I think I've talked about one of my travel companions before. Although perhaps not by name. She has sat alongside me in planes, ridden in my lap by rail, strolled hand in hand with me along cobblestone pathways, cooed and aahed into my ear in front of canvases at famous galleries and in the mezzanine at the world's major theatres. She's a constant inspiration and flirt. Insatiably curious, wholly unpredictable. Her name? Sara N. Dippity. Although she also has answered to "felicity", "bonne chance", "open opportunity" and "unexpected happenstance". But I just call her "Sara". Sometimes "Sara N". As flighty as she is, Sara is anything but dippy.

I tell you about Sara because this trip to New York and Massachusetts, though planned, was pretty much laid at her feet, or, if all went swimmingly, on her wings. And after swallowing the inevitable, unavoidable, New York City hotel fare -- 261 bucks per night for a room with moldy carpets and a forlorn view of adjacent pollution-encrusted brownstones -- we ventured out along route 87 without any particular target in mind, without any confirmed abode in sight. And somewhere short of Albany, we happened into a rest stop which featured Sara at the automatic entryway -- in the form of a green advertiser. Yes, Sara is a shape-shifter; and this time she took the form of a book of coupons offering reduced rates in various outlying roadside inns. Once I thumbed through it I could immediately recognize Sara winking at me. But in a good way.

As soon as I creased the guide I could hear Sara whispering: "here is a real coup for anyone traveling on a fixed budget with few grand schemes in mind."

Sara was saying: "Here is the perfect opportunity for the kind of traveler who depends on the good graces and beneficent offices of Sara N. Dippity."

Folks needing a coup or two in their life. Folks like me.

The book I held in my hand was called "Room$aver" and it came at the only price I can afford; which is to say: free. It covered the Northeast region, which is to say: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connnecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washingtopn D.C., and Virginia.

The kinds of places featured in "Room$aver" are certainly far from top-shelf stop-overs; they include Howard Johnson, Days Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Super 8 Motel, Clarion, Best Western, Comfort Inn, and Econo Lodge. Their prices vary by locale, of course, but can run as low as $45 and top out at less then $90. We are talking about a room for 4 with WiFi, continental breakfast, TV with Cable, and occasionally a pool, fitness room and laundry faciliites. Helping the festivities along are refrigerators and micro-waves, with hair dryers in the bathrooms, and lithographs on the walls. They are generally clean, come smoke-free, and are comfortable. Generally chiseled into roadside locations, they are, nonetheless, relatively noise-free.

Although I have found the staff at these stops to be generally courteous, it is true that occasionally getting the coupons to work their magic requires a little hard-baller at the helm, a tough negotiator stepping on the throttle. Like the time the college kid at the HoJo told us we needed 2 coupons to fix the rate for consecutive nights. To which I said:

"So, you don't want our 69 bucks?"

To which the college kid did a double take and said: "excuse me?"

To which I replied: "well, if you don't take the 69 for the second night what we do is take that money and drive down the street to the Hampton Inn and give it to them along with their coupon in this Super$aver book. You lose the 69; they get it. Simple as that. So, let me ask you: is that how you want it to be?"

To which I couldn't believe what an asshole I sounded like. And, yes, I did cringe a bit inside for her as her manager pulled up behind her left shoulder and whispered into her let ear for about 7 seconds. After which the clerk then readjusted her expression and said to me in a tight, controlled voice: "alright sir. We can give you that rate for both nights."

Guilt is a horrible color when it paints success.

On the other hand, I was now 30 dollars heavier. Thirty dollars that helped pick up a rather robust red to compliment the saltimboca and spaghetti bolognese at the Italian place just down the road. Would that I could have invited the HoJo gal behind the desk to join my family for dinner. That would have been an even more satisfying use of those flush thirty.

After the wallet-draining experience in the city, we couponed it in Albany and Binghamton in New York state, then Hadley (just outside Amherst) and Cambridge in Massachusetts. The dollars saved have far from enriched us. How could it when I am in the equation. Me, the original walking fiduciary sieve. So, the extra bucks have enabled us to splurge in restaurants: ordering the cumin-braised beef tips, topping linguine tossed with gorgonzola, sun-dried tomatos and freshly-picked spinach in Northampton. MA; and the apricot-glazed chicken breast and roasted string beans from Whole Foods in Cambridge. California wines come cheaper when there are runoff funds from the coupons. And experimenting with Raspberry Mocha or Pumpkin Spice frappaccino from Starbucks is more tolerable when you are playing with spare coupon dollars.

Well, the message here is not to be wasteful or irresponsible. It is simply that more is possible when coupons are involved. More opportunities, more options, more things to experience. More experiential coups.

Especially if Sara N. hops on your shoulder, clips some special chits out of your roadside book, and doles them out at various stops along the peripatetic way.

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