Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Free Water, Expensive Notebook

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!

10 comments:

Little Miss Moneybags said...

How weird--There is a traditional water fountain near my office, and I've been filling my glass there for weeks. It's not as cold as the UV-treated, processed, filtered water in the kitchen, but it's clear and tastes fine and is much closer. As I went to fill up my glass for lunch, a woman stopped me, shouting "No! Don't use that! It's bad, bad water!" I froze, startled, and she continued on her way so I didn't get to ask her WHY it was so bad or point out that I've been drinking it for weeks with no ill effects at all (in fact, drinking water that's not freshly melted ice is probably better for me). But now I'm a little paranoid--is there really something wrong with the water from that fountain? Does everyone else know something I don't?

Dawn said...

We have a water fountain at work, by the bathrooms, people don't use it either. We have free water from the sink that people prefer to use. I wondered as well, now I think it is the germ thing

Sara said...

I saw an episode of a TV show called Food Detectives that investigated the cleanliness of water fountains. They found that the water from water fountains is actually cleaner than from water coolers because of the way the water fountain stream goes in an arc. Obviously, it was a pretty informal study, but still interesting.

Crystal said...

So many people complained at my job about using the water fountain that we now have a water/ice machine...if I use the water fountain, people give me funny looks. It's the same plumbing!

What is it about notebooks that draw you in? I keep buying nice, blank notebooks, but then I never feel like I have anything important enough to write. My daily lists get put on post-its and basic pads from work. I feel like a dragon hoarding its treasure for no reason...notebooks that are just waiting to be used...so odd. :-)

Madame X said...

Crystal, I've always liked notebooks, ever since I was a kid. Back then I didn't have much to write in them, but now I keep a journal, and keep to-do lists, blog notes, drawings, etc...

Teri said...

It's not the water that's bad at water fountains, it's the germs on the faucet piece. My microbiologist's favorite classroom experiment is to send students around campus to culture various items (doorknobs, chalkboards, dirt samples), and the water fountain tap is always a crowd pleaser for the dramatic germ growth it generates. I suppose if you're not immunocompromised, you'll be OK, but between that experiement and having witnessed a student allow his assistance dog to drink directly from a water fountain tap I've been too grossed out to be able to use them. BLURGH.

Duchess said...

Ah, I have drunk from that fountain... In Europe, socialist and suspect though we may be, we rarely see such things. Water fountains are one of the things I like about America. And, as you note, they are free.

Kady said...

Water fountains are totally socialist. LOL!

Funny about Money said...

In college I got a truly nasty eye infection when water from the fountain on our dorm floor splashed into my eye. In those days your choices of sources for water were the bathroom or the fountain, which was often plugged.

Since then, I've tried to avoid water fountains. On the other hand, I won't pay for tap water, which is what's in those bottles: we already pay for water with our taxes, and so it's redundant to pay more for plain water packaged in plastic.

If you go into any fast food place and ask for a cup of tap water, they'll give it to you. Most multi-spigot soda machines have a tiny switch on one of the outlets that dispenses plain cold water--just ask for a cup so you can have a drink of water. In my state, where the heat can kill you, restaurants are required to give people tap water without charge.

Anonymous said...

In regards to your moleskins, I have found that the strand bookstore always seems to have the cheapest moleskins - at least 25% cheaper than the average list price of these things...

I have only splurged once or twice on these, but when I do I always make sure I pick mine up at the Strand.