Al Batt: Tote that bag or go to tote bag camp somewhere

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

The weather was close. 

That’s how my mother would have described it. Stifling humidity surrounded me and it wasn’t pleasant company.

Al Batt

I’d told stories on stage at the state fair and had a break before yapping again, so I took a stroll on the fairgrounds. The sounds of the fair rushed over, by and through me. I enjoyed watching people eat things I’d never eat unless I was starving or a contestant on a game show. These were the thoughts of a man whose grandparents ate lard on bread, seasoning it with salt and pepper because they were connoisseurs. I kept one eye on food and the other on the ground to keep from stepping on things that fairgoers hadn’t disposed of properly. I was an island in the middle of Crazy Lake.

I came upon quite a sight — a long line leading to an enormous building. The line twisted and turned. It was no Guinness World Record, but it was impressive. It intrigued me. I jumped on that bandwagon and got in line. Getting in another line wasn’t on my bucket list. I was in line for no reason other than there was a line I could be in and I waited to get an unknown something I didn’t need. I used to wonder if I was an idiot. The results are in. It’s official, I am. I asked the guy ahead of me what we were in line for and hoped it’d be a goose laying golden eggs and not a high-pressure salesman selling timeshares.

He said, “I don’t know, but it must be something big and free. Look at the length of this line.” 

We liked free stuff because we weren’t hedge fund managers. Robin Leach never narrated a moment of my life on the TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” or as it’s known in my mind, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Fatuous.” I remained in the line because I had champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

I repeated the man’s answer when the woman behind me asked if I knew what we were in line for. She smiled. At a fair, getting free stuff is a side hustle.

The line grew behind me as people paused from stalking foods on a stick to stand in line, but my progression forward wasn’t rapid. I’d boldly go where everyone was going because I’d invested time into the endeavor and there were so many people behind me in the line. Social media influencers remind us constantly that there is always someone better off than we are and someone always has whatever is being given away at the front of the line. 

We complain while standing in a short line at the DMV to license something our ancestors would have considered an unimaginable luxury. We’re in a hurry to spend money. This line was different. There were no complaints.

The minutes moseyed by. My waiting skills were pushed to the next level, but it didn’t tamp down my resolve. The closer I came to the building, the more people I saw carrying orange bags bearing the name of Augsburg University. They grinned as if the tote bags were as beautiful as a sunset at the Grand Canyon as they hurried on to the next free thing.

A friendly Augsburg student handed me my free tote bag. I pretended to act my age and was happy enough with the bag that I called it quits for the day as far as being a gatherer of free things. I had dirt to scratch and eggs to lay.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but sample day at a grocery store comes close. It brokers peace between my wallet and my appetite. I enjoyed a cookie made from sunflower seeds and rolled oats. It was tiny, tasty and free.

The friendly cashier asked me how many bags I had.

I said I had 73 tote bags, but they were all safely ensconced in my car. I need to go to tote bag camp.

I added, “One of them is orange and says ‘Augsburg University’ on it. The orange makes it easy to find.”

I didn’t tell her I couldn’t find it.

Al Batt’s column appears in the Tribune every Wednesday.