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Postcards from London: Free for the Taking

Airdate: February 7, 2013

            My favorite way to get something for nothing in London is Freecycle.

Someone offers something for free online, and all you have to do is reply, and arrange to pick it up. 

            My good friend once made the mistake of offering to rent a van if I ever needed to pick up something that was too big to take home on the bus.  So off we went to collect a mattress from a multi-story apartment building a few miles away.  When we showed up at noon, as agreed, there was no answer at the front buzzer nor from the contact phone number I’d been given.  Determined to go home with a mattress—and avoid my friend’s anger—I slipped inside on the coattails of the mailman, found the apartment and knocked—to the surprise of the sleepy tenant who appeared to have no knowledge of this pickup arrangement.  But I could see a mattress propped against the wall inside, and not only convinced her that it was mine, but even enlisted her help in dragging it to the elevator.  I hadn’t come this far to be denied.

            Our second excursion was less satisfying.  I’d been promised a red couch to be collected on the weekend.  The owner hadn’t replied to my proposed pickup times, but my friend told me that van rentals were more competitive on weekends, so I went ahead with Saturday, since there was also a bed frame to be collected from the same area.  So the trip wouldn’t be in vain, even if the couch pickup fell through.  The owner said I could try and contact his housemate, as he himself was out of town.  I was beginning to get a very bad feeling about this.

            My friend and a very large van showed up at the location of the bedframe, which turned out to be three fairly lightweight detached pieces of an old futon.  We loaded them into the van, where they sat, unimpressively small, in the bottom of the cavernous vehicle.  Now off to find the couch, for which we didn’t even have an address, as the housemate had still not replied to any of my calls or text messages.  “Maybe we should just drive around and look for a couch that someone’s throwing out,” I half joked.  My friend was not amused, and proceeded to grumble about the cost of the van and people who don’t communicate, his driving worsening with his mood.  I could hear the tiny futon frame banging around in the back of the van with each turn and sudden stop.

            We pulled into a filling station, only to discover that the gas cap was facing the wrong side.  My friend swore.  I hopped out to throw something away, and looked up to see the van speeding off.  “Well, this is just great,” I thought.  A few minutes later my phone rang.  “Where are you?!” he demanded.  “Where are YOU?” I countered.  He had pulled over a block down the road and was now waiting for me.  As I scrambled unenthusiastically back into the passenger’s seat, my friend said, “I’m willing to do this for you, but you have to stay in the van!”  I was suddenly struck by the absurdity of it all, and couldn’t stop laughing.  I think he even cracked a smile.

            When we arrived at my street, our van was so huge that it blocked all the traffic behind us.  “I don’t care,” muttered my friend, as he stubbornly carried my broken little futon frame through the gate to my door, car horns beeping impatiently behind us.

            A day or so later, I got a text message from the owner of the couch.  “Sorry I got held up over the weekend.  My housemate lost his phone so he couldn’t answer it.  Can you come and pick up the couch tonight?”

            Sure, I thought.  Here’s my friend’s number—you can ask him yourself.

           —Wendy Sherer

    • Postcards from London: Free for the Taking