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Passover

The day after St. Patrick’s Day I helped a friend of mine with his booth at the annual Maker Faire NoVa that was held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. I had attended previous STEM Maker events in Greenbelt, Silver Spring, and Washington, DC but it’s the first time I ever checked the Northern Virginia one. I have to admit that this event was the largest event of its kind that I had ever attended. To give you an idea as to how big it was, here’s a video I shot of this event.

And now it’s time for the still photos. I knew I had come to the right place when I saw this statue of George Mason (whom the university is named after) all dressed up for the occasion.

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These signs were further giveaways that I was at the right place.

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The reason why I was there was that I was helping a friend of mine with his table. His name is Phil Shapiro and he frequently hangs out on YouTube and Twitter. He wanted to demonstrate Inkscape, which is the free open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. He brought a couple of Linux laptops that he made available for people to use. At the last minute he decided to have one of those laptops run Tux Paint, which is a free open source graphics program that is made for kids under 7, which turned out to be a good move because a lot of visitors were kids. The kids seemed to really like Tux Paint so it was all good. In any case, here is what the sign looked like.

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Here are a few shots of the table that I took before Maker Faire NoVa opened to the general public.

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Here’s Phil Shapiro at one of the laptops setting everything up before the show began.

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And here’s Phil showing off the two laptops with Inkscape and Tux Paint to the general public.

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One of the many kids tried his hand at drawing with Tux Paint.

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Near our table was one that was manned by Bob Coggeshall, who’s famous in the Unix world for inventing the Unix command sudo.

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There were all kinds of projects that were run off of Raspberry Pi, such as this vintage teletype.

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There were also all kinds of 3D printed projects that looked amazing.

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There was a refurbished gumball machine that dispensed 3D printed charms for only 50 cents.

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It was at that gumball machine where I made my one and only purchase from Maker Faire NoVa: A tiny 1-inch printed 3D printed Darth Vader who’s seated like a Buddha. I only paid 50 cents for this cool item.

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There were also some vintage bikes that the public can ride.

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It was at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first-ever real life glimpse of a Bitcoin mining machine.

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It was also at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first glimpse of American Girl’s 2018 Girl of the Year doll. Her name is Luciana Vega, she’s into STEM and her big ambition is to be the first person to explore Mars.

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This boy was showing his work in progress on his latest project. He was in the process of building his own BB-8 robot from the Star Wars movies.

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There was just a variety of things I saw at Maker Faire NoVa that were simply astounding.

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George Mason University’s Fairfax campus is pretty big. In fact, I think it may be as big as my own alma mater (University of Maryland at College Park). I briefly went through the campus Barnes & Noble store, which had copies of Michael Wolff’s controversial bestseller about Donald Trump’s first year in the White House called Fire & Fury.

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I really had a blast at Maker Faire NoVa. It helped that the weather was in the 50’s that day so I was able to wear a light jacket instead of my heavy winter coat for a change. I even saw my first robin of the year while I was walking around outside going from building to building while checking out the event. (The entire event was spread over four buildings.) Sadly that warm weather was a short-lived thing because the weather turned really cold and rainy the next day followed by a snowstorm.

The only downside about that event is that for about a couple of days before that event I started to have stuffed sinuses. By the time of that event my throat felt more scratchy as I talked more and more with the general public while I worked at Phil’s booth. My legs had grown stiff and sore by the end of the day due to the huge amount of walking and standing I did throughout the day. The following day I felt extremely tired and sick. I ended up spending most of the next week sleeping (with the exception of the couple of times I went out in the snow where I did some shoveling two days after Maker Faire NoVa). I even ended up skipping the big March for Our Lives on the following Saturday due to being sick. But the video, photos, and fond memories from Maker Faire NoVa made it all worthwhile.

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Recently I decided to take extensive photographs of a typical Toys R Us store mainly because late last year, just before Christmas, Toys R Us had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This month Toys R Us is closing a large number of its stores throughout the United States. Nearly three years ago I did an extensive post covering the two-month period that the Kmart in Greenbelt, Maryland conducted its going out of business sale. This time I decided to take a photo of a Toys R Us store that is NOT among the stores that are slated for closure because I wanted to provide sort of a time capsule as to what it was like to visit a Toys R Us store on a typical day when it was in normal operations.

The biggest irony about the upcoming store closings is that this year is Toys R Us’ 70th anniversary. When I looked up Toys R Us’ Wikipedia page I learned one interesting fact—that chain started its first store in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC. That store, which was then-called Children’s Supermart, was operating in a space that is now occupied by the iconic nightclub Madam’s Organ Blues Bar. A few years later the first store with the Toys R Us name was opened in Rockville, Maryland. Toys R Us went from being a local business to a national (then international) store chain when it was sold to Interstate Department Stores, Inc. in 1966.

In a way it’s kind of sad that this is happening to Toys R Us because I grew up watching those commercials on television that featured someone dressed in a Geoffrey Giraffe costume while the ad jingle went “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid/There’s a million of toys at Toys R Us that I can play with.”

