I got a kick out of this article from the NY Times yesterday: Commuters Overlooking Free Treasure:
I might not have appreciated the marvel of the Grand Central Terminal water fountain if it hadn’t been for the notebook.
I had run into Posman Books after getting off my train and finding myself without a notebook, and grabbed what Moleskine, the high-end paper packager, calls a reporter’s notebook. I’m a reporter; it spoke to me. Until I got to the counter and learned it cost a cool $17.95 plus tax, a sum no reporter I know would shell out for a notebook, even if it came with the story already written in perfect Pulitzer-worthy prose.
I put the notebook back, and felt a flash of frustration. Now I needed a notebook and a drink of water. For most of my adult life, I’ve either commuted through Grand Central or lived within five blocks of it, but I didn’t know of a water fountain in the place.
I was on the brink of buying a bottle of water along with my not-quite-as-overpriced notebook at Rite-Aid, but balked. It’s not just that bottled water is a waste of money and plastic; I also never need as much as a bottle carries, so it would either go to waste or I’d lug it around all day, with a lot of overpriced liquid weighing down my bag.
Maybe the saleswoman knew where a water fountain might be. She didn’t, but asked someone. There was one right by the Chase A.T.M.’s.
There, just a 30-second walk from the saleswoman, who surely must occasionally feel thirst, was the perfect water fountain. The spout juts out from the cool, beige Botticino marble wall of Grand Central, a handsome basin below it, a marble relief of some natural harvest above. Water was arcing above the spout, so high that I felt reassured no thirsty germy toddler had mouthed the metal at the base. A fluid piece of accessible history, that fountain, I later learned, has conveniently been spouting water almost continually since the terminal opened in 1913.
The reporter ends up observing the fountain for a while, and it turns out that hardly anyone ever uses it, which probably won't surprise you. Americans have become so conditioned to drinking bottled water, and to thinking public things are germy (not to mention socialist).
I remember that at one of my previous jobs there was an old-fashioned water fountain-- I went to drink from it one day, not long after I'd started working there, and someone cried out "eww, don't use that!" I never saw anyone else use the fountain, since bottled water was provided by the company. They later switched to using water coolers to save money.
I've also filled a water bottle from fountains while traveling in Europe. I probably wouldn't do it in other countries but it somehow seemed safe there-- every town square seemed to have a fountain. And once, on a mountain hike, I was running out of water when we came to a pipe just sticking out of the side of the mountain, pouring water into a small basin-- I had my doubts about that, but my friend drank it and said for all we knew it was probably from the best, cleanest mountain spring in France!
Anyway, one of the first posts I wrote on this site was about saving money by skipping bottled water, and it's still a rule I try to follow. But unlike that Times reporter, I'm still a sucker for nice notebooks, and I've also written about buying Moleskines! However, I've never paid $17.95 for one, and I recently discovered a much cheaper and almost equivalent brand called Piccadilly, sold at Borders for about 1/3 the price of a Moleskine. So whether it's water or high-end notebooks, never think there aren't ways to shave a few dollars off your budget!