Wheeling and dealing
Can man live on Groupon alone? Chicagoan Josh Stevens says the deal-a-day life on the road has its price.
It was the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., and Josh Stevens was in a parking pickle. Late for a monument cruise along the Potomac River, he frantically steered his Zipcar around searching for a spot. Open metered spaces and pay lots were everywhere, yet he had to avoid them. Instead of quarters or credit cards, the cargo pockets of the 28-year-old’s shorts were filled with Groupon printouts.
Spotting a hotel valet, Stevens began the pitch he has given so many times to explain his cashless quandary: “Hey, I’m Josh. In May, I was chosen from a large field of video entries to be the contestant for deal-a-day site Groupon’s Live Off Groupon competition. I’m called the Groupawn and I’m prohibited from spending money. For months, I’ve been traveling the country and blogging about sustaining myself solely on a limitless supply of Groupons. I have traded these Internet coupons for everything from meals to airplane tickets. If I get by for a full year, I’ll be awarded $100,000. Can you please help me?”
It worked. The valet got a restaurant Groupon. Stevens got his car parked. And as the tour boat departed, he was aboard.
“There have been certain little things like parking that I didn’t expect to be difficult,” says Stevens, a Logan Square denizen with an accounting degree. Hitting the road to become the ultimate Grouponista, he left behind a girlfriend, a recently-acquired Census Bureau job and grad-school ambitions. “I took an eight-hour bus ride from Chicago to Minneapolis. They stopped at different truck stops so we could get food. But I wasn’t able to get food,” Stevens recounts, calling on day 177 from the Tampa, Florida, home of a couple who offered, via Facebook, to take in the stray Groupawn. “Sometimes you can’t get what you want.”
That’s when Stevens leans on the kindness of strangers. Without them, he insists, Live Off Groupon would be far more gruelling. “This experience has definitely reaffirmed my faith in humanity,” he says. “I just finished a trade with someone from Louisville who helped me out a couple months ago. She picked me up from the bus stop, gave me a couple rides, bought me meals.” Among the Groupons swapped, there was one for a Louisville tattoo parlor. “I asked her to send me photos when it’s done,” Stevens says.
But for every good-natured Louisville tattoo girl, there are cold shoulders. Late for a bus to Boston, Stevens pleaded with a regular at a New York City restaurant to take a $30 Groupon to that same eatery in exchange for what would’ve been a $10 cab ride. The man refused. “The guy probably felt I was trying to scam him,” Stevens says. “That’s happened a few times.”
Despite some bumps in the road, the Live Off Groupon journey hasn’t been all toil and trouble. There’s been adventure, too. In South Carolina, Stevens test drove a NASCAR racer; in Newport, Rhode Island, he took his first helicopter tour; in Seattle, he completed a certification class for sailing—a newfound passion. “I’ve been checking a lot of things off the bucket list I haven’t even made yet,” he says.
Keep up with the Groupawn’s exploits on liveoffgroupon.com.
Here’s the deal with a few other tongue-in-cheek Groupon side projects.
GROUPSPAWN (groupspawn.com) Meet other single Grouponistas on this site. If you two use a Groupon on your first date and eventually end up conceiving a child, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason will set up a college scholarship fund for your little one. Note: Much proof is required, including a photo of the storied first date that includes the day’s newspaper.
JOEMAPS (joemaps.us) Groupon’s head of customer service, Joe Harrow, also mans this “Exclusive Mapping Partner.” Plug in your e-mail, start and end addresses, and within seven to ten days you’ll be sent a map drawn by the “chief cartography scientist” himself.
NOPUORG (nopuorg.com) “Founded by enigmatic social media prodigy Mason Andrews,” this satirical site (Nopuorg is Groupon spelled backward) lampoons the crop of shameless Groupon copycats. Past Nopuorgs include a “$39 All-Day Fun-Pass to Larry’s Activity Yard.”