Sunday, October 26, 2014

Washington Irving Middle School

I had three kids attend this school. I think they all had good experiences there; certainly better than I had during my middle school years. (Ugh. Worst years in my life. Seriously.) For me there are two things that make this school stand out. 

1.) The rock.


From time immemorial the kids going here have been painting that rock, which sits on campus between the building and Old Keene Mill Road. Well... at least they have since we first moved into town in 1987. It's changed about every three or four months on the average. So let's do the math: that's  81 - 108 layers of paint on it just since we've lived here! I once had a clever kid in my scout troop who once opined that, eventually, this rock will become a sphere - hahaha!

And yes, that's my trusty convertible VW in the background.

I had always planned that me and a kid would paint this rock, but somehow that never happened. Does one require permission? I honestly don't know.  

I scraped away at one edge with a penknife in an attempt to reveal some of the layers - indeed, there are some. My guess is that there are more on the sides which face the traffic.

2.) The Sledding Slope

It's somewhat hard to see in this image, but the grassy part of the big front yard associated with this school makes a graceful downward angle - just the thing for little kids to sled on when it snows. There are many times when I've driven down Old Keene Mill Road during the winter and seen families having fun here. It's a great place for a sled! 

I don't think I've ever taken my own kids here... we've found other, more dramatic and steeper, slides near where we lived.  But this one is indeed a Springfield "Thing!" 


What's one of the first things visitors see when they take the I-95 off ramp and arrive in Springfield? MVC "Late Night Video" - a porn joint. Nice, huh? Really dresses up the community.

Now, silly me, I had expected that when the Internet came of age, that seedy brick and mortar porn stores like this would disappear.  But no - this Loser Magnet has been here for more than a decade, crapping up Springfield. I dearly wish it would simply disappear.

What's really annoying is that when the building was first opened c. 1990 it was a WIZ - a record store. As we used to make the drive over the nearby bridge, my middle daughter, when she was four or so, would say, "I know how to spell 'Wiz': W-I-Z." Cute! But then, like other record and CD stores, the WIZ went out of business and somehow the bright lights in the Springfield Chamber of Commerce allowed in this blight. So if Internet streaming puts mainstream record stores out of business, why isn't it having that effect on places like MVC? It isn't fair!

I once saw a young man in a grocery store wearing one of their tee-shirts. It had "I like to stay up at night" emblazoned across it. I wanted to pull him aside and say, "Why not simply have the word LOSER emblazoned across your chest? Same thing." 

What effect does MVC have on the surrounding area?  Well, check out the semi-crumbling five story building shown above, which is next to MVC. Empty. There hasn't been a business here for years. There used to be firms here, legitimate ones: an insurance agency, a doctor's or dentist's office (I forget which), even a reclaimed clothing store. Gone. Why? If you ran a business, would you want to have your place of business next to a porn shop? Of course you wouldn't.

And that building visible across the street? A hotel. I am astonished that anyone would put a hotel across the street from an MVC. Can you imagine checking in your family from someplace across the country and seeing that there? "Oh, yeah - nice hotel. We were across the street from a place that sold porn."

I am normally a pro-business, capitalist kind of guy, but I have to write it: here's hoping that MVC goes out of business! Soon!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Huntsman Square

Above: This vast expanse of concrete - "ample parking!" - is the Huntsman Square, anchored by the Giant grocery store in the middle. You can faintly see the Baskin-Robbins, one of my haunts, at far right. Huntsman Square is so named because it's on Huntsman Blvd. in West Springfield. (Burke sometimes tries to claim it.) It's set low and is surrounded by trees - you can barely see it from the streets, which is a characteristic thing about plazas in mainly residential areas here. Where I'm from, Southern California, the shopping plazas are in your face. Not here. They're subtle. 

This is the left-most set of businesses, two of which are important: 1.) That "Medical Center" is where my doctor works. I've seen him here for various reasons for about twenty years! Turn your head and cough... 2.) That Starbucks at the left is our winter Starbucks. For some reason I have it in my head that we only go here for hot chocolate in the dead of winter, usually January. To go there in, say, April or May would be a sin. I have no idea how this notion got into my head. (Video.)

