Writer’s Workshop: Free (?)

When I hear the term “free” applied to an item, several things leap to mind.

By “free,” do they mean “included in the price”? When I was a trainer, we gave all kinds of stuff away: coffee, donuts, pens, pads of paper, training manuals in custom binders, lunch, cookies, candy, tape flags, Post-It Notes, soft drinks, etc. Of course, when you consider that the client was paying $1200 a day and the total value of “free stuff” we’d give them was rarely more than $100 (even if they hogged the cookies and donuts), we were definitely coming out ahead of the game.

Ditto in the early days of flying (by which I mean in the Twentieth Century). You’d get a meal (served on real dishes), free coffee and soft drinks, pillows and blankets (for use on the plane, not to take home, although I’m sure more than a few were spirited off the plane), an inflight magazine, they’d transport your luggage for free (within reason), and they’d actually be nice to you. All for the price of your ticket. Now, it’s like they nickel-and-dime you. Want to carry more luggage than a hobo’s bindle? $25. Want a Coke? $1.75. Want lunch? We have an array of sandwiches priced from $5 to $15. We accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. (What, no Diner’s Club or Carte Blanche?) And stay in your seat or we’ll turn you over to the authorities. And that’s whether you got an ultra-super-saver fare by booking your trip before you even know you needed to take one, used frequent-flyer miles or airline coupons, or paid full-fare.

Am I going to get what I “paid” for? Remember the laundry detergents that would give you a “free” glass, a dish, or a towel in the box? You generally weren’t getting the high-quality stuff. They were free, and worth every penny.

How much is this going to cost me? Two words: FREE KITTEN (or, if you prefer, FREE PUPPY).

As Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman once said, TANSTAAFL: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. It goes back to the old taverns that would advertise FREE LUNCH. It was free so long as you bought a couple of drinks…

14 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Free (?)

    1. Hard to forget. He didn’t have the strongest voice in Chicago, but it was the most distinctive. He wrote the Memories of Love suite at the end of side 3 of the second album (it’s all classical sounding) and sang the song, and while he might not have chosen himself top sing it, I don’t know of anyone else that could have.

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  1. Or Robert Heinlein’s TANSTAAFL – there aint no such thing as a free lunch. He’s right – it’s always built into the price.

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  2. Wow…you nailed this, John. We have had this conversation here. When I operated my pet sitting business we always gave away free things, which actually we considered an investment. Anyway, when someone says, “free kitten” or “free puppy”, there is no such thing! Ahh…but, it sounds like you know that.

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    1. I think if I were to sit down and figure out just how much all my “free cats” have cost over the years, I’d be really depressed. Then I’d realize the joy and love they brought to us, and forget all about the money.

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  3. My office gives away pens, lol — everything else has a price.
    I do remember the IDEA that one gets what one pays for, but over time, there seems to less truth to that. Some stuff’s a bargain. some stuff has far too high an opinion of itself. shrug

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  4. Gas stations used to give away collectable glass of various types—right up to the Gas shortage era of the mid-70’s. In the early part of the 20th century it was carnival glass gas stations gave away. I have a whole set of vintage green glass goblet style-dessert dishes from my Granddad collected for my Grandma that way. In the 70’s it was like Flintstone or Scooby-Doo glasses from gas stations and gas was 78 cents a gallon. I don’t think give-aways are near as cool as they once were!

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