DC day 2

Monday morning started with a quick breakfast at the hotel’s coffee shop. David and Mom made a quick run over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to try to get tickets for their tour, which was rumored to be pretty cool. They ended up buying tickets from a scalper, but that was OK in the event because the tour was super– more on that in a minute.

Brief aside: if you’re going to visit DC, you really, really do need to request tickets to things as far in advance as you can. We couldn’t get tickets to the Washington Monument or the White House tour because we just didn’t apply early enough. Six months wouldn’t be too early, in fact. The simplest way to get tickets is to ask your Congressman’s office for help; they arranged our Capitol and Pentagon tours. Anyway…

We walked over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Along the way, we stopped at the headquarters of the US Forest Service, which had probably the friendliest staff of anyplace we visited (plus: lots of Smokey the Bear images, a bonus). A kindly old man gave Mom a Colorado blue spruce seedling as a souvenir. The BEP tour itself was superb: there’s a short film talking about the process by which paper money is made, then you walk through the tour space, which looks down on the various parts of the printing and packaging process. There’s a strictly-enforced no-photography rule, but that’s OK, as the machines themselves aren’t all that interesting. It’s just a bit jarring to see people handling huge sheets and stacks of currency, and very cool to see the process by which they take blank paper (which is illegal for private citizens to possess– see, the tour was educational!) and turn it in to cash money. The last step is called “monetization,” in which the Federal Reserve takes ownership of the currency and makes it “real” money. I was snickering thinking of how my friend Paul Miller would react to that line.

After the BEP tour (did I mention it was fantastic?) we had some time to kill before our scheduled Pentagon tour. We took the Metro to the Pentagon City stop and had lunch in the food court at the Fashion Centre mall. Big deal; it’s a mall, it’s big, yada yada. However, they have a Popeye’s, so I was pretty happy. Back on the Metro, a short ride took us to the Pentagon visitor’s center. Security, as you might expect, is pretty tight. You go into the visitor’s center through a magnetometer and after an ID check to ensure that you’re on the tour list. When you get to the visitor’s center, you assemble with the other people in your tour in an area where photography isn’t allowed (well, except of one side of the room where there are some static displays.) Then you’re assigned to a guide. Our guide was a nice, exceptionally young, Air Force airman from Nebraska. He did a terrific job of leading us through the tour, walking backwards the entire way. The tour itself is mostly unremarkable. I mean, sure, it’s cool to be inside THE PENTAGON, but the corridors the tour passes through don’t have much interesting stuff in them except for quilts sent after the 9/11 attacks. Speaking of which, the most important part of the tour (IMHO anyway) is the trip to the 9/11 memorial room. It was a moving reminder of the lives lost in that attack. The boys’ favorite part was learning that the snack bar in the Pentagon courtyard was once thought by the Soviets to be the entrance to an underground bunker complex; as a result a large megatonnage of commie hardware was pointed at the hot dog stand.

After the Pentagon, we made our way on the Metro to Arlington National Cemetery. There are no words to describe this, really. We were able to see the guard mount, changing of the guard, and the laying of a new wreath, at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Despite the large audience, there was a spirit of reverence there that’s hard to describe. As much as I like to talk trash about the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the troopers of the Third Infantry Regiment did a marvelous job. (Disclaimer: I skipped the Kennedy gravesites on the tour.) The sheer expanse of the place is kinda mindblowing, too, though it makes sense when you think of how long Arlington has been used as a national cemetery.

By the time we got done at Arlington, we were all ready for a break, so we retreated to the hotel for a swim. Monday’s dinner was at Carmine’s, a family-style Italian restaurant on 7th Street. The food was superb, and there was certainly a lot of it– we ordered the cold antipasto (which I’d skip next time), the country-style rigatoni, and the veal scarpaccio with angel hair. We couldn’t eat it all, which tells you something about how much food there actually was. We all left happy and stuffed. Then back to the hotel to stack some serious Zs– we were all tired after another full day.

(side note: I’ve posted pictures to Flickr, so they appear in the “photos” section of the page sidebar. It’s more trouble than it’s worth to embed them in the body text right now. Sorry!)

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