Finding Toilet Paper and Hand Sanitizer Like a Steve McQueen Great Escape

This article article is part of an ongoing series of life in the Pandemic 2020

By Dave Price (3/17)

The movie that has been on my all-time Top 10 favorite list the longest is the World War II 1963 classic The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen and James Garner.

In the film, based on the true story of a POW escape from a German prisoner of war camp, McQueen played motorcycle-riding, baseball-loving, authority-hating American escape artist and Cooler King named Captain Hilts, while Garner portrayed the camp scrounger, Hendley.

I first saw the movie as an impressionable 11-year-old and now, 57 years later, I still can see traits I picked up from McQueen’s character in my personality. But today, in the new COVID-19 normal, I feel sometimes feel more like Garner’s character, scrounging in grocery stores and pharmacies for 3 of the DC-area’s least available commodities – toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and wipes.

The Great Escape Trailer
https://www.youtube.com/embed/-W4eAz64LAY?feature=player_embedded
This past week, my Garner training came in handy as I scored 2 of the biggies – a 16-roll package toilet paper and not one, but 2, small bottles of hand sanitizer.

The Toilet Paper Caper
When I popped in one of the 2 Harris Teeter supermarkets within a mile of our apartment complex, the toilet paper shelves were empty, as they had been for days. This was disturbing since we were down to our last 2 replacement rolls. But, walking by the customer courtesy desk, I discovered the store still had a few toilet paper packages stashed there to keep a better handle on who was buying the bathroom necessity, which could now be bought only in limited quantities.

Proud of my purchase, I didn’t bag the toilet paper and walked the near mile to our complex with the package under my left arm.

The toilet paper proved to be one of the greatest conversation starters I had ever worn or carried., even more so than the my collection of anti-Trump T-shirts. People kept asking me – where did you find that? I told them and a few of them actually headed off in the direction of the Harris Teeter.

Our area is home to a lot of soldiers who work in the Pentagon, and one in uniform, a giant smile on his face, offered, “Hey, you want me to escort you home so nobody can take that?”

Another friendly fellow pedestrian jokingly said he would trade his wife, but not his dog, for 4 rolls of what I was carrying “Better than a six-pack of beer,” another chimed in.

The Sanitizer Search Ends (For Now)
But I was even prouder of my scrounging find later in the week of hand sanitizer, since I truly did employ some of Garner-as-Hendley’s suave charm to secure that.

There is a CVS store across the highway from our complex and I had made it a habit to pop in there once a day on one of my exercise walks always asking the same question – any sanitizer come in yet? Of course, by visiting with such frequency, I formed a relationship with 2 managers and one of the cashiers.

On Wednesday, one of the managers motioned me to follow her into an aisle.  “You know, we don’t have any of what you’re looking for today,” she whispered conspiratorially. “But we’re getting a store shipment tomorrow. If you come back right around this time, you may find what you’re looking for”.

Next day, of course, I showed up, but 15 minutes after the suggested time. The manager proceeded to walk behind the front desk and produce not one, but 2 small bottles of sanitizer. She handed me both. “I kept these for you, but if you hadn’t come in just now, they would have gone back on the shelf.”

I thanked her sincerely.  I would have probably paid just about any amount for the sanitizer, since we were down to one small bottle. But they were only $1.79 each. No price gouging here at CVS. I purchased the sanitizer, hid the bottles in my pocket, and walked out of the store.

Now finding a 16-pack of toilet paper and later 2 bottles of hand sanitizer isn’t anywhere near as important or exciting as escaping from a German prison camp. But at the risk of appearing overly dramatic, I do admit I whistled the theme song to The Great Escape all the way back to our apartment on both occasions.

More About The Great Escape
If You Haven’t Seen It, Now That We”re All Sheltering in Our Homes This Would Be A Good Time to Check It Out
The Theme Music

Chirping About a Cricket Contest

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

I had intended just to come, eat a few bugs, and blog about it. But then I saw the sign. “Next … Cricket Eating Competition 1:15 p.m.,” it said. “Your participation is a $20 donation to DC Central Kitchen. Win Prizes.”

