once upon a time in the year 2000, there was a really awful movie starring jason biggs. it was the truly mediocre follow up the 90s masterpiece , clueless, and for whatever unknown reason, I TOTALLY LOVE IT. greg kinnear! mena suvari! what’s not to love? ok, probably a lot… but if you can’t find anything else worthwhile in this pitiful little love story between small town geek with a heart of gold (baby animals!) and street smart city girl who just can’t seem to scrape up enough cash to pay for school, at least give props to the big free date scene.
picture it, dirt poor love interest (played by mena suvari) offers to take adorable protagonist (jason biggs) out on a date. but OMG, she’s DIRT POOR! didn’t she just lose her job at the strip club? how will she ever do it? lemmie break it down for you:
they start out by stealing a loaf of french bread from a bakery early in the morning (do people really just leave fresh bread on the street in the city?). paired with some coffee pilfered from a hotel continental breakfast station… breakfast! then they go to the art museum, where she has a membership. finally, they tie it all up by sneaking into a broadway show (alan cumming in cabaret no less) at intermission.
it’s all very charming, and a little illegal, and totally unrealistic for pretty much anyone who doesn’t live in a big city. that said, i am fascinated by the concept of the free date. and i started thinking about romantic days that could be had on a budget of zero dollars. here’s everything i came up with, but for the love of god, let’s get this list going.
1. first friday: this is number one on the list because it’s your best bet for a full evening. you get countless galleries, museums, shows, street performances AND at least half of them have free wine/cheese/crackers. i had the best cheese plate ever this week at the regency spa, and some pretty stellar guacamole in the state theater building. now, my friend whose boyfriend runs a gallery cautions: don’t be an asshole and just go for the free booze. go, enjoy the art, grab a nibble or two, and then move on. if you hit enough galleries, you will get your fill. plus, your date won’t think you’re a freeloading dickbag.
2. sample day at whole foods: beer! cookies! cheese! whole foods is always having some kind of sample situation, and if you canvas the store slowly enough (possibly twice), you can get a pretty decent meal out of it. i recommend this as a companion adventure with a walk or hike (see #4) so that you get the full activity + food date experience.
3. wine tasting: similar to the whole foods setup, there are a number of places in town that do free wine tastings. i’m a big fan of the west end deli, but i know there are others (anyone out there remember where?). by the end of it, you usually end up getting a good full glass of wine out of it, and if you’re really lucky, they’ll have a few crackers thrown out for good measure.
4. portland trails: i obviously hit on this one a week or two ago, but there’s nothing like a nice long hike in a beautiful place (with no entry fee) to help accelerate that all important “getting to know you” phase.
5. usher a play: if you’re theater types, a great way to see a show for free is to volunteer to usher. sure, you have to hand out programs and shuffle old ladies to their seats for a bit, but with theater tickets in the $25-$50 (at best), this is actually an awesome deal. you and your date can bond over the crotchety theater goers (it also helps if you hit a wine tasting beforehand).
6. volunteer: seriously, this is actually a great date. whether you’re sorting cans at the local food bank (lots of hilarious jokes to be had here about the weird shit that people donate), or handing each other hammers at habitat for humanity, the built in activity keeps the awkward silences at bay. plus, you can gauge the willingness of your date to do public service.
7. continental breakfast: ok, i’ve been trying to make the majority of these babies legal/ethical… but if you’re completely busted and you’re out of options, here is a trick i picked up from a coke addict on intervention. choose a hotel that has free continental breakfast in the lobby (the bigger the hotel the better). dress in business attire (carrying a newspaper adds to the illusion) and the front desk people will likely just assume that you checked in on someone else’s shift.
8. crash a wedding/anniversary/bar mitzvah: this is really just the evening time version of the continental breakfast. although if you’re lucky, you’ll hit one with an open bar (where people will be too drunk to notice that you weren’t actually invited). plus, if it’s not working out with your date, you can always try to upgrade to a cast off bridesmaid or groomsman.
9. brewery tour: portland’s very own shipyard offers regular tasting tours (they fill up fast, so reserve online), where you get the check out the factory AND test drive some sweet sweet booze. it is somewhat unclear from their website whether or not the guided tours are completely free, BUT they do offer an absolutely free virtual tour several times a day that also has soda & beer samples. traveling? check out this awesome list of factory tours all over the US (intercourse pretzel factory anyone?)!
10. networking event: this is the most fun if you come armed with fake names and a bunch of fake business cards (so there is a minimal printing cost up front). basically, just troll linkedin for large (and free) networking events, and then go in there work the room (and by room, i mean free hors d’oeuvre table). or if you’re feeling like not being scumbag steve, you can even bring your real cards and try to conduct some important international business.