. Alas, the sidewalk after Fashion Boulevard was closed, and I was forced to cross near the Fairfax Square shopping area (home to Chef Geoff's). I then cut over on Aline Avenue to Gallows. Here, there was a short, but harrowing ride in high speed traffic before I reached the relative safety of the Gallows Road bike lane which inexplicably starts after Madrillon Road, rather than connecting all the way up to Route 7. Again, if I rode this route again, I would certainly take the Towers Crescent route, which would drop me on Gallows Road in the middle of the bike lane. The bike lane could use some sweeping, as there was lots of gravel and debris in it, but was a smooth ride that allowed me to pass several cars stopped at lights. Room for road education: those dotted lines in the bike lane leading up to right turns? Cars are supposed to cut into the bike lane at that point prior to making the turn. Really, it's okay, it lets me know that you are turning at a more gradual pace, rather than cutting across my path in a right hook. All the cars I saw stayed in the car lane, even when I was pretty close behind them. One more side note, there was a little hill down Gallows near Idylwood Road, and I totally blew past a sputtering moped, highlight of my ride for sure.

This post shows there is still a lot of work to be done in the area to accommodate pedestrians and bikers. Even when transportation engineers and planners try to add facilities, as they did with the commodious walkway on the Route 7 bridges, they fail to consider the big picture of how people are going to get to and use the facilities. In the case of Route 7, no one is going to try to regularly cross those ramps without signalized crossings like the ones provided by the HOT lane ramps. Unfortunately, VDOT is continuing to ignore these basic realities while touting its new pedestrian accommodations, like the planned Route 123 sidepath and the Idylwood sidewalks to nowhere. (P.S. It would have been really nice to put in bike lanes when you repaved Idylwood Road, guys!) I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, since they still haven't even added needed crosswalks in Tysons during the YEARS they had to prepare for the Silver Line opening. Tysons has a long way to go before it becomes the idyllic walkable Arlington-esque paradise planners envisioned. I am optimistic that it will happen eventually, but if I were new to the area and looking for somewhere to live, I'd go to Dunn Loring over Tysons right now. The Mosaic District is great, and once the construction surrounding Dunn Loring station is complete, it will be extremely easy to access for pedestrians and bikers alike.

Brian » Ginavit Complement

Posted 3 years ago

I've been enjoying New Columbia's fall/winter seasonal "ginavit" quite a bit the past few weeks. They're having a cocktail contest, so I figured I would throw out this easy yet complex cocktail as my entry. It's adapted from the "Complement Cocktail" served in Copenhagen. I chose to flip the ratios to accentuate the ginavit over the straight gin. The sweetness of the maraschino helps to counter all the savory sensations from the caraway, dill and star anise.


1 1/2 ounces Ginavit
3/4 ounce Green Hat gin
2 dashes maraschino liqueur
1 star anise or sprig of dill


Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice. Add the gin, aquavit and liqueur; shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish with star anise or dill and serve.

The D's » Rest in Peace, Max Dauernheim

Posted 4 years ago

We first met Max at an adoption event at a pet store in DC. I don't even remember why we were downtown, or why we decided to stop in to this particular pet store on this particular day. But there we were, and there we met the little fur ball that has been a big part of our lives for the past 14 years.
Max was, quite literally, the runt of the litter. While the other puppies were barking and jumping to get attention from all of the onlookers, Max was just standing there and waiting for someone to notice him. We picked him up, and it was like he knew we were meant for him. He was quiet and patient and at some point, we knew.
After the Partnership for Animal Welfare approved our adoption, Max came home to our little apartment in Falls Church. He lived in the kitchen and a cardboard box as he was being potty trained, and I came home from work every day at lunchtime to let him out for some play time.
He was always a smart dog. Before we had human children, Max was passing obedience tests with flying colors, and became a "therapy dog," visiting nursing homes with us and bringing smiles to the faces of all the residents. Max even won a silver medal at one of the local dog festivals for running the bases with me.
The years rolled on and we had two human kids, and Max was a great companion for them too. He was never a great watchdog, he never stuck his head out of the car window, and he wasn't the most enthusiastic fetcher of tennis balls. But feeding Max and taking him for walks became chores for the kids, and so in his way, he taught them responsibility.
Last week, Max suddenly got sick. He wasn't able to eat anything, and when we took him to the vet, it was clear that something was wrong with his liver. The vet did what they could for a couple of days, and eventually we took him home. It looked for a while like he might be okay: he was eating some food and drinking some water, and the jaundice in his eyes was receding. Unfortunately, he took another turn for the worse and he pretty much gave up on eating. Over his last few days, we did our best to keep him comfortable and surrounded by the people who loved him.
Max died today. He was 14 years old. Rest in peace, buddy.

Brian » Game Four Memories

Posted 4 years ago

When it was clear that the Washington Nationals were going to make their first postseason this year, I could not resist getting tickets. I took a chance that Game Four would be "necessary," and managed to get two tickets to the game. (If there had been a sweep, I would have gotten my money back, so no big deal.) As it turned out, the game would end up being at a perfect time of day: 4:07pm. I could take my son, Evan, to the game with me to experience our first playoff game together.

