One for all, all for one -- till drawing of numbers


IT'S 7: 45 IN the morning, and I'm inside a busy 7-Eleven, which, if you don't head up a dot-com firm readying for an initial public offering, is the place to get rich these days.

All around me, people are in line to buy newspapers and cigarettes and coffee before dashing off to work.

But not me.

Frankly, I doubt if I'll ever work again.

That's because I'm in a different line right now, a line that snakes to the pink lottery machine off to one side of the cash register, operated by a sullen clerk who appears resentful that she has not yet ascended to CEO of Microsoft and is still forced to earn a living next to a Slim Jim display.

"Two tickets for the Big Game," I say when it's my turn.

"Cash or annuity?" she asks.

"Cash, hon," I say. "I want them bringing me the money in front-end loaders!"

Geez, was I a little too loud there?

A little too jacked-up on coffee and Honey Nut Cheerios and the adrenalin that comes with chasing a $350 million jackpot, the largest in lottery history?

I look around at my fellow ticket-buyers, but no one seems to mind my exuberance.

Everyone in line is smiling and chatting convivially; whatever's in the air, they ought to bottle it and send it to Northern Ireland and the Gaza Strip.

Clearly, we're all in this together, the veteran lottery players and the new thrill-seeking geeks like me, mopes who have never bought a lottery ticket in their lives but are here because of all the hype surrounding this big jackpot.

As the clerk stifles a yawn and punches the numbers for my tickets -- the numbers I'm sure are the ones you are reading in the paper this morning -- I close my eyes and try to envision my future as a multimillionaire.

First, of course, will be the obligatory appearance at lottery headquarters, with me beaming and holding up a giant mock check as the TV cameras roll and flashbulbs pop.

I'll have to come up with something to tell the reporters, too.

Oh, the money won't change me, I'll tell them. I'll be back working at The Sun tomorrow, banging out stories in the same squalid little corner of the newsroom where the air-conditioning never seems to reach and brown-bagging it for lunch.

Yes, you in the back, you have a question? What'll I do with my newfound wealth?

Oh, my wife and I, we'll probably screen in the back deck and put the rest of the money away for the kids' college educations.

Boy, I hope I can say all that with a straight face.

Still with my eyes closed, I envision the big new mansion we'll live in, the fancy cars that'll be parked out front, the servants, the expensive round-the-world vacations we'll take.

But mostly, of course, I envision two bucks flying out the window.

Because that's how much I just handed the clerk for the tickets, and the odds of anyone hitting the jackpot are 76 million-to-1.

But this is no time for sober rationalization, no time for a cold, hard assessment of one's chances of winning.

Hey, I don't want to be a downer here.

All of us in line are too caught up in the euphoria of the moment, in the heady buzz that comes with chasing our dreams of a quick hit amid the biker mags and beef jerky montages and gleaming Slurpee machines.

And the beauty of this is that the same mad scene is being repeated all over the state, as well as in six other states (New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Georgia, Michigan and Virginia) where people reportedly are waiting in line for hours to purchase tickets.

As I take my lucky tickets and walk outside, a couple of people who were ahead of me in line are leaning up against the storefront, laughing and talking and lighting up cigarettes.

Suddenly, I feel like lighting up a cigarette, too. And I don't even smoke.

But the feeling of kinship is that strong out here in the sultry spring air.

I want to hang out with my new ticket-buying buddies, and laugh and talk about what we'd do with all that loot -- $350 mill! -- if it ever came our way.

Of course, if I ever hit the jackpot and any of this riff-raff showed up at my door, I know what I'd do.

I'd poke my head out an upstairs window and scream: "Never saw you before in my life. Now beat it or I'll call security!"

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

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