Column: Dollars to doughnuts—using freebies to lure people into getting their lives saved

People, it seems, will often do what’s right, but they’re often loath to do what’s right for nothing.

For months during the most dire and deadliest days of the coronavirus, people were desperately hoping and praying for a miracle—a real miracle, not the wish-upon-a-star miracle that the ex-president assured us was coming. A vaccine. Something that we could easily take, painlessly for the most part, and free.

Think of it: With no vaccine, the dread that we felt daily if we were lucky to be alive and somehow spared the death that claimed more than 62,600 people in California, more than 24,000 in LA County, more than 3.4 million worldwide, would still be hanging over our heads, with the body count climbing and crawling in our direction.

And it was nothing short of a miracle, a scientific one, that the vaccine came, especially as quickly as it did. People initially scrambled for their shots, posted their success stories happily on social media, praised their lords and all the angels and saints.

I got one of the early releases, by dint of my unfortunate age and my undeniable status as an essential worker. Others in my family followed and soon enough we were all allowed to be with one another, whenever we felt like it.

But, unbelievably, to me anyway, there are those who say they need some sort of incentive. Yeah, they’ll take the life-saving vaccination, but whattaya got to, you know, sweeten the deal? What’s in it for me?

Decades ago, the publisher of the newspaper I worked for put me in charge of the company’s United Way drive. My first decision in the job was to not give out freebies to donors. In past drives, people who generously gave a sliver of their income received the usual gewgaws: coffee mugs, hats, pens, cheap sunglasses, potholders. Me, I said give all the money to charity rather than waste a percentage on kitchen-drawer filler. Donors will be rewarded in heaven.

How’d the drive go? A disaster. A dark moment for the underserved, the poor, the disabled, the downtrodden. Worst United Way drive in company history.

People wanted their “gifts” for giving. Raise your hand if you look in your kitchen cupboard in the morning and say, “If I only had something to put my coffee in.”

And that’s what millions of people in the U.S. are after now. A bauble of some kind; a reward for doing what’s right. Sure, I’ll let you save my life for a free order of Shake Shack crinkle-cut fries. Take away my COVID fears and all I ask in return is that you give me a free cake-on-a-stick dessert from White Castle.

All across the country, cities and states are trying to lure people into living free of COVID by promising them a little something extra: a beer, baseball tickets, doughnuts, a chance at winning a lottery, time off from work, hundreds of dollars off your college fees next semester.

Here in Long Beach, you can be entered into a drawing for a Nintendo Switch or a couple of nights in one of the city’s fine hotels. That’s on the heels of last week’s incentive of free passes to the Aquarium of the Pacific. The catch? You have to get a vaccination that will prevent you from dying a slow and miserable death.

It’s been said that those among us who got the vaccine immediately might be bitter about missing out on all the toys and fast-food and other incentives being doled out to lure in those who are hesitant—or at least on the fence so precariously that a Walmart gift card will tip them to the vaccination side.

But I’m not going to be complaining, because when I got my second dose, I got what I wanted. If I need a shot at winning $1 million, I’ll buy a ticket.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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