We were joined this morning the return of Plucky Friend Becca and the addition of Plucky Friend Yasmin, who had just flown down that morning from Massachusetts and was surprisingly cheerful for someone who had been up since oh-my-God:30.
Now anybody with sense knows that to see the Smithsonian properly you should probably dedicate two full days to each one of its many museums, but we've never claimed to have sense.
We began at the newly reopened National Museum of American History. As with our upcoming second Smithsonian stop, we don't have anything original to say about the magnificence of the Smithsonian. So instead we'll just hit our highlights from each.
Mary and Rick were thrilled to visible giddiness to discover that Bob, the ventriloquist's dummy from the 70's sitcom "Soap" is here. We started repeating some favorite Bob moments in front of his glass case to the general bemusement of everyone around us who were probably more tickled by the adjacent exhibit, Seinfeld's puffy shirt.
"The Star Spangled Banner" is housed in a more conservation friendly special case in its own room, an absolute necessity, but Mary laments the loss of its former showcase when it appeared dramatically as one ascended an escalator.
A recent addition to the museum is Julia Child's kitchen; her actual kitchen from her actual house where her wonderful PBS shows were shot. All her kitchen and cookware is also on display but the best part is a video showing highlights from her shows. We could watch her forever.
The thing about a great museum is that even exhibits you think you might only have the mildest interest in, often end up grabbing your attention. And so it was that an intended quick dip into a wing devoted to the evolution of transportation in America - all we wanted was a picture of a train - turned into nearly an hour as we learned about planes, trains, and automobiles.
The place is so big and packed with so much stuff that even though we were together for most of the time we all saw different stuff. Rick wielded the camera and as Mary looked at pictures late she kept saying, "I didn't see that! Where was that?"
We grabbed a quick bite at a local chain called Potbelly Sandwiches. They were fine but they were really more fuel than anything else.
After lunch we split up with Mary, Becca, Yasmin, and Steve heading to the combo-museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery. Each occupies its own wings of the structure, though confusingly they alternate on different floors. Highlights this time would be an exhibit of New Deal sponsored art from 1934, a collection of primitive artists (prompting us to wonder what the genre would be like if there was no book of Revelations), a portrait by John Singer Sargent whose subject looks like she could be alive today, and several modern-day photographers whose work seems similarly alive.
While they were enjoying art and beauty Rick, ever the Philistine, decided to go work out his inner James Bond (or Jack Bauer or Sidney Bristow or Maxwell Smart depending on your pop-culture preferences) at the International Spy Museum, which he has dubbed as The Coolest Place on Earth.
Before entering he saw several official vehicles and a lot of Secret Service both outside and inside the building. When he asked who was there to draw such protection, he was told that they regularly use the museum, the cafe, and the gift shop as real-world training grounds for prospective agents. That was cool to start but then it only got more cool once he started the tour.
Each visitor is asked to choose and memorize an alias and throughout the experience you are both quizzed on what you've learned and asked to memorize even more. Rick was John Campbell, a 34-year-old clothing salesman on his way to Budapest to attend an international textile fair. He probably could've pulled off most of it but the 34 thing was going to be a stretch.
Then it's into the museum proper, which is jam-packed with all manner of spy goodies. Through a series of interactive touch screens, videos, information placards, and hands-on activities you learn how to spot suspicious behavior, pick a lock, find enemy aircraft on a satellite photo, read sonar, decode messages, plant a bug, and master disguises among other espionage related tasks. They even have a section about evading capture where you get to crawl through an air duct while trying not to make too much noise - get too loud and an alarm goes off.
Several galleries cover the greatest hits of espionage showing how the practice helped the D-Day invasion and further the cold war plus honorifics of female spies (Mata Hari et al), media spies (James Bond et al), and pigeon spies. No, really. They used to strap cameras on pigeons and have them fly over things.
Along the way are multiple videos from former spies talking about their lives, each with a tale more fascinating the last even if all they are doing is talking about how they got used to deceiving everyone they knew and loved.
A huge gift shop features enough spy-related books to stock a small library plus all manner of gadgets (salt shaker safe anyone?) and a cafe that looked like a good place to look for the Belgian wearing the carnation.
The whole thing is tremendous fun and one of Rick's favorite things from the entire trip.
Just around a corner or two was our next and final stop, The Crime and Punishment Museum. Fittingly on the way we passed Ford's Theatre and had a moment of silence as we looked at the house across the street where Lincoln died.
The Crime and Punishment Museum traces the history of crime in America from the draconian Puritan legal system through exhibits on old west outlaws, bank robbers, mobsters, serial killers, and computer hackers. It's sort of a criminal's hall of fame, but the graphics gave enough information about each individual to satisfy a visitor hitherto unfamiliar with their nefarious deeds.
Crime leads into Punishment with a short but twitch inducing look at capital punishment plus a sobering section on prisons in America.
From there an exhibit called Crime Scene Investigation allows guests to participate in solving a fictional murder, in the process learning about actual forensics techniques. Despite what you may have learned on "CSI" this is a lot harder and slower a process than you might think.
Along the way there are plenty of interactive exhibits and a variety of Internet safety tips for kids delivered by McGruff the Crime Fighting Dog. Having said that, kids probably won't be that interested and the contents, while rarely graphic, are often on the lurid side. Mary, like the rest of her family a major true crime buff, was pretty well delighted with the time she spent here and the rest were just about as enthusiastic.
For the second night in a row we attempted to go to a local pizza/Italian place recommended to us by our concierge. And for the second night in a row we were told there would be a wait of at least 45 minutes. Does anyone know... does this place have a rep for the best pizza in the District of Columbia or something?
We intended to go in a different culinary direction but as we passed a small cafe serving pizza slices the Italian mama owner called out to us from the doorway, declaring that she had excellent pizza and best of all plenty of room. Now how could you resist and invitation like that?
It wasn't the best pizza we've ever had but the atmosphere was quite congenial.
Tomorrow we leave Plucky Hubby behind as we turn south to Virginia Beach and our final full day of Plucky Survivors 4.
Note: as usual there are more pictures than words so keep scrolling!