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Byline: James Temple
Mar. 18--BUSINESSES OFFER BIRTHDAY BONANZA: Wednesday night, 30 years from the day I was born, my roommate and I walked into Cafe Van Kleef in downtown Oakland with a singular goal: To secure a free drink before the sands of my third decade ran out.
My roommate Lindsay Firth selected this particular watering hole based mainly on the attitude of the gregarious owner and bartender, Peter Van Kleef. He is either prone to drinking with his patrons, remarkably chipper, or both. As his customers leave his establishment, presumably for another bar, he often rings a boxing bell and says, by way of farewell, "Round Two!"
It was around 10:30 p.m. when we claimed the last two seats at the bar and waited for Van Kleef to make his way to us.
The latent freebie was to serve as the capper to a quest that was by then stretching past its 12th hour. In a single day, I had touched down in three counties, traced the triangle between Concord, Dublin and San Francisco, and, most trying of all, endured mass "Happy Birthday" caroling on three occasions.
Why? To collect as wide a variety of free stuff and services from as many outlets as I possibly could on my birthday. Since I write about retail for the Times, I justified the treasure hunt as at least tenuously connected to my job. But as I admitted in the pitch to my editor: "Basically it …