The SN. John K. Morris and Sgt. David Gonzalez Veterans Hot Dog Stands at the Met

Supporting Veterans on Memorial Day with Hot Dogs

My wife and I met friends who are visiting from the Philippines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art today. We got there early and we hadn’t had anything to eat for lunch, so we were checking out the food carts along 5th Avenue. Last night we were talking about Nathan’s hot dogs at Coney Island so I was thinking about getting a Nathan’s hot dog at their cart in front of the museum.

As we were walking down the block, my wife pointed out a hot dog stand run by veterans (there was only one there when we arrived, but I took the photo as we were leaving in the evening). I’d seen it before, but I had never stopped to take a look at it. I almost kept walking, but it’s Memorial Day, so I figured I’d see what the cart was all about. The Sgt. David Gonzales cart had some information on the window that says the cart is owned by veterans and employs disabled veterans. The cart was named after a US Marine who was killed in action in 1970.

We liked the idea of supporting a business that supports veterans in a tangible way, especially on today of all days, so we decided to get hot dogs there. While the lady behind the counter was preparing our food, I asked her what branch she served in. She said she was in the Marines. I told her I was in the Army. We talked about the military for a few minutes and when it came time to pay, she insisted that the hot dogs were on her. I really appreciated the thought, but slipped some cash into her tip box when she was helping the next customer anyway.

This is my favorite AC-130 Spectre Gunship video

I spent 8 years in the Army. If I’d known better, I’d have joined the Air Force, like my dad did. And if I had joined the Air Force, being on an AC-130 gunship crew wouldn’t have been a bad gig. I wanted to do something meaningful, but I wound up spending most of my time loading and unloading trucks with a forklift or counting inventory. It wasn’t exactly fulfilling.

I was lured into the job by the promise that I would be working with computers. I enlisted back in 1998. Computers were still a new and amazing thing in my life, and probably most people’s lives, if they could even afford a computer and internet service. Windows 95 and America Online chat rooms were still sources of wonder and amazement.

Once I was enlisted and working in that field, I was unable to negotiate to move into a more interesting job when it came time for my reenlistment. Once you’re in an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), you’re pretty much stuck, unless you want to move into a job with a low retention rate, like basic infantry. I’d like to think that if I had the Internet as it is today as a resource, with blogs and extensive forums, I would have made better choices.

These videos are pretty graphic. Please keep that in mind before watching.

The following video (when autoplay is enabled) is pretty interesting too:

Scarlett Johansson’s Autograph from Kuwait in 2008

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When I was looking through some old folders trying to sort and put away documents, I found this autographed poster that I had forgotten about. I didn’t forget about meeting Scarlett Johansson, but I did forget that I have her autograph as well.

She was in Kuwait on a troop morale type of tour, visiting the US military bases that were (are?) set up in the deserts of Kuwait. I suppose it goes without saying that a lot of people wanted to meet her. The line was tremendously long, and we only had a minute or two per group of people to get autographs and chat. I got the feeling she was a little disconcerted by the pace of the event. That’s the military for you though.

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.

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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.

Semi-Domestic Wild Deer in Fort Lee Historic Park, New Jersey

Wild deer in Fort Lee Historic Park

Wild deer in Fort Lee Historic Park

On Sunday, when my wife and I walked over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey, we stopped by the Fort Lee Historic Park, which is right next to the bridge and offers a great view of the Hudson River and Manhattan, which, I suppose, was the reason the fort was originally built. We didn’t really expect to see a whole lot there. We were just looking for a place to take a short break before turning around and walking back over the bridge. We were both surprised by how much of the historic fort has been restored. We want to go back sometime with real cameras and spend an afternoon there looking around.

The best part of the pit stop, though, was when we saw wild deer snacking on the underbrush in the middle of the park. Even when I lived in Georgia, it was rare to see deer in high traffic areas, and it was especially bizarre for me to look one way and see the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and then to look the other and see a little family of deer hanging out like they were special guests in a petting zoo. It reminded me of a snapshot I’d seen on instagram a few weeks ago (I think) of a deer eating flowers from a planter in the middle of an outdoor, strip mall.

I first spotted them when we were a good distance away and I snapped a few photos, because I expected them to bolt the moment they realized we were there. We kept walking closer though, and they didn’t seem to mind at all. The mother deer kept looking up at us, but she decided we weren’t going to bother her and went back to eating. Later, a large Chinese family with loud kids showed up and the deer just kept grazing. I got the impression that these deer live there and people are used to seeing them in the park. I stood about arm’s length from the mother deer and she ignored me. They’re almost domesticated.

In a way, it’s a great bonus to have wild deer hanging around the park. It helped take me completely out of the city and let me better enjoy the trees around me, the open space, the smell of foliage and dirt, and the lack of crowds.