A Tale of Two Freebies

It takes a lot more work these days to get anything for free. From mail-in rebates, to buy-one-get-one schemes, to placing oneself in the just right place at just the right time, it's ever harder to get something for nothing. Which brings me to this question: what is the greatest length you have gone to get an item or service for free?

To start, this is how far I am willing to go for a freebie and alternately just how little it can take.

Freebie #1

Each summer the Public Theater presents Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater in New York's Central Park. For over 50 years audiences have been enjoying these "free" performances. Last year my wife and I were fortunate to receive tickets from friends. This year we learned to appreciate the full meaning of free.

The process goes like this: tickets are dispensed (for free) at the Delacorte box office at precisely 1:00pm on a first come first serve basis. The number of free tickets does, however, vary depending on the number of sponsors who choose to attend that specific performance. It is suggested that you get in line early to ensure receiving a ticket and they limit the number dispensed to two per person. Just how early? We arrived six hours early. And there were probably 75-100 people already in front of us.

In the interest of keeping the process fair (which I do appreciate), an employee laid down the ground rules for waiting in line and thereby being eligible for receiving tickets. To start, no one may join you later in line after you have secured your spot. You are not allowed to leave the line except for short trips to the bathroom. The name and number of a local deli that delivers was given so you never needed to leave the line for sustenance. Any violation of these rules would result in being sent to the end of the line.

We arrived at 7:00am armed with blankets, chairs, breakfast, snacks, drinks, books, magazines and games; all of which were used at some point during the wait. Intermittently during the morning, various performers and political activists seized a captive audience. Dogs of all shapes and sizes eagerly sniffed our picnic provisions. And then there was the question, "What time did you guys get in line?"

I took a quick trip to the bathroom about 9:30am. On my way back I was curious just how long the line had grown. After walking a half mile I finally reached the end where an employee was telling people that in nine years she had never seen anyone in this position receive a ticket. However, people were leaving as quickly as they were being replaced.

By 12:30pm the line began compressing as its occupants gathered there cache of wait survival gear. And as stated, at precisely 1:00pm tickets were distributed. By 1:05pm the conditions of receiving free tickets had been met and we celebrated with brunch and a margarita; and then a short nap before returning for the delightful performance.

Freebie #2

On hot nights my wife and I often walk to the local ice cream parlor for a little cool down in a cup. Our usually uneventful stroll was interrupted by a strange swirl on the sidewalk. Looking closer, it was money. Always suspicious, we didn't want to pick it up for fear it was either fake or its rightful owner was nearby and would think we were stealing it. The wind picked up and the bills began to scatter. We gathered them.

After a quick count we realized that we had stumbled upon a good deal of money. Thoughts started to fill my head where it could have come from. Perhaps it was someone's rent. Or it could be winnings from the track. Or it could be from drugs. Or it could have been thrown on the sidewalk by two people who didn't want to pay the psychological price attached to it.

We waited for 20 or so minutes to see if someone would return to claim it. No one did. We went for ice cream and returned to see if we would find a person frantically searching. We found no one. We returned to the site several other times for weeks to see if a note was posted. There were none.

We have stopped looking for the owner.

paul, Jul 19 2005 5:52PM

thieves, i say thieves!

dawg, Jul 20 2005 9:21AM

freebie #1: bill shakespeare'd be proud. or laughin his ass off.

freebie #2: therefore, the obvious question: drinks are on the Q?

David, Jul 20 2005 10:04AM

I can't remember the last time I received something for free. However, I do remember the last time I paid money for nothing. A friend and I waited for hours outside a Tindersticks concert in London, hoping to convince a bouncer to let us in. We naively gave about 40 pounds (then $60) to a person who had "connections" with the bouncer and then we watched her flee with her accomplice. We never saw Tindersticks that night, but somehow it seemed appropriate that we were screwed. We were experiencing one of their songs.

Sandie, Jul 20 2005 11:32PM

I waited for at least 1 -1/2 hours in a November drizzle to get into the Museum of Modern Art on Friday Free Night. My feet were so tired by the time we got in that I could not fully enjoy the art. So I keep going back during the abbreviated Friday free hours (no longer a wait since MoMA's been open for a while) to avoid paying the $20 admission fee which is too much!

Heather, Jul 22 2005 2:13PM

I do love free stuff. And, in New York a lot can be had for free. From free performances (a la Summerstage, Shakespeare and every once in awhile Broadway too), free music of all types, free samples handed out on busy corners (like the guy with boxes of bottled water I just now saw in front of the Time Warner Center), free products (beauty, magazines, tote bags, clothes etc.) and of course free advice from strangers--just like that from the old woman who said "the line's getting longer, you'd better hurry..." Surely it all makes up for the cost of living in NYC, doesn't it?