It really didn’t take a lot of consideration. I had already downed a grasshopper burger and 2 big helpings of savory bugs, so I had no aversion to adding crickets to the list. I think DC Central Kitchen is one of the city’s best charities, so that was attractive.

And while I would be a newbie to the world of competitive cricket eating, I did have some experience in related fields. As a young reporter doing a 1st-person story, I had been the July 4th South Jersey watermelon seed spitting champion back in the 1980s for all of 2 hours until my record was broken.  And, since retiring to DC, I had blogged about the 2012 July 4th Z-Burger battle bash.

As I finished the last bites of a grasshopper burger, I told my wife to sign me up.

I took my seat at the table with about 20 other competitors. On my right was a legislative aide from Capitol Hill. On my left was a young Environmental Protection Agency worker.  Both gave me some pause for concern. I mean who knows more about bugging than the government. And the EPA deals all the time with environmental pests. But I actually thought my toughest competition might come from the recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who said he loved to compete in eating contests.

The head judge, who came all the way from England (or at least had a British accent) gave the directions. They seemed simple enough. We would each be handed 3 small cups of dried crickets. The winner would be the person who downed all 3 cups the quickest. If any crickets spilled on the table, you would have to consume those, too. You would have to raise your hand and then open your mouth to prove that all the insects had been completely swallowed. You couldn’t drink anything while eating.

The judge asked if we were ready. We all nodded. “Alright begin,” he said.

I learned quite a bit about cricket consuming in the next 3 minutes. First, there are almost as many ways of eating crickets in a cricket-eating competition as there are crickets. There is the dainty, grab one-by-one style. There is the 2-handed, 2-cup plunge. There is the dump-the-whole-cup down-at-once and then try to swallow method.

Then there are the faces of the contestants. They are interesting to say the least. They are also distracting. In fact, I became more interested in watching the faces than I did in eating. Or at least that is what I told myself. Actually, I realized after my 1st cup of crickets that I wasn’t cut out for hard-core cricket chomping and chewing. I did manage to down a 2nd cup. But by that time, the winner had long finished and I was battling for a 2nd or 3rd place finish that I really didn’t have the stomach for.

But even though I emerged beaten, I was not downhearted for long. A few steps away was the perfect cure for taking the sting out of a lost bug battle – I grabbed another of Chef Scruggs’ really tasty grasshopper burgers. However not before having 2 glasses of water and a Coke. If nothing else, I now knew that cricket eating is the saltiest work this side of competitive salt-shaker downing.

You Shouldn’t Let Eating a Few Insects Bug You

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

The 2 young women, dressed in fashionable summer DC office attire, looked down at the red napkin being held in front of them. The napkin contained today’s featured appetizers – Mexican spice mealworms, roasted mealworms, roasted crickets, and roasted locusts.

“How do they taste?” one of the women asked, making a face. “Are they yucky?”

“No, they are really crispy. And salty,” the man replied before slipping a small handful of the insects into his mouth.

Such conversations were the order of the day yesterday on the outdoor dining patio of the Occidental Seafood and Grill on Pennsylvania Avenue, which was serving as the site of a 3-hour, pop-up Pestaurant offering a menu consisting entirely of cooked insects.

The event, which was titled “Pestaurant on Pennsey,” was sponsored by Ehrlich, a DC-area pest control company. The 1st  Pestaurant event was held last year in London. This year the DC lunch at the Occidental was one of 12 locations around the globe that were offering insect dining.

Company officials said that one reason for the worldwide event was to try to make bugs and insects a little more appetizing to the general public. A 2013 report from the Unite Nations called consumer disgust “one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries”. It also named “insect farming” as a potential way to “address food and feed insecurity” across the world.

But the free fun afternoon lunch also had a more immediate social impact. Erlich donated $5 to DC Central Kitchen, an organization which feeds the homeless and the poor, for every person who sampled bugs from the 3 insect-laden tables.

