The 100% Discount Solution

I was about as young as the students I currently teach when my dad decided to purchase a brand new Chevelle Malibu.  It was a nice car, silver with a black vinyl top, a V8 350 engine, and with something new that our family’s cars never had–A/C.  But the fact that I remember the car has less to do with how it rocked state-of-the-art early 1970s technology.

Nah, I remember the dealership. Or, more to the point, I remember the soda machine at the dealership.  It gave out free cups of soda.  This was amazing to me, and, for some stupid reason, it remains some of the best tasting soda I’ve ever had.  While the car itself was the last passenger car my father bought (he’s since been into pick-up trucks), we never went back to that Chevy dealership (and, apparently, that’s a good thing!)  Still, among my childhood memories, that one was a favorite.  Free soda, go figure…

Because my experience was so unique, I never took it for granted.  But in retrospect, perhaps it’s a kid’s wiring that didn’t make me so different from any other kid at that age.  Free stuff has its appeal for any age, but maybe it’s something natural for kids in the upper elementary grades to want to hunt down the free stuff.

Take one of my favorite anecdotes from my first years as a teacher.  My school site is quite close to one of the major auto dealerships in Southeast L.A. County.  An apartment building immediately adjacent to the dealerships is part of my school’s attendance boundaries and the children from that apartment building are subsequently bussed to my school.  The anecdote involves the dealership closest to the bus pick-up spots.  While waiting for their bus, the kids quickly discovered the donuts and pastries the service department set out for its customers.  As such, it became the breakfast destination of choice for these students.  Things wound up getting so out of hand, that the dealer’s general manager finally had to get on the phone, call my school’s principal, and get her help to have the kids stop.

Flash forward to yesterday afternoon.  With the wife’s ride in need of some mechanical TLC, my afternoon was spent running from our mechanic for a tire rotation and brake check to the local neighborhood car dealership for a recall issue covered under the car’s warranty.  My little girl likes this dealership, ostensibly because we can walk home after we drop off the car, but more so because they give out free popcorn in the service waiting area.  Katelyn constantly mentions the popcorn whenever we drive by on our way someplace.  While I was not anticipating a long wait per se, I was a bit peckish, so I decided to grab a bag of popcorn.

Opening up one of the many magazines to read, I saw a young man with a backpack walk through the dealership’s hallway and out towards the service area’s parking lot to the street.  Not unusual, I thought, as the local middle school was letting its kids out when I had arrived–but in his hand he had a bag of popcorn!

Dang.  Forty years backwards in time I went, just replace the free soda with popcorn…

I reflect on that memory for an instant, reach down to grab my iPad, look down into my briefcase, and glance back up to see two more middle schoolers casually marching down the service area hallway, chomping on their respective bags of popcorn.  Even better, one of the service manager glances up, sees the boys, and then greets them:  “Hey Guys!”…

Aside from one mechanic’s eloquently stinging barb about one of the boy’s mullet, they too have their free booty.  Lyndon Johnson once was to have given out the advice to “never pass up a free meal or a chance to go to the bathroom.”  These boys, like me and the others, have lived that advice.


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