DC, Part 2

When we moved from Salem to Portland, my family sifted through all of the crap we’d accumulated in our garage over the past ten years. The beermaker my parents had only used once, long unused and mouse-gnawed Christmas decorations, a few thousand of my old kindergarten and elementary school assignments (my motor skills have not improved appreciably since then) – we quickly realized that for years we’d taken everything in our house with no purpose but at least a little sentimental significance and just chucked it into the garage.

Because sure it’s useless, but you can’t throw it away, right? That would be wrong! So put it in the garage. If you ever want or need that thing, you know right where it is. It’s in the garage!

That’s the Smithsonian in a nutshell. It’s America’s garage.

There's some dusty exercise equipment in here too.

America has no use for The Spirit of St. Louis...

The first plane to make a transatlantic flight, and we named it after a city in Missouri?

...Fonzie’s jacket...

He was hilarious on That 50's Show.

...or any of the trillions of moon rocks that NASA brought home throughout the 1970s. I mean, really? Moon rocks? I feel like we gained a lot scientifically from the first one, but ever since then astronauts have just been bringing them back to show to women in bars, just in case the line, “Hi, I’m an astronaut” doesn’t work well enough.

But we can’t just throw this stuff away, because it’s all a vital part of American history as well as solid proof that we’re better than all other countries.

Solid proof.

There’s the National Archives, but that tends to only preserve the absolute most important stuff, like the Constitution – if the Smithsonian is the garage, the National Archives is the mantle piece over the fireplace, reserved for the finest commemorative plates and some boring documents from the Civil War.

So there’s the Smithsonian, then, this grand institution that grabs virtually anything American and even vaguely famous and puts it up on display for people to look at. The wide net the Smithsonian casts can lead to some pretty mismatched collections all housed under the same roof – in the Smithsonian Museum of American History you can see Julia Child’s kitchen...

This could've been Pierre Trudeau's kitchen and I wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

...right across the hall from the world’s first robotically driven car...

I did not take a picture of that car.

...then run upstairs to see the flag that inspired the national anthem...

I wasn't allowed to take a picture of that flag. This one probably tastes better.

... is next door to an exhibit about the Muppets...

Proto-Kermit on the left there is freaking my shit out.

...and one floor down from a fairly comprehensive and depressing collection of World War 2 memorabilia.

Nazis. I hate these guys.

I don’t think America has been able to park its car in there for years.

It’s a lot to take in at once, especially when you realize that you’re not looking at a replica of the C-3P0 costume from Return of the Jedi; you’re looking at the genuine article.

This was exactly the droid I was looking for.

You can only have your mind blown so many times in one day before you’re absent mindedly shuffling past British warships and presidential artifacts in a history-saturated trance.

Some artifacts are more interesting than others.

I didn’t have this problem as much at the Newseum – the journalism museum located a few blocks from the Smithsonian. Maybe this is because the Newseum, in stark contrast to the field of journalism, is hip, high tech, and interesting, utilizing slick multimedia presentations laid out over seven different floors.

And good lord, man, look at the typography!

Or maybe it’s because, as interesting as Tim Russert’s desk is, it just doesn’t have the same emotional impact on me as the flag that inspired our country’s national anthem, a presentation on the sacrifices America’s military makes for our freedom, or a costume that was worn in a Star Wars movie. That said, the Unabomber’s cabin was pretty cool.

They wanted to show off where somebody who was batshit insane lived, and they didn’t have room for Charlie Sheen’s house.

Now, The White House - there was a museum experience. Not necessarily because there was anything especially incredible on display, but rather because, for about half an hour, the Secret Service considered me enough of a security risk to detain me in a small pseudo-prison by the front gate.

This may come as a surprise to you, but the official residence of the President is sort of a difficult place to get into. We had to apply months in advance for our tickets and undergo a full background check, and even once we were approved we weren’t allowed to take cameras into The White House – probably because they didn’t want us to take pictures of Obama’s fake birth certificate or something.

When we got to the visitor gates, a posse of Secret Service were there to meet us and all the other guests. One by one we had to flash our ID and have our information checked against what was on the gate list. My parents got through, but when it came to me, there was a problem.

You see, the information on my diver’s license said I was Truman Scott Capps, born 11/27/1988, whereas the information on the gate list said I was Truman Scott Capps, born 12/27/1988.

You see that? One month difference. Apparently, that’s the sort of clerical error a terrorist would make.

The Secret Service ushered me into a small area directly to the left of the gate, which was completely surrounded by portable hurricane fences, where I gave my information again to a White House aide for a second background check. I glanced around my makeshift prison and surveyed the two other occupants – both middle aged women from separate tour groups whose ID had similar discrepancies to mine. My understanding was that on your first day in the big house you have to kick somebody’s ass so you don’t get raped, but I decided I’d hold off and size up my fellow inmates before I started any fights.

There weren’t a lot of people coming through the gate that morning, so I got to stand and listen as the Secret Service agents stood around cracking wise and making asshole comments about coworkers they didn’t like and movies they’d seen recently. In case you were wondering, the United States Secret Service says Due Date was, “Pretty okay”, but I Am Number Four “Fucking sucked.”

After processing a particularly rowdy school group, each of whom apparently had a lot of trouble giving him their name, the agent in charge of the guest list looked over at me and wearily sighed, “You want my job?”

“That depends,” I said. “Do I get the gun, too?”

“You can have it all.” He said, shaking his head as another group of students approached.

Giving it some more thought, I realized that I probably wouldn’t trade jobs with this guy. Even though saying “I’m a Secret Service agent” is the second best bar pickup line after “I’m an astronaut,” I feel like his job is just a more aggravating and dangerous version of my job in the checkout room. How many tourists, I wonder, come to his checkpoint in direct view of the White House and ask, “Is this where the President lives?”

Tourists, Gateway students... What's the difference, really?

Seeing me talking to the guards, one of the other two women in the pen stepped over to the fence, within earshot of a sympathetic looking agent, and said the following:

“Hey so I’m pretty sure I know the problem with my ID it’s just that I’ve still got the same last name on my ID from when I was still married but I changed my credit card after I got divorced and I mean I probably should’ve done something about this sooner but I got divorced two years ago and since then I’ve had triplets and it’s just so difficult to get out of the house and do anything when you’ve got all that to do plus my best friend has the cancer and so it’s like I’m looking after her too but it’s just so cold out here I mean I know you say I can leave any time I want but it’s just so cold I mean if I have to wait another five minutes I think I’m just going to go wait on our tour bus because it’s just so cold out here you know I mean it gets pretty cold in Iowa I’m from Iowa you see but it’s not like I like being cold, you know just standing out in it, so yeah I think if it’s another five minutes I’m just going to go wait on the bus I mean I don’t need to see the White House this bad I mean it probably isn’t worth waiting in here for this long I’m probably just going to leave in another five minutes but I don’t know it’s just because my ID doesn’t match my credit card statement probably…”

At this point, I was considering asking the other woman in the cell if she wanted to join my prison gang and help me kill this Iowa loudmouth, but she was all but tunneling her way out Shawshank Redemption by then. Looking to the Secret Service agents I’d been talking to earlier, I saw them cracking up as they watched their fellow agent wither in this stream of conversation.

You heard it here first – the highly trained, heavily armed protectors of the Executive Branch are just as big of assholes as the rest of us. When, a few minutes later, my clearance came through and I was released, I went into the White House knowing that this place would be easy enough to break into if I just brought a Jackass DVD to distract the guards.

Truman Capps hopes the extra length makes up for the lateness, and no, that’s not what she said.