Arlington, VA

We get it, 2020 was not a great year in many respects. But it was without a doubt a momentous year in both local and national history.

It took a little while to compile, but ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott has created a video (above) highlighting some of the photos that defined 2020 in Arlington. The music is of Jay’s creation as well.

“2020 was, at least for me, a year of challenges. Relentless challenges,” Westcott said, of his experience photographing the area throughout the year. “The pandemic has reshaped our world, we’ve been forced to rethink ways of going about daily life. It’s been a year of pain and loss, a year of grief and anxiety. But watching Arlington as it adapted to the lockdown and pandemic, and watching people together for each other was inspiring and amazing to witness. I am proud to call Arlington home.”

For a look back at the most-read articles of the year, see our Top 30 Arlington Stories of 2020 countdown.

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Photos: Snow in Arlington

Arlington had its first measurable snowfall of the season today, offering some natural beauty before the sleet and rain washed much of it away.

Snow started falling from the overcast sky around 10:30 a.m. today, and small crystals turned into big flakes by noon.  The roads, some treated and some not, became slick as the afternoon went on.

ARLnow staffers, including photographer Jay Westcott, saw a few fender benders while we were out and about, along with a few cars failing to make it up hills in neighborhoods. Perhaps heeding warnings from local officials, not many people were out and about today, which is a good thing.

The amount of snow that fell varies depending where in Arlington you were. At National Airport, the official National Weather Service measurement was a “trace.” Elsewhere in the county, there were separate reports of a half-inch, 1 inch and 1.5 inch, with the larger amounts further north.

Though it’s raining now, the snow may not be done. Forecasters say another round tonight may drop another inch or so of snow before the storm passes and the precipitation stops.

Staff photographer Jay Westcott contributed to this report

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It’s a sight that still stands out for its oddness: a huge parking garage normally packed with cars, almost totally empty.

Six months ago, at the springtime height of the pandemic in Arlington, ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott embarked on a photo essay project to document some of the eerily abandoned office and retail parking garages in Arlington.

At the time, there was just too much news to report and we never ended up publishing the photos. Until today.

Above is a look back at the empty parking garages of Arlington, amid the coronavirus lockdown. Below are Jay’s recollection of the assignment.

When I look through these pictures of empty parking garages, taken back in April and early May, I remember how it felt to be in them: cold, lonely, nervous. Despite being public garages, they were closed because of the stay at home order. Nobody was going in the buildings around them, and without cars the weirdness that is an underground parking garage or a multi-level above-ground garage is reduced to its basic elements: concrete and columns.

These parking garages might be getting more use now, six months later. And maybe one day they will have bike races in them again. One can only hope.

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Even COVID-19 could not stop an opportunity for adorable pet photos around the holidays.

During two weekends in November, local pet owners can get family portraits ready for seasons-greetings cards with the holiday edition of Porch Portraits, a pandemic-proof fundraiser by the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

“Have a holiday pajama party, bring out your favorite party looks, deck your pet in their holiday gear, any holiday fun you’d like to capture,” the announcement from AWLA said.

The organization has hosted holiday “Pet Pawtrait” sessions before, but this year will look different: The event will span three days and will be socially distanced. Sessions will take about 10 minutes, with a minimum donation of $100, and participants will receive at least three professional digital images within 10 days.

As holidays approach and the pandemic continues, AWLA is focused on supporting the community as people cope with job losses, including via its pet pantry and veterinary support, AWLA Events Coordinator Hollie Dickman said.

“We never want food or resources to stand in the way of people keeping their pet,” she said. “We want to keep pets with the people who love them as much as we can, especially during holidays and COVID-19.”

Sessions are open for Nov. 14, 21 and 22 and participants must be residents of Arlington or Alexandria. Registration for sessions on Nov. 14 end Sunday, while registration for the weekend of Nov. 21-22 ends next Sunday, Nov. 15.

Participants select the date, but AWLA will coordinate times so photographers can do back-to-back sessions in the same neighborhood. Times may range from 8 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.

Those who want to notify AWLA of times that do not work for them are asked to contact Dickman at [email protected]

Participants must have a porch in front of their house or an outdoor area, such as a park, in front of their condo or apartment complex where pictures can be taken.

