Wednesday, November 05, 2008

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch ... Or Is There? (Election Review)

My friend ELAINE, who has complained way too much that I never mention her here, sent out a broadcast e-mail Monday night, directing friends and family to drive directly from Starbucks (free coffee) and Krispy Kreme (free star-spangled donuts) stores to their nearest Chick-fil-A to claim their free chicken sandwich after exercising their right to vote Tuesday.

Imagine the cashiers' surprise at our local Chick-fil-A when throngs of socialists, cheap Republicans and charismatic Democrats made a mad rush through both entrances and around and around the drive-through to demand their free lunch.

"It's actually against the law to give away food just because you voted," the 15-year-old behind the counter told me. She kept both hands firmly on the counter, as if I were wielding a gun and robbing the place. "This has been a misunderstanding. Some markets are offering this promotion, but ours isn't one of them."

"Oh, so I don't get a free sandwich?"

"It's actually the Florida market that is giving away free sandwiches. We are not part of that promotion."

And before anyone could step behind her and wind the giant key lodged in her back, she said, "But because radio stations (AND YOUR FRIEND ELAINE) have been publicizing it, we will honor the promotion."

"So what you're saying is, No, you're not supposed to give out free sandwiches, but yes, you are giving out free sandwiches today because of the misunderstanding. Right?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Well for heaven's sake, why didn't you just say so in the first place instead of carrying on this nonsense about markets and promotions and rumors? If the result is the same, I'd rather not hear the circular reasoning about why you should or should not give away free food. Still, a very good PR move on Chick-fil-A's part. Same for Starbucks and all the other places that kept me on the road Tuesday. God bless America.

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My phone rang at 10:30 p. m. Election Eve. Few people on this earth are on my List of People I Will Talk To After the Late News ... Especially When It Requires Me to Get Out of the Bed and Talk Quietly From the Stairwell, but David is certainly at the top of that list.

"Amy, I'd like to talk to you about the election."

(Sigh.) "David, I'd like to talk to you about Jesus."

We effectively shut each other down. Yet we still managed to stay on the phone for an hour, sidestepping politics and religion. That's how we've stayed friends for more than 24 years. Tolerance.

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Everyone put your colored pencils down, and go to bed ... Back in the day, we didn't have real-time election results, hologram guests and computerized maps. We had paper ballots and telephones and morning newspapers. We would go to bed on election night and wake up to learn who would be the new leader of the Free World. We had anticipation, guesswork, the UNKNOWN.

But Tuesday night, my kids were watching concession and victory speeches before 10:30 p.m. Until then, they were keeping tabs on electoral votes, maintaining a close eye on ballot counts as they were made official. My GOSH, my den looked like a newsroom, with a couple of laptops, a TV, stacks of papers, bloodshot eyes, a fair amount of loud talking and occasional shouting. And, of all things, colored pencils and black outline maps on plain white paper -- the way it's supposed to be.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Halloween Review and a Little Election Preview

A Holiday for the Masses ... Last Friday night, a pair of bicycles sat propped up against a stop sign in our neighborhood. A block or two away, their owners -- two Mormons in standard bicycle-riding attire -- walked up, then down, each side of the street, knocking on doors and sharing their tracts. Whether they won any converts or engaged themselves in any noteworthy conversation on Halloween night, nobody knows for sure. But one thing is certain: They earned some fairly large fistfuls of Smarties and Junior Mints and were seen walking the neighborhood, smiling widely and chomping on a pretty sizable stash of goods. Multi-tasking should never take a holiday. Way. To. Go.

Watching this unfold whisked us back more than seven years to an October afternoon at an amusement park, which was hosting a park-wide Halloween event. Employees were dressed in costumes, and guests were given large plastic themed bags and encouraged to trick-or-treat throughout the park. Walk up to a ride attendant, get a few Tootsie Rolls. Open your bag and say "trick or treat" to a security guard, score a Reese's. On and on. When our then-3-year-old saw a fair-skinned woman wearing a burqa and Ray-Bans and sitting on a park bench, she ran from my side, stood in front of the woman and shouted, "Trick or treat!" It all happened so FAST -- we couldn't stop it. Besides, it was hardly the 3-year-old's fault. If you were 3 and saw a woman wearing a burqa and shouting, "Hey, cut it out!" in an Appalachian dialect to her freckle-faced kids (all were in costume, by the way) in the middle of an amusement park on a warm October day in central Alabama, what would you do? Thought so.

Yet she was ever so gracious, leaned toward our daughter and said, "Oh, honey, this ain't no costume. I'm sorry." Then she looked toward us, laughed out loud and shouted, "Hey, y'all have a happy Halloween!"

After All, This Is a Free Country ... Celebrate our nation's freedom and your right to vote by taking advantage of free stuff tomorrow. After you stand in line for virtually HOURS to cast your vote, swing by Starbucks for a free cup of coffee. Bring proof, if you have it. A sticker will work fine. Starbucks also claims that it will work on the honor system, in case you don't have proof. Later in the day, head on over to Ben & Jerry's between 5 and 8 p.m. for a free scoop.

Let freedom ring.