There was a long line to buy lottery tickets yesterday at the Gas ‘n’ Go Away. The jackpot was over a billion dollars.
Last week, the prize was “only” $500 million. There was no line to buy tickets then. You could have walked right in and bought as many as you wanted. It seems gas station gamblers don’t have much use for $500 million. A billion, though -- that might come in handy.
”Five-hundred million? Chump change,” says the guy in line in front of me. “If you think I’m going to stand in line for 10 minutes for a lousy $500 million, you got another think coming. You couldn’t even quit your job with that kind of money. When you split it up between me, the first and second wife and the seven kids -- it hardly comes to anything!”
Me, I was just trying to buy a quart of one-percent milk. There are only a hundred or so people in front of me, and the line is moving pretty quickly. Talk about luck -- I’ll be able to get out of here in half an hour or so. Meanwhile, my line partner fills me in (and everyone near us) on the finer points of the lottery.
”Now, I’m taking a big risk buying $200 worth of tickets. What if I have to split it with someone? That would make me crazy. When I think of the time I’ve spent coming up with these numbers, just to share the prize with somebody who just reached up and pulled the numbers out of thin air? I don’t think I could handle it. Having to split the pot with an amateur? That would practically kill me.
“And then there are the taxes. That’s the government for you. Always sticking their hand in your back pocket. I do all the work -- picking the numbers, standing in line and buying the tickets -- and then they want to take half my money. It ain’t fair. So between the taxes and the bum I have to share the prize with, I’m down to 150 million.
”A hundred and fifty million. Is that supposed to make up for all those years I did without? Well, I didn’t do without, so much, but the wife and kids sure did. I’d hate to think they went without shoes and food for so long for nothing.”
My milk is now room-temperature. It’s turned into some kind of gooey liquid cheese. I should go back and get a fresh quart, but the line has gotten longer. Just since I’ve been standing here, the jackpot has gone up another hundred million dollars.
What happened to the fast, friendly service that the Gas ‘n’ Go Away is known for? You used to be able to come here and get some overpriced gas and some overpriced milk and get shoved right out. This is taking forever. My linemates are starting to quarrel over the best way to spend their winnings.
”Do I take it as a lump sum or spread it out over 20 years? Sure, the lump sum is a lot less cash, but then I can invest it myself instead of the state.”
”What do you know about investing?” the guy behind me sneers. “If you know so much about the stock market, why are you in line with the rest of us? Take the yearly payments. That way you’ll never have to worry about money again.”
”Either way will be fine with me,” chimes in another guy, “as long as you don’t tell my wife I won.”
It turned out that all of them can stop worrying about how to spend the money. The winning ticket was sold a thousand miles away, to a man who bought his first and only lottery ticket on a dare from a friend.
(Contact Jim Mullen at email@example.com.)