We ran into Duffy while eating ice cream one afternoon prior to our trip. We told him of our plans, and the major sites we hoped to see. Duffy, ever the comedian, said “Don’t forget the Mint! You can ask for free samples!” The twins laughed very hard at this, and the Mint became fixed in Tyler’s mind as a mandatory component of our trip.
Tuesday morning I woke extra early in order to get in line for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to obtain tickets for admission to the tour. When the alarm went off at 5:30 AM Tyler, lying in the bed next to me, exclaimed “Stupid!” She was clearly dreaming, but I took her outburst as prophetic: who would really get in line by 6 AM for this thing? I snoozed for a bit, before finally showering and then riding the metro. On my way across the Mall I saw that the line for tickets to the Washington Monument was already staggeringly long. I arrived at the Bureau right around 7 AM. I stopped counting the people in line when I reached 100. I simply took my position at the end, and hunkered down to wait.
By 7:45, there were probably three hundred people in line. The Bureau only dispenses about 600 tickets per day, and most of the folks in line were collecting tickets for their families, just like me. Around ten till someone came out to tally up how many tickets each person wanted. About twenty people behind me he announced “Okay, that’s it. No more tickets left. The rest of you need to come back tomorrow.” The line suddenly truncated, and a large crowd slowly dispersed. For the next 40 minutes, people continued to trickle toward the line, only to be turned away.
I got tickets for the 10:15 tour, and then immediately felt a bit lost. I had nothing to do until the tour started! It would have been foolish to spend the time and the $1.35 to take the metro back to the hotel. None of the Smithsonian buildings were open. I wandered about, got coffee and a bagel from a cafe nowhere close to the Mall, and then strolled back. I still had another 40 minutes to waste, so I simply sat and waited at the entrance to the Bureau. Carina and the twins finally arrived, and we went in to the tour.
Having worked in a commercial printing facility for a number of years, the operation that I saw wasn’t entirely fascinating. Nor did I see anything that really justified the strict prohibition against any photography inside the building. The process of Intaglio printing was new to me, but the other aspects of printing the currency was largely just offset printing. Tyler, however, was engrossed in the process. The tour was very obviously one of the high points of the trip for her, and I’m glad we made the time to do it. Tayler, too, enjoyed the tour. She’s often asked questions like “what’s the largest bill ever made?” The tour guide cheerfully announced that bills larger than $100 are no longer printed, and haven’t been in circulation in decades. The only way to acquire them now is through collectors.
After that, we stuffed ourselves into the van and headed home. Without a doubt, this was the best family trip we’ve ever taken. The kids were positively delightful: very little fighting or bickering, only a little bit of whining, and they were genuinely interested in the sites we saw. Tyler purchased a book of famous speeches at Arlington National Cemetery in order to learn more about both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Tayler asked a lot of thoughtful questions that merit better explanations than I was able to extemporaneously provide, and I’m looking forward to doing some research with her to help us both get answers.
The drive home was blissfully uneventful.