Nowadays you don’t get many things free, and if you do, there is always a catch attached to it. So, when I saw a sign that said “a free cup of iced coffee” at a local gas station, I figured why not? I needed gas and I was thirsty. Just before I pulled in, I looked at the price of the gas on the pump – $3.79 per gallon. For that price, they could have also thrown in a free slice of pizza!
That took me back to the days when gas stations did give free goodies to get you to buy their gas: glasses with a picture of the Jets or Giants helmets on them, steak knives (I still have seven of them that came from my parents’ house), copper coins with pictures of all the U.S. presidents or the history of the U.S. space program on them, Hot Wheels toy cars, antique car coins, and small Disney books. This was all in the late ’60s when gas was still around 23 cents a gallon, but it pulled in fathers to buy gas and bring something home for the kids or the wife.
Of course, the biggest free giveaway at gas stations was S&H Green Stamps. Those little green stick-on stamps were put into books that, when filled, could be redeemed for items at an S&H Green Stamp store – everything from a set of dinner plates to TV tables to an outdoor barbecue grill. The stamps were like getting money back when purchasing gas or groceries. I remember a newspaper story about a gas station robbery in which money and Green Stamps were taken. All my mom and grandmother could talk about was the theft of the Green Stamps and what the burglar might buy with them!
If you were good at it, you could talk your way into getting a few more stamps by flirting or knowing the person giving them out. My mom was usually a quiet person, but she became bright and bubbly when she got to the register in the local Grand Union. My dad would say to the gas attendant, “Hey Mac, my kid needs a new bike for Christmas,” and the attendant would give him a few sheets. I still have two wood folding chairs that we got at the S&H store in Fair Lawn.
In the ’70s, banks offered a free toaster, CorningWare, Kodak camera, Mr. Coffee machine, or AM/FM portable radio if you opened an account. Today it’s a different world. We pay for everything and there is always a catch. “We will give you free checking if you deposit $10,000 into your account and don’t let it drop under that amount for a year and only write one check a month from the account.” Right, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to give you for free!