WASHINGTON -- The line outside the 7-Eleven on Connecticut Avenue stretched 60 souls long, clear back to the Avalon movie theater where the feature was Kenneth Branagh's version of "Much Ado About Nothing." At the convenience store, the ado was about $100 million, or at least an opportunity for Marylanders to jump across the D.C. line to play Powerball, perchance to dream.
"The money I spend on this just allows me to fantasize for a day," said Stan Berk of Rockville. "It's worth $5."
He stood at the end of the line, facing an hour's wait on a sidewalk suitable for broiling fish. It was too hot even for indoor sports, and Mr. Berk is not a habitual lottery player. But this was too much to resist.
The Multi-State Lottery Association in Des Moines, Iowa, which manages Powerball, drew no winner for the $78 million jackpot Saturday evening. At last report, the grand prize was up to $100 million for tonight's drawing, the fourth time in U.S. history that a lottery had reached that plateau.
Things were getting so out of hand that the Lottery Association started running ads in Iowa urging people not to wager their life savings on Powerball.
For $1 per bet, players pick five "white ball" numbers between 1 and 45, then a single red "Powerball" number, which is drawn from a separate container of balls also numbered 1 through 45. Match all six numbers and win $100 million; match five, and the prize is $100,000.
Powerball is played in the District of Columbia and 14 states, not including Maryland. So the game with in the game is border-hopping.
The Associated Press reported that a trucker from Utah drove into Idaho to buy tickets. On Maryland's Eastern Shore, folks could head for Delaware. And along the Maryland line at Prince George's and Montgomery counties, the action lay blocks away in Washington, where ambitions are often fueled with other people's money.
The jackpot odds this time: 55 million to one.
"I'd buy a mountain place, a beach place, one on each coast," said Paula Smith of Olney, who waited in line more than an hour at the 7-Eleven, three blocks from the Montgomery County line, where the owners were letting lottery customers in a half-dozen at a time.
"Tell him about your New Age bookstore," said her friend, Maggie O'Reilly of Kensington.
"Yeah," said Ms. Smith, "I'd do something like that."
There was talk on the line of karma, good and bad. A couple of people consulted the daily horoscopes in the morning paper. Some considered the odds and figured that the difference between buying one or two tickets or one- or two-hundred was not worth the price.
The winnings would be split 10 ways for a restaurant cook from Bethesda who walked out of the 7-Eleven with a small plastic bag containing $400 worth of numbers for himself and nine co-workers. He wouldn't give his name, but he said he usually drops about $10 or $20 a week on various lottery tickets.
Mr. Berk aimed to stick to his $5 wager, and hoped that would be the full extent of the loss.
"The irony of it is, I'm probably going to get a parking ticket," said Mr. Berk, who publishes a health and fitness newsletter.
Parking was scarce, too, at Stop & Shop liquor, on Rhode Island Avenue near the Prince George's County line.
The small asphalt lot was jammed at lunchtime with cars bearing Maryland license plates.
"This is like, 'Build it and they will come,' " said Frank Lonigan of Rockville, taking note of the crowd of Maryland cars and recalling a different "Field of Dreams." Mr. Lonigan, who is not working at the moment, strode into Stop & Shop liquors and paid $5 for a little illusion. He figures a third of the winnings will go to charity. The rest, "will go . . . whatever."
Inside the stuffy little store, the line went from 12 people to none and back again.
Bettors slid money into a booth of clouded Plexiglas where two people pumped out numbers as fast as they could. And into the lot came more Maryland cars.
A pearl gray Mercedes with Free State tags rolled in. William Sutherland stepped out and ambled to the store entrance.
He declined to say where in Maryland he lives, but said he works as sales manager for the Bay State Beef Co. in Washington and said he could retire now if he cared to. But at 76 years old, he said, he prefers to work.
And as for plans for the $100 million jackpot, he said, he is too old for dreaming.
"At my age, your planning days for money are over. . . . Now all it would mean is my children and grandchildren would get more."
He wagered $2, not making much ado over anything at all.