All portraits will be taken from a 6-foot distance with no direct contact between the photographer and the household, the announcement said.

Local photographers Mike Leonard, Jeremy Robin and Erinn Shirley will be taking the portraits.

This is the second socially-distant porch portrait session AWLA has run to raise funds this year. The first occurred in May, two months into mandated restrictions due to COVID-19.

Leonard had been doing porch portraits during the pandemic and asked to donate his services to AWLA as a fundraiser, Dickman said. The impromptu fundraiser generated $3,000 from 25 participating families.

“I thought that was a great success,” she said. “We are anticipating a similar turnout, we hope to see that $3,000 raised again.”

Family portraits courtesy of Hollie Dickman. Christmas dog (top) via AWLA/Facebook.

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Nearly 25% of respondents to a recent ARLnow poll said they were either decorating less or not at all this Halloween season.

Around Arlington, however, there is no shortage of spooky decor. That is particularly true along the traditional haunted hotspot of N. Jackson Street in Ashton Heights, despite plans to scale back the Halloween night revelry there this year.

ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott noticed that fewer houses along N. Jackson Street were decorated this year, but those that have decorated did so with the usual ghoulish gusto.

“The ones that have decorated have certainly gone all out,” Westcott said. “Lots of ghouls and ghosts and plenty of skeletons are out and about.”

Westcott has also seen signs at some houses waving off trick-or-treaters altogether. Another ARLnow poll from a month ago suggests that just under half of respondents are planning to sit this year out in terms of distributing treats to roving bands of children. Just over 36% said they’ll be leaving treats out for trick-or-treaters to grab, and about 17% said they’ll answer the door and distribute treats as usual — something health officials discourage.

Arlington has no plans to regulate Halloween activity this year, beyond enforcement of existing state health guidelines, but the county is strongly discouraging large groups and parties.

Other than N. Jackson Street, where are you seeing particularly festive Halloween decorations this year? Let us know in the comments. Here is one honorable mention, and here is another.

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The following was written by ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott, before he underwent successful hip surgery on Tuesday. Jay is doing well and about to start physical therapy. We expect him back on the Arlington beat in September.

I’ve been trying to write about the last four months or so for a few days now. It seems like a blur, right? Or maybe it just seems that way because staring at a blank screen for days has made everything blurry. Now then, where are my glasses?

Four months ago, toward the end of February, someone dear to me died. She suffered a long illness and I documented things along the way, trying to make sense of what was happening the best way I know how: through a lens.

One week after the funeral, Virginia was in lockdown because of Covid-19. I hit the ground running with an N95 mask and my cameras and with that same purpose, trying to make sense of what was going on by getting to work and documenting things as best as I can through my lens.

The running part has been difficult, let me tell you.

About 11 years ago, when I was living in Westover, I quit smoking. Awesome, right? I knew that I needed a lifestyle change and that regular exercise had to be a part of it. I never really cared for running and being so close to the Custis Trail I figured I would get a bike and see how it went. I instantly fell in love with the freedom and the speed and I rode all the time. I loved it. I even joined the Arlington-based cycling club Squadra Coppi and started racing.

In the fall of 2010 I started feeling pain in my hip. It got progressively worse and in 2011 I learned I had a condition called Femoral Acetabular Impingement. My femoral head and hip socket were shaped abnormally, limiting my range, and the repetitive motion of cycling likely exacerbated things tearing the tissue in my socket. I had arthroscopic surgery at Virginia Hospital Center in July 2011 to reshape my femoral head and acetabulum and pin down the soft tissue. After 9 months of recovery and physical therapy I was able to throw a leg over a bike again. I even raced one month before the first anniversary of my surgery. I finished 22nd, but on the lead lap. 😉

Fast forward to the spring of 2018 and I started having that familiar intense pain in my left hip again. Between dealing with the Veterans Administration health care system and moving for a job, it wasn’t until December 2018 that I had another arthroscopic surgery to remove bone growths and repair tears in my hip socket. I was out completely for 8 weeks and wore a brace for 12 weeks, locking it straight when I slept.

