Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

I’m currently reading a book called The History of Money by Jack Weatherford that’s scaring me to death.  Reading his chapter about the financial decline of the Roman Empire is like watching today’s news.

Another chapter contains information about the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, DC, the largest producer of security documents in the United States, and it reminded me of the time Ruth and I toured BEP.   It’s certainly one of the more interesting free things to do in our national capital, and it’s wise to arrive early during peak season because tickets are required as you can see from the info below that I just copied and pasted from BEP’s website.

Washington, DC Tour Office14th and C Streets, S.W.,  Washington, DC 2022, (866) 874-2330 (toll-free).  Free tickets are required for all tours from the first Monday in March through the last Friday in August, on a first-come, first-served basis. The ticket booth is located on Raoul Wallenberg Place (formerly 15th Street). We offer same day tickets only. The Ticket Booth opens at 8:00 a.m. – Monday through Friday, and closes when all tickets have been distributed. Lines form early (some days as early as 5:30 a.m.) and tickets go quickly, most days.

You can also arrange for  a tour through your Congressperson.  But we didn’t.  Ruth and I were just plain lucky to get in on our first try.

Producing millions of dollars regularly is just one of BEP’s functions.  Another is printing hand-engraved invitations to the White House.   Mine apparently always get lost in the mail, but that’s another subject–the US Postal Service.

Abraham Lincoln began BEP in 1861 with 6 employees and, my, how it has grown.  The Fun Fact handout we were given noted that BEP produces 37 million notes a day worth $696,000,000 using 18 tons of ink.  Don’t tell anyone in Congress.

Someone asked about the $100,000 bill, and we were told that denominations larger than $100 are only used for bank transfers.  We were also informed that the average dollar wears out in less than 2 years but that the $100 bill lasts nine years in circulation.

It’s unbelievable how much you learn in 40 minutes on this excellent tour as you ogle millions of dollars being made and passing below, so near and yet so untouchable.   I could go on and on, but it’s better if you just take the tour yourself. You’ll feel richer.


New York Theater Tour

A really fun and informative activity in New York City is the take the two-hour “insiders” walking tour of the Theater District sponsored by the League of American Theaters and Producers.  The tour gets you inside some theaters where the guides, usually aspiring actors, regale you with stories about Ethel Mermen’s ghost, etc.  In the summer (until September 1) they’re available five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday at 10 am.  There are two ways you can join a tour:  buy tickets in person at the Broadway Ticket Center in the Times Square Information Center between 46 and 47 Streets, east side of Broadway, or use Telecharge (212) 239 6200.   It’s really worth the $25 per person fee.

You learn a lot about Broadway Theater.  For example, I didn’t know that if a star’s name is “above the title” and he or she doesn’t appear for the performance you are to attend that you can turn back your tickets for a full refund.   Ever hear of air rights?   There’s a quirky law that protects all area theaters.  In 1927 there were 93 of them in a district which ran from 41st to 54th Streets and from 6th to 9th Avenues.  The 1970s recession was tough on ticket sales and tearing down theaters came into vogue.  There were soon only 39 left, including the only theater not in the District, the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center, which is classified as a Broadway House.  Twenty-two theaters built between 1883 and 1927, including The historic Palace Theater, were granted landmark status and “air rights”.  Zoned for additional floors, the 6-story Palace’s owners can sell imaginary extra floors to another building and share the revenue.   Number of seats is critically important.  To qualify as “Broadway”, and, therefore, eligible for Tony Awards, a theater must contain a minimum of 499 seats.  Otherwise, it’s classified as “Off-Broadway”.

There’s lots of superstition (break a leg) and lore (there used to be 16 theater critics in New York City alone) that are fascinating to outsiders, at least this one.


Loving McDonald’s

I’m going to tell a story on myself because….it contains a warning and some advice for travelers, and Ruth thinks it’s a good idea.

I received an iPhone for my birthday.  I absolutely love it.  I just said to Ruth five minutes ago, “I could play with this all day and be content.” She laughed and sent me into the office to write this instead.

Two weeks ago we stopped in Prineville, Oregon, at McDonald’s for relief and a cone.  It was about 4 pm and we had driven all the way from Baker City to Prineville without a bathroom break.  We had stopped for scenery (see Best Oregon Byway) but not for basic human needs, like ice cream.

Our plan was to drive almost to the summit of Mount Hood (above) and take Highway 35 down through Hood River to buy whatever fruit, maybe cherries, was in season.  Not to be.

A few miles past Warm Springs, the landscape became truly beautiful if desolate and Ruth idly said something about probably not being able to use her cell phone here.  I instinctively reached down to touch my beloved.  Not Ruth.  My iPhone.

It wasn’t there.  IT WASN’T THERE!  I flashed on setting it on top of the toilet roll in McD’s men’s room.

After making the fastest u-turn in history, I was in panic mode as Ruth attempted to call someone to see if it was still where I had left it.  Of course, we were in no-service-land.

We discussed options, one of which was having to replace a virtually new iPhone.  Or not.  We talked about what functions, if any, the finder might use without my number code.

