Coronavirus Journal: Day 34 – Disconnecting from the news, cheap lunches, and deerlingo

A watercolor painting of lovely toilet paper

So, I’ve reached the point now where I’m not checking the case and death figures as often because the numbers have gotten so high that it’s really hard to think about that in terms of trying to make it real. You know what I mean? You can picture a few hundred people, but when you start talking about tens of thousands sick and thousands of deaths, it gets a little abstract.

The result is that the pandemic is starting to feel a little more unreal to me. I mean, I know it’s real because I can see out my window that there really isn’t much going on. I see the lines and shortages at the grocery stores. I see the notifications from live streams on YouTube with news updates from Cuomo and De Blasio. But it just feels like we’ve hit the new normal. This isn’t weird anymore. This is just how it is.

Cuomo was saying in a news conference that the numbers of new hospitalizations are plateauing and that we have probably “flattened the curve”, but that deaths are going to continue in high numbers every day because these are people that were infected largely before social distancing measures were put in place.

I feel that people should have accurate information, but I also think that making people think things are getting better is going to make stupid people go out and do reckless things, sending the situation spiraling back out of control. Hopefully that doesn’t happen this weekend.

The last time I posted, I mentioned something about wanting to go out. I did, but not to ride my bike. The mayor canceled his open streets project so there’s really nowhere around here to go to ride my bike that feels safe, even with the reduced traffic. It’s still the Bronx. So, oh well. I really need to stop screwing around and figure out an indoor workout routine. I’m starting to really feel the wobbliness in my legs while doing routine things around our apartment and that’s not going to work.

DOE free meals in New York City

What we did do, though, was go check out the city’s DOE free food effort. When this all kicked off, the city was handing out free breakfasts and lunches to school kids, I guess to help make up for the loss of that resource for parents. School food is cheaper to pay for than groceries. So, makes sense. But I’m thinking that not enough people were showing up and they were throwing food away, so they opened up the free food to people of all ages.

I wasn’t expecting a gourmet meal, but I was thinking something along the lines of salisbury steak, instant potatoes, fresh broccoli, maybe greasy burgers, or fried chicken. You know. Food. What we got was an approximation of food that really helped me understand why so many kids have nutrition problems in the US.

We went over to PS 306 on Tuesday around 1:00 PM. We walked in and there was no one there. First red flag. We started to walk beyond the lobby and two employees waved us off and pointed us at some insulated bags sitting on folding tables in the corner of the lobby. Second red flag. Instead of prepared food, the insulated bags were filled with clear plastic grab bags of prepackaged items.

Turns out that some were for lunch and some were for breakfast.

The breakfast bag included:

  • a cheap muffin that was overly moist, squashed, and had no taste
  • frozen strawberries and sugar in a cup (basically a big cup of poor quality strawberry jam)
  • a knock-off of Yoohoo! chocolate drinks

The lunch bag included:

  • a ham and cheese sandwich
  • another of the nasty strawberry things that I guess you’re supposed to eat straight since there was nothing to spread it on
  • a small cup of green beans that were clearly from a can
  • another of the chocolate drinks
  • a package of off brand chocolate fudge chip cookies

First off, the only thing that was edible was the sandwich. Second, you should be seeing a pretty clear theme there: sugar, sugar, and some more sugar. And it all tasted bad. These meals have almost no nutritional value. I don’t understand how they can be served in a school.

If I really found myself in a position where I absolutely needed to get free food, I would rather use any other resource. This stuff would probably make a person sick in the long run. No wonder no one was showing up. The only thing it’s fit for is wasting taxpayer money, justifying some people’s jobs, and filling waste bins.

God help the people that actually need to eat this every day.

Just yuck. No. Plain rice and canned tuna with salt would be a better option.

Not hoarding, just higher demand

Speaking of groceries, I finally put something together earlier this week when I was at the grocery store and noticed that shelves are still empty. It’s not really that people are hoarding now; it’s just that they’re home. People aren’t at work so they’re not buying lunch at a restaurant. They’re not going out to eat so they’re cooking at home. There’s a much higher demand for groceries and the supply chain is still trying to catch up with that increase, so there are shortages of some items.

That being said, we haven’t run out of anything. Or at least anything that we can’t either do without anyway or replace by going to the grocery store. We’re going out less often though, so we’re using this as an opportunity to actually eat the food in our cabinet and rediscover old favorites, like our Bialetti and Cafe Bustelo espresso:

Bialetti Moka Color coffee pot and two Le Creuset espresso mugs with freshly brewed coffee.
Some bright points for me this week are:
  • After finishing “Unorthodox” and getting into “Shtisel”, I’ve rediscovered my interest in Hebrew. Plus they’re both great shows.
  • I found an app called Coursera with free college-level content
  • Found a new (to me) app called Lingodeer to help me learn foreign languages
  • Had some time to play Overwatch and Legend of Zelda: BotW.
  • Finished an awesome book by Adam Makos called Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives In World War II
I don’t even remember what map this was, but I love the small details they added to make things a little more immersive and fun in Overwatch.
A screenshot from Lingodeer. I like that you can turn off “romaji” in the settings. I obviously hadn’t done that when I took this screenshot, but turning off romaji forces me to read the Japanese scripts.

One of my goals this year is to actually make significant progress in learning at least Japanese and hopefully Spanish and/or Tagalog as well. I’m a little disappointed that Tagalog isn’t offered as a “premium” language in language learning apps. The course in Memrise is a community course and the kid doing the audio for the words sounds like he’s not really happy about it. I feel like it was probably some project or a thing his parent made him do.