There was only one Toys R Us store in the town that I grew up in (Glen Burnie, Maryland). Sometimes my mother would buy toys from that store but she also purchased toys from Montgomery Wards and Sears as well. I still have memories of when I used to go to the one in the Glen Burnie Mall and it had a sign that said that children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Sometimes I would get permission from my mom to go to either the Record Bar (which sold vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassette tapes) or the video arcade (both of which have long since gone out of business) while she and my grandmother went inside of some clothing store. I was somewhere between 12-15 when I did this. (I know that for a fact because I pretty much lost interest in doing this once I reached 16.) I always made an effort to go past the Toys R Us entrance in the mall where I would enter that store without being accompanied by an adult just so I would flout that rule. None of the store employees ever did anything to kick me out for being an unaccompanied minor under 16 but it still filled my juvenile ego to know that I flouted a store rule. I never stayed too long inside Toys R Us because most of the toys were geared towards younger kids and I had pretty much outgrown any interest I had in things like Barbie dolls or Play-Doh. I only went inside because a sign said I couldn’t do it and it was an easy way to rebel against authority without getting into any kind of serious trouble. (LOL!)

Ironically that Glen Burnie Toys R Us is still going strong and it’s among the stores that is being saved from closure for now. The same can’t be said for the rest of the mall and, in fact, that mall had finally closed down for good last year.

When I moved closer to the Washington, DC area as an adult, I was lucky enough to be in an area where there were three different Toys R Us stores all located just a short drive away from my home—in New Carrollton, Laurel, and Langley Park. I used to periodically shop at Toys R Us mainly to purchase presents for my then-husband’s nieces and nephews or to buy baby shower gifts for various friends, relatives, and coworkers. There was a time when my church had a Toys for Tots-like program around the winter holiday season where we purchased toys for the children at this non-profit community center in Washington, DC that strived to provide programs for inner city kids from low-income families that would be an alternative to gangs and I used to shop at Toys R Us for that reason as well.

But then Toys R Us encountered its first problem when the dotcom boom happened and it was very slow in getting an online presence.  Amazon, which sold only books at the time, wanted to start selling toys so Toys R Us entered into a ten-year contract with Amazon to allow that online site to be its exclusive online supplier. It might have sounded like a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, that deal was like having Coca-Cola decide to let Pepsi-Cola handle all of its marketing and distribution of Coke products. Amazon soon allowed other third-party retailers to sell toys on its site, which resulted in a lawsuit.

One-by-one, over the next few years, the Toys R Us stores that were located closer to my home started to close. The one in New Carrollton was located in a building with a flat roof. A major blizzard hit the area where two feet of snow accumulated. The flat roof of the New Carrollton Toys R Us had accumulated so much snow that it literally caved in. I still remember seeing local news reports about that roof collapse along with pictures of stuffed animals floating on top of huge puddles that were created by melting snow. The chain decided to permanently close that store rather than rebuild. The building was razed then rebuilt and a CVS Pharmacy now sits in that location.

As for the one in Laurel I remember that the chain decided to do a remodel of that store while remaining open for business during the remodeling. Once that job was done that store looked really nice with a fresh coat of paint and bright lights. A year or two later the chain decided to close the Laurel store, which had me rolling my eyes since that chain had spent time and money remodeling that store only close it soon afterwards.

At that point the one in Langley Park was the closest Toys R Us store to my home. Compared to the Laurel store or even the New Carrollton store, that Langley Park store was a major hot mess. The floors had scruff marks everywhere and the shelves were totally messy and disorganized. It was almost like no one cared about having that store looked its best so it would encourage customers to return. I don’t know if the clientele had anything to do with the store deciding not to do much to keep up appearances or not. (Many immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean, started to settle in Langley Park starting in the 1980’s.)

Early one morning the bodies of two men were found in the parking lot of the Langley Park Toys R Us. Each of the men have had their their throats slashed. A third man was also knifed and survived. Naturally this story of three immigrant men being attacked in a Toys R Us parking lot was extensively covered by the local news media. Police found out that these slayings were the result of a drug deal gone bad and a suspect was arrested. That Toys R Us store closed soon after that incident.

As a result of those closures, these days if I want to shop at a Toys R Us, I have to drive at least a half-an-hour in any direction in order to get to a store. As a result, my shopping at Toys R Us has become very rare. These days if I need to buy a toy for whatever reason, I’m more likely to go to the Target store that’s located only three miles from my home and it has a pretty decent toy selection.

At this point there are only two Toys R Us left in my county and they require at least (depending on the traffic) a half-an-hour commute. One is a regular Toys R Us store in Clinton and the other is a Toys R Us outlet store at National Harbor. The Clinton store is the one that is among the stores that Toys R Us plan to close soon. Once that happens, my county will only have the outlet store left and no more regular Toys R Us stores.

