Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day-Cation, Kryptos, and the Spy Museum

By the summer of 2002, Timmy had developed an interest in spies and spying equipment, in part due to the Spy Kids movie directed by Robert Rodriguez that came out in the spring of 2001 and DVD and VHS by September 2001.  Timmy was fascinated by the idea that kids were the heroes who were tasked with saving their parents whom were spies and from a long family line of spies on each side of the family.  Other media bolstered his fascination – Max Steel, Johnny Quest, the Power Rangers – shows where the adolescent was smarter, braver, or able to use technology than their adult counter-parts.  There was the Spy Gear toy line that also caught his attention.  As my vacation neared, I thought it would be a cool idea to go to the Spy Museum in Washington DC for a day-cation.

We drove to Washington relying on MapQuest printouts and directions from the Spy Museum’s website; we didn’t have GPS – the units then were still expensive, about $300 to $500 for a decent one.  As we neared the exit on the Beltway to enter Washington, triangular orange road signs appeared announcing construction and detour to the next exit which would have us go into Anacostia, Maryland – a sleepy little river town, cross over a bridge that turned out to be I-395 that put us on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Cars zipped past at amazing speeds; some displayed Diplomatic tags.  As we passed Arlington Cemetery, I asked Gi to keep an eye out for a spot for a U-turn or a visitor’s information center. I tuned the radio to the news station on the AM band listening for traffic conditions. A few miles more, Gi said she saw a sign for an information center.  I felt some relief and reassured that it wouldn’t be a wasted trip.  Timmy sat quietly in the backseat.  We continued north on the parkway until we saw a sign reading “George H. Bush Information Center Exit Next Right.”  Strangely there was something familiar about the association between the former president and the word “information”; I just couldn’t grasp what it was.

I found the exit and drove down the road from the parkway.  I saw a small structure in front of me.  I thought ‘Oh great, a toll booth.’  As I drove closer to the “toll booth” I noticed signs – Prepare to Show Identification, No Photography Permitted, and Vehicles Subject to be Searched; a little odd for a toll booth.  I slow the car down and dig into my back pocket to take out my wallet that contained my badge and credentials.  Two patrol guards in full uniform were manning the booth which turned out to be a gate.

Suddenly what was eluding me suddenly jumped into my brain.  “Oh my God, do you know where we are?”

“No,” Gi said.

“It’s the CIA.”

“The CIA,” Gi asked.  “You mean like the real spies?”

One guard, white male in his mid-forties, began to step forward waving his hands slowly and calmly to tell me to stop.  His swagger reminded me of Dean Martin in the movie Rio Bravo – but sober compared to Martin’s character Dude.  The other guard, a black male about twenty-five to thirty years old, stayed back near the structure. For some reason he reminded me of Chris Rock. 

I stopped the car.  The radio squelched loudly, I reached to turn the volume down and accidently hit the horn on the steering wheel.  The Chris Rock-guard suddenly dropped into the isosceles stance putting his hand tightly on his sidearm.  The Dean Martin-guard continued walking towards me as I held out my credentials in my left hand that was shaking. 

“Philadelphia Police Department, huh?” said the Dean Martin-guard.

“Uh, yes sir.”  I kept my eye on Chris Rock-guard.  “Sorry we got lost.”

“Well if there would be one terrorist organization I’m glad is on our side, I would say it had to be Philly Police.”  The Dean Martin-guard took my credentials and looked it over.  “Which do you prefer Pat’s Steaks or Geno’s?”

I’m lost, accidently winding up with my family in the car at the gates to the Central Intelligence Agency, and being asked about cheese steaks?

“I like both.  I’m friends with Pat’s son, Larry.  Geno helps out the police and fire families and he has our fallen officers names etched in brick and set into the sidewalk at the corner.”

“I like it with…how about you?”

“With onions…always…and with Provolone,” I said feeling my throat go dry.

“Where were you heading?”

Okay here it comes, and I was thinking how suspicious is my answer would sound.  “The International Spy Museum; I got detoured off the Beltway and wound up on the Parkway.”

The Dean Martin-guard gave directions heading back down the parkway and over another bridge that would take us right to the museum.

I had read about Kryptos, a sculpture on the grounds of the CIA, which was etched with encryptions.  So far, three of the four sections of the sculpture were solved.  “Hey, uh, could my son see the Kryptos monument?”

“Sir, if it were up to me, I would take you there personally but I have to say ‘No.’”

The Chris Rock-guard activated the gate; the Dean Martin-guard told us to make a U-turn and back up the drive with the directions he provided. 

We eventually found the museum and spent the rest of the day looking at James Bond’s Aston-Martin, the Jell-O box-tops the Rosenbergs used to pass off atomic secrets to Russian spies that were sent by a cousin in Los Alamos, learning about disguises, Nathan Hale, and how not so far-fetched some things done in the movies were in real life.  We drove home later, I was somewhat satisfied not only had I gotten Timmy to the Spy Museum, but showed him where the real spies work.