The Florida Powerball jackpot is up to a cool 173 million, and I speak for the entire Sunshine State when I say that it’s my turn to win.
I buy a lot of lottery tickets. I know, I know. It’s not the smartest way to spend your money. My uncle used to say the lottery was a tax on stupid people.
This from the same uncle who once tried to eradicate squirrels in his attic with a Browning shotgun. At the same time, my aunt was sitting in the den watching “General Hospital.” She heard a loud blast, then her plaster ceiling caved in and crushed her TV.
Well, I’m no nuclear physicist, but there’s nothing “stupid” about the lottery.
When Gloria C. McKenzie, of Zephyrhills, Florida, stood before camera crews in 2013 holding a giant check for 590.5 million bucks, the largest jackpot ever paid to a sole Powerball winner at the time; she wasn’t exactly dumbest gal in the room.
So shortly after sunup this morning, I crawled into my truck, rubbing sleep from my eyes, and I drove to the filling station like I often do.
There, I usually buy a small coffee, and when I checkout the young cashier, Tray, greets me with, “What’s up, Sean?”
Whereupon I will answer, “Make me a millionaire today, Tray.”
Then I pick my lottery numbers.
This morning, while Tray was printing my ticket he used the opportunity to explain that Florida law stipulates that gas-station cashiers who sell winning lotto tickets are entitled to half the winnings.
“That can’t be true,” I told him.
“It was on the Internet,” Tray said. “So I has to be true.”
You have to worry about today’s youth.
Fact is, I don’t actually expect to win the jackpot. Truthfully, it’s less about the lotto ticket and more about the ceremony of it all. I’m a routine oriented guy. Plain and simple. I like the ritual of my mornings. It’s just how I’m wired.
Over the years, my morning routines have varied. When my wife and I lived at my mother-in-law’s, for example, I would drive my bloodhound to the gas station, then purchase a lotto ticket and a five-piece box of fried chicken. I’d split the breakfast with my dog in the front seat. She got the thighs; I got the shaft.
Years later, after my dog passed, my morning routine consisted of drinking coffee alone. I rarely touched my chicken.
But the primary staple of my morning activities has always remained the same. The Powerball ticket. It’s tradition. And it’s a practice that started a long time ago with my predecessor.
My father was a stick-welding ironworker who spent his workdays suspended from fifteen-stories of soot and steel, welding column splices, swinging hundreds of feet in the air, with nothing protecting his skull from the pavement but a bumper-sticker-covered hard hat.
Daddy was fearless of heights. At backyard parties sometimes he would demonstrate his skill by crawling onto people’s rooftops and walking ridgelines like Mary Lou Retton. He could walk from one end of your roof to the other without once spilling a drop of his beer.
But on weekends, my father had a sacred pre-dawn routine. He would follow the same ritual every Saturday morning by rustling me out of bed, piling into his work truck, then beating along gravel roads into town.
After we arrived at the filling station, my father would march inside and buy the same items each weekend. One package of powdered donuts, one newspaper, one two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola.
And a lottery ticket.
We’d share the donuts and trade swigs from the Coke, passing the bottle back and forth, Prohibition style. Then he’d shake open the paper and read the box scores while I caught up on the latest Chuck Schultz installment.
They were the greatest mornings of my childhood.
Then, later that night, after the ten-o’clock news, when they announced the lottery numbers on television, Daddy would tune in. He would don his drugstore reading glasses, turn up the volume until the windows rattled, and study his ticket as though it were scripture.
The tuxedoed man on the TV screen would choose numbered balls from the bingo machine and report them to America.
“C’mon, baby!” my old man would shout to the TV. “Daddy needs a new transmission.”
The first few numbers would be chosen.
“Hey! I got two numbers!” my father would howl. “Two numbers! Turn it up!”
A third number was chosen.
“Three numbers! Honolulu here we come!”
Then he’d slowly wad his ticket into a tight ball, slap the TV, and begin cussing beneath his breath.
After that, he was good to go for another week.
My father has been gone a long time now. But at this age, a small piece of me tries to relive those sunlit mornings with him. I suppose I’m trying to keep him alive somehow with the insignificant things I do.
Yeah, I realize you shouldn’t live in the past. Perhaps my lotto-ticket tradition is ridiculous. Maybe even a little naive. But I ain’t stupid.