At one point Toys R Us had opened a giant flagship store at Times Square in New York City. I went there many times whenever my then-husband and I visited his father and step-mother. I used to be awed by the four floors that not only included toys but I remembered there was a giant life-sized version of Barbie’s dreamhouse that you could walk through while browsing the selection of Barbie dolls that were displayed on shelves inside of that house, an animatronic t-rex robot, a giant candy section, and large 3D displays that were built from LEGOs.  In addition there was this giant indoor ferris wheel that was as tall as the store itself so one could see all four floors of the store while going on that ride. I never went on that ride myself because I still have memories the one and only time I went on a ferris wheel when I was seven years old and it literally made me feeling so dizzy that I never cared to repeat that experience. On top of it, the lines to that ferris wheel were usually long and I wasn’t in the mood to wait in a long line to get on a ride. I last went to New York City in 2011 (just a few months before my hip surgery and my husband’s subsequent sudden walkout) and I walked past that store while seeing the ferris wheel through the glass windows from the outside. I’ve heard that this store is now closed, which is too bad. Here’s a video tour of the Times Square store I found on YouTube that was shot shortly before it closed.

As for the chain itself, it has been going through more troubles in recent years. This article said that Toys R Us has an e-commerce site that’s very clunky to use compared to Amazon while also mentioning that kids these days are more likely to play with computers, smartphones, and tablets than traditional toys like Barbie dolls and Lego. Another article said that Toys R Us’ prices are higher than what Walmart, Amazon, and Target charge for the same toy. There is another factor in Toys R Us’ decline and it has less to do with kids’ playtime, their parents’ shopping habits, or the cost of toys and more with the fact that in 2005 the management decided to sell the company in a leveraged buyout to the real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust and the private equity firms KKR and Bain Capital. This trio of companies have focused more on doing a complex financial deal that would leave them richer while drowning Toys R Us in debt. It’s the usual Wall Street financial shenanigans that focus more on extracting huge short-term profits for the very wealthy 1%  class and less on operating a viable profitable store chain in the long run.

In a way one could say that karma had finally struck Toys R Us. When that chain first started opening stores throughout the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, a lot of the smaller toy stores that were locally owned were driven out of business because many of them couldn’t compete with the wide selection of toys or the low prices that Toys R Us provided. Now it’s Toys R Us’ turn to eventually get driven out of business through a combination of increased competition (from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target) and being literally milked heavily for profits by a bunch of Wall Streeters.

Of course it’s the employees who are suffering the most due to increased workplace stress and losing their jobs.

Which led me to my recent visit to a Toys R Us store in Annapolis, Maryland. I wanted to pick a store that isn’t among the stores being closed and I ended up picking the one in Annapolis because I decided to attend the weekly Thursday night meeting of my support group for people who are separated or divorced. The meetings are held in Crofton and Annapolis is just a few miles away on Route 50 so it made sense for me to go to the Annapolis store then head back to Crofton for the meeting.

The next photo shows the outside of the store. Some of the stores in this chain are Toys R Us only while other stores are its Babies R Us subsidiary. (The latter store focuses on items for babies and toddlers such as furniture, formula, and diapers.) This location is a larger store that has both Toys R Us and Babies R Us under the same roof.

Here’s what I first saw when I entered the store.

The next photo shows the Fingerlings, robot toys which were THE Hot Toy of 2017. These critters were sold out everywhere just before Christmas and these toys were sold on eBay for several times the original $15 retail price. As of late January I saw a few of these toys on the store shelves at the original retail price.

There was a section devoted to toys that were based on recent movies, such as Coco and Batman vs. Superman.

The store was nearly empty when I visited it. I know that the fact that I visited it on a Thursday in late January was a major factor. But this particular Toys R Us is located across the street from Annapolis Mall and I noticed that the mall was filling up with cars when I was leaving the area yet Toys R Us was mostly empty.

The store had a few Toys R Us exclusive toys, such as this Funko Pop! vinyl set featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

They had some retro video games based on Space Invaders and the old Sega Genesis console system on the shelves yet they kept the games for the newer console systems kept behind locked cases.

Curiously Toys R Us had a bunch of Sharper Image products that it was selling on its store shelves. (The Sharper Image is a separate store chain that specializes in upscale electronic products.) This store sold mainly robot dinosaurs.

Toys R Us had an entire display devoted to last year’s hot trend, Fidget Spinners. (Remember them? I certainly do.)

Toys R Us carried a few American Girl dolls but they were all of the 14-inch Wellie Wishers.

This next item was among some of the more unusual toys I found on sale. This one is a Bear Surprise, where each bear is a pregnant female who could carry anywhere between 3-5 cubs. (The person wouldn’t know for sure until after he/she purchases a Bear Surprise and take her home.)

The one thing I most remember about Toys R Us is its mascot, Geoffrey Giraffe. I remember when that store used to sell Geoffrey Giraffe stuffed animals where the giraffe wore a sweater with the Toys R Us logo. I didn’t see any stuffed Geoffrey Giraffes on sale. In fact, I didn’t see much of Geoffrey Giraffe anywhere in this store except for this graphic. It’s obvious that they’ve redesigned him but he looks incredibly lame compared with the Geoffrey Giraffe I knew when I was growing up. It was like someone decided to make Geoffrey into this bland forgettable character that would blend in with a corporate environment. I can’t imagine any child being enthusiastic about this Geoffrey Giraffe.

