Friday, June 23, 2006

More Adventures in Albuquerque

"I knew I should have taken that left turn in Albuquerque!" - Bugs Bunny

"Wait! I did that around the middle of May! - Jill Nelson

As promised, this week we visit the FBI building in Albuquerque. But let's back up a little and start with the conversation I had with the cabby on the way over.

The morning of my Big Day in the Southwestern city with the outlandish name, the hotel van took me to the New Mexico Museum of Anthropology on the university campus. After I finished touring the museum, I called a cab and gave the driver the address. He shot me a puzzled stare, studied a city map, and leveled another stare. Finally, I fessed up and told him it was the FBI headquarters. The light came on in his face.

"Are you with the FBI?" His grin was eager.

Yeah, right. Moi? I should have told him I was a criminal profiler on the trail of a serial killer and step on it. But my innate honesty kicked in before I could think of something that entertaining.

"No," I said. "I'm too plump and laid back for that job."

At least he thought my answer rated a chuckle. And not shy one bit, he wanted to know why I was going to the FBI building. So I got to tell him about my books and give him my card. His reading tastes indicated a nonChristian, but someone interested in spiritual things. Good deal. Hope he reads my series and gains new light. The cabbie (and others who wondered what I was doing all alone in Albuquerque) was fascinated to hear I was writing a novel set in their city.

Back to the events at hand: We arrived at the FBI headquarters without incident--well, okay, he made a wrong turn once, but who's counting? Just goes to show the place isn't along the beaten path.

I'm a little nervous, of course. Here I am about to waltz into an office where they deal with national security issues as a way of life. For little old me from deep rural Minnesota, a speeding ticket is a big deal. Here, they want "a brief message or a detailed confession." I had no confession they cared to hear, so I was left with the brief message option.

We got to the building and immediately manifested ourselves as clueless civilians by driving up to the guardhouse. The nice uniformed gentleman with the burly muscles patiently directed us to park in the visitor lot. I was to leave my camera and cell phone in the cab, then step up to his window on foot. Once I proved myself a genuine Jane Citizen with proper photo ID that matched my matcheless mug, he'd let me in.

All well and good, but about now I'm wondering if they'll let me back out again. That soaring structure is one intimidating stone fortress, and they wouldn't let me take a picture, so you'll have to use your imagination.

Obviously, I did get out again, and they didn't even interrogate me. Nuts! But I got my share of assessing looks. First of all from the uniformed guard that stood up from his desk as soon as I walked through those darkened glass doors. He was the first thing I noticed, and then the full body metal detector similar to those at the airport.

The vestibule was completely walled in and very small. If I wanted to venture further inside, I would need to get past the guard and the metal detector. Cool! But rats! Since I'd taken care of my business with the agent on the phone the day before, I didn't have any excuse to press onward and upward. But one of these days, I'll get that opportunity. I'm awaiting the engraved invitation . . . any day now . . .

I left my card with a brief note of thanks to the media liason with the receptionist behind the bullet-proof glass. She, too, gave me an assessing look. I imagine I was a true oddity in their world. Ah, well, maybe I gave them something different to talk about. Maybe not, but I can dream.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Adventures in Albuquerque

"I knew I should've taken that left turn in Albuquerque!"- Bugs Bunny

"Wait, I did that around the middle of May!"- Jill Nelson

And a fun time was had by me, myself, and I on the research trail for Reluctant Runaway, the second in the To Catch a Thief Series. With Runaway set in Albuquerque, I realized when I signed up for the Colorado Christian Writers Conference near Estes Park, Colorado, that I was only a bunny-hop away from that New Mexico city with the outlandish name. So I decided to take the fateful left turn.

My most fascinating stop was at the FBI office building, a modern stone fortress towering behind a tall iron fence. And only one dinky entrance enclosed behind darkened glass. Gack! Do they let you out if by some miracle they let you in?

Before we discover the answer, I need to backtrack to my telephone conversation the day before with the media liaison at the Albuquerque office. I phoned the receptionist to let her know this author person was going to stop by tomorrow, and if there were someone whose normal duties would encompass speaking to such an anomaly, I’d be grateful. The nice woman actually sounded interested. Very encouraging. She put me on hold, checked with someone, then put me through to the media liaison. I got his voice mail, which was pretty interesting, too. He invited me to leave "a brief message or a detailed confession." Now, who says the FBI has no sense of humor?

But I will say they’re a bit cagey. About five minutes after I left my message WITHOUT my call back number, I got a call back. And the caller ID in my cell phone screen was all zeros. Yikes! So they get my number, but I don’t get theirs? How fair is that? I suspect the man was in his office all along, but he checked my message to see what I wanted before he bothered with me. The fact that he did bother with me made up a little for the totally cool sneakiness. He then gave me some info that saved my bacon on a plot twist for Runaway. Major for me, minor for him as he went back to his regular duties.

If I had to characterize my interaction with the personnel, I’d say cordial but reserved. They’re not big on warm fuzzies and guarded about details of their jobs. Understandable. They’re pitted against gentlefolk with guns and bombs and other quaint methods of destruction. I do NOT want their job; I just want to write about it.

Questions occur to me about author/fed relations. (Is there such a thing?) Novels, TV shows,
and movies about the FBI abound. We’re fascinated with them. Do agents ever watch the shows or read the books? Do they laugh their heads off at the inaccuracies? Or are they glad we don’t know all their business? Would they like to prosecute the more bubble-brained writers and even throw away the key on the insulting ones? Agents are people, too, but what do they think about authors? Do they think about us at all? If anyone has insight I’m all ears.

Next week, I’ll return to the saga of my visit to the FBI building, plus more Adventures in Albuquerque.