Note: Featured image is a watercolor painting of lovely toilet paper.

Veteran’s Day Dinner 2013

PVT Elma and Me July 30 1999 Fort Lee VA, AIT
“PVT Elma + Me. July 30, 99 Fort Lee, VA (AIT)”

Ever since I enlisted in the Army and businesses started offering Veterans Day promotions, I’ve tried to make it to a participating business each year. I’m not one to pass up free food, especially when it’s from a place like Olive Garden. I’m just being practical. Besides, I’m a veteran, and in a way, I already paid for it. That’s what the day is about, and I’m glad businesses have decided to give back to the veteran community one day a year in a show of appreciation for the efforts and loss that some people went through, or are still going through, for those on active duty.

The first time I remember going to a restaurant for a free meal on Veterans Day was when I was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I think I went to a Golden Corral or a similar all-you-can-eat buffet-style restaurant with a group of guys from my unit.  This year, like last year, my wife and I went to the Olive Garden in Times Square. In addition to the free entree for veterans, the restaurant was offering 10% off for family members. I’m not sure if that was 10% off the rest of the bill, or just the other entree(s). I forgot to check and tossed the receipt already, but it doesn’t really matter to me. A discount is a discount.


The entree options for veterans were limited, but they offered a nice variety of choices. I went with the cheese ravioli. We also got the stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer and my wife ordered the capellini pomodoro, which she said tasted delicious.  It looked delicious. I also ordered a new drink they have, a blood orange blackberry iced tea. That tasted outstanding.

Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea
Blood Orange Blackberry Iced Tea

Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce
Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce

Capellini Pomodoro
Capellini Pomodoro

These guys were outside the Olive Garden. I thought it was pretty cool, so I want to share the photo:

Mounted NYPD
Mounted NYPD

We finished the evening off at Starbucks, which was offering a free tall brewed coffee to veterans and family members.

The evening wasn’t completely free, but the discounts at Olive Garden made our evening out more affordable and gave my wife and I an opportunity to be thankful for my coming home in one piece, to remember those who didn’t, and gave us another reason to just spend time together out of the house. We’re looking forward to doing it again next year.

Veteran’s Day Free Food and Somewhat Free Food Adventure


Veterans Day is a day for honoring veterans of the armed forces in the US.  This morning, there was a parade to honor the federal holiday.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know about it or I’d have been there taking photos.  I guess I’ll have to make sure to go there next year to check it out.

For those of you that don’t know, I’m a veteran myself.  I served in the US Army for 8 years, and I’ll take this opportunity to brag about some of my achievements.  I served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.  I was part of the initial force that moved into Iraq, right after the Iraqi Republican Guard was bombed on the border.  I was deployed again in 2007 for an Air Defense Artillery operation.  While I was in, I racked up a stack of certificates of appreciation and certificates of achievement, as well as more notable awards like 3 Army Achievement Medals and a Good Conduct Medal.  I also had the opportunity to participate in a German weapons qualification range and scored a Silver.  I missed Gold by 1 round from a 9mm.  There’s plenty more that I did, including community service projects like assisting kindergarten teachers with classes in El Paso, but you get the point.  I did service to the country, and today was a day to celebrate that service, and get some free food!

Quite a few food chains had specials today, offering free or discounted meals to veterans, and I took the opportunity to meet up with a guy I served with in Kuwait at Applebee’s on 50th Street, near Times Square.  It was the first time we’d seen each other since we left Kuwait in early 2008.  We were greeted warmly, treated well, and the food was good.  I had to pay for my drink, but with the dish being free, I couldn’t complain.  It was interesting seeing veterans and active duty members of various branches of the service in the Applebee’s.  Some showed up in uniform, some didn’t, but you could almost always tell who was military or a veteran at a glance.  I guess something of the culture stays with you.

After my friend and I left Applebee’s we decided to avail ourselves of another offer we’d seen posted around the Internet: the free six inch sub from Subway.  So, I pulled out my phone, looked up Subway on Google Maps, and away we went.  We walked into the Subway at 136 W 44th Street and asked about the offer.  We were told that Subway didn’t have any offer like that, and they couldn’t do anything for us.  So, we walked out and we decided we’d try a different location.  First, I looked up Subway again on Google Maps and then decided to call ahead, before we wasted a bunch of time walking all over the city.  I decided to call the 126 West 41st Street location, since it was the next closest, and the woman that answered said she’d never heard of what I was talking about either.  However, she said she would make an exception and honor the deal we told her was posted all over the Internet, but we’d have to buy a drink along with the free sandwiches.  It was better than nothing, so we went ahead and took her up on it.  While we were there, other veterans came through the door asking about the deal.  According to them, they’d tried to avail of the offer earlier at a Subway near Port Authority but had been turned down there as well.

Later, when I got home, I looked up the offer online and saw that it was marked specifically as being at only certain locations, but based on my experience and hearing from those other vets, I get the feeling that none of the Subways in New York City were honoring the Veterans Day deal, except the one where I talked the girl into partially fulfilling it.  Maybe we’d all just had bad luck in which locations we’d walked into though.

I think it’s a shame that any Subway wouldn’t fully honor the agreement as advertised.  It is Veterans Day after all!  One day a year to say thank you to the people who make sure that places like Subway can remain operating in a free country.  One day a year to give out a sandwich to say thanks.  Oh well.  I’ll just remember that for next year.

Overall, it was a great evening, catching up with an old buddy, getting a free meal, and walking around Times Square.  I’m looking forward to doing the same again next year.  Maybe more people I used to serve with will be in the area and we can arrange to meet up!