The interior. We've dined at that Subway a few times - but, in general, I don't like Subways. I'm a Quiznos Man. 

This toy store is significant to me for two reasons: 1.) A jolly laughing Southern woman from church used to work here - she died some years back. Our congregation is a sadder, quieter place without her. I can't see this place without thinking of her. 2.) We took my little grandson in here once when he and his mother visited and it was a blast! (Video.) 

The perimeter road around the back side of the businesses is secluded and a bit curious.

And there's this funny little cul-de-sac. Why? Why was this constructed? Sometimes you see trucks parked in here. Are the drivers snoozing? 

The local celebrities in the Giant grocery store are BruceAndTanya. Are they romantically linked or just real estate associates? I always wonder. 

The Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia FroYo is great, but whenever I buy it I suspect I'm indirectly contributing money to the Communist Party of America or something...

BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya, BruceAndTanya...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Burger Joint (formerly Chesapeake Bagel Bakery)

Off of the busy Old Keene Mill Road/Rolling Road intersection. Now it's the Burger Joint (a "BGR" in an oval), but back in the Nineties and into the new millennium it was the Chesapeake Bagel Bakery and one of our favorite family haunts when the kids were growing up. I was heartbroken when they went out of business. The bagels were always fresh; it was a place that, in my wife's phrase, "Did not profane the bagel."

I think we started going there in 1991; I remember one lunch there with the kids when the opened the Virginia Express light rail in 1992 and were giving away free promotional rides, and I'm sure we were dining there before that, so let's say 1991.

For a time, before it closed shop, they used to have framed prints of Civil War battles on the walls - what I call LHAPS (Limited Edition Historical Art Prints). They tried to sell them from here - I don't think that was a successful business venture.  

Purple paint, oversized reproductions of 1970's and 1980's rock album covers on the walls, mosaic pop art on the tables, light fixtures made of hardware parts... it's all very trendy. And truth be told, the burgers here are quite good. But I miss the 1990's dark green and oak look of the CBB. 

Me, Cari and the kids used to sit against the wall (there used to be mirrors) against that low wooden wall on the left - that was our table of choice.  

Ah - the days when we were raising our kids and were a family of five... happy, purposeful days...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Our nearby Costco moved into Springfield in 1992, I think it was. Prior to that we had to schlep into Fairfax to procure our enormous quantities of food and household items. Remember when it used to be known as "Price Club?"

Why highlight a Costco as a "Thing?" What's special about it? Well - six things:

1.) My daughter Julie used to work here. She was only an employee for perhaps six months after graduation, but they worked her hard. When I picked her up at about 11 PM or so, she was tired. And cranky! They really work their staff at these places. But the thing is, almost a decade or so later people working here still ask how she's doing, etc.

2.) Tires. All of the Clark cars since about 1992 have rolled on Costco rubber.

3.) Meals. This was one of our family haunts for meals. You just can't beat it for price. A giant hot dog and a soda for $1.50? A chicken bake for $2.99? Insane! And thereby hangs a tale...

Above: The Costco eatery. It certainly isn't the most romantic destination for a meal - and I wonder how hygienic those table tops are - but as a family we had pizza here every now and then. My daughter Julie would daintily pat the grease from the top of her enormous slice of pizza with a paper towel, and eat about 3/4ths of it. When I sensed that she was done, I'd pointedly stare at it, and she'd say, "You can have it," and I'd eat the rest. It is thus that fathers gain weight over the course of raising kids.

Once my daughters and I were standing near this eating area - but not in it - when we heard a rather loud WHOOM. There was some sort of sudden pressure differential release in the big pipes strung from the ceiling, and we noticed that the movement dislodged a fine sprinkle of dust upon the people and food in the dining area. Like snowfall, except brown. It was amusing to watch. The folks under the Hebrew National umbrellas were fine, but the others had a coat of dust and dirt on their pizzas. Yum!

