I’ve been a greasy government contractor for so long that I forget most of my adult life was spent as a latrine-scrubbin’ Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army. Thankfully, for one day each year I am reminded of that fact.
For those unfamiliar, every year on November 11th, hundreds of millions of single Chinese people spend their life savings on frivolities in a holiday known as “Singles Day.” This 14.3-Billion-Dollar government-fueled mayhem makes our U.S. Black Friday look like Grill-Stravaganza. Oh, and in less meaningful news, November 11th is also Veteran’s Day.
The Allied Powers signed an armistice with Germany in Compiegne, France to end World War I on the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month of 1918. Armistice Day, as it was originally known, was designated a federal holiday in 1938 to commemorate WWI vets. However, given that “The War To End All Wars” was a bit of a premature designation, this holiday was renamed “Veteran’s Day” in 1954 in inclusive deference to those vets of WWII and the Korean War.
Over the years, Veteran’s Day has grown in importance, reaching its apex in 2015 when the Kia Motor Company announced its “Veteran’s Day Blowout Spectacular.” Kidding. But, seriously, Veteran’s Day has gotten more widespread and positive press every year that I’ve been around to enjoy it. It has become a catch-all of support and recognition to all of those who have taken the oath of service to support and defend the Constitution. Recognition comes in a lot of forms: Parades, rolling tickers of the names of employee-veterans on the major news stations, a handful of ‘attaboys from random Facebook friends, and free meals for veterans at restaurants around the country. It is the free meals that the wife (also a veteran) and I get school-girlishly giddy about on every Veteran’s Eve.
Carpe Veteranos Diem
Vets around the country know what I’m talking about. For “rookie” Veterans, the free meals on Veteran’s Day amount to nothing more than a long wait for your turn at the trough that is The Golden Corral. However, as you get a bit more sophisticated, you start learning the ropes. After enough perfecting, you get to our “expert” level. Expert level amounts to a day-long junket around the county, abusing our privilege in a gluttonous rampage of free food and regret.
For those at the expert level, your Veteran’s Day goes as follows:
Your day begins at IHOP with a stack of red, white, and blue pancakes. We weren’t able to hit IHOP this year due to a poorly scheduled doctor’s appointment, so this is a stock photo of the deliciousness.
This offer is available all day, but is always popular in the mornings. One interesting thing to note is that the earlier you arrive, the farther back in time the Vets go. OIF/OEF vets like me will start rolling in around 11. A couple hours earlier you’ll see the Gulf vets. Vietnam vets will open the doors at the asscrack of dawn, and Korean War vets tend to come in the night before.
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
After IHOP, it’s time to move from sweet to savory. This year, Red Robin had free Tavern burgers and fries for all vets. I gotta say, this burger is absolutely fantastic. Almost everything we ate on Vets Day was great, but this burger was tops. We also got in with almost no wait, since we were there right after opening. By the time we left around 12:30, things were getting a little sporty in the waiting area.
I kinda get how some businesses would give away free food. This is something we will definitely be back for (in paying-customer fashion).
On the Border
I once read that the U.S. has the longest unguarded border in the world. Given that all of my geopolitical knowledge comes from Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, I can only assume they’re talking about our border with our Mexican friends. The Retire29 household decided to celebrate this border by going to…On The Border.
The busiest time to arrive at any “free” restaurant is about 1 pm, which is about when we arrived here. The key, then, is to look to the lesser-knowns during the busiest times. Meaning, steer clear of Fridays, Chilis, Applebees, or other widely known chains.
On The Border was offering free “Pick 3,” so we got a nice mix of tacos, empanadas, beans and rice, and flautas. And I polished it off with tall, cool Corona Light (not free).
After On The Border, we wanted to avoid the lunch rush a little bit, so we headed to some non-sit-down options. Sheetz was giving all Vets a free 6-inch turkey sub and drink. Pictured here is Baby29, determining whether going inside was worth it. My sub wasn’t all that great. Whenever I’m able to “customize” anything, I tend to overdo it to the point where flavors lose all meaning. As such, mine was a wet mess of bread and fixins. Interestingly, Sheetz was the only place that actually asked for our veteran’s documentation, which we happily provided. Most all places just take your word for it. Frankly, if you’re lying about being a veteran to score a free sandwich, you are officially the world’s worst person. Except for maybe this lady.
As we moved into the late afternoon, we needed to recharge our batteries and the baby needed a nap. No better location to do both than at Starbucks, where we partook in free tall coffees. The wife got the blond roast, while I got the dark roast. Consistent with prior themes, I destroyed mine with extras and ended up just drinking the wife’s.
We headed up north toward Washington, DC for the evening hours. Woodbridge is more of a residential community, so evening diners would be there, while the DC area will be a little less busy (relatively speaking) as folks are now off work. Applebees still had a long line, so during our 45-minute wait we walked down the road to Krispy Kreme (below). No sense in wasting time not eating, right?
Applebee’s presentation probably needed some work, but the food was outstanding. This was impressive. I sort of assumed that since they are mass producing a lot of free food that the quality would decline, but it doesn’t at all.
I got the 9 oz. sirloin steak with mashed taters and broccoli. Wife29 got the burger and fries, which were actually really, really good.
As mentioned, if you ever have a long wait at one of the sit-down places, you would be wise to leverage that waiting time to run to a free, fast option (Starbucks, Sheetz, some Paneras and Arby’s, too). Krispy Kreme fits the bill. Krispy Kreme was giving away a coffee and donut to all vets. The man working even gave Baby29 a free donut, even though (to my knowledge) she is not a veteran.
Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill
We finished the night at Smokey Bones. This was actually a lot of fun. The night crowd had arrived and the Karaoke had started. The food was really good, too. The wife got pulled pork and I got a grilled chicken salad. All of this was taken home, though, as we had basically reached our peak of food consumption for a given day.
You’re probably saying, “Doesn’t this kind of nonsense spoil the spirit of the occasion?” And I would respond, “Yes, it probably does.”
So, if you’re looking for a moral to this story, I’m afraid you’ll be left wanting. I’m not sure I can circle this back around to frugality and early retirement except for the fact that for one day each year we won’t have to pay to go out to eat. We did spend a little money on alcohol and tips at these various places, but we got a pretty good haul:
Red Robin Tavern Burger x2 = $13.98
On The Border Pick 3 x2 = $20.98
Sheetz 6″ Sub and Drink x2 = $11.60
Starbucks Tall Coffee x2 = $3.90
Applebees American Burger = $10.49
Applebees Sirloin = $15.29
Krispy Kreme Donuts & Coffee = $4.87
Smokey Bones Nutty Chicken Salad = $9.79
Smokey Bones Pulled Pork Sammy = $7.99
Total (+6% Tax) = $104.82
At this point, feel free to unsubscribe from Retire29, as you probably hate me. Conversely, if you enjoyed this post, hit up one of the share buttons below!
Thanks for reading Retire29!