Good times, good friends. That’s what life is all about. *
Pal Alex—whom I visited last weekend in Washington—was aghast when he discovered I had not only never been to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, but actually never heard of the landmark hot dog and chili tavern.
In my defense, when I lived in D.C., from 1984 to 1995, it was the heyday of Mayor Marion Barry, who was too consumed with prostitutes and toots up his nose than taking care of the city. That gang of mine in my 20s hung out in a few select safe havens, while I, as a burgeoning gay, knew Dupont Circle intimately. Despite the fact that U Street is in Northwest, back then it simply wasn’t an area frequented by skinny white boys.
All the same, Ben’s holds an astonishing place in Washington’s historic pantheon. CityStream.com offers that the restaurant endured the 1968 riots, a nabe overrun with drug dealers, 3-1/2 years with no passable street, all while still being frequented by some of the world’s most famous celebrities.
“Ben’s Chili Bowl is one of D.C.’s most legendary establishments, revered not only for its famous half smoke but for the way it has managed to operate as a no-frills, family-run neighborhood eatery since 1958,” the webbie reports. Back then, Ben Ali and his wife Virginia spent $5,000 to open the Chili Bowl at 1213 U St. NW, an area that known at the time as “Black Broadway.”
Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and other musicians were regulars after playing in the neighborhood. In more modern times, Bill Cosby became a regular, visiting every time he passed through D.C., as well as Bono, Ellen Degeneres, Usher—and President Barack Obama, who, unlike his predecessor George Bush, actually spends time in Washington and soaks up local culture.
On Saturday, with 90 minutes to kill before I hopped the bus back to New York, Alex, Kristine and I soaked in the magic of Ben’s. I had a loaded chili smoke, while Kristine had cheese fries. Two words: fucking amazing. The place was absolutely packed, remarkably efficient, fun, quaint and the food… enough of a reason to return to Washington, in itself. This was absolutely a highlight of my entire three days in D.C. *
Before heading back to NYC from D.C. on Saturday, Caroline and her roomie Kristine snagged Groupons for Madame Tussaud’s in downtown Washington. With Alex and meese in tow, we admired our nation’s history with reverence and respect. *“You were robbed at the Oscars,” I assure a melancholy George Clooney, helping the healing with a gentle smoochie. Caroline swoons at Johnny Depp’s perfect eyeliner, conjuring Captain Jack Sparrow; Alex with a young, rather large-headed Mickey Jackson; Justin Timberlake, George, Angelina & Brad!
“Crack is whack,” Alex tells former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry; as Bill Clinton gives Caroline a little razzle with Hillary giggling along; and Alex doing same to LBJ. Tee hee.
My buddy Jackie Kennedy let me try on one of her minks as a rather stoic JFK wonders where Marilyn is.
Hall of Presidents: Zach Taylor sports some boffo hair; uh, wonder who that next one is; Woodrow Wilson looking rather dandy; Alex gets interrogated by J. Edgar Hoover; Tom Jefferson, sporting a fabulous little flip-do’ and Caroline with a surprisingly demure Winston Churchill.
Scary good… Michelle and Barack Obama, with pals Kristine and Caroline. These two were so realistic it was spooky.
Alex getting comfy in the Oval Office, as Kristine and I conduct a press conference for the Prez.
As an alumnus of James Madison University, I was stunned to see how lil’ Jimmy was.
This past sunny Sunday while in Washington, Alex, Caroline and her roomie Kristine and meese went to Eastern Market, D.C.’s oldest fresh food public market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. I used to visit this joint when I lived in Washington, and it remains as charming today as it did 20 years ago. *
Like everywhere else, Washington, D.C., has a faint few remaining record stores. Melody Records on Connecticut Avenue in Dupont Circle, which opened in 1977, was a family-owned store that I frequented when I lived in D.C. even in the days of such giants at Tower Records. Now it joins its many brethren who can no longer weather the changing tide of music retail. *
While I was in Washington, D.C., over the weekend to primarily conduct biz with my bud Alex in his Fort Washington, Md., home, there was plenty of time for leisure. Back in November, I swung a deal on LivingSocial for a Megabus ticket for 50 cents round-trip(!).
First up: beverages at a couple outdoor cafes—as temps tipped the mid-60s. In February. What a blessed event that was. Next stop: Alex’s large two-story house, where he had a gift waiting for Caroline: a stuffed version of internet sensation Boo.