The butterflies started building in my stomach around noon, and when I couldn't take it any more, I left work and went home to get the boy from school. He excitedly changed into his Nats shirt in the car and we hopped on the Metro to the stadium. At 1:30pm, the train was mostly full of early bird Nats fans heading down to the game with us and at one point, we spotted two teachers from his school. We gave each other a wink and a nod and went our separate ways.

Hopping off the train, I picked up a new red Nats hat for the boy, a bag of peanuts, and we headed inside and got our "Natitude" rally towels. The crowd was still sparse, but the excitement was in the air. Behind the center field scoreboard, kids were getting their face painted and Evan got a balloon sword, which he somehow managed to get all the way home without popping. We found our seats and headed down to the right field wall to watch batting practice and hope to catch a ball. We had no such luck though, in spite of the cute guy with the little glove begging for the ball. Finally, we settled into our seats and waited for the game to start.

The National Anthem was sung, and out strolled the giant Frank Howard. Howard is still a beast of a man and is most famous for hitting mammoth homeruns at RFK Stadium. There are white seats in the upper deck where Howard hit particularly monstrous homeruns. Who knew that having this slugger throw out the first pitch would be so appropriate?

Finally, the game got underway. Our seats in right field were directly in the line of the sun for a good portion of the game until the sun finally ducked behind the upper deck. On many of the early hits, we had no idea where the ball had gone, save for the reactions of the players. I can't imagine what it must be like to be on the field in that situation. Ross Detwiler was the last hope for the Nats. The first three pitchers in the Nats' rotation - Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Edwin Jackson - had let the fans down with their efforts. Detwiler stepped up from the first pitch and did little wrong. Only an error from Ian Desmond (followed by a foolish but overlooked throw to home from Bryce Harper when he should have thrown to second) allowed the Cardinals to put up a run. The Nats had trouble hitting as well though. Only Adam LaRoche managed to get the fans out of their seats with a solo homer to give the Nats the lead in the second. That's not to say that the fans weren't on their feet. We were all excited and itching for something to happen, but over and over again, we had to sit down and wait for another moment.

Evan did pretty well throughout the game. There was a moment in the fourth inning when he asked when we were leaving ("When the game is over, buddy."), but that quickly passed when I told him that the Presidents Race was coming up. Then he spent the next inning and a half talking about that. We grabbed some hot dogs at one point and we managed to stay in our seats for most of the rest of the game until the top of the ninth. Two outs, man on first, Drew Storen pitching to Matt Carpenter. Storen runs it to a full count, and Evan says he has to pee. I manage to hold him off until Ian Desmond corrals the popup for the third out and we make a mad dash to the bathroom and make it back to our seats just in time to hear the PA announcer say, "Now batting, Jayson Werth."

And then, this happened.

By this point everyone was standing for the entire at bat, and with each narrowly foul ball we held our breath. Finally the last crack sounded and the place erupted. We knew. The Nats had lived to see another day.

Jayson Werth was ostensibly the hero, delivering the walk-off homer. But don't forget Detwiler's six solid innings. Jordan Zimmermann's electric three strikeouts out of the bullpen. Tyler Clippard striking out the side. Ian Desmond's defense saving a fine inning for Drew Storen.

What a game. And how awesome to have my son there with me to see it.

Brian » Bike Train

Posted 4 years ago

Somehow I got roped into leading the Safe Routes to School program at Ellie's school. Most of the time it's boring stuff like going to Town Council meetings and asking for sidewalks and stop signs. But last week was the Vienna Bike/Walk Challenge. All of the elementary schools in Vienna tried to have the highest proportion of their students walk or bike to school. One of Marshall Road ES' strategies was for me to lead a "bike train" to and from school every day. This is what it looked like.

Kids locking up their bikes in the morning. The racks were jammed full every nice day. We may need to get more.

Getting ready to head home after school. The students were remarkably well-behaved, even in the tight space here.

Stopping at the stop sign. Always obey traffic signs and follow the rules.

The kids had a great time, and in our first year back doing the challenge, we had the second highest number of overall walkers and bikers, as well as the second highest number of bikers. Not too shabby considering we didn't even have bike racks at our school until March!

Brian » Review: Thick as Thieves

Posted 5 years ago

Thick as Thieves
Thick as Thieves by Peter Spiegelman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As quickly as I finished my last book (quick because it was a simple YA novel), I finished this one just as quickly because it really gripped me. Sure, it's the sort of story you've heard a bit before, or seen in the movies (The Italian Job, Ocean's whatever, The Town), but Peter Spiegelman ups the ante by making his novel smarter than all those ones combined (I imagine it will be made into a movie soon too). Spiegelman's Wall Street background no doubt helps with this, but he really puts a lot of work into the other details of the job as well. Plus, there are plenty of memorable characters: Carr, Declan, Valerie, etc. In the end, as Carr wonders who he can trust, you find yourself uncertain of who he can trust as well, which makes the payoff ultimately very satisfying. Riveting.