The results of that surgery have not been so great. Despite two rounds of physical therapy I deal with daily, continuous pain in my hip. It’s gotten progressively worse, to the point where I am having trouble sleeping. In early February I learned that I would need another arthroscopic surgery or possibly a replacement. Then Covid-19 hit. A telehealth appointment in March ended with the VA telling me to “come back after coronavirus, maybe June?”

While covering 7 protests in 7 days at the beginning of June, I also saw a couple hip specialists and had a 3D CT scan. I’ve literally worked myself to the bone for you, Arlington! The consensus is that while I could probably have another arthroscopic surgery, the recovery is very long and at some point soon I’m going to need a replacement anyway. It might as well be now.

I’m scheduled for an anterior approach total hip replacement on July 7 with Dr. Gautam Siram at an outpatient surgery center in Bethesda, Md. I’ll be out completely for 6 weeks, and will be on some form of light duty after that for a number of weeks depending on how my recovery goes. He’s a Washingtonian “Top Doc” and came highly recommended, and accepts my insurance. Luck be a lady tonight.

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We asked our staff photographer, Jay Westcott, to document a pair of notable events Friday in Arlington.

First up: the partial reopening of local restaurants and businesses. After that, a Marymount University graduation parade down N. Glebe Road.

The photos are above. Here is what Jay wrote about what he saw around the county:

I spent the bulk of my day walking around Clarendon and Ballston with restaurants preparing to open as the county proceeds into Phase One of reopening. There weren’t as many people eating lunch outside as you would normally expect on a balmy late May afternoon, in fact there weren’t many at all. A couple of tables of folks at Northside Social, a few tables at Circa in Clarendon. There still seems to be sense of anxiety in the air about what’s next. It’s palpable.

As I was walking up Wilson Blvd I spotted a bright white cap and gown. I caught up to the young man, Josh Cisneros, and made a picture of him about to cross the street as we got caught at the light. We got to talking and he is graduating today from Wakefield High School. He looked around for a minute, hoping to spot someone familiar to take his picture with his phone, but he found none. Well, I wasn’t about to let that stand. I made a few pictures of Josh in his cap and gown, with his diploma, on his graduation day. Congratulations, young man!

At lunch I made pictures of Marymount University’s Class of 2020 parading in cars with a police escort down Glebe Road. Sirens wailed, horns honked, and lights flashed. Grads cheered out of sunroofs and side windows, some filmed TikToks. Later Friday, I swung by the Village at Shirlington and photographed groups of people on outdoor patios, enjoying a first dinner out since mid-March.

What I saw today was Arlingtonians adapting and going forward. We have to, right? Be safe, be kind. Keep the faith, keep wearing masks, keep washing your hands.

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Another week has passed, and Arlington is still at least partially locked down.

But it feels like the dam has sprung a leak. The roads seem busier, more and more people are getting outside as the weather gets warmer, there are still plenty of people out shopping for food and other essentials, and there’s a sense that everyone is ready to resume something closer to normal life.

Our staff photographer Jay Westcott has been observing life in Arlington during the pandemic. Here’s his latest weekly dispatch.

I keep thinking back to late February and early March for many reasons, some deeply personal, but also because for Arlington, it was our last opportunity for “normal” life pre-coronavirus.

I think about all the interactions I had on any given day, driving around Arlington County and documenting what’s going on in this great community. How many parking meters did I touch? How many cashiers handed me receipts and change and credit cards and groceries? How many elevator buttons did I push? How many door knobs and handrails did I grab? Crosswalk signals pushed?

How we interact with each other and with things will be altered going forward. I hate the terms “reopen” and “go back” because those words imply that the threat is gone. Folks, the threat is still present. Testing still lags significantly here in Arlington.

This is where we adapt our behavior, so we can overcome. Yes, businesses need to figure out a way to operate, but the priority has to be practices that negate the spread of the disease. Since we don’t seem to have any clear guidelines coming from the federal level, it’s taken time to make a plan.

Scientists still don’t fully understand this disease. It may be causing illnesses in children that are similar to Kawasaki disease. We have to adapt our behavior until the rate of infection has decreased significantly. We have to have enough testing in place and we have to be able to contact trace and isolate those infected.

I also keep thinking about about this quote from this Atlantic article: “Models show that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective, easily achievable with cloth, we can get to an effective R0 of less than one.” What’s so challenging about that?

