A decent-sized crowd amasses at The Gypsy Den to hear live music during First Friday, but it’s not nearly enough for the body heat to mean anything. The dashboard of my car has informed me it’s 34 degrees outside. My brain makes a futile effort to forget about the freeze warning in effect. Walking from the dark parking lot toward the glow of the downtown monthly arts festival, I think to myself that it’s five degrees from me saying, “Screw the arts.” I grew up in a desert, damn it. I can’t do this.
Then, I see them – two girls wearing French maid costumes. No jackets. No gloves. No mittens. No pants. They’re wearing only those classic black and white uniforms, some fishnet stockings and a sign advertising “Free Hugs.”
Vianny McCarthy and Jackie Precado tell me they’ve been offering free hugs at public events for approximately four years. Both have exhibited artwork at past First Fridays, but for now they’re content making their own costumes. They created tonight’s French maid getups. They also cosplay.
One First Friday attendee nearly squeals when she sees the girls’ sign. She squats and shakes her butt in mock preparation before running full-speed toward McCarthy and leaping onto her for a hug. Later, a man walking by asks, “Is this for real?” He suspects there’s a catch, but there isn’t. He graciously hugs both girls and walks away with a grin. A furry dog also gets a hug, though I suspect he’s used to getting his for free. Several people ask for photos with the girls. Each time, they happily oblige.
This is why they do this, Precado tells me. “Whatever makes people happy,” she explains. Yes, they’re freezing and have lost all feeling in their extremities, but sometimes people tell them that the free hug was the best part of their day. These hugs help, and that makes it all worth it.
I hand them my card and thank them for talking to me. I begin to walk away when Precado calls out, “Don’t you want a free hug?” I turn back, smiling and with open arms.
They’re right. The hugs help. I’ll stop complaining about the cold now.