Today I sat around and waited in, around and outside the Center for Domestic Preparedness for a non-exaggerated total of probably six hours. Outside of that, winning the solitaire trifecta (clock, Klondike, 7x5 faceup) and getting our equipment, nothing happened. So I’ll share what I wrote on the van ride yesterday: food. I figure I’ve written about plenty of graduation ceremonies and ropes courses, so it’s gotta be time for something incredibly mundane (yet terrifying).
The NCCC budgets $4.75 per person per day for food; that is what you live on. All of that money is pooled and put in the hands of your Team Leader; for a ten-person team like mine, that’s $47.50 a day. It’s doled out weekly, which pushes the amount up to $332.50. That buys weekly supplies, almost always purchased at Wal-Mart, and invariably made up of that store’s “Great Value” generic items. (I’ve joked before that the entire NCCC program is really just an indirect subsidy for the local Wal-Mart.)
NCCC staples include wheat bread, pasta, macaroni‘n’cheese, salad that comes in a bag, drink powder that turns water into lemonade, frozen pizzas, occasional chicken breasts and sundry fruits and vegetables. Generic pasta is the most popular meal, made with store-bought sauce; tacos and rice are also quite common. All of these things are paid for with government dollars, tax-exempt, which REALLY helps one shop within the budget. Going over budget isn’t the end of the world, though. It’s pretty much expected in your first week on spike, for example, when you’re also buying base ingredients like salt or olive oil or ketchup. Now, it is possible to stay under budget until the end of an accounting period and then just have an extravagant meal at the end; you’re not allowed to roll over money into the next accounting period, as I understand it, so you might as well spend it while you can.
Cooking and cleaning duties are generally divvied up amongst the team. My temporary team had a four-person rotation per night; two people cook, two people clean for every dinner. You cook one night a week, clean one night a week and then have three nights free (on weekends, people generally fended for themselves during NCCC training). On my permanent team, that’s been shifted to one cook, one cleaner, at least in theory. In practice, we’ve had relatively few sit-down team dinners; everyone had different schedules and our kitchen wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone, so most people just followed their own schedules and ate whatever. This week, John made minestrone and Mariah made tater tot casserole, both of which were welcome changes. I’ve cooked once since getting here, a valiant attempt at homemade salad dressing and pasta sauce that mostly just came out bland. I prefer cleaning anyway; it’s less stressful.
All of the above is daily life, but there are some outliers. For example, today is a travel day, during which our budget jumps up to $15 per person per day. (During the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, when our power was out, we also got $15/person/day until the lights came back on.) That’s supposed to allow for three meals, but it doesn’t always work that way; on Friday, we only had to pay for one meal—breakfast was our stuff, dinner at Anniston was provided—and we went to, ugggh, Taco Bell. We each had $15 to spend… at Taco Bell. The amount of crappy food we ate as a team was just overwhelming. My friend Joe bought an entire cake there and, as of this writing, has eaten half of it.
We were lucky enough, as a Corps, to have the whole first week catered by a local Vicksburg catering company. During our two weeks at Anniston, which started today, we will also be catered to by the good people of the Center for Domestic Preparedness. Beyond that, NCCC is expected to take care of itself the rest of the time, absent random events like church dinners or barbecues thrown by the city of Vicksburg. I’d never had ribs before, and I’m now wondering how on earth I went 22 years without them.
That’s NCCC food. I’ve spoken in glowing terms about how we’re being trained in all sorts of ways for whatever may come our way and whatever whatever, but when you look at that aspect of our lives, we’re really being trained extensively for one more thing: bachelorhood or spinsterhood. At least I’ll have experience as a dishwasher when it comes time to look for a career path. (Kidding. Mostly.)