After lunch today I stopped at the gas station near my house. As I waited in line to make my purchase I found myself right in the middle of Powerball fever.
People were lined up three deep for their chance at a billion dollars. There were smiles, talk of relief from debt, and desperation for a way out of the toil of most of our lives. I saw it all there as I waited to buy my usual after lunch ration of chewing gum.
The first man said nothing and bought a ticket. He was dressed in dirty clothes and his hands looked rough and dirty, the hallmarks of someone who works far too hard for far too little. As he walked out the double doors, just past the small stand of bottled local beer, novelty knives and homemade signs advertising lost dogs and boats for sale another man stepped up to the counter. He bought $190.00 worth of tickets. He combined money with everyone in his office to buy such a large haul. He took the tickets and walked towards the door, telling everyone in line that he hoped to win. The next lady in line placed her goods upon the counter. She had a quart of motor oil for her car, a bottle of diet soda, a cigarette lighter and a Milky Way bar. A young girl stood on tiptoes beside the lady, peeking above the counter with an eye on the Milky Way. She appeared to be less than five years-old.
The lady asked how much a ticket was. Two dollars was the reply of the cashier, and he said it in the sort of tone of voice that someone who’d repeatedly had to answer that question throughout his workday. She thought about it for a minute and decided to buy one. The cashier gave her the total, and the lady counted her money. I’m short, she said. A few exasperated breaths later she told the cashier to take the Milky Way off of the total. I’m not sure what happened first, the payment or the fit the small child threw, but the lady left to the beepbeep sound of the door and the impressive wail of a kid denied the candy that it was so rightfully due.
I saw all of this, and felt the sting of how things like the Powerball drawing enable us to dream all while hurting us in the long run. I thought about how sad it is for people to weigh so much happiness on something with such an infinitesimally chance of actually happen. I thought about how sometimes we’re so desperate for a shred of hope and relief that we’d deny a five year-old the chocolate she’d been promised earlier. I thought about all of that, and then I walked to the counter, bought my gum and two Powerball tickets with quarters that I’d dug out of the change jar in my kitchen at home.