The only downside with being in the capital of one of the world’s superpowers? So many things, you cant take photos of. Its kinda understandable this time though… We are standing out the front of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It’s minus 6 degrees, not factoring in the wind chill, which, just in case you were wondering, is a lot of wind chill. Its been snowing, so the wind, which is already crisp feels that much sharper by the time it hits you. My hat could serve better as a handkerchief than a protective layer for my head at this point.
We’re used to it by now, but we walk in to the building and unload all our gear into the x-ray machine. The tour is a few minutes away, so we cram in what fact reading we can before the kick off of the walk through. We find out that when there was a shortage of french currency, they actually used playing cards with certain signatures on it a tradable currency. We found that currency, like pretty much everything else in the world was started in Asia.
The tour gets announced, people sit in these pew-like rows, and the sad and very out of date informational video begins. Legitimately, it would have to be early 90s at best, I rekon.
The video concludes, and our host gets up to begin the tour he picks up the mic, and I can’t tell if he is really nervous, or social awkward. He starts his speech. He has rehearsed his speech. He knows it well. For anyone who has been Big Fat Liar, take note of the teacher in the summer school class that the main character has to attend. You might even be able to just search that scene on youtube. I mean, this guy wasn’t that bad, but he was kinda close.
He wouldn’t even be in his late 20’s, but most of his soulful vitality has since vanished along with the excitement in his voice. My guess is that accepting a job as a tour guide at the money factory wouldn’t have helped overall enthusiasm levels much. While giving his talks at each section, he’d often just dart his eyes between the group and a bit of the floor, then the group and the next bit of floor, then the group, then the next bit of floor.
I began looking for what was on the floor that demanded his attention so badly. Was it something the he hadn’t seen before? Was it something that could be dangerous? Did someone drop something that was valuable? I mean, this bloke is such a pro, he doesn’t even have to think about his speech at all, so whatever is grabbing his attention, genuinely has it, and I want to know what it is.
The tour finished before I was ever able to work it out.
I sure hope he works out what he was looking for too.
Dunno if he ever will, but I really hope he does.
He did give us some ripper facts though. There is 27 acres of floor space in the printing factory, and then down in Texas, there is a whole different factory, which is doing the same thing. 24/7. Its hectic. Interestingly though, even when the currency is finished, it still isn’t actually legal tender until it federal reserve accepts it and enters it into the system. Its just high-tech, fancy paper.
The design of the currency changes every 7-10 years to avoid fraudulent copies being made so easily.
The engravers who design the currency have apprenticeships which last 10 years.
At any one given times, there is unto $300,000,000 in the printing facility.
The notes can be creased over 4000 times before they tear.
Just one sheet of $20 notes is worth $640, and they will load entire stacks of these sheets, almost as high as the average bloke into the printers at a time.
5% of the notes that get printed, get destroyed for various reasons before they even reach the federal reserve bank.
We say thanks to Ol’ mate, and get on our way. He wants to tell us all about how he taught himself to be a linguist, and he could tell that we were from Australia from our accents.
Are you sure that is what gave it away though?
Cos, the last few guys who said they couldn’t tell we were from Australia, were sarcastic as hell, and caught me out. He was proud of himself though. Fortunately for some, and unfortunately for others, this is where his involvement in our day finished.
We head to the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum. I take my scarf and wrap Bec up in a manner that I probably shouldn’t in such the capital of such a high-security-wired nation.
The building looks like giant lego blocks that someone just placed in the middle of Washington. You walk inside though, and you can completely understand why.
These guys have rockets.
Friggin rockets in the foyer.
Who does that? Imagine you go to your mates place, and they have got nice flowers in their foyer. Mate, unless you have got a rocket, I don’t wanna know about it. But seriously, rockets, biplanes, planes that cruise at the edge of the atmosphere, planes that had pedals, instead of engines. All the sorts of planes one could imagine.
We wander for pretty much the whole day, and we are feeling pretty low in the whole energy department, so we think of the best way to fix that issue: a sugar high. We head to the Macca’s, which is conveniently within the building itself. We decide that we wont go troppo. We’ll just get an ice cream cone each, and a small drink, which we will continue to load up with soft drink after soft drink, while we play cards.
That is exactly what we did. We downed about 6 serves of this drink. But thats not the ridiculous part by any stretch of the imagination. The ludicrous bit is that the ice-cream cones that we ordered were $2.20 each. The good Ol’ 50c cone is long gone here. In Australia, at least its still like a 70c cone or something. Its absurd.
We binge on sugar, and feel like we have marginally more energy. Its all well and good, but Bec and I made a rookie error. We wandered around all day, and then went to the Kid’s section. We should have visited the Kid’s section first, and then done the rest of the tour. The Kid’s stuff was off the charts. We got to make balls float in mid air, made baseballs come together just with air, got to test the falling speed of different items etc. etc. The adults don’t get any of the good stuff.
They just expect that we are going to be interested by things like Apollo’s first ever moon landing module. Or how you can measure the height of a star incase you need to use the starts to navigate your way out of trouble, so you don’t die, or something. Whatever, we settle of the Adult’s exhibits for most of the day, and top it off with the kid’s exhibits at the end.
By this point, its getting late in the evening.
We grab our gear, and begin making our way back to Sebastian’s place for the night. As we are heading to the subway, there is this big burly black man who is obviously blind. Another passer-by helps adjust his course to direct him to the escalators, to take him down to the station. I have never in my life seen, or imagined a blind man being as smooth as this guy is.
Sometimes it seems like black dudes just win at life. They can wear anything and pull it off. They are excellent at sports. Excellent fighters. Great dancers. Incredible singers. And now, this blind black guy is even making me look bad at navigating. He gets just two seconds of re-direction from a punter (I usually need a few minutes), then Bec and I watch in disbelief as he kinda just does this hobble down the escalator, landing each foot exactly where he intended on it being.
As one foot lands, the next lifts, and as that lands, the next foot lifts. We watch him reach the end of the escalator, and he taps away at the ground, and occasionally, at people, followed by a “Sorry. I’m sorry” in his Chris Rock-like voice. He’s the kinda guy you can’t not like, and everybody kinda seems to know him. He taps his way along the pavement, and wound seem as though he is heading the wrong direction, and then last minute, changes his course, and corrects where he is headed. The guy is so good that his stick doesn’t even tap the edge of the metro officer’s booth.
The booth is positioned right next to all the turn stalls, I seem him turn for the stalls, but instead runs into a gate. I’m thinking “Ahh. He still has a little bit of refining to do”. But I was wrong. We reaches into his coat pocket, pulls out his ‘let me through this gate’ ID, flashes it to the guys in the booth, and without skipping a beat, walks straight through the waist-high gate.
Bec and I look at each other “This bloke is unreal”, I think to myself.
He is probably just using his stick as an alibi incase something actually happens, cos I haven’t seen him actually use it once. He’s been dodging all the objects that would usually be guiding him. He leaves the gate, and heads directly for the next escalator. Without skipping a beat, he starts blitzing down these steps too. Most people shuffle just out of the way for this guy, and sometimes he might just nick someone, in which case, they are met with a genuine “Oh. I’m sorry”, as he continues past them without missing a step.
I have never seen a blind guy so smooth.
Michael Jackson and D’Angelo can’t be this smooth if they tried.
We pretty much just head to bed when we get home.
This time, the walk isn’t so thug. Sorry. It’s not so exciting anymore.
Come Back Tomorrow,
- Blind guy