Sunday, June 21, 2015

Spy Museum: Washington DC

I learned a few things by visiting the Spy Museum in DC last week.  Primarily I learned I am not suited to be a spy.  And either the people I went with aren't either or they ARE spies and are really good at it.

The museum has 3 attractions and me and my two friends and colleagues, Marci and Kawiana, did all three.  First up, the museum.  There are a lot of different areas, many that are interactive displays.

You are taken in an elevator to a room where you can select a new identity.  I think there were only 8-9 different ones and I selected Greta only because she was the closest in age to me.  You are supposed to memorize the details while you wait for the next door to open.  They tell you that you will be quizzed on this information later.

Not much later.  And I expected this to be a little more interactive.  An interrogation maybe.  Sweat me under the lights.  Instead, it is a computer terminal where you answer multiple choice questions.  I hope if I am ever detained for any reason, I am given the option of multiple choice.  Makes things a LOT easier.  So far, my cover is intact.

Next I receive my "Mission Details".  These are absolutely meaningless for the rest of the day, other than at the computer terminal at the end, where I am once again given a multiple choice quiz.  There are a pair of eyes at the top of the screen and as you answer incorrectly, they narrow at you.

I don't do as well.  I can't leave but I am not detained?  Seems like pretty shoddy counterintelligence work on the part of the English to me.

To be fair, there was a lot more to see after learning my mission details and the final quiz than there was between getting my identity and the first quiz.   There are exhibits on gadgets, surveillance, ninjas, code breaking, the works.  There is a hang bar where you try to hang longer than 007 did and the bar rotates as you hang.  The line is filled with people under 14.  There is also a large exhibit on the villains from all of the James Bond movies.

This section on disguises was interesting.  I may have to get a wig and try out some new identities on David.

At the end of the museum part, all three of us had the same thought.  Too crowded.  All of DC was crowded, everywhere we went, even during the day in the middle of the week.  LOTS of teenagers.  Probably my least favorite segment of the general population after mean people.  There are tons of school groups everywhere in town.  This museum is not in short supply.  It is frequently difficult to get up to an exhibit to read the information and/or look at the items.

I was sitting at that computer terminal trying to identify my "suspect" at the airport.  I was given his photo (still on the screen) and was watching "real time" footage.  I am supposed to click on him when I see him.  This little girl walks up and without even knowing what she is looking at she clicks my screen and ends my session.  She accidentally picked the right guy.

As with all museums of this type, there is a large gift shop filled with shirts, gadgets, magnets, personalized key chains, the usual.  This one also has a large bookstore.

Not even close to all of the books, there were more around the corner.  Spying is big business in literature apparently.

I don't always buy souvenirs for David.  If I see something that speaks to me, I get it but I don't force it.  He has everything so what can I get him at this kind of place that he will need or want?

Tempting...I am pretty sure he doesn't have one of these.  I ended up getting him a t-shirt.  Seeing him wear the same one from the Alligator Farm I went to in Alabama 2 years ago is starting to get old.

Next up was Operation Spy.  This is a one-hour "interactive" game that we are grouped with about 12 other people for.  Our group contains about half teenagers, half adults.

As far as I can tell, her whole job is walking people upstairs to hand them off.  No photos were allowed during this part.

A young man comes and is our guide or handler or whatever you want to call him.  He is "in character" and it is his job to help us find a "trigger" that has been stolen, allegedly by the Energy Secretary in Kandahar.  I thought this would be like the Escape Game in Nashville but it wasn't.  There isn't much to do.  We watch this woman, code name Topaz, in a hotel but it is prerecorded and nothing exciting.  We are supposed to break into 4 groups and watch but only one person can do the controls so the other people just stand around.  Our guide tries to get us to tell the other groups what is going on when she is on the sector we are responsible for.  

Next, we go into the Secretary's apartment.  Half of us are on the "trigger" team looking in a safe for the trigger and half are on the "documents" team.  Again, not a lot to do.  One of our team has a fake document scanner.  The other team gets the safe open but we need a key we don't have.  At this point the Secretary is coming home so we have to go.  We load in the back of a fake truck and are bounced around and finally let out near a tunnel.  This is where the problems begin.

If you read the post about the Escape Game you may remember that I mentioned one of the people that I invited was worried it would be dark.  That was Marci.  It is about to get dark.  We end up on a fake elevator and it goes completely dark so I reach out to grab her hand and she is squeezing so hard her fingernails are digging into my palm.  Later she almost climbs over Kawiana's back to get into a more lit area.  At one point while we are standing in the dark, I stood behind her with my hands on her back so she would know I was right there and no one else could be behind her and I can hear her hyperventilating.