Alex’s digs are complete with two back decks, two fire pits and a brand new hot tub (which we indulged Friday). In the mean time, Alex showed me some of his theatrical tricks, such as… uh, setting his hand on fire.And what home would be complete without a vintage 1965 Mustang convertible, arguably the ultimate vintage Muscle Car of all time… I look right comfortable behind the wheel, I must say. Friday eve we were back in the city, where we met up with my longtime dear friend RoRo at gay straight-friendly hang Nellie’s, then journeyed to the beautiful 1905 tavern… Next up: The long-lived historic Eastern Market.
My weekend excursion to Washington, D.C., where I lived from 1984 to 1995, revealed a city that has been scrubbed up, not only with tons of glistening new construction, but pride in its heritage. It’s certainly evolved since the drug-infused era of Mayor Marion Barry, when few of my friends dared to live in the District.
Thanks to a mammoth deal I scored back in December (the Megabus for all of 50 cents round trip) I’m headed to my former home base of Washington, D.C. Thursday morning, to hang with buddy Alex and his gal pal Caroline.
The weather forecast for Washington on Thursday: a balmy 68 degrees. Stand by for photographic evidence, cool cats. *
With my new Nikon D5000 by my side throughout 2011, I was not only able to capture cityscapes and all other images with a new eye on creativity, but the addition of digital editing (and the temptation of extreme HDR) gave me an entirely new purview of glorious New York, its people and the places I visited throughout the year.
Before we wrap the year gone by, I’ll share three volumes of my fave photos from 2011, with the top 10 ranked in Volume 3. Why, I can practically see you trembling with anticipation…Lynchburg, Va., this fall, as I snooped down a private driveway by the railroad tracks that line the James River. The layers of foliage and trees, almost like individual lines, with the barren tree in front, bring focus to a classic tire swing, as innocent and sweet as childhood.
I was actually taking pictures of New York’s Flatiron Building, but this vista enchanted me, because it could have been taken in 2011 or 1911.
Washington, D.C.’s Samuel Francis Dupont Circle fountain, with a close-up image of one of the three classical nudes. The marble statue was installed in 1921. I enhanced the lines to show its gentle aging.
So Brooklyn… This meat shop in Cobble Hill has been around for more than 80 years—and everything about it conjures vintage, including the passerby with the hat. I gave it the full overdramatized HDR treatment for added drama.
Dear friend Tinatin during the video shoot for her song “Wild” at Lower East Side bar Niagara. The larger image was taken as she was preparing to lip sync the track, and I love its timeless beauty, with her red lips contrasting the blacks and browns that dominate the shot. The inner photo was my take of a posed shot for the album cover… which I believe turned out better than the pro photog’s image. So there.
My parents’ Christmas tree, which they decorated while I was in Virginia over Thanksgiving. It could be anybody’s tree and thus is universal, but because I know these ornaments, this image holds a special place for me.
A rainy night in New York City. The sheen of the sidewalks equalized the lighting in the photo, taken without a flash, while I loved the fluorescent tube lighting in the building, which looks like darts aligned in a pattern. Below, the same block, with a cartoon-like effect via HDR editing.
Dusk looking at the woods in front of my brother’s house in Lynchburg, Va. I did next to nothing to this pic, aside from lowering the contrast to intensify the outline of the trees. So simple and lovely.
When Leo and I took a day trip to Nyack and Cold Spring, N.Y., in June, we gamboled through dozens of thrift and antique shops, which were filled with potential fun images. This is my fave among all.
9/11/2011… Ten years later with the annual lights of the Twin Towers, oddly placed nowhere near the actual site, but dramatic nonetheless. The one thing that I don’t care for is how the lights enter the clouds and spread as if they’re combusting… but when I tried to crop it below, it loses so much of the impact. So it is what it is… Hopefully, by September 2012, we’ll have an actual tower on the horizon and can finally retire the endless tributes.
The cemetery at Trinity Church on New York’s Wall Street. A beautiful summer day. I attempted to make this as spooky as possible with intensified glow and colorizing.
Fulton Street Mall in Brooklyn… The birds, the birds! As a flurry of pigeons took flight amid the rumble of a bus that had just passed, I snapped away. The resulting picture offered nothing particularly memorable—until I turned it into what resembles a washed-out painting.
There’s no one that has walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that doesn’t have this very image, where all of the wires line in perfect symmetry with the center column. And there’s a reason why that remains such a quintessential and iconic image.Taken during Hurricane Irene,when the Brooklyn Heights Promenade was oddly deserted, except for one lone person. I altered this image to stark black and white, with the exception of the woman looking toward the Manhattan skyline, in red.
And another view during Hurricane Irene… The BQE highway, on the left, is typically packed day and night, as seen in this spring photo… as opposed to a single vehicle—an ambulance—during the drama of the storm.