The Dominica photo contest has become the travel world’s equivalent of free samples at Whole Foods.
Earlier this week, Francisco and I stopped at Whole Foods on Union Square to have a quick lunch. It was a cold day so we decided to have some soup. He ladled out a small cup of New England clam chowder for himself and then prepped a container of split pea for me. Meanwhile, a couple made their way around the entire selection of soups, dipping sample cups into each of the 10 or 12 steamy vats of chowders and stews. “Damn,” he said, “by the time they finish sampling they won’t need to buy anything because they will have had a whole meal.”
Plus dessert…because later we see them pushing in front of other freebie loving customers to snatch some brownie bites. “Please,” an employee said, “just respect each other.”
It’s 12:47 AM. Francisco, who had a flu shot earlier today, is sleeping off its nauseating side effects. I’d hoped to take advantage of the late night quiet to catch up on some writing–the next round of features for my second Fodor’s guidebook assignment is due next Tuesday–but our 5 week old daughter has startled awake, wide-eyed and bloated with gas. I take her in my arms and sit her on my lap, massaging her belly. Before waking up again with the red, furrowed face that breaks my heart, she falls asleep for a few minutes.
I make the mistake of checking e-mail.
No fewer than five messages in as many minutes from one of the Dominica photo contest semi-finalists, who’s complaining (again) that another contestant is rigging the vote and gaming the system:
“I really am upset and crazed over this…” “I do not think Matador Pulse wants to be known for running unfair contests.”
Sigh. I go to the kitchen for a late night bowl of cereal and come back to the keyboard with my muesli to moderate the contest comments. Eighteen comments. Two or three folks who wonder what’s so special about #14. Some who wonder what’s so special about #10. A few who wonder what’s special about #10 OR #14, neither of which–according to them–epitomize adventure, which was, after all, the contest prompt. Barbs traded among contestants and commenters about who’s gaming who and (presumably) how.
The baby cries again.
“Honest to Pete, I don’t need this shit,” I think to myself as I pick up my daughter and rock her in my arms, looking out the window of my apartment at the lights dotting apartment windows in Manhattan. I imagine contestants and commenters hunched over their own keyboards for hours, the glow of a computer screen the only light on in their homes at this hour… all because of a trip to Dominica. I like free as much as the next person, but not when it divides me from other people and brings out my basest instincts and behavior.
I’m slightly comforted by the fact that this kind of immaturity–this burning need to win something for free, ironically, whatever the cost–isn’t unique to the Dominica contest. Just check out the comment thread on this World Nomads photography contest… which may be even more inflammatory.
The last comment I moderate before getting into bed at 4 AM is from someone named ‘julia’:
“Personally, I think all of the photos are good and many are phenomenal! I would like to see the adults in this contest act like adults! The contest says vote for your favorite, no need to slander anyone else’s photo, and over a free trip! Ridiculous!! Grow up, ‘girls’!”