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DC, day 3: 21 June 2007

Started: 2007-07-18 22:11:45

Submitted: 2007-07-18 22:30:35

Visibility: World-readable

1054 EDT 23 June 2007

Sitting in McPherson Square metro stop waiting for a blue line train to take me to Arlington.

On Thursday, Kiesa got up early, exercised, and headed onto the Mall to get tickets for the Washington Monument. She wanted to go for tickets before the major hoard of twenty-two thousand librarians descended upon the District for ALA and tried to fight with us for tour resources. I ate breakfast at a more leisurely pace and took the Metro downtown, to a Barnes & Nobel with an embedded Starbucks for my morning coffee. Kiesa was successful in her ticket acquisition and rendezvoused with me there. She looked at cookbooks while I caffeinated and we departed for our respective overlapping must-see tours: I wanted to see NPR's weekly tour at 11:00, and Kiesa had a White House tour scheduled for 11:30. (I toured the White House in 1990 and was more interested in seeing the most holy site for vaguely-liberal yuppie news radio.)

I didn't want to miss the tour, so I made sure to show up early — which proved adequate, as I waited fifteen minutes in the lobby for the tour to begin. The lobby featured a display case with an assortment of awards, including five or six Webbies, and a slide show of NPR people, including recognizable names from NPR's flagship news magazines and Jeff Brady, NPR News' Denver correspondent.

1415 EDT 23 June 2007

Now in blue train inbound to DC from Rosslyn.

The NPR tour was fantastic. Steve Allen (whose name I could have misremembered or spelled wrong) led the exceptionally-large tour through the building, starting with studio 4A on the fourth floor (which is the building's largest tour and was to be used by a band interview in fifteen minutes) and then up to the sixth floor. We saw the equipment rooms where the continent-wide network of ISDN lines terminate, allowing correspondents and interviewees to be recorded with clarity, the uplink room for the public radio satellite system, where NPR and other networks uplink their content across the continent. (I couldn't help but think about my role in satellite television as closely related to their shiny new (and not entirely bug-free) system of automatic guide data and non-real-time recordings.) We saw Steve Inskeep interviewing a remote guest and saw cubes and offices for people whose names I recognize from the air. Bob Boilen's office was stacked from floor to ceiling with CD jewel cases.

1759 EDT 23 June 2007

Sitting in the shade on the front steps of the now-closed Hirshhorn Museum. Kiesa just showed up, so I won't be writing any content after all.

2220 EDT 23 June 2007

At the end of the NPR tour, our tour guide solicited listener comments for a possible future NPR advertisement; another NPR guy had fifteen minutes of studio time to record the testimonials. I thought it would be neat to talk in an NPR studio, but I couldn't think of anything to say, so I didn't step forward.

Kiesa finished her short and not too deeply interesting White House tour as my NPR tour was wrapping up. (I think I made the right choice.) I rendezvoused with her in the Old Post Office Pavilion, an awkward neo-Romanesque building my tour book tells me survived just long enough to be considered a historic building, so now we're stuck with it. It turned out all of the embedded fast-food restaurants took cash only (whether because of collusion or some other reason was not apparent) and Kiesa didn't bring her ATM card, so I got Yuppie food stamps and we ate an uninspiring sandwich that would have been much better with enough salt.

We headed south, crossed the Mall, and arrived at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for our scheduled tour at 13:45. After the obligatory metal detector and x-ray screening, we watched a video about printing money, which mentioned that only 5% of the money printed expands the money supply (the rest replaces currency worn out from circulation — the average lifespan of a one dollar bill is a bit over two years) but didn't mention the head-spinning macroeconomic fact that the economy itself is expanding the money supply by loaning money. (Macroeconomic theory may have been beyond the target audience of an agency that advertises itself as "the money factory".) The tour took us into observation galleries above the actual printing presses that create our paper money. I did enjoy the engineering challenge of printing with such precise tolerances.

The tour finished in about half an hour, which gave us plenty of time to hit the small Department of Agriculture visitor's center, in the last agency building left on the Mall. (Recently Kiesa has appreciated the DoA's publications and food plans; I suggested hunting down the people responsible and thanking them personally.) We emerged with the right amount of time left to queue for our scheduled Washington Monument visit at 15:00. When the time arrived, we passed through yet another security screening (for this one, we were instructed to carry our water through the metal detector for reasons that didn't make sense) and rode the elevator to the top observation deck, 500 feet above the ground. I managed to keep my fear of heights in check at the top as I looked through the windows in each of the four cardinal compass directions and spotted various exciting things, like DCA, the Pentagon, and various Federal agencies. On the ride back down, the LCD panels in the elevator doors turned from opaque to transparent and the elevator slowed so that we could get a look at some of the special stones placed on the inner wall of the tower.

As we walked east on the Mall towards the National Air and Space Museum, Kiesa and I debated whether it was warmer than yesterday. I thought it was — there were fewer clouds and I felt warmer. (I managed to remember my Nalgene, which came in handy while traipsing around DC on foot.) After passing through yet another metal detector, we headed for the Treasures of American History, which featured one tiny sample of the history contained in the National Museum of American History, currently closed for renovation until at least next year. The exhibit was mobbed, but it did include EINIAC.

Neither of us wanted to do much more standing or walking, so we checked out the IMAX theater in the museum and bought tickets for Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag, playing in just a few minutes at 16:20. The movie showed American fighter planes dogfighting with each other in mock battles and had a distinct "we're the most powerful air force in the world" subtext. With fantastic, cockpit-eye views of dogfights in IMAX size.

We got out of the movie with a few minutes left before the museum closed, so we wandered around a bit before heading out to one of the few museums open after most of the Smithsonian museums on the Mall close at 17:30: the National Portrait Gallery, collocated with the Smithsonian American Art Museum located off the mall. We didn't take the time to appreciate all of the museum, but we did see Civil War portraits and America's Presidents, the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House.

When the museum closed at 19:00, we headed out in search of food and found a pizza place across the street. We sat in the corner of the crowded restaurant and sat near a pair of librarians, who toasted their first ALA and looked the part perfectly.