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If this were a Navy deployment, we’ve reached the part where “scuttlebutt” starts to spread throughout the ship.

Rumors and innuendo on where we are going and what the mission might be run rampant, especially through the lower ranks and the people who are the least likely to actually know what’s going on.

In times like this, the captain of the ship would address the crew and reassure all the sailors under his command that things would be alright. We would get through the tough times together, and he would tell us we needed to stay focused on what is important. He would remind us to stay safe, follow our procedures and protocols, and listen to our leadership and follow orders.

Some of that leadership seems to be lacking at the federal level, and at the state level things vary so drastically from state to state that it’s hard to make sense of what to do. Here in Arlington, cases are going up though the rate at which they are going up is declining ,at least for now.

The CDC recommends wearing face masks when going out in public places, where maintaining six feet distance from others is difficult and unlikely. If everybody wears masks, the rate of transmission drops. And as this Atlantic article points out, “If 80 percent of the people wear masks that are 60 percent effective… that’s enough to halt the progress of the disease.”

We can’t be complacent, we can’t look at this and say “let’s get back to what was” or “we need to re-open.” Until there is a vaccine that eradicates this virus, we have to learn how to adapt to living with it as a potential risk to each of our lives.

A training mantra in the military is “adapt and overcome.” In this case, until there is adequate testing and contact tracing, we have to adapt our routines and wardrobes to include staying away from people you don’t live with by at least six feet and wearing a face mask. It’s really that simple. This is the “adapt” part. Let’s do our part to adapt until those at the helm of our research find a vaccine that can overcome this.

This past week, in my observations, more Arlingtonians seem to be wearing masks. People are keeping six feet apart from each other, mostly. The cost of the flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds last weekend can be debated ad nauseam, but it was nice to share in a collective moment, together. As long as you were six feet away from strangers.

Jay Westcott is ARLnow’s staff photographer. See more of his work on our Instagram account.

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Morning Notes

More Arlingtonians Getting Out of the House — “The District and its suburbs all saw an increase in travel and a 1 percent to 5 percent drop in people staying home by April 17. The biggest drop occurred in Arlington County, where 50 percent of residents stayed home, down from 55 percent the previous Friday.” [Washington Post, @Matt4Arlington/Twitter]

County Launches Homeless Outreach Effort — “Last week, Arlington launched a homeless outreach coalition to help identify unsheltered individuals at high risk for COVID-19 and connect them with available resources and services. The coalition is comprised of stakeholders from the Police Department, Department of Human Services, and Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN).” [Arlington County]

YHS Senior Photos on CBS Evening News — “For America’s nearly four million high school seniors, the end of this school year is not what they imagined would be. But as Chip Reid reports, one photographer is making sure some members of the class of 2020 are not forgotten.” [CBS News]

Dem Primary May Be Called Off — “Chanda Choun, who was slated to face off against incumbent Libby Garvey in the June 23 Democratic County Board primary, anticipates pulling out of that race to seek the Democratic nomination for the July 7 special election to fill the seat left open by the death of Erik Gutshall… if Choun does drop out, the Democratic primary will be nixed.” [InsideNova]

Video: School Board Candidates Forum — “The questions covered a wide range of topics – whether/how much new curriculum should be taught during the COVID-19 crisis; how best to feed families during the pandemic; distance learning access during and after the pandemic; equity initiatives; equality in the classroom; encouraging integrated classrooms; AP and IB classes; community engagement; boundaries; sex education; and the superintendent’s contract.” [Blue Virginia]

School Board Rejects Furlough Day Proposal — “Arlington School Board members on April 23 rejected a budget-cutting proposal from Superintendent Cintia Johnson that would have had every school-system employee take an unpaid ‘furlough’ day in the coming school year. Instead, the school system will use about $3 million in reserve funds to pay staff that day and fund several other initiatives that Johnson had recommended reducing or eliminating.” [InsideNova]

Amazon Donates to Va. Comp Sci Education — ” Amazon will donate $3.9 million to CodeVA through 2022 to support their long-term plan to offer computer science education and training to every high needs school across Virginia – more than 700 schools… The donation will support more than 500,000 students and more than 12,000 teachers.” [BusinessWire]

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