“The lottery. Exploiter of the poor and ignorant.”
Springfield bar owner Moe Szyslak
Nov. 29, Yuma – We had mimosas and bagels on Hermosa Beach yesterday morning before joining the great California exodus to buy powerball tickets in Arizona.
This is strange, but true. We forsook the idyllic coastline and went all in for a 1-in-175,000 shot at untold riches. We are Powerball pilgrims. For us, this required a 239-mile race from the Southern California coast to the western Arizona desert.
Long about Saturday, as we drove south on U.S. 95 and idly discussed where we were bound, Becky said she didn’t care as long as we made Arizona by Wednesday so she might purchase a powerball ticket. It’s up over $500 million, she said.
California and Nevada are two of eight states which do not participate in the Powerball madness. (After watching a river of money flow across the state line into Arizona, the California Lottery Commission voted unanimously Thursday to allow the Golden State to join the fray.)
We found our way onto 91 east and plodded through Riverside, then took 60 east to Indio, and finally I-10 to Blythe. Sometime around 5 the advance guard of a voluptuous full moon peeked above the dark outline of the Palen Mountains to the northeast. It was a natural beacon, beckoning us to unnatural greed.
Greed. It’s an enduring American tradition.
At least as far back as 1848, when John Marshall found gold flakes dancing in the American River at Sutter’s Mill, we’ve been looking for the easy score, the quick fix, the outrageous payday that will make our lives finally livable.
As Americans, it is our birthright to chase the elusive pot of cash at the end of fortuna’s rainbow, to set out after an unearned windfall that will grant us passage into the land of happily ever.
Everybody says it’s not about themselves, that it wouldn’t change them. They’d just like the power to help friends and family. That’s what we say.
Everybody wants at least one thing for themselves. The passport to the easy life. Never having to pay a mortgage or work for a weaselly middle manager or borrow money to keep the house heated and the lights on.
It’s what we all want, whether we care to admit it or not.
We left Blythe behind, crossed the state line and pulled off at the Flying J Travel Plaza. Inside, seduced by the sucker’s game, a swollen line of Californians queued up to join the mad scramble for easy money and have a dance with fate. Step right up, Step right up.
The line left the weary but patient employees behind the front counter and filed past a phalanx of Cheez-Its. Next it sidled past an array of travel accessories, the car chargers, iPod docking kits and scent necklaces and men’s wallets (genuine leather bifold, $8.99). Then it advanced upon the refrigerated section, bending to the right and snaking past sunflower seeds and cracklins and Cracker Jack.
Ah, the national pastime. Take me out to the convenience store, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Powerball tickets, motherfucker.
The human serpent then inched past designer waters and energy drinks before encountering old standbys Coke and Pepsi before coming to an end astride tallboy cans of cheap domestic beer.
This is as far as the line went just after 7 p.m. mountain time. Still an hour left to buy a chance to build a mansion on Easy Street.
Earlier in the day, around the time the crew from Phoenix’s ABC affiliate showed up with video cameras and boom microphones in tow, the line stretched even longer. It slipped past a case filled with kitschy homemade jewelry and turned right again past screwdrivers and pressure gauges, mobile TV antennas, CB antennas and microphones (Breaker Breaker One-Nine). Then it hung a left, past the eating area, game area replete with Big Buck Hunter and Target Terrorist and video poker, and on past the check-your-weight scale and all the way to the truckers lounge.
Most of the Powerball pilgrims had come from California. We can’t go to Canada to buy cheaper prescription drugs, but we can hop from state to state to buy a chance at unimaginable wealth.
I ran into Malcolm Butler out front. He’d just secured his ticket. Standing roughly 6 feet, four inches tall, he looks studious and athletic, something like a younger, shorter Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Malcolm lives in Compton, Calif., but works at Palo Verde Unified School District.
Malcolm’s a little reticent. He’s nice and well-spoken, but no amount of cajoling could persuade him to let me take a picture.
He opened with a caveat. He wanted to make sure I knew he’s not a habitual rainbow chaser.
“I’ve bought less than 10 lottery tickets in my life,” he said.
And what will you do if the long-shot of a lifetime comes in?