4.) Samples. On certain Saturdays, when the place is really swinging, you can grab a few hundred calories, easy, from samples.

What a great country this is!

5.) Parking. I can sense my wife's jaw clenching whenever we pull in to the spaces closest to the front. There are two classes of drivers at Costco: Those can can drive but are heedless of other cars and those who cannot drive well and take forever to pull into a parking space. Add to that pedestrians and shopping carts everywhere and you have a real gauntlet.

6.) Refund policy. I bought my son a Swiss watch for his high school graduation, which he wore for about a year and a half. Then it died (a new battery didn't help). I brought it in and exchanged it for a slightly better watch at the same price (they no longer had an exact replacement). My son wore that for a year or so when it, too, gave out. Again Costco replaced it, and I paid some more money and bought an even better third watch. I ask you - who else has a refund/replacement policy like that?!?

It's worth mentioning that in 1996 I got a Seiko quartz tank watch from Costco for about $45 for my 40th birthday. With battery changes, it has been running for eighteen years straight!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Moe's Peyton Place

This one puzzled me for years: why name a restaurant "Peyton Place?" It was a television show (based on a 1957 movie) which ran between 1964 and 1969. I've never seen an episode of the series, but dimly recall as a kid that it was considered spicy. Liaisons, affairs, adultery, flirtations... raw, passion. Uninhibited behavior. Forbidden acts.

Well, okay, this was the Sixties - how explicit could it have been? My guess it that, seen these days, it was probably pretty mild. But, getting back to the original thought - why name a restaurant this?

I have no idea.

The restaurant has been in town for decades; in fact, I'm pretty sure it was here when we moved in in 1987. The reviews are interesting, and, desiring to see what the fuss was about, my wife and I ate here one night some years ago. (Well before the yelp reviewer complained of cockroaches. We didn't see any.) It was pretty ordinary. Divey. A place for locals.

Moe himself was leaning against his Mercedes-Benz parked in front, and I tried to make some small talk with him. He was rather dismissive.

We haven't returned. And having checked that box, we won't.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Springfield Tower

If you've ever driven through Springfield on I-95 (the daily average, according to VDOT, is 430,000 cars), you've seen this place. You can't miss it! It's a fourteen story skyscraper. Well, okay, as much as a skyscraper as downtown Springfield can boast, anyway. It's called, perhaps inevitably, the Springfield Tower. It was built in 1972.

As recently as April 2014 Bob the Barber had his business here on the seventh floor - weird place for a barbershop, no?  And I see that there was once a Hard Times Cafe on the eighth floor. But in October 2014, when I took these photos, I saw no evidence of that. Doing a google search on the address, I see that various other businesses were also located here. Once.

Here's the face that I-95 sees - it often has a big advertising banner affixed thereto:


Let's start with the description on a web site:


    Excellent location - 495/95 interchange
    Entire floor available
    Prominent building in Fairfax County
    Floor to ceiling windows
    Full service leases
    Less than a mile from Springfield Metro


Subject property is a tall, glass structure located prominently at the interchange of I-495 and I-95 in Spingfield, Virginia. Standing 14 stories tall, the Springfield Tower is one of the most visable (sp) landmarks in Fairfax County. Property has floor to ceiling windows, and a two-level parking deck. Leases are full service.

The Springfield Tower is located at the intersection of the Capital Beltway (495) and 95/395, one of the most accessible submarkets in metro DC. The Springfield Metro stop is less than a mile away and the property is surrounded by retail, office, and hotels.

...and blight, police tape, parked trucks and crumbling concrete. Take a look:

Above: I'm guessing that, once upon a time, some bank had a branch location here, and this was where the drive through section was. Now some unknown entity parks industrial trucks there

Above: This is what you see when you park in front of the building. Those steel stanchions look like they are partially holding up the deck!

Above: And here's the front entrance. That makes an unforgettably impressive look for corporate customers and clients, huh?

