Sometimes Free Is Free…Sometimes It Isn’t

13 July 2018

A friend of mine, Oscar Rumba, a Cuban Czech, who’s been living and working here with a green card for years, related some good news that befell him last year. I’m not sure why it took him a year to unburden himself of good news, but it did. I asked why the wait? Why am I the last to know? Oh, no, he said, you’re the first. This, I said, must have been really good news. He grasped me by the elbow. guided me to a nearby saloon, ordered up a couple of lagers and sat us down on high bar stools and with a furrowed brow began telling me of his kismet.

I don’t know about you, he said, but I have never won a thing in my life…raffles, silent auctions, lotteries, slot machines…nothing. You’d think, once in a while, I’d get some combination of bells or plums at a casino and get a payoff…nothing big, but something. Closest I got was an email from a Nigerian prince, sitting on millions in oil revenue that he’d love to share with me, if I only would provide him with a bank account number for transfer of said millions…and, oh, a few measly thousands for transfer expenses, title fees, a plane ticket to come here to sign the documents and his dry cleaning…a small price to pay for wealth.

Well, a year ago my luck changed. I got a call from on an organization I give money to and found that my name was automatically entered in a contest and through some heavenly provenance, I won. Pop the champagne, they told me, you’re going to Paris for a week. You’ve won two…get this…two first-class airline tickets to Paris. No kidding?, I asked. I don’t know the appropriate response to such news. Should I jump up and down, cry, shriek or shout endlessly, “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it”, like I see Publishers Clearing House winners do. I did get excited when, a few days later, the tickets arrived. Well, clear the calendar, hon, we’re off to Paris, with a champagne and pate reception at the airport when we leave and a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant our first night there and a discount coupon for a petite gem of a left-bank hotel. My stars had aligned.

Expenses while we were there, of course, were ours, but we’d eat cheap, have a hotel discount and do a lot of walking. Well, in Paris you don’t eat cheap, which we found the first morning, when we forked over 15 bucks to have croissants and lattes, standing up at a breakfast bar. Evidently word had not been Morse-coded to the French that many American hotels have the grace to provide free morning fare. Then there were scrawny lunches at about 15 bucks a pop and 30 dollar dinners with house wine. With a splurge or two, food was about $125 a day. It’s okay, we’re on vacation and the airline tickets were free.

We conquered our acrophobia and booked an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower…how many times will we be in Paris? Stomachs churned, but we survived…about 30 dollars each. The Louvre was about 15 each and the Musee d’Orsay was about 15 as well. Monet, how could we leave without a print…and a Cezanne and a Renoir. We didn’t play favorites. I don’t even want to mention the cost of a Hermes scarf. But, hey, we’re on vacation and the airline tickets were free..

Came down to the last day and the hotel bill was presented on a silver tray…not a good sign. Our petite gem was $300 a night with the benefit of the discount coupon from the group that provided the airline tickets. I now know the appropriate response for winning the contest…weeping.

But worse was on tap. We went to the airport for the return flight and the clerk at check-in, looked at my documents, glanced at me, turned her back and made a call, shielding the call with her hand. A supervisor showed up, perused my papers and, grimacing like a judge at the Inquisition, announced with a wisp of a grin that my green card had wandered into expiration. I couldn’t get back into the US. After I disgorged a few grand in legal penance and spent a few extra days in Paris, I was deemed acceptable once more. And with an au revoir, I was ushered past immigration control to fly to the land of the free.

The moral: Sometimes free is free…sometimes it isn’t.