Winning the Lottery

I’ve always been a little put out that I’ve never won anything. I’m not like the blond in the joke who prays to God to win the lottery and God answers, ‘first, you’ve got to buy a ticket.’ No, I play the lottery, I enter the contests. I buy scratch-off’s and then enter the losers into the second chance drawings. I send back those Consumer Reports car raffle lotteries with my ten-dollar check. And I’m faithful about entering the HGTV Dream House Give-aways, requesting email reminders so I don’t forget. I’m an optimistic player. Luck strikes. It might strike me.

Once, in 1951, luck did strike me and I won the Cake Walk at the Wiley School Fall Festival. Maybe that’s what got me hooked. It was mindless luck that when the music stopped I was standing in the right place and took home a chocolate layer cake. It’s been a pretty dry spell since then.

Last Thursday, the same day one of my losing Money Millionaire scratch-offs wasn’t selected in the Second Chance drawing, I began my cross-country car trip from Tryon, NC to Palm Springs, CA. I was driving so I could take Omar, my dog, and Bebe, my cat. I asked Tom, a friend, if he’d come along and share the driving. He said yes because he was ready for a trip and used to live in Palm Springs. He could stay with me, visit old haunts and seek out old friends.

I bought a new 2014 Subaru Outback a few weeks before we left. My zippy 2012 Ford Fiesta wasn’t big enough for me, Tom, Omar and Bebe. Omar’s a big dog and I didn’t want him huddled in one posture for several days.

We made great time and the weather was perfect. I’d looked at the weather forecasts. There’d be no tornadoes to sweep us away in Oklahoma, no dust storms in Texas to cloud our vision. It was clear sailing for us.

We told stories and talked. Tom’s a great raconteur with many stories to tell. He’s lived a nomadic life, moving from one place to another as opportunities presented themselves. He’s been a chef who opened a vegetarian cafe in San Luis Obispo. He’s been a baker. He’s managed B&B’s. He was a copy editor for LA Weekly. He managed a university art gallery in Richmond, has managed home design stores and been an interior decorator. He’s now the Executive Director of our art gallery in Tryon, the one true jewel in our town. He’s lived his life saying ‘yes’ to opportunities.

I’m a student of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the only ‘personality’ classification system that makes sense and the only one with rigorous supporting research. It’s based on Carl Jung’s archetypes. Tom had the MBTI test in the past but couldn’t remember his type. When he said that he’d be doing one thing thinking he’d stay with it but he’d see or be offered another opportunity and off he’d go, dropping whatever he was working on, packing up his things and moving on if necessary, I figured he was an ENFP. His being an ENFP explained why he said yes to the road trip. I’m an INFP so we were compatible travelers.

By the end of the second day, we’d made it to Tucumcari where we checked into the pet-friendly LaQuinta. The desk clerk recommended the Pow Wow Restaurant and Lizard Lounge for dinner. Lizard Lounge … I guess there has to be someplace to get those famous kicks on Route 66.

As we drove into the parking lot, we had our doubts. It looked rough like maybe there’d be more fighting than dancing in the Lizard Lounge. Inside, we were greeted by tired Mexican decor and phony American Indian nick-nacks, a serapes and tomahawks theme. The one interesting feature was the lifelike pictures of people painted on the walls lining the booths. They were so real looking that on first glance, I thought all the booths were occupied. Then I realized they were painted occupants. We both ordered Mexican which was delicious and authentic. It redeemed the decor.

We were upbeat as we drove back to the LaQuinta. We’d made such good progress that we were sure we’d get to Palm Springs the next day. In our favor was that we gained an hour of daylight for each timezone we crossed. The next morning we got an early start and were in good spirits. I drove the first couple of hours and then Tom took over at a rest stop not too far from Gallup, NM. We were talking about the famous hotel in Gallup, the El Rancho, hoping we’d see it as it’s on Route 66. Many of those old towns have an exit that takes you through the town on the old Route 66 which then leads you back to I-40 at the other end of town.