On the savory table, the wait staff was serving roasted crickets, Mexican spice mealworms, roasted mealworms, buffalo worms, and roasted locusts. On the sweet table, the offerings included scorpion lollipops, chocolate ant rounds,  mealworm lollipops, ant candy, and ant and cricket lollipops.

But, by far, the biggest culinary hit of the afternoon was the tasty grasshopper burgers created by Occidental executive chef Rodney Scruggs. He said his burgers were a combination of turkey, grasshopper, and a secret ingredient. “You always have to have a secret ingredient,” he joked. He explained that the grasshoppers used in the burgers reminded him of dry mushrooms. “I could see them pairing well with a really old wine,” Scruggs said. The chef explained that after much consultation dried grasshoppers were added to give the burger “a little extra crunch.” He said that since grasshoppers are a staple south of the border, he topped his creation off with a special salsa.

As television, print, and online cameramen recorded the scene, Scruggs said the environmental and charitable focus of the event appealed to the restaurant. “It’s for good causes, but it’s playful, fun, and whimsical, too,” he said. “It’s really a win-win for everyone”.

See Hilary Sign. See Hilary Run?

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

If you live in the DC area you probably don’t know Sue Kezurer Zuckerman, but if you knew Suzie like I know Suzie, you would know 4 things – she’s my wife’s college roommate, she and her husband Marc were visiting us in Crystal City last weekend, like Hilary Clinton she is a Baby Boomer, and she loves Hillary.

That’s why you could find Sue, Marc, my wife Judy, and I walking to the Costco store in Pentagon City Saturday morning to stand in line to see Mrs. Clinton, who was scheduled to begin signing copies of her new book Hard Choices at 11 a.m.

Arriving at the Costco parking lot shortly after 9 a.m., it was apparent that this wouldn’t be your normal book signing. There was the crowd. Lines of more than 700 people, many with a copy (or copies of) Hard Choices in hand, were already established alongside the entire western side of the store.

Then there was the bus in the parking lot. The red, white and blue bus with a big picture of Hillary on the back where you see her texting with the words Please Don’t Text and Drive. On the sidethe messages Ready for Hillary and Join the Movement weredisplayed in giant type. Outside the bus, dozens of people were stacking tables with “I’m Ready For Hillary” buttons and signs. Others were rolling up posters of Hillary to distribute to those who wanted them. Still others were huddled in small groups, getting further instructions for the day.

Now authors don’t travel in tour buses with entourages. Rock stars, sports teams, and political candidates do. And that’s the thing. Very few people in the Costco crowd Saturday were there to see Hillary Clinton the author. They were there to see the Hillary Clinton whom almost everyone expects will gain the Democratic nomination in 2016 and try to become the first woman in American history to hold the office of President of the United States.

We were greeted by Megan Collins from Orange County, California, who is a sophomore in college here in the DC area. She offered us our “I’m Ready for Hillary” stickers (which as an old practicing journalist I declined) and explained the procedures for the day.

I asked Megan why she was working for the as-of-yet-not-declared candidate. “We’re here to show Hillary today that we have a number of people supporting her if she decides to run. And we’ll still be here for her in 2016.”

Megan said that while she endorses Mrs. Clinton for her political views, she also has a more personal reason to join the “I’m Ready for Hillary” campaign. Both of her parents are big Bill and Hillary Clinton supporters. When she was 8 months old, Megan had her picture taken with Mrs. Clinton. Later, her mother said, “maybe you’ll be working with her when you’re older.”

“And here I am,” she said with a wide smile. “I think it’s pretty revolutionary for a former First Lady to go out and make a name for herself. Not only is she a strong representative for the female community, she is a strong representative for America.”

But, of course, not everyone is as admiring of Mrs. Clinton as Megan or my wife’s roommate, Sue.