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “I wouldn’t waste it. I’d pay off the mortgages and stuff like that and have a little fun.”
Sixty-year-old Mike Parisi came from Yukaipa. He says he drove at least 200 miles. And yet Yukaipa is 160 miles from the state line.
“It’s a full moon,” he said. “And I’m a lunatic.”
He said if he holds the winning ticket, he might get himself a recording studio, but mostly he’d take care of friends and family.
“I’m going to be generous with it, and of course I’m going to pay my bills,” he said.
Then he sneaked in what in the Arizona desert struck me as something of an obligatory jab at President Obama. He said something about how useful his windfall might be, because who the hell knows what kind of shit was going to go down when Obama “gets in office.”
These people. He actually said this. And I didn’t even miss a beat. Hardly seems to rate a raised eyebrow anymore.
The guy’s been president for nearly four years now. He’s been killing foreigners and Americans alike with remote-controlled airplanes, prosecuting whistleblowers under the Espionage Act of 1917 and confounding progressives everywhere since January 2009, and still the nutjobs deride him as a Muslim socialist. Whatever.
That’s the thing I hate about bullshit newspaper stories (and this felt a lot like a bullshit newspaper story while I stood with a blank stare on my face and scribbled illegible words into a notebook that’s more than 10 years old). They send you out to ask stupid questions, and when the answers sink to the level of your questions, you can’t even have fun with them. You just have to transcribe them, throw them into the MSM blanderizer and hope for the best.
And in the end you realize that very little of what was said is worth reporting. Yet you report it anyway.
Behind Yukaipa Mike stood Roman Bobadilla, who works as a crane operator in Red Bluff. He lives in Oceanside, San Diego County, but commutes all the way out here. He stays in a camper in a KOA on California side of the Colorado River. He’s got a wife and two kids back in Oceanside.
I asked how he’d keep from ruining his life if the unlikely happened and he became a millionaire 200 times over.
“By not telling anybody,” he said.
Gabriel Chaidez and his wife, Angie, drove 247 miles from San Fernando. All for a one in a zillion shot of winning $588 million.
‘The odds are slim, but I’ll take it,” he said. “I don’t know what’s the better odds, this or getting hit by lightning.”
For the record, it’s lightning. And it’s not even close. The Associated Press cited Akron math professor Tim Norfolk’s estimate that there’s a 1 in 5,000 chance of getting struck by lightning as opposed to a 1 in 175,000 chance of winning powerball.
Those odds didn’t stop Jay and LaShawna Favors from trekking 177 miles from Riverside. They’ve been married 20 years. She was the girl next door, and her mother was the neighborhood Saint Teresa. Their vision? Help others, of course.
It would be a tribute to her mother.
“We live a modest lifestyle right now,” Jay said. “We won’t make major changes. We want to carry on our mothers’ dreams of providing service to others.”
His wife smiled.
“You hear people say that altruism is on the verge of extinction,” LaShawna said. “I don’t want altruism to be extinct.
Shorty Davis and Rita Rodriguez could at least lay claim to the shortest Powerball pilgrimage. They came from California, too. But only from Blythe, three miles away across the state line.
Shorty already had a ticket, this time she came to keep Rita company and get a ticket for her niece.
“It only takes one ticket,” she said. “I work at the only hospital we have in Blythe. If I win, I will buy the hospital. Or maybe build a new one. After I get my family situated, it all goes to charity.”
Nice sentiment Shorty. Alas, none of the California pilgrims held the golden ticket when it was all over.
That includes us. Of course, we saw this coming.
“It’s a pipe dream,” Becky said in answer to my question of why she made us part of this insanity. “And we had to get to Pennsylvania sometime. It was as good a time as any to head east. And it’s a very small investment.”
And so ends the story. For now.
Sooner or later, the Powerball jackpot will crest $500 million again, triggering the madness anew. We will join the parade to buy our shot at membership among the Filthy Rich Club. We will bring along our disposable cash and altruistic visions, preeminent among them the chance to help others who’ve helped us, and maybe, just maybe, spoil ourselves with a new life sans financial worry.
And if for some reason we should win that new life free of worldly cares, we will know in our hearts that we damn well earned it.