What does it mean to be free?
It depends on context, of course.
If you are free, people will stand on scorching pavement in the middle of an Arizona summer to get you.
If you are free, people will stomp on fingers to get you or wrestle you away from even little old ladies and angel-faced children.
If you are free, people will dress up in cow suits to get you.
The country’s first motto was "E Pluribus Unum’’ (Latin for "one from many’’), followed by "In God We Trust’’ (Baptist for "best way to irritate the ACLU").
You may debate the accuracy of each these days. Perhaps a more accurate motto might be "If It’s Free, It’s Me.’’
A few weeks ago, I spent two hours baking in the sun out at a two-mile stretch of the 202 where ADOT officials were celebrating the opening of that stretch of highway between Higley and Power roads in Mesa.
Hundreds of people showed up, and businesses and groups from all over the East Valley were there to pass out trinkets and geegaws. At the Tribune tent, we gave away a copy of the day’s newspaper along with those plastic clamps that help you keep opened bags of potato chips fresh.
Well, you would have thought we were giving away Paris Hilton’s jewelry, such was the response. Some folks took a couple, some wanted three or four, which seems to me excessive. By the time I left, people were staggering through the heat with plastic bags full of stuff you suspect has, by now, found a permanent home in the back of a drawer. But, hey, it was free, and therefore of value.
This was hardly the first time I had observed this phenomenon. Carnival (outsiders call this Mardi Gras) along the Gulf states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida provide an example. During Carnival parades, people will maul each other beyond recognition to secure the plastic beads and doubloons hurled from the floats. Now, these items cost about a dollar a gross, so the competition for them is all out of proportion to their value.
Chick-fil-A restaurants recently gave away a free meal for anyone who showed up wearing a cow costume during a one-day promotion, which prompted the Teklemarian family of Mesa to spend the better part of two days making costumes. Catalina and Abraham Teklemarian brought their whole herd (Zion, Isaac and Jacob) to the restaurant at Stapley and Baseline in Mesa.
"We just sort of took it on as a family project,’’ Catalina said. "It was something fun to do.’’
Likewise, Jacob Marin brought his daughters Dana, 4, and Paige, 22 months, to the Chick-fil-A at Fiesta Mall.
"They were cows for Halloween, so we had the costumes already,’’ Jacob said. "So why not?’’
After all, we are, indeed, "The Land of the Free.’’