Take John Lipnicki of neighboring Vienna. The 69-year-old business owner was on the sidewalk next to the Costco, brandishing a large yellow, black, and red sign which attacked the former Secretary of State for Benghazi and claimed she had a legacy “written in blood from Arkansas to the White House.”

“I’m here to let people know that there is another side to Hillary,” Lipnicki said. “If she wants to be president, what she did or did not do will impact America for years to come. She’s no leader. Where was she when we needed her as secretary of state?”

And Lipnicki was not alone in his opposition to Clinton. At the front entrance of the store, the Republican National Committee had unleashed it new anti-Clinton weapon – a volunteer NRC worker in an orange-and-white squirrel costume wearing a dark blue t-shirt with the slogan “Another Clinton in the White House NUTS” written in red and white letters on the front.

Take John Lipnicki of neighboring Vienna. The 69-year-old business owner was on the sidewalk next to the Costco, brandishing a large yellow, black, and red sign which attacked the former Secretary of State for Benghazi and claimed she had a legacy “written in blood from Arkansas to the White House.”

“I’m here to let people know that there is another side to Hillary,” Lipnicki said. “If she wants to be president, what she did or did not do will impact America for years to come. She’s no leader. Where was she when we needed her as secretary of state?”

And Lipnicki was not alone in his opposition to Clinton. At the front entrance of the store, the Republican National Committee had unleashed it new anti-Clinton weapon – a volunteer NRC worker in an orange-and-white squirrel costume wearing a dark blue t-shirt with the slogan “Another Clinton in the White House NUTS” written in red and white letters on the front.

I turned around. Obviously, it wasn’t Bill Clinton, but for once Suzie was almost right. The man did resemble the former president. Especially at a quick glance. The Clinton look-alike turned out to be 59-year-old Rick Meidlinger from northern Virginia. He admitted this wasn’t the first time he had turned heads at a Clinton book signing. A few years ago, when Bill Clinton had appeared at the same Costco to sign one of his own books, Meidlinger had attended.

“I was sitting on that loading dock over there and a woman came over and said, ‘If I can’t get a picture with him, I can get a picture with you.'” Then others did the same thing.

I spent the next hour or so talking to Meidlinger, who, although he wasn’t the former president, did have a really interesting story behind his reason for getting Mrs. Clinton’s signature. Autograph gathering was something he had started with his younger daughter, who had a passion for baseball that she developed while playing sandlot ball with the boys in her neighborhood. She played Little League with the boys; then continued on to pitch with them on the high school baseball team. She had thrown a perfect game and been featured in a section of Sports Illustrated. Later, she made the US Women’s Baseball Team, but once it was decided that baseball wouldn’t be an Olympic sport, she gave up actively participating in the game. But she and her Dad continued collecting autographs.

Suzie and Bill- Clinton look-alike Rick Meidlinger

Finally, after noon, we entered the store. In order to see Mrs. Clinton you had to be a Costco member. Judy and I had bought a membership the day before for $55. But since we had only 2 cards, that meant that only Judy and Sue could continue through the line. When we had purchased our membership, I told Dave, one of the store managers, about my plans to blog about the event. He suggested that we not carry anything in to the signing, since it would have to be stored and checked. So Judy and Sue gave their pocketbooks and small beach chairs to Marc, who would hold them, while I wandered around the store trying to capture more details for this post.

I will let Judy describe what happened next:

Sue and I were given yellow wristbands after we showed our 2 Costco membership cards. We proceeded following the yellow arrows down the cement floor aisles blocked off for the signing. Store employees had constructed a giant wall using slats of water bottles for a base and slats of paper towels for height to secure the signing area.

Since we weren’t carrying anything (not even a cell phone or a pre-purchased book), we were told to take a shortcut across 3 aisles of waiting Clinton fans, where we were scanned by Hillary’s security and lead to the inner signing area.  

Sue meantime had asked me at least a dozen times if I was going to get her a book for Hillary to sign. I repeatedly assured her they would have books inside the maze that we could purchase and finally asked the security people just to assure her. 

