The Boys In The Bubble - Part 2
The Simulated Magic Kitchen Of Horrors
When we last left our heroes, they were mid-season, self-imprisoned at the Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, having three delicious meals a day courtesy of the NBA G-League. As we turn the page, we now come to the shank of the adventure, the Waterloo of catered cuisine, the Ganymede of guest services gastronomy. Dare you go further? Yes, you do.
BTW - if you missed Part One, go back and read it! Also - I neglected to put in the pictures when Part One went out last week. They are in there now if you want to revisit and see the paradise.
Project: “The Pathway” - A documentary series following the G-League Ignite team
Location: Orlando, Florida
Where You Can Watch It: TNT
Cast of Characters:
Jim - Director
Brett - Producer
Sean - Director of Photography
Kevin - Director of Photography
Jordan - Assistant Camera
February 21, 2021
Who Made You?
I cannot tell a lie. I broke down, again, and used the fitness center here, punishing myself on the Peleton bike. Like John Mellancamp sang in 1982, it did hurt so good.
There was a bit of an unexplained "Maximum Overdrive" & AC/DC theme to the game today. Brett quickly identified "Hells Bells" playing on the PA as being from that awesome 80’s movie. And then later, post-game, Isaiah was wearing an AC/DC "For Those About to Rock" T-Shirt. Both songs are on the same 1986 "Who Made Who" album. Coincidence? I think not.
Lunch at the Visa Center was... Asian inspired? Well, I suppose if the proffered "cheeseburger spring rolls" aren't enough cultural misappropriation to get you canceled these days, then sure, why not. It was reported that the "Pad Thai Noodles" tasted like "spaghetti with peanut butter," and the Teriyaki chicken was "wet and salty." I went for the wasabi tuna sliders which were overpowered by the doughy bun encasing the whole shebang. Meanwhile, the pork dumplings looked good, but Brett merely muttered that they were "normal TV dinner dumplings." Sean was the only one to go in for the aforementioned spring roll. He was not pleased by the encounter.
I had to take dinner to go due to an impending Facetime D&D session I was scheduled to lead with the family. When I finally got to it, the "Indian" inspired meal was better than I had expected. The samosas were spicy and although no longer crisp, did have suitable flair. The chicken was also well seasoned. Sean reported that "THE BAKLAVA WAS GOOD" in all caps for some reason. Brett, however, was probably sore that he didn't order some Arby's, because his hot take was that "the chicken was made from sawdust, the small shrimp was good with 3 packets of hot sauce and the chocolate brownie was good." He was right about the shrimp - it was advertised as "Chermoula spiced" but I found no hint of the garlic, cumin-scented paste I know and love of that cuisine. I had the cookies for dessert.
Also, today there was a strange abundance of candy everywhere. Twizzlers, M&M's, skittles... What gives? Has food services given up midway through the season?
Ignite for the win!
February 22, 2021
Another loss for the Ignite. They just had no "juice," as Coach Shaw said.
I skipped breakfast and went straight to lunch at the visa center where we had vegan kofta that was dry and tasted like budget falafel. The chicken parm was no better, as it had been obviously sitting on the table for a while, its cheese congealed and forming a translucent shield ready to repel the invasion of silver-colored plastic cutlery. My sense is that it probably tasted great right out of the kitchen, but it was as if it had then sat in the backseat of a Corolla for three and a half hours before making it to my plate. Brett had two helpings of the soup. There were little Mickey Mouse banana tarts for dessert.
We ordered Chipotle for dinner, as we had a pool scene to be ready for. Brett ordered me what I got last time, so I was unencumbered by my American right to choose my own destiny. Hence, I had the chicken on a salad with beans and salsa and then powered through the ensuing bloat to capture some of the best audio of the show. That's short-term memory. That's being a professional.
It was later reported that a crewmember double-dipped and had a second dinner from the mess hall. "Best dinner I've had so far" was the review.
February 23, 2021
I'm sensing a routine. Taco Tuesday. Chicken "fajita meat" with soft tortillas and salsa for lunch. Brett went broken up hard shells and "mixed taco meat" over salad for a kind of a Mexican garbage plate scenario, so what else can be said? He was told it was "all beef' but once again was "shocked" and "surprised" that it "tasted weird."
