Free Parking


There is only one place I know where free means free:  nothing paid out nor anything expected to be given in return.  It is not found in weekly advertisements that announce buy one get one free, nor can it be found in the dimly lit and musky barrooms at happy hour with their signs that host “Free Beer, Tomorrow”, where Johnny Daily spins his truths about the free-for-all that happened the night before or the argument between Dick and Jane at happy hour, so he can beg off another drink from you to fuel his creative juices; neither will you find it on the labels that say fat free and other additive free jargon that plays host to the long-listed labels of free from this or free from that.  No, you won’t find the free I speak of there.

Free is only found in one place, most assuredly not located in the place whose workforce can be heard over the speaker to announce, ‘Feel free to move about the cabin when the light goes off” but you are expected to keep belted in anyway, in case the aircraft is subject to the free winds that blow, and the passenger that sits in the aisle seat is gently jostled to sleep; you are not free to move at all.  And if you are lucky to have the aisle seat yourself, your freedom of movement is wrenched away while making your way to the small recess where you go to free your body from its morning snack of coffee and Danish between the standby flights that were free, but your ticket shows you paid a small fee for the privilege of the family discount.

Free in the mind of the person, who in a language they are learning, understands “feel free to take a seat, and wait to have your papers processed” means to take that chair with them after it has tired their butt and tried their patience for the freedom to be in the Land of the Free; to find that some place along the way, freedom of choice and freedom of religion comes with a price of looks and stares by those born into the freedom who state freely to themselves or within their groups, “We have the freedom to believe what we want and our truths in action and voice are absolute and you better learn how to live with it.”   Meanwhile, the language gets cloudier but a little less harder to understand in the conversations in schools and stores, but not in the hearts of the learner who feels and sees the real cost of freedom.  

The space where free is truly free won’t be found in the streets that play host to the downtown life, where the chamber of commerce touts “free music and entertainment every other weekend” and the street vendors and musicians play in free form and stand or dance by their hat or instrument case.   You are free to toss in a coin or two but feel a bit guilty if the buck doesn’t slip freely from your pocket into their open cache while the machines freely tick away the time guarding your car or van; nor will it be found while enjoying yourself in the vendor’s space for the cool drink or tasty treat that only can taste so good because it is downtown where the action is: 

      There’s a sign that says, “Free Parking For 10 Minutes.”  You may think to yourself that this is the free that I have talked about.  You may be thinking, ‘I am getting something for nothing’ until someone notices that you are carrying a meal for four in your hands.   And someone can be overheard whispering, “Hey buddy, you didn’t get it for free, you just paid the owner of the corner restaurant for the bag of goodies; and by the way, your family you dropped off the other day carried their packages back to where you parked in the Free Loading Zone: bags of clothes and CD’s and really cute little knick knacks your family just couldn’t live without!”  Ten minute parking wasn’t free, was it?

Yeah, nothing is free, mostly.  You won’t find it as the toy at the bottom of the cereal box, in the arguing of whose turn it was to get the toy; it earned you a quick smack or a trip outside to play by yourself and think for awhile about what you did; nor will you find it in the caramel and popcorn treat—anyway, the toys aren’t what they used to be:  a charm for your bracelet, a cool ring, a whistle, a mini-book.  If you were really lucky you would get a tattoo that left you free to lick your arm and remain free from movement as you placed it ever so carefully and waited just the right amount of time before you removed the stiff backing to reveal a superhero, a lady bug, or a heart.  But then your mom would come and feel free to exorcise the design because young ladies don’t sport such a thing on their bodies; so it wasn’t really free because you had a nice little strawberry where you were reminded of your audacity to try to get away with something like that. 

If you still think that some things in life are free, let me remind you it can only be found in one place; it’s not found when your child gets in free with your adult paid admission.  You walk with the stuffed bear, the stuffed belly, and the silly little matching hats that everyone in the family wears; unless of course you have exercised free will to choose the one you like instead of the one your husband or son chose.  The hotel bill that shows up on the monthly statement, sent to you free of charge and now you are free to pay on-line— paper free remuneration:  no stamp needed for the Post Master; and soon you can feel free to refrain from checking your mail on Saturday. 

