Do you know D.C.?

Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.

John Thomas and Colonel Boaz, both 56, Vietnam vets, and wheelchair users, place a lot of value in a smile. Thomas has been at the VA Medical Center at 50 Irving St. NW for a year and four weeks. He has gone through difficult back surgery and is waiting on a prosthetic leg. Boaz has been at the same facility since late January and has undergone eight surgeries to hustle the sluggish flow of blood in his lower extremities.

Lunch is an ideal time to escape the cold realities of “hell,” as one of them terms the VA location. Sit back, enjoy a good meal, shoot the shit.

Yet there’s no escape to be had at the VA’s cafeteria, in the view of Thomas and Boaz. “There’s always someone complaining about something,” says Boaz. The food’s not too good, either.

And so every couple of days, Thomas and Boaz rev up their motorized wheelchairs, hit the concrete, and wheel on down to the Washington Hospital Center cafeteria, where a whole new lunchtime world opens up for them. Says Thomas: “The people who serve you the food are nice. They greet you with a smile. It makes a hell of a lot of difference.” A highlight today: An employee of the WHC cafeteria arranged their table so that they could fit their wheelchairs under it. Don’t get that kind of service at the VA.

On this outing. Thomas is enjoying a fried shrimp dish and some fries; Boaz is working the chicken alfredo and a cheesecake, along with a fruit crisp. Both declare their meals “excellent.”

At just after 2:00 p.m., the two men wheel out of the cafeteria en route back to their low-morale bastion. They’ll make the quarter-mile trip really fast, because they’ve souped up their wheelchairs. Asked how they managed such a feat, they decline comment.

Reporting by Jason Cherkis