We finally make it to a room and we are supposed to administer a lie detector test to Topaz who is in another room.  Our guide asks us to come up with some questions back in the truck to prepare for this and one of the young teenage girls blurts out "are you in a relationship with the Secretary?".  He tries to get her to be more specific and I think we are treading dangerously close to someone adding "sexual" to that statement.  During questioning it is clear some people don't know the meaning of a yes or no question.  They end up asking her if the Secretary wears boxers or briefs.  The guide mentions at this point that none of my group of 3 has contributed to the questions and he says I look like a bodyguard and mimics my stance with my arms folded across my chest.

We get a 4 out of 5.  We have no idea what that is based on and one of the teenage girls even says, "this is the same every time I bet".  The guide says no.  The score at the end is different.  And I finally realized what this reminded me of.  Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.  My kids used to watch that when they were young.  

Last up is Spy in the City.  Another interactive game but this time we are outside and only me and my 2 girls are participating.  We are trying to stop the Russians from doing something that escapes my memory.  I have to wonder, at the Spy Museum in Moscow, are they trying to stop evil Americans?

Marci and I reflected in our tablet.  You carry this around and it gets messages.  You go from location to location gathering clues.  Once again, not that hard and not that technical.  You can mess up and it will prompt you.  We couldn't find this one place and we clicked the map and it told us exactly what it looks like.

This is the part where it became increasingly obvious the three of us would be terrible spies.  Marci already had her issues in the dark.  Kawiana got cold and we had to stop so she could put on her jacket.  I was worried about getting a sunburn and had to stop to reapply my sunscreen.

And we are starving.  It is around 4 in the afternoon and we haven't had anything to eat since breakfast.  Here I am taking a picture of Marci and Kawiana in a Subway they ducked into to get us chips.  If you could blow up the photo you would see a security guard on the far left of the photo is giving me the stink eye.

I guess that is kind of the point of this museum.  You do walk out and look at people differently. People on the phone.  People taking pictures.  People "reading" a newspaper.  They told us during a film that there are more active spies in Washington DC than in any other city in the world.  I feel a little justified in hearing that because the night before, Marci thought I was being stupid when I said I would come get her when the security guards she was talking to put her in jail.  We were walking around The White House and she went up to these two guys and says "what's in this building" about the building right next door to the President's house.  Yeah, no problem there.  And I didn't mean DC jail.  I mean Department of Homeland Security jail.  In fairness, she thought it was the FDIC.  It wasn't.  He said "it's just offices".  You don't have to be spy to know that is code for Move On Ladies.

I think of all of the things we did in DC, this was probably my least favorite outing (with Spy in the City being the best of these 3 but still ultimately not at the top of the list).  Until it was over and we accidentally ended up in a covert mission.  Earlier in the week a lady recommended the restaurant Cafe Milano in Georgetown.  We get a cab to take us there after the Spy Museum.  We are really hungry now, I think it is pushing 6 pm.  

The problem is that we have been out most of the afternoon, walking around DC in 90 degree heat with 90% humidity.  We are hot and sweaty.  We are going up the sidewalk at the restaurant and I am already concerned.  White linen tablecloths.  Lots of silverware.  Crystal glasses on the table.  We walk up to the hostess stand and I say "do you have a dress code" and she says yes that it is business casual.  I ask if they can seat us on the front patio and she says, "that might be best for us".  

Our Frenchy waiter is none to happy to see us.  He brings us water since we don't look at the wine list (and receive an eye roll) and one crusty roll each (not a basket, individually plated) which I immediately start eating.  I don't notice the problem right next to me because I have already decided on what I am going to order and I am busy trying to figure out if they will bring more rolls.

Kawiana doesn't see anything on the menu she wants to order.  So someone (Marci?) makes the suggestion that we leave.  I have eaten the bread and drank the water and someone (the Maitre D?) has scowled at us after barely cracking the door to peek at us.   Agreed.  Let's go.  But I can't go without leaving a tip, something for the bread and water (it's like paying for prison food).  So we all agree to pay a little something.  The other girls get their money out quickly but I am fumbling with my purse and Marci starts to get excited.  "Hurry up before he comes back!".  I'M TRYING.  I wasn't expecting to ditch like this.  A good spy would always be ready.

I throw my money on the table and we nonchalantly (and totally spy-like) walk off the patio.  Up to the corner and just around so they can't see us.  In hindsight, they were probably glad to see us go and I doubt they would have chased us up the street had they caught us leaving.  Now we are about to start the whole "what do you want to eat" thing over.  Marci and I tell Kawiana she has to choose since she's the one we left for.  There is a place across the street and we decide to head there but on the way end up passing Martin's Tavern.  We go in and I am so glad it worked out that way.  We had good food and the waiter didn't treat us like smelly trash that wandered into his day.  The Police and Journey sing to us while we look at the information about the various presidents who have eaten here and which booth was their favorite.

Our booth wasn't listed but I bet a spy or two has sat in these seats before because as Marci so aptly pointed out earlier at Subway...
Spies Gotta Eat.


No comments:

Post a Comment