When I slipped into my flip flops and walked out the door on Monday morning, I just knew it was going to be a good day.
The sun was out; the thermometer was rising; and we had hours of wandering on our agenda.
We began in the Garden District, the New Orleans neighborhood adjacent to downtown, renowned for its historic estates. We walked by nineteenth-century mansions supported by greek columns, and gawked at palatial porches adorned with intricate ironwork (It was here that I discovered my newest favorite phone app – Realtor.com. Seriously, check it out – hours of wandering fun). We admired the trees, draped with Mardi Gras beads, and strolled through a local park, pausing to play on the rope swing.
We visited the Lafayette Cemetery, famed for its above-ground tombs, paused to watch a Miley Cyrus film shoot, and wound our way back up to Saint Charles Avenue, the city’s main artery paralleling the crescent curve of the Mississippi River.
From there, we hopped a streetcar bound for Uptown, home to Audobon Park, Tulane University, and two of my favorite spots in the world – Maple Street Books and Lebanon’s Cafe.
As we were walking along Uptown’s main commercial strip, a group of smiling twenty-somethings wearing light blue t-shirts and carrying clipboards surrounded us.
“Can we borrow a couple minutes of your time?” they asked.
I’m always skeptical of solicitors, especially ones that travel in packs and come with their very own police escort, so I was tempted to politely decline and walk away.
But before I could respond, Brent uncharacteristically said, “Sure, a quick minute.”
Oh no, I thought… It’s Dan the Shoeshine Man all over again.
“We’re not here to sell you anything,” one guy began. “We’re in New Orleans today on behalf of Purina One Beyond dog food. Purina did a survey this year, and found that 79% of Americans wish they could go beyond themselves, and do something to give back to their communities. Have you done anything to go beyond in the last few years?”
“Sure,” we both said, growing increasingly skeptical as we noticed one of the blue shirts taking out a camera, and another looking at a stop watch.
“That’s great. That’s great,” the main spokesman continued after prompting us for a list of our ‘going beyond-ness.’
“So, in that same survey, Purina found that what’s preventing most Americans from giving back is a lack of funds, so we’re out in four cities across the country, making donations on behalf of everyday people like you.”
Another glance at the stopwatch.
“All you have to do is choose a charity from this list, and Purina will make a $5,000 donation in your name.”
Brent and I shared several glances as we looked through the paperwork they presented to us. But finally, we decided that we had nothing to lose, so we selected a NOLA-local organization called Edible Classroom, signed on the dotted line authorizing the company to use any pictures of us in their advertising, and got ready to continue on our way.
“There’s just one more thing,” the guy said.
“To thank you for your time today, Purina would like to give you a $500 giftcard. You can save it, spend it, or donate it – do something with it that’ll make you happy.”
Before we could respond, someone handed us a Bank of America envelope, and the group went off in search of their next target.
“What just happened?” I asked Brent as we walked down the street.
He opened the envelope and sure enough, inside was a BoA giftcard, just waiting to be activated.
“Do you think it’s legitimate?”
“Is this some kind of social experiment?”
We wandered through Tulane and jumped back on the streetcar toward downtown, all the while running through possible scenarios of how this could be a scam. But after a fair bit of googling back at our hotel that night, we discovered that there was, indeed, a Purina One Beyond Campaign, and that December 20th was listed as the main event.
“See,” I said to Brent, “I knew today was going to be a good day.”
Stay tuned for Part Four: My New Orleans.
The giftcard is currently sitting in my bag, still awaiting activation as we figure out what to do with it… If someone handed you $500 to save, spend, or donate, what would you do with it?