Up early again, 5:45 a.m., and off to the metro we went at 6:15 a.m. Ouch! We had 8:30 a.m. tour tickets for the Bureau of Engraving, and I didn’t want to miss it. We got off on a stop near the Washington Monument, took a left on 14th, and there it was – just where I remembered it! Now it has a strange entrance. It had security, of course, scanners and “stare-ers” as I call them, but it was as if they had built a glass box onto a beautiful old building. They obviously needed more room for the visitors entrance, but it was ugly!
We watched the video presentation and learned how money is produced. The bills are made here, the coins elsewhere. We knew it cost more than $1 to create a $1 bill, but we didn’t know there were 13 unions in place to ensure that they still get made. We also didn’t know that they are made of 75% cotton and 25% linen. Fraud requires that the production be one step ahead of the counterfeiters, so they make changes to the bills frequently. There are 7.2 billion notes printed each year, and 95% of them are to replace old ones that come out of circulation. Only 5% is actually new money. We had no idea.
The walking tour itself is tightly timed, so questions weren’t encouraged. We walked above one production line that exists for visitors to see, while the other 10 lines are hidden away in the buildings nearby. We all agreed that it would be a boring job, doing the same thing repeatedly, and yet the bills have to be perfect, so you’d have to stay alert. The part of the tour that I really wanted the kids to see was no longer there: it used to be that someone would stand over the bills as they roll by on huge sheets and if they saw an error, they would just pull the whole huge sheet off and drop it on the floor. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t believe it! Throwing money on the floor? For a starving intern, that was amazing to see. I had told the kids about it and I really wanted Nate to see it – to know that money is just paper. From this grand old age, my perspective has changed so much. It’s just paper. Paper. Paper to which we attach a value. I used to value it too highly, until I figured out that time is more precious than money. But, blah, blah, back to the tour. They’ve replaced the “eyeball” check with a computer, of course, and seeing the bills printed wasn’t impressive to the kids – as they keep saying on this trip – they could “Google it”! Argh!
Luckily we did find something impressive in the gift shop. An employee with Raymond embroidered on his denim work shirt was standing near an old counter, in front of a Spider Press, the original press that made our first bills. (They call them notes. Not bills or money.) He showed us how they made them and told us that each operator was expected to make their quota of 120 notes each day. And they HAD to be perfect, or they wouldn’t get paid for them. Raymond took the time to really talk to Nate and show him how it was done. It’s art. Pure and simple. The man who carved the actual stamp/image worked for over a year to get it right and it’s a beautiful scene. Nate’s eyes could see the detail in it, but Raymond consoled me by mentioning that most adults can’t see all the detail. We were able to buy the one Raymond made for Nate and he’s going to frame it when we get home. Once again, what I thought would be interesting wasn’t, but we found something better!
The next stop was the Old Smithsonian building,The Castle, but it has been turned into a visitor’s center, so we were in and out quickly. As we left, we stopped in a little room and paid our respects to the man who started all the Smithsonians – British Scientist James Smithson. When he died in 1829, he left his wealth to a nephew, who in turn left it to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.” Congress accepted the legacy, and for 8 years they fought about how to put it into action. (Only 8 years? That’s fast for Congress!) John Quincy Adams had a hand in saving it after the funds were invested and lost in Arkansas bonds, and President James Polk signed the legislation in 1846 creating the Smithsonian. The rest is history that thousands of school children and tourists like us visit each year. Thank you, Mr. Smithson.
As we walked down the mall, I told the kids about the interesting people I met here, numerous fascinating stories of living here, how incredible it was to learn first hand how our government works, (and doesn’t work), and how much fun it was to play softball on the mall. There were enthralled, I’m sure, but were grateful that the Hirshhorn Museum was close and our next stop. First we had to walk all the way around it to find the entrance. There were statues outside that I really wanted to stand beside and mock for a picture, but there weren’t any other tourists around, so I could see all the guards inside watching us. Darn.
We entered to find everyone watching us, and as we went up the escalators to the top floor, I heard one grumbling that “kids are supposed to be in school by now.” Really? I think they are in school now! They are learning more on this trip than they would at home!
One of the current exhibits was called “Speculative Forms” and we tried to hide our giggles and comments from the ever present guards. We just kept saying, “This is art?” “Someone paid money for this?” And Dan’s famous, “What a waste of good real estate.” We have been telling Nate and Eliza for years that art is subjective and to enjoy it in various forms, but this was hysterical.
We actually liked this one – best of the whole exhibit. Others included were a long slab of cement, a block of wood, a stand, and various empty vessels. When we went to the basement to see another exhibit, I was yelled at by a guard for trying to take a picture of a race car that a guy had painted; it wasn’t owned by the museum,and the owner didn’t want other people having pictures of it. Really?!
By this time we were hungry, so we headed to my old cafeteria in the Longworth House Office Building. We went in through the Rayburn HOB and security, and I was able to find my way underground again. Not bad for 29 years later! They have just finished a remodel of the cafeteria, so it was nice. I remember that it was always crowded, smelled funny, and was cheap. We all picked out lunch and headed over to a table to eat. I listened to the people at the other end of the table discuss who was going to call on which congressman and at what time and memories flooded my mind of similar people coming into Congressman Denny Smith’s office each day. I’d had a blast working in his office, with some of the nicest people, and couldn’t wait to show it to the kids.
So after lunch we went upstairs to 1213 Longworth – Denny’s old office. It is currently the office for Puerto Rico, but much to the kids’ chagrin, I opened the door, asked if I could show my family where I worked, and in we went. They were very nice about letting us see it, and I couldn’t believe how small it was. We fit so many people in there! I told the kids how much fun it was to work there, how cool it was to help so many people from Oregon, and how very early one morning before work Donna and I had taken Dean’s desk, ALL OF IT, and set it up in the hallway. When he arrived, we could tell he was about to explode, so we barricaded ourselves in Denny’s office. Then we helped move it all back in…that was a fun day.
We had a 1:15 tour of the Capitol scheduled with Lizzie, so we hustled over to Congressman Greg Walden’s office, 2182 Rayburn. Nice corner office, and much bigger than Denny’s digs! D.C. is all about seniority. Greg’s been in office since 1999, and is doing an incredible job for Oregon. He’s also been honored with national party positions, and he deserves accolades for his hard work . For those who scream “term limits”, let me explain that when people stay in Washington for longer than 2 years, they understand how it works and they are actually able to DO GOOD for others. If you have people rotating in and out of office, they don’t know what they are doing! It takes awhile just to figure out the system.
We went into Greg’s office, met Lizzie, and waited for the others who would be touring the Capitol with us. It turned out that the House had just adjourned, so we went outside the Capitol and waited to say hello to Greg. I was happy to see him, but a little sad, too. Yes, it had been 29 years, and yes, he had a cold, but to see the toll that public service takes on a person was very hard for me. He works so hard for others, and is doing it so well. Truly a good guy.
On the Capitol steps with Congressman Greg Walden, on the House side, of course. The scaffolding behind us is to fix the dome after the earthquake years ago. So kind of him to take the time to see us, and so fun to see an old friend. Plus, it is one gorgeous old building!
Lizzie took us on a tour of the Capitol, and I was delighted to see that she did the EXACT same tour that I would give Oregonians when I had her job. So funny! I could have given it word for word! With all the extra security now, I wouldn’t have been able to take us where we went, however, so we were grateful for the short tour.
It was almost 4 p.m., and we were exhausted , so we walked past Senator Hatfield’s old office in the Hart Office Building, did a quick swing through a renovation-in-progress Union Station, and caught the metro home. Another perfect day!