Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New Wheels

I came downtown early this morning to photograph the Fed chairman as he arrived for work. That's not news - I suppose Mr. Bernanke shows up for work most days - but the way I got here was new.

DC is now the first city in this country to have self-service public bike rentals. Called "Smartbikes," there are racks of the bikes set up around downtown. You go to a rack, wave your electronic Smartbike card, and the machine releases a bike for you. You're supposed to return it to any of the Smartbike racks within three hours.

The cost of this? A whole year of unlimited rentals for only $40. (You order the Smartbike card at www.smartbikedc.com.)

I've had my card for several weeks and been dying to use it, but this morning was my first chance. I rode the Metro to the Farragut North subway stop, went up to street level and checked out a bike, riding it to the Federal Reserve building. The bikes are well-suited for downtown biking - comfortable, upright position, a holder for briefcases or purses or whatever (though my photo backpack didn't fit), automatic lights, chain guard to prevent grease on pants or skirts, mud guard, etc. Very comfortable and they handle surprisingly well for a three-speed.

By this afternoon I've used the bikes for three trips around downtown, with one or two more coming up shortly. The only downside is you have to bring your own helmet, and if you need to park away from one of the racks, your own lock. That should become less of an issue if, as promised, more and more Smartbike racks are installed around the city.

And what a great way to get around on a day like this. Right now I'm sitting in a Cosi, having filed my photos, snacking and using the free WiFi. Out one window is a Metro entrance. Outside the door is a Smartbike rack.

I think I've found my new downtown office.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

In the woods, downtown

Occasionally we fantasize about moving to a place where the outdoors is closer and the snow guaranteed. But the truth is that Washington has amazing access to all sorts of outdoors possibilities. Take Mather Gorge in Great Falls Park - just 10-15 minutes from the Beltway, but it offers a spectacular vista, challenging hiking, some mountain biking, Olympic-class kayaking, and lots and lots of rock-climbing.

So when a magazine this month asked for a cover shoot of two staffers who work for a nonprofit that deals with conservation issues, it made sense to do it somewhere other than the nonprofit's Crystal City offices. Rachel, one of my two subjects, mentioned the group is involved with deforestation, and said she lives in Dupont Circle, right by the heart of downtown DC.

Bingo - that's also a couple of blocks from Rock Creek Park, a giant green swath of national parkland that cuts through DC. A short walk and she and her colleague Vinnie had left the city and were seated on a log in a lovely piece of woods. The trail was a little steep for Rachel's platform shoes, but the photos looked great.

Now, if we could just do something about the lack of snow around here...

Update: Outside magazine's August issues lists its picks of "The 20 Best Towns in America." Coming in at #1: Washington, DC. I wonder who "outed" us?

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