The Journey Girls are 18-inch dolls that are Toys R Us’ answer to the ever-popular American Girl doll. They cost around $40, which is cheaper than American Girl’s $110 dolls.

Curiously Toys R Us had a section devoted to jewelry from Claire’s (which is a separate retail chain that sells jewelry and other accessories).

Here’s another Toys R Us exclusive I found, a Zoomer robot unicorn.

Naturally Toys R Us had a line of Star Wars toys.

They had a whole shelf full of Sharper Image drones.

Here are some more toys I found at Toys R Us, which includes Wonder Woman, Gremlins, and even a stuffed Godzilla plush.

I remember when Teddy Ruxpin first came out back in the 1980s and I saw news stories about this teddy bear. I was amazed by the animatronic technology back then even though this product was aimed at young children and I didn’t have any young children of my own. Teddy Ruxpin has been re-released and he’s compatible with a smartphone app and Bluetooth.

Toys R Us had a section devoted to bikes, small cars that children could ride in, and rollerblades.

Here’s another shot of an empty store aisle.

Toys R Us had an arts and crafts section including a shelf dedicated to nothing but Crayola products.

A quarter of the store was devoted to Babies R Us, which had cribs, blankets, and other products geared towards infants and toddlers.

Here’s a shot of the hall in the Babies R Us section that has the restrooms.

Toys R Us had a couple of STEM-focused high tech toys that are designed to encourage making and coding but they were pretty small compared to what Target and Best Buy offer.

They had a bunch of shelves devoted to board games. Some were the games I knew from my childhood, such as Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, while others were definitely ones I hadn’t heard of before.

There was an aisle devoted entirely to LEGO products.

This one was another interesting item where you create your own version of a Kinder Surprise Egg.

Toys R Us had toy vacuum cleaners and toy irons for those budding young housewives.

I remember when Zhu Zhu Pets were the big Hot Toy way back in 2009. Like Fingerlings, Zhu Zhu Pets were sold out in stores everywhere just before the holiday season but then they became plentiful once Christmas passed. I haven’t seen Zhu Zhu Pets on sale anywhere in my area in a few years so I was surprised when I found them at Toys R Us.

Toys R Us also had Barbie dolls on sale along with newer dolls, such as the DC Super Hero Girls dolls.

I saw one discount bin full of polar bear Christmas ornaments.

I found a few dolls and plush based on Disney’s Moana movie and Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. video game series.

I decided to make one purchase. The woman at the cash register offered me a free frequent rewards card. I accepted it even though I rarely shop at Toys R Us these days and I don’t know when I’ll make another trip to any Toys R Us store in my area. (Like I wrote earlier, most of those stores are located at least a 30-minute trip from my home.) I have to admit that the card is pretty colorful.

Here’s the one purchase I made. I bought a $15 Fingerlings monkey for the heck of it. I shot a video of the first time I played with this baby monkey, which I’ll write about in my next post.

UPDATE (March 8, 2018): Toys R Us is now seriously considering liquidating all of its stores in the U.S. That chain had recently started doing the same in the U.K. I’m glad I managed to take these photos of the Annapolis store when I did because I now have a time capsule of what a typical Toys R Us store was like when it was in business.

UPDATE (March 14, 2018): It’s official! After 70 years in business, Toys R Us will close its remaining 800 stores, including the one in Annapolis where I took the photos in this post.

UPDATE (April 10, 2018): I made a return trip to the Annapolis Toy R Us store where I was able to compare what I saw on that subsequent trip with the photos I took for this blog post.

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Last week I had to take my car to a dealer in Silver Spring because there was a recall on the steering wheel. After I had that fixed and picked up that car, I decided to chill out at a nearby Target store in Silver Spring. I normally don’t go to this particular store, mainly because there’s another Target that’s located closer to my home but I decided to go there since it was on the way back from the car dealership.

This particular Target has giant red cement dots outside its doors (which is a feature that the Target that is closer to my home doesn’t have). Normally I don’t pay attention to those dots but I saw that two of those cement dots have been converted to resemble the heads of Mario and Luigi from Super Mario Bros. and other numerous Nintendo video games.

The heads were there to promote the recently released Nintendo Switch console system.

I stepped inside the store where I noticed that this store is larger compared to the one I usually go to. It also had items on sale that I’ve never seen at the other Target, such as American Girl’s Wellie Wishers dolls.

Those dolls were released last year but it was the first time I had ever seen them in person. That’s because it’s been a year since I last set foot inside an American Girl Place. The next photo shows the clothes and other accessories that one can buy for a Wellie Wishers doll, which are priced somewhere between $20-25.

The Wellie Wishers are smaller than the other American Girl dolls. From what I’ve read, these dolls were created for kids who are younger than the larger dolls’ target audience of girls between the ages 8-12. These dolls have vinyl bodies (compared to the larger dolls’ cloth torsos) and they are depicted as being somewhere between the ages of 4-7 (while the larger dolls are supposed to be around 9 or 10 years old). At $60 per doll, they are definitely cheaper than the larger dolls’ $115 price. But these dolls are more expensive than the 18-inch Our Generation dolls that Target sells as its alternative to American Girl. (The Our Generation dolls are generally priced between $20-35 depending on how many accessories are included with a certain doll.) I still find them to be pretty cute and their clothes are very lovely and colorful.

