I did a lot in Washington yesterday. In fact, based on the estimated number of miles I walked (approximately fifty million) and the amount of food I ate (almost nothing except coffee), I believe I have already lost 20 pounds. This is a nice reversal from my normal vacation tendencies.
Here’s what I did with my time in the capitol yesterday:
8:15 AM: Bureau of Printing & Engraving Tour
This is where paper money comes from! They mentioned they print other stuff here too, like passports and whatnot, but that’s boring. What’s not boring is watching thousands and thousands of dollars roll out of a machine like someone determined to print every single page on Wikipedia.
I also learned how much I’m worth in terms of stacked $100 bills: about $1.8 million.
My single favorite moment during the tour was a cheeky sign posted over one of the printing stations: “Just imagine how I feel. I just printed my lifetime salary in a few minutes.”
11:30 AM: White House Tour
The time stamp here doesn’t account for the two hours we spent walking and deciding whether or not we wanted to wait in line for a Washington Monument tour (we didn’t). We also spent some time walking around to find a Starbucks and then we walked around the White House and looked at it from the outside.
And then it was time for our tour!
First impression: holy shit, you know in your mind that the Secret Service is going to have good security but your mind is probably way off base just how little these guys fuck around. A member of our little band was in a wheelchair and since the White House was built long before ADA compliance was a thing, the tour had to work a bit to accommodate us.
That meant when it was time to go upstairs, rather than follow the tour route, a Secret Service officer led us through a staff area, through a kitchen (!) and down some other corridors into a service elevator. You’re kind of used to security guys putting on this fake sunshine thing when dealing with tourists, pretending to be all “I’m really happy to answer your questions, citizen” when you know they’re thinking about all the ways they’ll kill you if you try to fuck with anything. This guy was serious business. “Stand here.” “Walk forward to that door, wait there.” “Walk forward. Stand.” And he said it in such a way that even I, an incorrigible iconoclast, was compelled to obey without question or sarcasm.
He looked like a math teacher, maybe mid-forties and balding, but I’m pretty sure he was the single most lethal individual I’ve ever personally met. It was impressive as hell.
Anyway, let’s focus on the White House itself!
I had that surreal feeling of familiarity even though I was (obviously) in a place I’d never ever been inside before. It’s pretty amazing how much the White House seeps into the cultural consciousness through television in movies, not to mention actual political state functions. I’ve seen all these rooms before; now I’m actually here. Now I’m standing in the halls of power. Many of the most influential people in recent history have walked here where I now stand.
My favorite part ended up being the various Presidential portraits hung through the White House. On our drive into DC, we’d had a discussion about our “Top 5 favorite presidents and why”, so it was fun to pick out where our favorites were hanging.
I mentioned before that the Secret Service guys were absolutely all business. When we reached the end of the tour, I asked where to return the wheelchair we borrowed. The Secret Service agent told me to take it around the White House and back to the visitor’s entrance outside the south lawn. That meant taking it off the property and down the street. He also advised me not to consider taking a White House wheelchair as a souvenir.
I was contemplating the strangeness of this routine (did they do this for all wheelchair guests?) as I pushed the chair down the sidewalk around the Treasury building. Apparently, they do not, because when I pushed the chair up to the visitor’s entrance, the Secret Service agent there cracked up laughing.
“Wow,” he said. “Nobody ever brings it all the way around like that.”
“This isn’t the normal way to return these chairs?” I asked.
“Nope,” he says, still laughing. “I can’t tell you how rare this is. Thanks for returning it, though.”
1:45 PM: The Library of Congress Tour
The Library of Congress was on my list of “must-see” places since, you know, I work for a library. The Library of Congress is practically like a temple to my kind. It has the most ancient books, the coolest collection, and the most profound names attached to its history.
As a building, it’s also freaking gorgeous. It’s literally a temple.
The walls and ceilings are works of art, to say nothing of the actual art that’s filling that place. Sculptures abound. I mentioned how the Arlington Cemetery gave me a feeling of the sacred that had nothing to do with deities. This was a similar feeling. There are sacred books, of course, but this was a feeling that books themselves are sacred regardless of content.
My favorite part was browsing Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection. Or maybe it was looking at a Guttenberg Bible. It’s so hard to decide! I think I’m going to have to go with Guttenberg, since that represented what could be argued as the single most important invention in human history.
I took a nap at the hotel room. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I passed the fuck out for a few hours.
7:00PM: The Marine Corps Band
We went to the Marine Corps barracks to watch a field parade and rifle demonstration. The phrase “rifle demonstration” is my own and I’m not sure it really describes what I was seeing. They don’t actual fire the rifles. Twirling also feels wrong. Imagine several hundred people moving in perfect unison, executing crisp and complicated movements with 10 pound rifles. That’s about as close as I can get.
The Silent Drill Platoon (I might be wrong on the name) was the most impressive of all, not only because they had the most precision and the most complicated movements, but because they did all of it in perfect silence without a drum or a sergeant to coordinate their movements.
We arrived back at the hotel and I crashed again. I had a weird dream that I was opening a video game themed restaurant but it was invaded by bears which chased away all my customers.