After reaching the table where they were giving away cardboard coasters — get this: for free — I was certain: This was officially the greatest night of my life.
ABC Fine Wines & Spirits had a beer-tasting last week: 60 beers to sample, 10 bucks. That was enough to get me in. But when I found out about the free stuff — did I mention the coasters? — the night quickly went from good to I’m-never-going-home-again-ever.
“Cheese?” a bright-eyed older lady asked, extending her arm Vanna White-style toward a massive platter of cheddars and swisses and pepper jacks she ruled, and I could just tell by her demeanor she did so with an iron fist.
“Don’t mind if I do!” I exclaimed, wishing I had a top hat to tip her way as I shoved handfuls of Boar’s Head cubes into my pockets.
You had to see it: Outside, cars packed the parking lot, sending the overflow out toward the consignment store and Chinese place across the complex. Droves were holding up traffic in the Palm Harbor Shopping Center. And inside was getting crowded, young and old alike, sniffing the different shades of browns inside their sampling glasses (also free to keep!) and playing connoisseur.
“I’m picking up some nutty hints, and just a faint echo of a summer citrus,” I said to the distribution rep who poured my sample. And it was his job: He had to engage me— humor me, patronize me, whatever.
As far as I was concerned, his forced friendliness was yet another tally in this night’s growing Free Stuff category.
How could it get any better?
This is how: In the corner, Guinness reps were giving away free stout glasses — but only after engraving them with your name. And Bruno’s Pizza was down the aisle, dishing out free half-slices and garlic bread and eggplant rolitini.
“Free, I presume,” I said, not even asking anymore, as I reached for a slice. “Any chance we can get some chicken parm out here next?”
It’s funny: I remember back when ABC Fine Wine & Spirits used to be ABC Liquor, and how so many in town were wary when they heard one would be built on the corner of Old Kings Road and Palm Coast Parkway. There goes the neighborhood! they must’ve thought, drumming up images of those dingy, hole-in-wall shops they’d pass in dingy, hole-in-the-wall towns on the way through to someplace else. For me, it was on road trips to visit family in New York, back when I was small and had to share the back seat with my idiot brother, a massive red cooler wedged in between us so that he wouldn’t steal my Game Boy.
Passing an ABC meant we weren’t in quiet, clean, safe and perfect Palm Coast anymore, which I always thought was strange, considering how the logo is so playful: a few alphabet blocks, bright and colorful, as if a Chuck-E-Cheese was just through those front doors, past all the dudes drinking out of brown paper bags in the parking lot.
But this ABC proved us all wrong. Even this event: It wasn’t a drink-tons-of-beer-on-the-cheap night; it was a “tasting.” And that made it classy.
“Your finest mead!” I demanded, extending my complimentary shot glass to the couple behind the booth, waiting for one of them to chop-chop and fill it up before I had to repeat myself.
And, eventually, they did. Any kind of fermented drink you can think of, it was here (and that was on top of the free brewery stickers I was gifted by my new best friends, the distribution reps, earlier). It was a magical place: People did your pouring for you; they were paid to be nice to you; and, you didn't have to tip them!
Did I mention it was the greatest night of my life?
But in a way, that’s the problem with transitioning so quickly from lower-middle-class struggle to a full-on life of luxury and excess: You get used to it — fast.
“I have had my fill and am now prepared for slumber!” I announced to two strangers beside me. “Make haste and carry me to my caravan!” And I did a quick double-clap, to show them I meant now.
Only, they didn’t listen. There was no carrying, no caravan. Honestly, they weren’t even all that nice — which only goes to show: Money does buy happiness, and happiness is a free half-slice of Bruno’s, and did I mention the free keychain bottle opener I got?