I went to two different events on April 23. First I went to the Greenbelt Mini Maker Faire, which I wrote about in my last blog post. Then I went to Silver Spring where I checked out something called a Creator Con, which I first learned about on Facebook.

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

The event was held at the James Hubert Blake High School and the admission price was only $8 per person.

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

There were a couple of food trucks parked outside the school for hungry participants.

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

There was a Game Truck parked outside that has all kinds of video games for people to play. This Game Truck can be rented for all kinds of events through its website.

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

Inside of the convention there were plenty of information regarding art and technology schools, hands-on exhibits (including video games), and an Artist Alley full of various kinds of arts and crafts available for sale. There were also a few cosplayers who milled about. Since this event was held in a high school, the vast majority of participants were high school students. Yet many of these teens showed a lot of potential in their art and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them actually go on to be comic book artists or work in the video game industry.

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

At the Creator Con in Silver Spring, Maryland. #Creator16

Last Saturday I decided to go to Crafty Bastards again for the first time since 2014. This event was subtitled “Cabin Fever” because this event was held indoors (which makes a lot of sense when it comes to Washington, DC in February).

I took the Metro to the NoMa/Gallaudet University station then walked along New York Avenue. I assumed that the venue was within walking distance. Actually it turned out to be at least a half-an-hour’s walk from the Metro station. Along the way I took some photos, such as this structure which graces the overpass on New York Avenue.

Structure at Edge of New York Avenue, NE Overpass

Not too long ago it was considered foolhardy to walk alone anytime in the Northeastern section of DC, especially during the crack epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s. It seemed like there was at least one shooting a week in that area. I still remember when I was taking night classes in an ill-fated effort to study desktop publishing (I finished the certificate but I wasn’t able to find a job in the desktop publishing field) back in the 1990’s. One class I took included a field trip to this printing plant that was in Northeast at the time. The week before that trip we were instructed to go directly to that printing plant and, what’s more, she strongly urged us to drive there instead of taking public transportation because that area as so crime-ridden at the time. We parked in a gated parking lot. The printing plant has since closed and there seems to be a resurgence of Northeast as these pictures show.

Mural on the Side of a Storage Facility

Wall Mural

I happened to stumble upon a really neat vintage shop known as nomad yard collectiv. I didn’t stay too long in that store because of Crafty Bastards but it sells all kinds of really cool vintage stuff.

nomad yard collectiv

nomad yard collectiv

nomad yard collectiv

I did some more walking along New York Avenue as I took these pictures.

National Park Service Brentwood Facility

National Park Service Brentwood Facility

DC Animal Shelter

Ivy City Area

After walking for a half-an-hour from the Metro station I finally made it to the venue in the Ivy City section. Hecht Warehouse once served as the warehouse for the Hecht department store chain. All that changed when Macy’s purchased Hecht and all of the Hecht stores were either converted to a Macy’s store or they were shut down (especially if the stores were located in a mall where a Macy’s already existed). Hecht Warehouse had remained empty for nearly 10 years when a developer decided to try converting it into upscale loft apartments along with building a few retail stores.

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

Right across the street from Hecht Warehouse is a bunch of giant storage boxes with smaller signs announcing the coming of another development known as Hecht Town.

Across From Hecht Warehouse are Signs Announcing Hecht Town

I eventually found a sign leading to the entrance to Crafty Bastards.

Sign to the Crafty Bastards Entrance

Next to the Hecht Warehouse is a MOM (My Organic Market) and a sign announcing the arrival of a Petco that will come soon.

Retail in Ivy City

I eventually found the entrance to the Hecht Warehouse.

Hecht Warehouse Entrance

There were a couple of outdoor food trucks such as this one in the next photo.

Lemongrass Vietnamese Cuisine Food Truck

The inside of the Hecht Warehouse lobby was amazing to behold. The developer took a gritty warehouse and totally remodeled it so it would look pretty upscale complete with a fireplace in the lobby.

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

The lobby even had a bar, which is amazing considering that the Hecht Warehouse is supposed to be an apartment complex and not a hotel.

Hecht Warehouse

There are a few vestiges of its warehouse past but they have been totally integrated into the new design.

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

Hecht Warehouse

I eventually made it to the area where Crafty Bastards was held. Since I arrived after 3 p.m. I only paid $5 admission fee to get in. (The regular price was $10.) Like previous Crafty Bastards this one was also a feast for the eyes and it provided a major challenge to the wallet as well. Here are just a small sampling of what went on at the Crafty Bastards Cabin Fever event.

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

Crafty Bastards at the Hecht Warehouse

I felt really tired by the time I managed to see each vendor booth at least once. Rather than walk for another half an hour in order to get to the NoMa/Gallaudet University stop, I decided to take the Metrobus back. Except the but I got on insisted on going all the way to Fort Totten, which was a half an hour trip. At least I got to sit down that time instead of spending all those 30 minutes just walking.