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Brian » Review: The Tiger’s Wife

Posted 5 years ago

The Tiger's Wife
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really didn't think this book would be of any interest to me, but I had seen it on so many "best of" lists, I determined to give it a shot. And I was not disappointed. Maybe if the title had been "The Deathless Man," it would have triggered my interest sooner, but no matter, I finally got around to reading it last week.
So apparently "magical realism" is one of my favorite kinds of literature to read. From Marquez to Murakami to Obreht, I sometimes struggle through it, but ultimately love it. This was no different. I enjoyed the exploration of myths, and even found the main plot thread of the granddaughter's own journey to be rather interesting. Obreht has some stiff competition for my favorite book this year (Art of Fielding, Swamplandia!), but it will certainly rank right up there.

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Brian » Review: Article 5

Posted 5 years ago

Article 5
Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting read, but it probably ended up short in my eyes because it reminded me too much of too many other books I've read in the past. I just didn't feel like it added anything to the whole teen dystopia genre, unfortunately. The writing and plot were just okay, but I didn't love the characters (nor did I particular understand why they loved each other), and really, everything just ended up being so predictable I kept reading to confirm my predictions. Oh well, I didn't expect much from a YA novel, and didn't get much. No biggie.

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Brian » Review: The Art of Fielding: A Novel

Posted 5 years ago

The Art of Fielding: A Novel
The Art of Fielding: A Novel by Chad Harbach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I plow through the last 120+ pages of a 500+ page novel in one night, I guess that means I liked it. I was a bit slow in getting through the first 400 though, mainly because I could see the train wreck coming, and I didn't want it to come, to turn these characters' lives upside down. But inevitably, things happen. Unfortunately for this group (but fortunately for the reader), they keep on happening in interesting ways. Sure, one could quibble over the way the author chose to resolve a major plot point as it came to a head, but ultimately, I thought it actually worked pretty well. Plus, he gets the baseball parts right. Extra points for that.

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Brian » Review: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Posted 5 years ago

A History of the World in 6 Glasses
A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I cruised through this one fairly quickly. I felt like Standage could have written individual books about each drink he talked about, but I was grateful that he didn't. There were times when I thought he just kind of let his thoughts trail off at the end of the chapter, but then I got excited as he started up on a new drink. Very interesting and obviously well researched.

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Brian » Review: The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto

Posted 5 years ago

The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto
The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto by Bernard DeVoto
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book, if you have a sense of humor about it. Obviously, DeVoto takes shots at all sorts of targets, and you can argue whether he hits the mark or not. But to me, I was laughing all the way through. Funniest book I've read in a while. Just don't take it too seriously, and you'll be fine. Except for his recommendations on how to make a proper martini. That's serious as a heart attack.

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Brian » Review: The Sisters Brothers

Posted 5 years ago

The Sisters Brothers
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is the Western novel on its way back? Maybe. This one is a pretty interesting one. Maybe not quite up to True Grit standards, but certainly one that revives the genre.

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Brian » Review: Swamplandia!

Posted 5 years ago

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took a little while to get into this book, but once I really sat down and got into it, I really bought in to the characters and felt for them. The novel really drives toward a particular scene that you know is coming, but hope against all hope it doesn't, but when it does, it hits you all that much harder.
Karen Russell does a masterful job of setting scenes and describing them in a real, but somehow mystical way. The writing truly is superlative. Definitely a new favorite.

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Brian » Review: Luminarium

Posted 5 years ago

Luminarium by Alex Shakar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really wanted to like this one more than I did. But there were just too many strange and unconnected things that I didn't "get" so much. Oh well.

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Brian » Review: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

Posted 5 years ago

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This could have been a snoozer, but Joshua Foer actually takes an interesting historical look at memory, doesn't delve into too much silliness about Google replacing our memory, and even makes memory competitions sound more interesting than they deserve to be. Fun read for non-fiction.

Brian » Review: The Leopard

Posted 5 years ago

The Leopard
The Leopard by Jo Nesbø
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Another fine thriller by Nesbo. Poor Harry Hole is probably wishing he would stop writing about him by now, and this one definitely takes him to his limit and beyond.

Brian » Review: The Night Eternal

Posted 5 years ago

The Night Eternal
The Night Eternal by Guillermo del Toro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fitting end to this series. Sure, it was kind of predictable to see where it was going, but I thought it was pretty well executed, all in all.

Brian » Review: 1Q84

Posted 5 years ago

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It took me a while to get through this one, it's just long. And yet, it's still Murakami at his most simple and spare. Some people might complain about the lack of resolution for the supernatural elements of the story, or the sometimes clunky language, but the most important thing was to resolve Tengo and Aomame's stories, which I ultimately thought he did quite well.

Brian » Review: Zone One

Posted 5 years ago

Zone One
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's so human for a zombie book. I can't find the words to describe it well enough. Whitehead is one of my favorite authors, and he wrote a zombie book. You should probably just go read it.

Brian » Review: The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True

Posted 5 years ago

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It amuses me that this book reads as if Richard Dawkins has given up talking to his foes as adults, and instead decided to talk to them as children. And somehow, it totally works and is probably far more effective than any of his recent books.