  Above: Another view. More trucks. My guess is that the owner primarily makes money from this real estate by renting space to cell phone company and other entities needing a high platform. Are there any tenants in this eyesore? I'm guessing not.

Note that the "d" in "dr." is lower case here but upper case in the view at the top. Nice touch. At least they spelled "Augusta" correctly.

Above: Plan to drive up that ramp? I don't think so. With the stanchions in front in mind, you and your car might just end up in a pile of concrete. 

Above: There's a Bob Evans restaurant next to this building, and this is definitely the Tower's most presentable face. Once again, more cell relay and antenna equipment. Those are the real tenants.

Sheesh. What a wreck! Didn't I last see a building like this in Detroit - or an episode of The Simpsons?

Stay classy, downtown Springfield...

Five Guys

Let's see... when did we start eating here? At least ten years ago, I think. I forget how we heard of the place - it must have been word of mouth. They sell burgers like the kind you used to be able to get from individual burger stands in the 1950's and 1960's, before McDonald's and the other franchise places started to standardize hamburgers (to the considerable detriment of the customer). What more, the fries here are great! The kind you get at seashore places.

But I'm guessing you know that already - Five Guys has opened stores all over the country and is doing just fine, thank you very much.

I understand that the Springfield store shown here (on Rolling Road near the I-95 onramp) is their second - the original is near Bailey's Crossroads. Certainly they've put some money into the Springfield location and fixed it up...  when we started going there it was considerably dumpier! 

My wife prefers going to the newer, bigger Five Guys in Lorton. When it's cold out, this one gets a cold breeze running through the place whenever the front door is opened. Brrrrr. PLUS - the Lorton locations sells shakes, and those are old-fashioned, too, and made with real dairy products - not whatever the crap is McDonald's uses...

We occasionally meet friends here. And my pal from Southern California tells me that he prefers Five Guys to In and Out, which, from a Californian, is a very special compliment indeed.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Empire (formerly Jaxx)

Near the almost always busy intersection of Rolling Road and Old Keene Mill Road is a shopping plaza, and in that shopping plaza is an unprepossessing sign nestled near the Ummah Bazaar, Carpetland and the Afghan Kabob Restaurant that says, in red light, "Empire," in an oddball semi-Gothic style font. What's this all about? It is nothing less than Springfield's premier rock venue!

Some years back, the Northern Virginia Diaghilev of Rock and Roll, Jay Nedry, used to run this place as Jaxx, and Jaxx was notable for hosting name acts. Robin Trower played there, the Led Zepplin's bassist did a gig or two, and others whom I cannot remember performed here as well. I saw the Blue Oyster Cult play there twice; it was very loud. And dark (the interior is painted black.) And smelly! (Cigarette smoking is allowed.) I had to hang my jacket out in the air - my wife refused to let it into the house after the performances. But it was fun!

Above: The entrance to the Alchemy Room restaurant/bar.

Today Jay Nedry no longer runs the establishment, and the bands who play here are not ones whose names you would likely have seen on nationally advertised recordings. But the place still rocks on - and occasionally is open for other uses. One Saturday I ventured in for a jewelry/crafts show, and every few years local Republican politician Dave Albo holds his "Albopalooza" fundraiser there. ("Three Hours of Rock and Balanced Budgets!") I attended one of those, too. How hard does it rock? Well... imagine various state GOP gentry on stage playing tambourines. The mother of one in the audience was tapping her foot along with the music. I even met my scrapbooking consultant there! That's how hard it rocks! 

Actually, it was fun. Dave has a good sense of humor...

Above: me and my scrapbooking consultant in 2010.

(Rita is Dave Albo's wife)

So in Springfield it's Empire that brings the musical mayhem!

Sydenstricker Schoolhouse

When I first moved to Springfield I obtained an 1870-something map of Fairfax County and noted that there was a schoolhouse located at the spot our little red schoolhouse is at, and made the mistake of thinking that it dated from that period. Nope.