While I purchased a few things at that event, I was still very careful with how I spent my money since it’s pretty tight these days. I forgot to bring one of my cloth shopping bags from home (which is a big deal since DC has those laws where you have to pay in order to get a paper or plastic bag from any store or vendor) so I purchased this reusable souvenir bag for only $2.

My Crafty Bastards Purchases

I purchased this framed print from fashion designer Jay McCarroll (also known as the winner of the first season of Project Runway). I now have this print hanging in my living room.

My Crafty Bastards Purchases

I got this bar of fairy cakes soap from Dirty Ass Soaps, which smells wonderful.

My Crafty Bastards Purchases

My Crafty Bastards Purchases

I purchased this autographed copy of a book called Goodbye, Penguins by Greg Stones (whom I briefly met at his booth). This book is short but it’s full of twisted humor coupled with delicate illustrations.

My Crafty Bastards Purchases

My Crafty Bastards Purchases

My Crafty Bastards Purchases

And, last but not least, I purchased this dark chocolate candy bar from Harper Macaw, which is a chocolate candy maker based in Washington, DC. What’s really cool is that every Saturday Harper Macaw offers a guided tour of its factory for only $10 a person and it includes chocolate tastings. How cool is that? By the way, I loved that one chocolate bar I purchased.

My Crafty Bastards Purchases

Before the Barbie doll even existed there was Lilli, a German doll that was originally marketed as a sexy novelty item for men.

And speaking of Barbie, Mattel is about to roll out a new line of Barbies that are different from the big bust, tiny waist blonde that we’ve all gotten used to over the years. Some will be more petite, some will be taller, and some will be curvier. In addition, there will be Barbies with different skin colors, hair colors, and eye colors. Here’s a sneak peek of these new dolls. What’s more, this radical change in the Barbie line has resulted in the doll being on the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine.

Want to provide something unusual for your Super Bowl party next week? Here’s a recipe for making Bacon-Chocolate Shot Glasses, which you can fill with the beverage of your choice.

Someone did a stop-motion remake of the first level of the original 1980’s classic video game Super Mario Bros. that was done completely in cake. If you’re wondering how they did that, here’s a separate “making of” video.

Passover

I spent the Saturday before Easter at the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival that’s held every year as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Most of the cherry blossom trees in the area haven’t bloomed yet but it hasn’t deterred people from having a good time at the festival anyway.

I went to the festival back in 2012 and 2013 then skipped last year. The other two years I arrived in the afternoon and hung around until I grew tired. I ended up leaving the festival hours before the fireworks because of fatigue. This year I decided that I really wanted to check out the fireworks in person so I ended up not leaving for the festival until after 4 p.m. So I packed my folding chair, headed to the nearest Metro station, and took the subway to the Waterfront station.

When I first left the station I noticed this nearby building where someone had decorated the windows with cherry blossoms made entirely from Post-It Notes.

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Someone had even done a pretty decent replication of Mario from the numerous Nintendo games like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros.

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It’s been two years since I last walked around the Southwest Waterfront area. I noticed that there was a bunch of construction activity going on.

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I also walked past this Bible preacher urging festival attendees to become Christians.

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I eventually arrived at the entrance to the festival.

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The festival was full of people.

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Since I arrived late in the afternoon, I decided to treat myself to an early dinner. (For once I attended a public event without schlepping food and drink around.) I found a group of food trucks that provided different types of food ranging from Middle Eastern to Korean BBQ to pizza.

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I ended up ordering my food from the truck in the next few pictures. The truck served French crepes under the name Crêpes Parfait. I waited in a long line to order then I was given a number where I had to wait a little while longer until my number was called and I could pick up my crepe. I ordered the chicken crepe with sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, which was definitely worth the wait. I was able to set up my folding chair along the Washington Channel where I ate my crepe while watching the beautiful scenery.

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After I finished eating my dinner I continued to walk around the festival. I saw another group of food trucks in a different area.

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I found a blue truck called Captain Cookie and, on impulse, I decided to treat myself to dessert. I ordered an ice cream sandwich which featured vanilla ice cream in between two snickerdoodle cookies. That ice cream sandwich was incredibly awesome! The ice cream tasted like there was actually vanilla bean mixed in and the snickerdoodles were exquisite. I picked up their business card in the hopes that I somehow run into that food truck again. (LOL!)

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The next photo shows the Washington Channel. The day was pretty lovely in that it was cool enough for a light jacket but it was still a very far cry from that Arctic chill that plagued our region earlier this year.

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I saw that one of the festival sponsors, Proctor & Gamble, was having a booth where they gave away free samples of Tide. I got in the line and picked up a bag full of Tide samples. I won’t have to worry about buying new laundry detergent for a while. (LOL!)

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The only part of the festival that I was disappointed in was that, unlike other years, there was no craft show that was held as part of the festivities. I was kind of looking forward to the craft show only to find that it was eliminated. At first I thought there was a show that ended early until I saw the official program and it wasn’t even listed. As a consolation I took a bunch of photos of the various demonstrations of Japanese-inspired crafts (some of which were hands-on) that were held at the festival along with general sights of the event.

