Thursday, October 25, 2012

More Viruses, Fewer TPS Reports

In another example of cross-pollination among government agencies, today Summit Five visited the maddeningly named Center(s) for Disease Control and toured the museum that I had no idea they had on-campus. Just to get it out of the way: according to everything they told us, there is actually no secret bunker--Walking Dead style--hiding in the basement to serve as an impenetrable refuge against zombies. The nice Bostonian lady who guided Summit Five around told us they didn't like the series "because it's so ridiculous", but praised the efforts of pandemic movie Contagion, which at least used parts of the CDC in its movie (the Walking Dead blew up the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center instead).  

That doesn't mean zombies are entirely absent from the CDC. Once we made it to their communications department, the image of a dead-eyed girl peering over the top of a wall was on half the walls and every Powerpoint slide we saw, not to mention plastered on the back wall of somebody's cubicle so she can stare at the back of his neck all day (I question this decoration choice). Our tour included its share of pandemics and diseases that are only marginally less terrifying than zombieism, though: HIV/AIDS, Legionnaires' disease, Lassa fever, Ebola/Marburg and half a dozen more. I've been reading about those since I was in high school biology class and borrowing Mrs. Zauner's copy of Level 4 Virus Hunters of the CDC, which was about a worldwide search for horrible diseases. Scientists skulking through the African jungles, looking for the source of a mysterious deadly virus that gruesomely disfigures and kills its victims? Fiction doesn't have a patch on a story like that!

The problem with the CDC museum, spacious and well-designed as it was, was that stories like that one were extremely sparse. It turns out that the CDC, like some other government agencies I could mention, has many more unexciting duties than exciting ones. For every story of the hunt for Legionnaires' disease, there were half a dozen nutritionists' experiments or iron lung machines or copies of the Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (I shit you not, that's what it's called. Dead Puppies Monthly would hardly be a more depressing title). Maybe part of growing up is realizing that the world isn't always as awesome as the highlight reels make it look, but I would have preferred to learn that lesson somewhere other than one of the supposed Coolest Places in the Universe.

Maybe I'm being too harsh. We saw only a tiny fraction of the huge, sleek, beautifully modern campus; one museum and one third-floor conference room does not a comprehensive portrait make. And we only met three or four employees, including one guy with a ridiculously curly gray mustache that would put Teddy Roosevelt's to shame; I would have liked to meet more people and hear more of their stories, how they got to where they are, why they wanted to be where they are. Maybe that'll come on some future trip. I just hope it doesn't turn out to be a bureaucracy where it's all about the job and not about the work. I'm from a family of musicians, a profession where it's rather difficult to succeed without a passion for what you do. Apparently that's the exception rather than the rule in the corporate world.

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