The little red schoolhouse - formally, The Sydenstricker Schoolhouse - actually sits on Hooes Road (according to oldtimers in town, it's properly pronounced "hoes," not "whose") near the Sydenstricker-Hooes intersection, and was built in 1928. So think of the Little Rascals and Miss Crabtree - it's from that era. It closed in 1939. It's about a mile from where I live.

Above: It's not really as forlorn as spot as this image suggests!

Above: The classic little nostalgic schoolhouse entrance. 

The schoolhouse is owned and maintained by the Upper Pohick Community League. From their Facebook page:

The Upper Pohick Community League was founded in the late 1940's, and was the original neighborhood association, tying together families who lived in the Upper Pohick / South Hunt Valley area of Springfield, VA. It was a thriving group that influenced the development of local roads, bridges and sub-divisions, in a time when our area was very rural. The League purchased the old Sydenstricker School (the Little Red Schoolhouse) at public auction in the early 1950's, and it has been our League hall ever since. For many years it was the center of social activities in our area. More recently with the growth of individual neighborhood associations within each local subdivision, the League has become primarily focused on the preservation of the Schoolhouse, and its place in our community.
The UPCL sometimes holds yard sales here to raise money for the building's maintenance.

Back in 2006 I had a very Virginian experience in this room: I gave a slideshow lecture to UPCL members about the Legend and True History of Northern Virginia's Famous "Bunny Man." It was based on work Brian Conley did which I supplemented with recorded interviews with the people involved in the incident. 

Above: The schoolhouse is across the street from the modern Sydenstricker United Methodist Church building - which will be the subject of its own blog entry soon...

The UPCL puts on sales at the site to raise money for maintenance; my video

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bozzelli's Deli

I love this place! It's one of my favorite places to eat in town. Bozzelli's Deli is one of those good, old-fashioned family businesses. There are actually people working here named Bozzelli! Mama Bozzelli, for instance, who holds forth in Mama Bozzelli's Kitchen every now and then, sharing recipes and preparation ideas. I've been in the place when she does - it gets crowded.

Above: Mama Bozelli's Cooking Class set up.

Bozzelli's got its start in nearby Lorton... but perhaps the "history" section on their website says it best:

Bozzelli's Italian Deli was located in what was originally "The Old Pohick Inn" along Route 1. Yep, a lot of you may remember the place. (Begin reminiscing now.)

The "Real Italian Guy" in the picture is Lou Bozzelli of Apulia, Italy;  photographed shortly after starting in the restaurant biz at the age of 12.  The Bozzelli family has been making great subs in the Metro area (yes, that´s how the Metro sub got its name) since the late 1970´s.  We added hand tossed pizza to the menu because of a rent hike in 2003 and started cooking classes in 2008 when our mom got the idea from watching cable one night.  Mama Bozzelli´s best advice on cooking is as follows, "You only need to measure when baking a cake."

How's the food here? GREAT. I like everything I've tried. What I normally order most often is the steak and cheese sandwich. The meat is to die for. Sure - it costs more than at Subway or Jerry's, but if there's one thing I've learned in life it's that you get what you pay for.

Above: He's a Real Italian Guy!

Above: The interior is fun: lots of Italian stuff around to look at...
Above: I've wanted this Italian Columbia Records poster ever since I first laid eyes on it. "For sale in installments - Free catalog."
Above: They sell some interesting bottled sodas, Italian goods and beers in the front, where you order.
Above: They are - guaranteed!
Above: One of the things I find endearing about the place is the unprofessional (but earnest) artwork and the breathless boosterism. Do I care that they don't have a gluten free oven? No. I'm fortunate that way.
Above: Cannoli is a sore point with my wife. Ever since a relative made some for her absolutely fresh when she was a girl, nobody else's measures up. Nobody's. If it's not fresh she doesn't want it. Sorry, Bozzelli's. 
I've been going to Bozzelli's for about four or five years, now. And will until we leave Springfield!