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The official program guide urged visitors wishing to view the fireworks to stake out a place near the Titanic Memorial in order to get the best views and to get to the memorial early. I took that advice and made my way to the memorial.

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I set up my folding chair along the banks of the Washington Channel, where I was treated to a lovely sunset.

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After sunset a bunch of boats with red and blue lights were floating around in the channel.

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The fireworks began at 8:30 p.m. and they lasted between 15-20 minutes (just before the official 9 p.m. close of the festival). The fireworks looked incredibly spectacular along the waterfront. These are just a few of the fireworks that were shot off that night.

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After the fireworks ended I decided to head home. As I was crossing one of the streets at one point, I realized that I was holding the plastic bag containing the Tide samples wrong because Tide samples began to spill out right on to the street where cars were driving by. I managed to pick up a couple of the spilled samples quickly but I couldn’t pick them all up because I didn’t want to risk getting hit by a car. So I had no other choice but to leave a few of the envelopes in the street where they got smashed up under car tires.

Most people who were at the festival were headed towards the Southeast Waterfront Metro Station (many of us heeded the advice of the festival organizers not to drive there because of a lack of parking), which became totally crowded along the platform as everyone waited for the next subway train to arrive. I really lucked out when a car with a door happened to arrive right in front of me so I was able to get right on the train without having to push people. My train car filled up quick, as you can see in the next photo.

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I ended up having to stand for at least the first few stops. I ended up right against the back door leading to the next car. I looked through the window and I saw that the next car was just as crowded as my car was, as you can see in the photo below.

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I was eventually able to get a seat once the Metro got past the L’Enfant Plaza station and hordes of people got off (because that station is a major transfer point). When I got off the Metro and headed towards my car in the parking lot, I saw this lovely full moon.

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I’m glad that I finally saw the fireworks show at the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival. It was the first time I saw fireworks in Washington, DC since the one year, soon after my husband and I were married, we headed off to the Mall on the Fourth of July with a couple of friends from my husband’s job. It was very crowded and it was very hot and humid (I remember it was in the mid-90’s that day). It was pretty uncomfortable the entire day. While the fireworks over the Washington Monument and the Tidal Basin were lovely, it was hell trying to get home after it was all over. It took us at least an hour before we could even get inside the Smithsonian Metro Station and it took another half an hour before we were able to board a train because it was that crowded. My husband and I swore off ever again going to the Mall on the Fourth of July.

In contrast to that one, the Southwest Fireworks Festival was pretty nice. It wasn’t quite as crowded and it was relatively easy to find a decent view of the fireworks. And I didn’t have to wait as long to get on a Metro train either. The only thing I would do differently is that I should’ve brought a blanket because it got pretty cold after sunset. While I was able to put up my hood and place my hands in my jacket pocket, I would’ve appreciated a little bit more warmth. Otherwise, it was a great fireworks show on a pretty lovely day.

Ramadan
Last Saturday I wanted to do something fun after I went through a bunch of CD’s to determine which ones I wanted to keep and which ones I should get rid of after ripping the songs that I really like to my MacBook. The weather was warm but not too hot while the humidity wasn’t too bad either so I decided to go to Artscape in Baltimore. (The fact that the festival was free was definitely a plus for me.) I walked around for a few hours and I mostly had a good time. I also took a whole boatload of photos and I uploaded three videos on to YouTube. So, anyway, here it goes!

Everywhere you went at Artscape there were lots of live music and vendors selling their arts and crafts.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

I took the next few photos of this booth because some of the t-shirts said things like “Poly Girl Rock” and “Run Poly” (the latter is a parody of the famous Run-DMC logo) because one of my friends from my Unitarian Universalist congregation came out publicly as a polyamory person (along with her principal partner whom I also met through my church—I have never met any of their other paramours) and she has given media interviews about polyamory while also leading an organization called Practical Polyamory. I later uploaded these photos to Facebook while I tagged her name.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

There were all kinds of trucks. Some of them sold food and beverages while others provided services like providing free testing for STDs and HIV/AIDS.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

There were also interesting people to photograph on the street as well.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Someone made a statue of a sea turtle using recycled plastic shopping bags.

Artscape 2014

I’d never thought I’d ever see the National Bohemian beer (a.k.a. Natty Boh) mascot rendered in real life.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

There was an area dedicated to building the World’s Largest Art Park where, for a $5 donation, people could paint bricks that will ultimately be used to create such a park. I regretted not doing this myself but money was so tight for me that I had to literally hang on to all the cash that I had on me at the time. I would love to see the entire park when it’s finished.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

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There was this merry-go-round carousel which rotated and it had sculptures of a chicken drumstick, and ear of corn, and a crab claw.

Artscape 2014

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Artscape 2014

There was a protest/community art project where people could write on Post-It Notes what they would prefer the Baltimore City Public Schools to spend its money on other than standardized tests.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

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It was around the time that I took the previous picture that I happened to run into some people I knew from my childhood growing up in Glen Burnie, Maryland who recognized me while I didn’t recognize them until they gave their names. I already wrote at length about that encounter so I’ll just say here that I was less than thrilled with seeing those two women again and I was glad when they left after speaking with me for a couple of minutes. (Too bad I didn’t run into anyone from my college years at the University of Maryland at College Park. I would’ve been way happier and delighted because, to be honest, I prefer my college friends over my childhood friends.)