Suddenly Tom pointed at something flying toward the car on my side. I think he said, ‘what the hell is that’ but I’m not sure. I looked up and saw a large, spinning round black object headed straight for me! I flinched automatically but realize now how ineffective a response that was.

Before I could say anything, it crashed into the front head lamp destroying it completely, ripping it to shards. It kept spinning up the hood tearing a gash as it spun. It kept moving and crashed into the passenger front windshield with a horrible thud. Its spinning momentum kept it moving up over the roof of the car. It then flew across the median and into the traffic coming from the other direction. It rolled off the other side of I-40 as easily as if it had been tumbling tumbleweed. But it wasn’t tumbleweed. It was a flying tire, a flying semi-truck tire to be exact. The momentum of it was such that Tom said it looked as though it had been catapulted toward us. We couldn’t stop or pull over as we were in the passing lane. Tom moved over to the inside lane and cautiously drove a few hundred feet to the Gallup exit.

When we parked, Tom got out to look at the car and told me it was pretty bad. I didn’t want to look. After all it was my new car with less than 4000 miles on the odometer. 1982624_origBesides, I couldn’t get out as the passenger-side door was blocked by a piece of the hood which had been rammed against it. Small pieces of glass were all over me but the windshield, though seriously cracked, held.

When the policeman arrived, he suggested we stay in Gallup and have my car towed to a shop there. I couldn’t see doing that. I had a dog and cat and the damage was such that the repair would take a couple of weeks at least. Tom said we’d turn suicidal if we had to stay in Gallup. He checked a few things and saw that nothing was leaking, the engine was undamaged and there was no impediment to movement. We were missing the passenger side headlight so we couldn’t drive at night. And we ran the risk of being stopped because of my windshield, but the car was drivable and drove well. So we drove on, spent the night in Phoenix, and got to Palm Springs around noon on Easter but not before being stopped in the last mile of AZ by a highway patrolman who after hearing our story, gave me a warning about the windshield.

The rest of the trip we talked about our luck. Had the tire had come through the windshield, I’d be dead, decapitated, or disfigured. Tom and I could’ve spent Easter on a cold slab in the Gallup morgue. But the Subaru’s windshield held even though badly shattered. The engine wasn’t touched. I was alive. I was intact. I was whole. So was Tom. Omar and Bebe were unaffected. The Subaru hadn’t even shuddered when the tire hit. It’s rugged and well-made. It’s why I bought a Subaru.

Life is random. Things fly out of the sky and head your way. Meaning is possible but we have to create it. What meaning could I create out of this?

First, am I lucky! Forget the stupid lotteries, I won the Life Lottery that day. A million dollars is nothing compared to winning the Life Lottery. Heck, I’d won the lottery the day I was born. Life is a gift. Or at least it was in my case. Has life been perfect? No. Have I suffered loss? Yes. Have I been hurt? Yes. Have I lost people I loved? Yes. Will I suffer loss again? Yes, over and over. Would I choose to live it all over again? Yes!

Forget trying to manage risk so that bad things don’t happen. You can do all the planning you want, be as cautious as all get out, but life is random. It’s a crap shoot. If a flying tire has your name on it, it’s over. Good fortune will come your way in an equally random way. You can’t control luck or life. To try to tame life by being careful is futile. Might as well take a few risks. As Helen Keller said, ‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.’

I’ve been thinking a lot about my death. Although it may be because my runway gets shorter and shorter, the truth is I’ve been thinking about my death all my life. I’ve felt as Andrew Marvell did when he wrote in To His Coy Mistress, ‘But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.’ Last Saturday, the chariot aimed but missed (na-na, na-na, boo-boo). It will circle around and won’t miss next time but its orbit is long with many to pick up along the way. By the time it gets back round to me in twenty or thirty years, I’ll be waiting with my thumb out hoping to hitch a ride.