On our way back to Prineville, about 30 minutes away, we both remembered passing a McDonald’s in Madras, and Ruth suggested we stop and ask if they could help.

We found the manager and told her our dilemma.  She immediately called the manager of the Prineville McD’s (she had the number memorized) and he went into the men’s room and FOUND MY CELL PHONE.  If we hadn’t called like this…

Equally shocked and elated, I missed the turn-off to Prineville.   We didn’t realize this until we were almost to Redmond, proving that if you make one mistake, you’ll probably make another one trying to fix the first.

Luckily, we discovered that Highway 126 returned us to Prineville with only another 30-minute delay.

The manager had put my highly desirable iPhone in his office.  When he handed it over, I tried to give him a reward, which he refused.  I failed to get the names of both managers (mistake #3), so all I can do now is to advise you to patronize McDonald’s because you never know when you’ll need their help.  Right now, I’m calling it not McD but GSP.   That’s short for both GASP (me) and Good Samaritan People (them).


Australia, Part 11

Moruya.  Tuross Head.  Dalmeny.  Narooma.  Tilba Tilba.  We explored the towns and beaches of southeastern New South Wales with Robert, cultural and diplomatic expert, and Lynette, flora and fauna specialist.

Robert called Moruya “a little town of privilege”.  Its name derives from an Aboriginal word that means “home of the black swan.”   But here we saw instead a great number of Crimson Rosellas, members of the parrot family and quite colorful.  They’re really common in this part of Australia as is the bell bird which Lynette claimed made a sound like an ill-fitting car window, but louder.   I didn’t get a chance to confirm this.

We visited some way lovely beaches like Ti Coila and Dalmeny, mostly huge, unspoiled, and devoid of people even in late January, or mid-summer.  I said to myself many times each day, This is where I’ll come when I want to get away from blizzards and have a perfect family beach vacation.

Narooma was yet another coastal town of about 8,000 people with a Lighthouse Museum attached to its Visitors’ Center (spelled Centre in Australia).  Within was an impressive, historic light with, at its most brilliant, 1 million candle power.

Tilba Tilba and Central Tilba were two villages that resulted from the 19th century gold rush.  They were left largely undisturbed until the National Trust took over to protect them.  Now tourist destinations, Central Tilba is a charming place of tea rooms, woodworking shops, ice cream temptations, and B&Bs.   Most pleasant and, well, cute.

In Merimbula, our overnight stop just across the NSW’s border with Victoria, Robert and Lynette introduced Ruth and me to a rather significant part of Australian culture–the bowling club.   The one in this tourist town on the Sapphire Coast with 5 beaches and access to 3 national parks offered limited gambling and the rather staid-looking game of lawn bowls to it members.  We dined in the huge facility’s full-service restaurant.   This Club was a rather formal community gathering place with lots of business.  I tried to think of a US equivalent to an Aussie Bowling Club and came up dry.   Whenever we visit with our Australian friends, a bowling club is sure to factor into any travel planning.


The Adirondacks

The best reason to go to The Adirondacks is its friendly and approachable people who actually live in a park.

The athletic looking lad in Poughkeepsie who rented me a car was from there. When I asked him what we should do, he said, “Check out the lakes, especially the smaller ones.  I was just at Raquette kayaking.  It’s my favorite.”  Raquette is one of about 3,000 lakes in The Park but not one of the smaller ones.

The man on the museum staff at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls (worth a stop) asked if I was going fishing.  He was from Warrensburg and fished whenever he could.  “Brant is great for trout and bass.  Loon is also a favorite. Also Garnet.”  Ruth and I made it a point to visit all three.

I asked the woman at the North Warren Visitors Center what  it was like to live in a park, and she sighed and said that she still missed her lakefront home in Lake George where she lived for two years.  She added, “I won’t live anywhere else but here in The Adirondacks.”

The desk guy at Meadowbrook Public Campground explained, “People remove the bark for campfires and to take home for craft projects” when I asked him why there was a sign outside that read PLEASE DO NOT PEEL BIRCHES.

An ex-military man who worked at the sensational, not-to-be-missed Adirondack Museum near Blue Mountain Lake told us the history of Adirondack chairs and taught us how to recognize genuine ones.  I asked him if there was a downside to living in a park.  He pondered long and said the only thing he could think of was that he was not exactly close to a hospital. But then he added about his home, “Hamilton County–4,692 people and no stop lights.”

When I asked about unusual local food or customs, another museum guide responded, “Spruce gum.  When I was a child, we’d peel it off the tree, chew it and then spit it out.”  She added that her grandkids thought she was crazy when she told them about this.

A man at the Department of Environmental Conservation, who looked like a veteran of every camping and climbing experience imaginable, grinned when I asked him about the best fishing.  “A lot of locals would not appreciate me telling you about their favorite lakes.”  He then laughed, but he half meant it.

The abundant and protected natural beauty of The Adirondacks is enough to guarantee our return, and I’m really glad we took the time to talk to the people who live there.  They’ll greet you like old friends at a high school reunion but be warned.  Don’t suggest they live somewhere else.