After they left I faced a dilemma. I had reached the north end at Artspace on Mt. Royal Avenue and there was still more to see on Charles Street. Normally I would walk back down Mt. Royal Avenue towards the Mt. Royal Light Rail Station then walk up Charles Street but I really didn’t want to risk encountering those women from my past again. (My previous post has all the details why I didn’t feel warm and fuzzy about seeing them again.) I looked on the map on my smartphone and found that I was not only close to North Street but I was also close to The Wind-Up Space, where I go to attend the Baltimore chapter of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School. I found that I could walk along North Street towards The Wind-Up Space and turn right on Charles Street and I could pick up the rest of the festival at the other end. So I did just that and I didn’t have any further encounters with those two women from my old neighborhood (nor anyone else from my Glen Burnie days, for that matter). I also took some more photos along the way to North Street.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

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Artscape 2014

As I was walking along North Avenue, I came upon Red Emma’s, a worker-owned cooperative that’s a coffeehouse, vegan restaurant, and bookstore. I usually walk past Red Emma’s whenever I go to Dr. Sketchy’s at The Wind-Up Space but I had never been inside because Dr. Sketchy’s is usually held on a Monday night while Red Emma’s is closed on Mondays. I found that Red Emma’s was opened so I took advantage of a rare opportunity to see what this place was like on the inside.

Red Emma's, July 19, 2014

Red Emma's, July 19, 2014

Red Emma's, July 19, 2014

Red Emma's, July 19, 2014

I found that Red Emma’s is really nice looking and I was impressed with their book selection. The lines were too crowded for me to try the food (actually the lines were crowded at practically every single restaurant, fast food place, and food truck that I encountered during Artscape) and I was too broke to buy a book. I wouldn’t mind returning at a later date when I have more time and more money.

So I turned right on Charles Street and I was able to rejoin the festival.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

There was a fashion area where would-be fashion designers sold their wares from booths, the backs of parked trucks, and even a funky-painted bus.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

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I came upon this cool looking booth for a hardware store called The Loading Dock that recycles materials from construction sites. It’s similar to what Community Forklift close to my home does.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

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Artscape 2014

I came across something called Magfest, which I can best describe as a festival within a festival.

Artscape 2014

This mini-festival is devoted to video gaming.

Artscape 2014

Basically there were video games (some were on computers while others were video arcade games) that people played while a live band played on a nearby stage. There was also a display of video game-inspired art.

Artscape 2014

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I even shot a short video to give people an idea of what Magfest was like.

There was another mini-festival within a festival called The Alternative Art Fair that had all kinds of interesting art that was held on the lower level of a parking garage.

Artscape 2014

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I came across some neat examples of urban gardening.

Artscape 2014

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I found a couple of tents that had a dance demonstration by Arthur Murray, which is legendary in my family. As a teenager, my late aunt had taken dance classes through Arthur Murray and I was told that she was an excellent student. She even did a newspaper ad for Arthur Murray that included her photo and it ran in The Baltimore Sun. Sadly she had to give up those lessons when my grandfather died and money became tight as a result. (If you happened to come across a vintage 1950s Baltimore Sun newspaper and see an Arthur Murray ad featuring a photo of an attractive short-haired brunette named Linda Banahan, that was my late aunt.)

Artscape 2014

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I eventually came up to the art cars that Artscape is well known for.

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The car in the next photo was covered in pennies.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

This car was covered in doodles.

Artscape 2014

This is the same Star Wars themed car that I saw parked outside of a baseball stadium the night that I attended a Bowie Baysox game on Star Wars night last month.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

The Star Wars car also sold science fiction earrings.

Artscape 2014

Yes, it’s a cockroach car.

Artscape 2014

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This vehicle was covered in bottle caps.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

This art car also had art for sale.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

I came across a puppeteer that had a marionette with a big butt and he was making the puppet do some twerking.

Artscape 2014

I even shot a short video of the twerking puppet.

I took more photos of various performers and other things.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

I found a Midway-style carnival games that were all with twists. There was a duck game where the ducks floated around in a pool that resembled the U.S.S. Torsk that’s permanently docked in the Inner Harbor.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

Believe it or not, this next photo is a ring toss.

Artscape 2014

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Then there was a ball toss game called “Political Punk Rock” where people can throw balls at targets that resembled people like Hilliary Clinton, Kim Jong Un, John Boehner, Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, and more!

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

The next photo shows this giant game that was a cross between pinball and a foosball table.

Artscape 2014

There was a pizza variation on the classic game Twister.

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There was a performer named Gregory Morgan who was literally a one-man band. He was quite good at playing all the instruments by himself.

Artscape 2014

I even shot a short video of Gregory Morgan to give you an idea of what he was like.

I took the last few photos before I took the next light rail back to North Linthicum (where my car was parked). I was totally tired by the end.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

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Artscape 2014

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