Sometimes, It’s Go Free, or Go Home

There’s a golden rule when it comes to getting free stuff — the less people know about it, the more fun it is to get it and, of course, the greater the feeling of accomplishment. (That’s why the free pizza at that little-publicized engineering fair is always more exciting than the college council events offering free soda.) So, the ideal free situation is to find a popular store and be “in the know” about getting free stuff (code words included) before everyone else.

Using this logic, events like Ben and Jerry’s “Free Cone Day” on April 12 or IHOP’s “Free Pancake Day” on March 1, are the ultimate antithesis of this golden rule. Broadcast far and wide, publicized with Facebook events that have six-digit numbers of people attending, these free days always bring in hordes of hungry weirdos (myself included), and thus, the best and worst of humanity.

The worst of the worst is always Chipotle’s Free Burrito Day on Halloween. They stopped this tradition in 2010, but a couple of years back, every Chipotle on Oct. 31 had a line curling around the block. Drunk, high and hungry college students waited for hours for a free burrito — the majority of them covered in aluminum foil of varying strips and sizes. The thought of braving hours of standing behind some drunken frat bro dressed like a burrito with a beer belly killed my appetite, and I walked away without even trying. Sometimes, you have to pick your battles.

The best things in life are free, so when I get coerced into spending money, I am irate. IHOP’s Free Pancake Day seemed innocuous enough at first — my friend and I were seated almost immediately. But their free pancake day only involved a short stack, and being the hungry Americans that we were, we didn’t just want three measly pancakes for brunch. We wanted sides — more specifically, bacon. With the extra side orders, our “cheap” meal ended up costing $14 plus tip. Let that be a warning to you: Be vigilant when partaking in these “free days” — your empty stomach might hoodwink you.

But sometimes it’s worth it. On paper, Ben and Jerry’s Free Cone Day sounded like a miserable waiting game — thankfully, I was wrong. I assumed the tiny stand outside the UTC food court could hardly handle the masses of eager ice cream fans demanding their fix of Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. But when my friends and I arrived, the line was a pleasantly short five-minute wait. And even though my favorite flavor wasn’t offered (seriously, try Imagine Whirled Peace; it will change your entire perspective on life), their equally sublime Milk & Cookies flavor was, so I was stoked.

The free ice cream was great, but the moment that made my day was when a woman with three kids pulled out her wallet to pay for her family’s ice cream. Clearly, she had missed the enormous “Free Cone Day” sign that dominated the better part of the stand. When the man behind the counter told her that there was no charge, she looked stunned, smiled and cautiously walked away. Never underestimate the power of free to make someone’s day that much better.