Sue asked me what I was going to say Hillary and, after thinking about it, I said I would simply thank her for all she has done for us (women). 

As we rounded the final aisle, there she was, elevated on a platform, surrounded by hundreds of books and many members of her staff and security. 

The people ahead of us had cell phones and were taking pictures while in line. “Oh man,” I said to Sue. “David will be upset that we don’t have our phones to take a picture”  I turned around to Rick, our new friend and Bill Clinton look-alike, and asked him to take a few shots of Hillary signing books and then email them to us. He said he would. 

The line was moving very quickly, but Sue observed that Hillary was shaking hands with every person in line.

“Oh my God Judy, what am I going to say to her.  Doesn’t she look beautiful? I mean really beautiful?” Sue blurted out, obviously awe-struck at finally seeing Hillary up close and personal. 

When it was our turn, three of us were herded up. Hillary shook all three of our hands and we were given a pre-signed book and led out the other side of the signing area. The entire process took less than 20 seconds.

I didn’t get to say “thank you for all you have done,” but we had gotten Sue to meet her political idol.

Cool Jazz as Cold War Policy

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

When he was asked to describe the music he and his contemporaries were playing, famed pianist Thelonious Monk responded, “jazz is freedom. Think about that.”

So with that definition in mind, it really isn’t surprising that America decided to use jazz and its performers as cultural weapons in its idealogical Cold War against the former Soviet Union.

Recently, a panel was held at the National Archives to discuss the topic Jazz Diplomacy: Sending America’s Music to the World. It was part of an ongoing series of programs to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival.

“Since the beginning of jazz, music has been a prevalent symbol of freedom,” said John Hasse, curator of American Music at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

According to Dr. Penny Von Eschen, professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan, the use of jazz as a diplomatic tool was “accidental and improvised,” much like jazz itself.

From the beginning of the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union, Russia pushed its artistic preeminence to demonstrate it offered the better way of life to the existing and emerging nations of the world.

“They (the Russians) said we were a nation of gadgets and automobiles and a people of no culture,” Von Eschen said. “In essence, the US was reacting to this cultural warfare. But did the state department think of this?  No. This came out of the jazz world. Musicians said the Russians can’t claim jazz.”

However, the fact that many jazz musicians were African-American and blacks in the late 1940s and 1950s were treated as inferiors in the South and other parts of the country initially threatened any musical diplomacy plans. The tours began laced with contradictions, but eventually the music won out. Black jazz musicians gained popularity for their American music. Trumpeter Louis Armstrong  came to be known around the world as “The Ambassador of Democracy.” Duke Ellington and his band performed in more than 65 countries.

“The musicians were bringing a very different message of democracy, of who counts, and what is democracy, and what is egalitarianism,” Von Eschen noted.

Perhaps the biggest victory for jazz was delivered through The Voice of America shows aired by Willis Conover. Conover presented jazz programs for foreign listeners for more than 4 decades. In fact, while Voice of American language program transmissions were jammed in the Soviet Union, officials there allowed the music to play.

“It was a musical expression of the things happening in America,” said current director of Voice of America David Ensor. “The Soviet Union had a hierarchal structure of music and jazz really upended that.”

When questioned about playing American music produced by blacks, Conover had a quick reply. “Listening to skin instead of listening to music is irrational,” he was reported as saying.

Ironically, the Voice from America propelled both Conover and jazz to new heights overseas, but not at home. “He was well-known the world over, but he wasn’t known in the United States. In fact,  jazz is more popular today in many countries than it is here,” Ensor explained.

David Killion, a former U.S. representative to UNESCO, said that although the Cold War is over, jazz is still serving a purpose around the world. “My message is that jazz diplomacy isn’t history, it’s contemporary,” Killion said.

“Jazz diplomacy may have started in the United States, but it has been embraced by the world,” he added. “In jazz, (as a player) you have to listen to what everyone else is playing, even if you don’t agree with it. Jazz teaches us that this world is big enough to accommodate all of us.”