The people's voice of reason

Tears and Laughter: What is the value of free?

Free has become a popular term here as of late. It is a new trend and an old favorite.

Not free as in freedom. Not free-minded, or free-spirited, or being a Freebird.

I mean free – as in no cost.

I don’t know about everywhere, but in Wilcox County if you will come out with some free hotdogs you can draw an attentive crowd. This has been proven countless times.

I seldom accept anything free. It’s one of my hang-ups. But one of my exceptions was at the old Impact Wilcox meetings. For all they were and all they weren’t, the hotdogs were outstanding.

The free hotdogs were their calling card, though donations were accepted, expected, and strongly encouraged. Most people donated more than even the most fabulous of hotdogs should cost, including me, so…the value of free in this case is arguable.

Not that it is anything to argue about, but even a hotdog is not free. Somebody paid for it. Somebody made the trip to Sam’s or Costco or the Pig. Nine times out of ten, if someone is offering you a free hotdog, or trip to the gulf, or a sample of lotion…it is bait. They are trying to get you to listen to them for a couple of minutes, or hours, or days. They are trying to make some point as a salesperson, a traveling evangelist, or a politician six weeks out from an election. Their point will likely be lost on the majority of the crowd – but it is worth the cost of a wiener, bun, and squirt of yellow mustard for them to have the opportunity to try.

I guess another reason I tend to doubt anything rumored to be free goes back to the early 1990’s. Picture if you can a dance floor with people elbow-to-elbow, dancing on an invisible line with great passion to country music. People did not line dance half-ass even if they were half drunk. No matter what you did for a living, come sundown Friday we were all cowboys. Couples would wear matching starched western shirts. A lot of people wore hats. Women of all shapes and sized would have on their little short skirts and their Ropers. I cannot over emphasis the importance of the boots. They needed to be expensive, made of an exotic skin or leather, and they needed to be colorful. No solid black classic.

After a few scoots and spins and pivots with Garth and Travis and George…people would get hungry – hence the appeal of the free buffet. Which was always picked over and always made me start thinking about the odds of food poisoning. And everybody had been sweating, and a lot of people enjoyed touching on each other during slow songs and then…there everybody was, snacking around the free buffet table. It was a way to draw in customers from other places. It worked. There was typically a two drink minimum that many patrons tripled. So I guess it averaged out for the club owner financially some nights, but was the free buffet free?

My bank generously gave me a free calendar in January. I have been banking there over twenty years. I will go ahead and call that one free. And if you will go in and borrow a few grand, they become even more generous. Some customers have potholders and travel mugs – all free.

I did receive a free reusable grocery bag in the mail. It is blue and says Jiffy Pop. It was completely free. I am still eating all the popcorn I had to buy in order to get all the proof of purchase labels I had to mail in to get it, but it was free. Sort of… Like all free things I suppose.

Amanda Walker is a contributor with The Selma Times Journal, Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Alabama Gazette. Contact her at r at


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