But I have looked long and hard to find those free opportunities.  I have found one. On one occasion I almost succeeded at finding another.  On a business trip I felt free to gather the free soaps and shampoos, the jellies, the jams, and the teas at the free continental breakfast.   I tucked them all nicely and neatly in my suitcase. I made my way home from the conference and stashed them in my goody drawer.  But I lost momentum when I purchased the baskets and the holiday tissue at the dollar store to wrap the bounty.  Almost free.

Nothing is really free but that one place I have found.  It ‘s not the free wheeling lifestyle you play out as a young adult; the ‘set it free if it comes back it was meant to be’ never comes back, unless of course in some cases it does and often it’s the sick and unhealthy that returns.  The freedom of choice sounds simple enough until that choice feels free to deal you the Go to Jail card and is not replaced with the Get Out of Jail Free card; set it free it will come back to you…right. 

I will tell you the best freebie:  free sample!  But this is not all free either, although cleverly masked in the delivery.   The mail, the stores, the mall…free, free, free: free taste, free squirt, free try, free coupon.   Yet the taste fades, the smell vanishes, you get one use maybe two and you are left to feel free to buy the product again if you liked it.   It’s free alright: for you to use one time, free for you to choose the sample size only and fill the free space in the Christmas stocking!  Now that is close to almost free.

But I still haven’t told you what is truly free:  Free Bird, free form, free installation, free rent, free month, and free spin; yet you have already spent years of flying high:  free basing, free when you buy three, break it up and sell it to someone else; hours of time trying to get it just right:  the water color art, the story, the clay, the gourds, and the left over brick that was cut on the bias and you know can still use for something: a holiday gift to hang on the door or the side of the house; the lease that you signed that stated you got two months free if you contracted to stay for at least six even though the neighbors fight and the air doesn’t work and your new job is clear across town:  gas is expensive and the rent was free for only two months, the first and the last, so that makes eight months of your life.  But maybe the casino down the street will be lucky today and your free spin will award you with free money, or at the very least your free gift for coming today will feed you for dinner if your free chance to draw pulls out the free dinner ticket.  Is luck free? 

I’m sure you are familiar with free trial memberships:  the free CD, or the tape and the vinyl that came in the mail or more recently the five free visits.   If you didn’t like it you kept the free introductory offer.   You send the paperwork or tell the marketing agent you don’t want to continue with the free membership, but the paperwork crosses in the mail and you find yourself paying for the year because you missed the deadline.  You thought you could beat the system:  free-thinking and thinking free took the first few paychecks of your new job to get the packages or the phone calls to stop coming every month; now what was free about that?  I know that free installation happens because the really cool sound system bumps and grinds through the streets after the salesman makes a hard sale and the small print on the agreement explains the interest free deal for two months:  two years later you are still paying: double the price now.  Interest free…interesting.  

And I’ll bet PETA, Green Peace, the Right to Lifers, and the Gulf Coast residents have some free speech to spew that would provide commentary on free range chickens, free fishing, the rights of the unborn child, and free drilling rights.   Free advice for you today and tomorrow you pay:  the questions of a friend, a stranger at the club, the parent whose child just won’t behave, the emergency hot line that is your turn to man.  Lucy had a good idea: put your booth out when you feel free to listen and take it down when you don’t.   

Then, what are the best things in life that are free?  The innocence of childhood before the cruel awakening of adolescence and the hard truth of reality sets in that free room and board are not a lifetime guarantee.   Is it the uncontrollable laugh of the baby who infects the whole of the room as tears ooze from the eyes of those who, for a moment, experience the bliss that it brings? Is free the wind in your hair or the whistling in your ear on the walk with a partner who comforts you as you cry over the loss of a loved one?  Is it a keepsake you dropped, and as it crashed to the floor shattering into pieces along with your heart you realize that it is okay to throw that memory away with the remnants and you are free to cry even more?   

Is free the decision to let go of the anger, the rage, and the bitterness when you decide to put down the drink and the drug that consumes your days and nights and your mind is free to confront the junk in your head that keeps you from being the person you want to be:  a better parent, a better citizen, a better human being: alive and productive and finding their voice again.   You are like the batter in the game who has been given a free base because you have been hit with the ball, and now you can really be a player and hit it out of the ballpark.  You are home free, but only as long as you don’t forget the reason you got to the game in the first place.    Is it a free wireless network and the limitless opportunity to define your quest for life? 

Or is free just the corner space half way around the Monopoly board?  

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