Dinner was jerk spiced turkey carved in front of my very eyes. I had it with a salad and pickled Brussels sprouts. However, the turkey was so juicy that I suspect foul play. I mean, really. I think they're juicing the birds back there. Full-on Russian doping scandal territory. But, I have no proof. Brett, meanwhile, double-dipped and got the ravioli in addition to ordering a Hawaiian pizza that he did not like. We discovered a secret stash of mini glass-jarred Dickinson's pure honey.
February 24, 2021
The team eked out a win today, so spirits were high.
Brett, on the other hand, was so dismayed by the utter lack of gluten-free lunch options that he had a sit-down with the chef at the Visa center. It was rough to watch. He made do with a salad and the chicken salad sandwich, minus the focaccia bread. I thought the chicken salad may have been the best thing I've had here so far.
Dinner was either good or bad, depending on your outlook. Sean and Jordan liked the fried chicken but Brett hated it, claiming it to be utterly flavorless. He said it "lacked the kick of KFC, the zing of Zaxby's, the punch of Popeye's, and the crunch of Cane's." I had the Mahi and green beans which were food. I'm wondering if this is all some kind of quantum experiment, where the outcome of the food depends on the observer, or in this case, the eater.
There were chocolate-dipped mickey-shaped rice crispy treats for dessert.
February 25, 2021
When you first walk into the meal room, the first thing that hits you is the smell. It's like walking into a wall of every school lunch ever made, distilled into a vapor, and then gassed into the hall. As you inhale the enhanced air, you enter an imagineered fever dream, engineered for your comfort, pleasure, and sustenance. But sometimes, it is a vision quest. You see the truth.
I imagined a vast series of tubes, carboys, compressors, grinders, mashers, and industrial-sized bellows at work twenty-four hours a day, overseen by a team of efficiency-minded managers in lab coats, each with a clipboard, a stopwatch, a laminated badge, and each carrying a spiral-bound copy of the same 15 pages of standards, regulations, and procedures related to food preparation. But then, I also saw the problem - all of the pages came from different books. It was not as bad as I had imagined. It was worse.
But how else, could such consistency be maintained? And what exactly is that smell? And what is that generic food flavor that seems to be in everything served? Is this evidence of the "simulation theory" everyone is talking about now?
There are definitely fewer and fewer people in the room with every passing meal. And inversely related, there are greater and greater numbers of takeout delivery bags appearing at the designated food drop each night. Red Lobster, Cheesecake Factory, Pizza Hut, Carraba's, Qdoba, Flipper's, Chik-Fil-A, and strangely, Target.
I skipped lunch and had a PB&J sandwich. Jordan's pallor was review enough for whatever was served. Dinner was like being lost in a corn maze at sunset. You know you have to get through it, but the light is fading, your family is already out, and every turn is a wrong turn. Beef medallions. Impossible Meat Loaf, Salmon in a leek and cream sauce. Brussels sprouts. Cold pasta salad. One plate, one tray, three foods, one drink. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It's all starting to blend together. Some meals can be shared with a friend. Some meals should not. No more shifts to the left. No more shifts to the right.
Okay, fine. The beef was actually not overdone and didn't force a confrontation with the cutlery. Brett said the sauce had a "hint of Copenhagen." I'd say it was more of a Grizzly Long Cut flavor if we're going down that road. Sean seemed okay with everything, and we agreed that the pasta salad was right out of the cold pan found at any midtown deli, replete with too much vinegar and canned olives. The salmon? Steamed or baked into oblivion. Kevin radioed in his vegetarian review: "Potatoes and veggies were decent, the impossible loaf was just flat our weird."
Brett, our savior, pulled our lifeless bodies from the scene and promptly revived us with Coldstone ice cream, airlifted in via Grubhub.
I'm beginning to really understand the depths of this place.
Game tomorrow! Win! Ignite!
February 26, 2021
Bad day at the office, as B. Shaw said. Last night they lost Donta to the Raptors and the game was not good at all. Another loss for the Ignite. Can they pull it around tomorrow?
Lunch was also a loss at the Visa Center. Sense memory kicked in and I slipped right when I saw the Philly Cheesesteak option, having remembered that left hook to the body from weeks ago. Instead, I moved inside with the chile spiced chicken with cheese and chicken soup. I call that the "double clucker." Brett and Sean both confirmed my memory and gave the meat a solid "Steak-Umms" seal of approval. But it was worse for Brett. Being gluten-free, he confided in me that without the bread, he could hide neither the congealed meat nor the shame sauteed into it. Alas, poor Brett.
