Saturday, August 05, 2017

Cheap thrills

 few days after David's funeral, I headed home to Washington. Luckily, this time I was able to drive the route with a family friend, which meant a) much less need for caffeine and b) much more conversation. Over the course of the 14-odd-hour drive, we each brought up a number of topics, including the shared experience of growing up in Provo, Utah in the 1980s. My companion pointed out that there wasn't much to do in Provo back then. I think my observation was that '80s-era Provo was the polar opposite of what people often say about New York City: it was a nice place to live, but you wouldn't really want to visit. In the era before Seven Peaks Water Park or even widespread Internet access, the young and thrill-seeking were left to their own devices to come up with something fun to do in Provo.

That's not to say there was nothing fun to do. You just had to do a little digging to find it. My parents (and, later, my mother) set the example of finding cheap or free things to do when my siblings and I were little. As I got into my teens, I started looking around for fun freebies in Provo. Fortunately, there were lots of cheap or free things going on around BYU campus, and most of them were advertised on the campus bulletin boards. The student center had a game room with Foosball, air hockey, pool tables, a bowling alley and a video arcade, where if you had good hand-eye coordination you could make a quarter last a long, long time. The fine arts building always had some kind of art show on display free of charge, and every now and again there would be a student art sale, where some up-and-coming artists would sell their work for a pittance. Downstairs in the same building you could watch a student-directed one-act play in the experimental theater once a week during the semester, and upstairs you could usually find one of several senior student music recitals; both were free. The auditorium in the Kimball Tower hosted International Cinema, where foreign films were screened once a week; I remember it cost a couple of dollars. The planetarium in the science center had weekly student-run shows that were half-educational and half-DJ training, and afterward (at least on clear nights) you could climb the stairs to the observation dome and look at the real stars and planets through the university telescope. The Lee Library was five floors full of fascinating things, where if I couldn't think of anything else to do I'd visit their extensive collection of science fiction and fantasy and read for hours. And those were only the typical options for bookish introverts like me. If you were more sports-oriented, there were numerous trails to hike, a couple of canyons to explore, mountains to climb, a "river" (really, more of a creek) to go tubing in, and world-class skiing in the winter. Even in "boring" Provo, there were numerous low-cost activities available if you were willing to look around for them.

These days I live near Seattle, which isn't really known for its dearth of things to do. But Seattle's most popular activities can burn through the contents of an average wallet in nothing flat. If I want to have fun without going broke, I fall back on the old habit of searching for freebies -- and I've found quite a few. Many museums offer free admission on the first Thursdays or Fridays of the month. During the summer, the Seattle Shakespeare Company puts on a couple of Shakespeare plays in local parks, free of charge. Seafair is in full swing right now, with all sorts of free or low-cost activities. There's almost always something going on at Seattle Center. The city has all sorts of parks, large and small, to discover and explore. You can go window-shopping (and people-watching) at Pike Place Market, spending little or nothing. If you have a smartphone and a fondness for finding hidden objects, you can download a geocaching app, sign up for a free membership at, and go on a treasure hunt in the city. You don't have to haunt the community bulletin boards (though these are still a great way to find cheap or free things to do close to home); type "free things to do in Seattle" into your favorite search engine and you're away.

Point is, there's always something to do. And it doesn't have to cost you a mint. You may have to look around and stretch your brain a bit, but you'll find something amusing.

What do you do for cheap fun in your part of the world?

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