SAN DIEGO — For as long as the United States has been known as the home of free enterprise, consumers have known that the emphasis is on enterprise rather than free .
The standard of living in our country is one of the highest in the world, but so is the cost of living. That's painfully obvious here in Southern California.
Looked into real estate prices lately? For $136,400--the average cost of a previously occupied, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in San Diego County--you could buy a mansion in, say, South Dakota or Oklahoma.
Consumer prices here rose 2.9% in the last 12 months, well above the national average of 1.6%. Our gas and electricity rates are among the highest in the country. And last year, the overall cost of living in San Diego was 16.5% higher than it was for the nation as a whole.
But you wanted to read some good news, right?
Here's some: Even if your paycheck does seem as if it's shrinking rapidly, you can still enjoy a mind-boggling array of entertainment, food, services and instruction in San Diego--free.
We're not talking about entering contests here--they're too much of a gamble. And we're definitely not talking about declaring bankruptcy and heading down to one of the local relief agencies for a meal or a place to sleep.
No, the truth is that you can freeload and still pass as a "normal," productive member of society.
It often takes a little creativity and some digging through the phone book to obtain, for example, a three-course meal, an eye test or an evening with the San Diego Symphony for zilch. But it's a task that can be spiritually rewarding as well as easy on your pocketbook. Think of yourself as a modern hunter-gatherer living off the cityscape.
Instead of shelling out $5 or more for a first-run movie, for instance, you can watch classic movies free every Monday at 7 p.m. at the San Diego Public Library downtown, and every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Coronado Library. Or you can mosey out to Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma and catch films on gray whales, tide pools and other naturalistic topics every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (1 to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays).
Perhaps you're more of a music fan. At the Book Works in Del Mar, you can attend a free jazz concert every Friday at 8 p.m. Words and Music bookstore in Hillcrest features classical, folk and jazz musicians every Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Throughout the summer you can hear a variety of military, college, and Dixieland bands every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. in the parking lot behind the Federal Building in Balboa Park. And the San Diego Symphony will be giving free concerts at Seaport Village on Aug. 17 and Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
Also in the realm of free entertainment is people watching. It's impossible to beat the Mission Beach boardwalk for this activity, but try La Jolla Cove or lines of people waiting to get into movie theaters.
Most city parks are still free; along 6th Avenue in Balboa Park it doesn't cost anything to lawn bowl, play shuffleboard or throw horseshoes. Or join the people who watch planes landing and taking off at Lindbergh Field. The best observation point is a parking lot on the north side of Laurel Street, near Pacific Highway--but bring your ear plugs.
Tuesday is a particularly good day for spongers who like museums. Any Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. you can get into the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art free of charge. And the first Tuesday of every month the following museums in Balboa Park have free admission: the Museum for Photographic Arts, the Museum of Man, the Museum of Natural History, the Aerospace Museum and the San Diego Museum of Art (permanent collection only). In addition, you can stroll into the Timken Gallery for free any day except Monday, when it's closed.
Even if you don't own a phone, you could use a friend's to call the Rare Bird Alert at 435-6761. There is no charge to listen to the taped message telling you what the latest unusual avian visitors to San Diego are, and where to find them. Recent arrivals included an oven bird in Coronado and a rose-breasted grosbeak that was spotted in Olivenhain.
The Better Business Bureau also has a 24-hour consumer information service that you can tap into by dialing 233-4636. It has a wealth of tape-recorded information on 138 different topics, from how to care for automobile tires to how to avoid phone calls from collection agencies (legally, they can't call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.).
When you're in need of more esoteric information, call the library reference desk at the San Diego Public Library. There is no charge for asking the staff there to look up obscure claptrap; as proof, they recently fielded a request for the address of a new-wave group called The Dead Kennedys (for the curious, the group's two members, Klaus Fluoride and Jello Biafra, record for the Cherry Red label, whose address is listed in the Billboard International Buyer's Guide).