Friday, March 11, 2016

As we entered the US Mint we met security measures unequaled ever before in life ... .

Despite the fact that we were invited guests of their administrators, both in the uniform and badges of the National Park Service, arriving in a fleet van bearing the logo of a federal agency, Tom was required to pop the hood as two security officers went over the vehicle with their wands -- including the interior and the storage areas.   Upon completion of this meticulous inspection (as I waited on a level above after submitting federal smart cards plus California I.D.) a humungous monster contraption that looked like nothing I've ever before seen -- with a great roar was swallowed up by the ground that lay just beyond the reinforced iron gate.  It just rolled away to reveal a flat surface that Tom drove up toward the parking lot above. 

I've visited San Quentin Prison, and this display of security made that one look like it was put together by rank amateurs.

We walked into the next level of security, one that resembled those in play at airports nationwide, with the addition that it was necessary that we turn over any coins in our possession.  This meant that I'd have to leave my wallet to be put in a secure place to be retrieved on return.  (Unknowingly, I neglected 3 pennies, 2 dimes, and a quarter in the pocket of my trousers.)

All this had to do with the need to protect the products from being pilfered by visitors -- though this Mint is not open to the public.  Even the employees can only use paper bills to make purchases in the vending machines.  They cannot bring coins of any kind into the building.  Anything brought in unintentionally is confiscated by management, never to be returned.

When the ceremonies ended we were taken on a walking tour so that we could see staff at work, and marvel at the robotics, machinery, and processes in operation.  Really interesting stuff!

... but that brings us to an embarrassing and crazy exit!

The last stop was walking back through the security process with several uniformed guards, the trays that hold anything containing metal (rings, watches, belt, badges, etc.,) to be put through the machine that detects such objects.  There's the walk-through structure that is so nervous-making when the bells and whistles go off declaring that you may be smuggling contraband out of the Mint!

It was like a comedy skit.  It took 6 attempts to get through those gates, each time without success ... and those telltale bells and whistles announcing my "crime" attempt each time.  None of us could figure out what was setting off the alarms, but I suspected -- finally -- that it must be the underwires of my bra.  We'd been through what began to resemble a strip tease routine as we discovered those 3 pennies, 2 dimes, and a quarter in my pants pocket, the clasp on my belt loop that held my smart card, my ring, my watch, etc.

It became laughable, and the guards finally just let me pass without incident, and I suspected that we were all caught up in a process that no one was taking too seriously, except for the sober-faced guards.  I didn't feel in any way threatened, or that anyone believed that I was trying to sneak out with a coin or metal of any kind, but it gives you a sense of how much value is placed on those commemorative coins, and how difficult it would be to get away with what starts out as a 20 cent product in process, and that would come out at the end as a 50 cent piece selling for $25!

Pretty crazy, right?

 Who would ever have thought that, at 94, one would still be having first time experiences ... ?

... but yesterday Superintendent Tom Leatherman and I were guests of the US Mint in San Francisco. 
We were both invited to "say a few words" at a ceremony created to celebrate the striking of the first silver coin commemorating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.  Tom would speak on the park service and then introduce me prior to the actual creation of that first 50 cent coin.  Then, under the supervision of a Mint specialist, I would press the two buttons that controlled the striking of three coins that would roll down for inspection.  The sheer power felt in that process is awesome.  Can't recall the metric tonage involved, but it is truly wondrous!

The imposing building sitting atop one of the great hills overlooking the city offered  one of the most thorough security experiences I've ever been through.  Fort Knox could not have been better guarded.  It proved, however, far more difficult to get out of then in!

After the commemorative coin has been struck, both sides are photographed as seen here being held for the cameras by one "grown-up" park ranger and Chief of Staff Elisa Basnight of the US Mint.

There are roughly 250 employees at the facility, and it was clear to see that diversity and inclusivity issues were faced long ago, and that the ratio of male to female and racial questions are by now non-issues, and that this governmental agency is at the forefront of the march toward full equality in the workplace.

I failed to get his name, but there was an African American worker who approached with a young blond woman co-worker during the informal gathering at the end of the ceremony.  He was totally deaf.  He was also comfortable enough to come over to express his pleasure at my brief comments (through his interpreter) and to not seem hurried or awkward.  It was a great moment for me, too, and added an exclamation point to my sense of the depth of the inclusivity in that governmental agency.

Only question for me was:  How in the world do we have such an impressive agency that does not make coins for distribution, but that only makes commemorative coins that cost 20 cents to make but which sell for $40?   Is that legal?  Is it like that famous President Nixon quote, "... if the president does it it can't be wrong?"

In an article that came out today from one of the members of the press who attended the proceedings, it was stated that the coins will sell for $18 online on the Mint's website.  That's better, but still pretty stilted, right?  My information came from one of the workers in conversation after the ceremony.

Another day, another life experience to savor, and I can't imagine what tomorrow may hold ... .  

Monday, March 07, 2016

What a day it was ... .

I've known for weeks that on March 5th I would be a guest of the International Boilermakers Union at their Instituto Laboral De La Raza 2016 banquet at the Union Square Hilton Hotel in San Francisco.   There didn't seem to be any special instructions for the evening, though, just that they would be sending someone to my condo to pick me up at four o'clock on that day, and that I would be returned some time after nine o'clock that evening.  No need to prepare "...just a few words"; just be a "presence" as I've been many times before under differing circumstances.

The instructions from Tom Leatherman included the fact that a film crew from the Union would be at the Visitor Education Center to film me that morning, and that I was to come in early (9 o'clock, we don't normally open until ten) in order to comply.  This would be another work day -- maybe just a bit more special -- but then most of my days are that these days.

I arrived at nine to find a film team of 5 plus a make-up artist waiting.  This was going to be important if numbers were any indication.  They were here from Kansas City, Kansas, and the footage would be edited for purposes that were unclear at this point.  Surely Tom would know, and, at some point I'd be informed.

They spent about two hours filming a Betty-led tour of the exhibits.  The steady rain made it possible for us to work uninterrupted by visitors and the work went well, I think.

The "someone will pick you up" turned out to be a stretch limo (with at least a half block between me and the driver!) complete with uniformed chauffer who appeared at my door promptly at four.  You'll want to know that my apartment is in a modest complex where I'm fairly certain a limo has never before been seen!  I was smothering giggles all the way to Berkeley where we picked up my son, David, who would serve as Mom's escort for the evening.

My life doesn't allow much time to interact with my neighbors, so we nod politely when we meet at the mailbox or the dumpster, but rarely share more than greetings.  This surely blew my humility quotient to smithereens!

But this would not prepare me for what would happen in the evening ... .