The chicken fared no better. It reminded me of being a freshman in high school, when my friend Jake's parents went away for a few weeks, leaving him and his older brother alone in the house with an envelope of cash labeled "grocery money." His older brother, of course, took half the money and bought records. So, when it was time to have dinner one night, Jake and I used what we could from the refrigerator and pantry - chicken breast, dry spices, red pepper flakes, and some random cheese. That's what I ate tonight. Tased the same, one hundred percent.
After the punishment the Ignite received by the SLC Stars, Brett took us under his comforting wing and we all ordered ramen, sushi rolls, and french fries for dinner. What a relief. Not perfect by a long shot (the dumplings were either soggy or burned), but a welcome oasis in a desert of epicurean mediocrity. And there was chocolate mousse for dessert.
February 27, 2021
The shootaround was nothing to write home about, and plenty of music. The game, however, was a complete nailbiter with IT getting the game-winning bucket at the buzzer. Drama!
Lunch was dramatic as well, as it was “Asian Food Day” again. Not since Lunar New Year have we feasted so well! Sean said the wings were “good,” while Jordan gave them only half as good a review stating they were “Disney Teriyaki.” Meanwhile, the eggroll was solid. The Mongolian beef sliders were also very tasty, again a bit too doughy with the buns, but the pickled vegetables on it worked well, in my opinion. Then again, Jordan downgraded the dish conjecturing that the meat was a “redo” from yesterday’s Philly cheesesteaks. He might be right.
Dinner was a bomb except for the Fettucine Alfredo. It wasn’t as good as mine, and it was lumpy but the decent seasoning hit the spot. The pot roast was “meat-lite” according to Jordan. I’d say it was more like “meat-minus.”
Some crewmembers went again for the late dinner after the game only to be dismayed to find - the same thing. But, again, the Alfredo won the night with Brett exclaiming “Dang this tastes like Olive Garden dude. Like it’s kinda good.” I opted to dine in, grazing on a previously stashed parfait from my mini-fridge.
February 28, 2021
Owens Corning Documentary
We tried to get some action from the team brunch but it was wall-to-wall music and not much else.
Settling down for lunch, Brett surveyed the "BBQ" fare and said "nothing tastes like it's supposed to." Then he went deep. "The greens look good like you know what they're going to taste like, but then you get that Sysco flavor start creeping in. This brisket - it was cut like two months ago. And this soup is like flavored water, but not a good flavor."
Then, Sean radioed from the other table that the soup was "literally the worst thing he ever tasted." And I imagined a four-inch soup pipe punching through the kitchen wall with the described brown water trickling forth into the stainless steel cauldrons now simmering at the chow line. Brett broke my reverie while trying to place the flavor - "like onion water," was all he could muster. Then I saw it - the placard above the soup server read "baked potato and cheese soup."
Aghast at his meal, Brett then wondered if we were actually the subjects of a documentary. We debated the reality of such an endeavor and ended up imagining a food pill we could just take so we no longer had to go through the ordeal of eating here anymore.
I thought that with enough barbecue sauce, the meal was fine. Heavy but fine.
Dinner was also fine, in my opinion. Not so much for the dessert, though. The churros were very odd. Sean was incensed but because this is a family report, I cannot reprint his initial comments. After regaining his composure, he clarified and said they were "dry and like eating wall insulation." Game tomorrow! Ignite!
Also Of Interest
Here’s a bad idea: “She ended up using the dog’s leash as a harness to lower herself into the toilet.”
Love springs eternal anime.
I may have to go and make a gonzo doc about this volcano Bitcoin city. Seriously.
Elon. Enough already!
Now Listening To
For some reason, during our teen years, my brother and I developed a non-ironic affinity for the underrated German tenor saxophonist Klaus Doldinger and his early 1970s jazz fusion band Passport. They were like… Like a bootleg European Weather Report? Perhaps it was the funny name, the glasses, the polyrhythms, the songs that sound like background music for a montage sequence, the weird album art, I don’t know, because honestly, I can only listen to a track or two at a time now, but sometimes it just hits the spot. I also just bought glasses like that.
All Good Thoughts,