When I was very young, my parents toyed with the idea of selling their car to pay off some bills, especially the bills from my doctor. I wasn’t an especially sickly child, except for tonsillitis. That was a chronic problem until I was old enough to have my tonsils removed.The doctor made house calls and the bills were adding up.
Our town still had good transportation, so it was possible to get where you needed to go on a city bus. There were daily trains to and from Cleveland. My father could walk to work; our church was nearby. Giving up the car (it was maybe a 1937 Ford) for a while did not seem like that much of a sacrifice but they held off on selling it for a bit.
One summer evening, our neighbors suggested that we go to a carnival in a nearby town. It was a fundraiser for the local Fire Department. It seemed like a good way to spend an evening and it was.
There were rides and games and junk food like cotton candy, which my mother hated but I loved. “Cobwebs,” she said. “Sweet and sticky!” I said.
My father would have been a gambler if it hadn’t involved his money. He was strictly a $1- or $2-dollar a bet sort of man, but he always thought of himself as lucky, which he was.
The big prize at the Fireman’s Carnival was a raffle for a new car — a chartreuse, 2-door, 1950 Ford Custom. Only a dollar a ticket! It was for a good cause. How could you not buy one?
My father bought a single ticket and returned to the carnival.
That evening after we were all in bed, the telephone rang, but it was not bad news. He had won the car!
The next morning, we and the rest of the neighborhood awoke to the sound of car horns honking. There was a line of cars outside filled with firemen who were delivering our new car to us.
It was in our driveway. It was our new car: bright, shiny, and chartreuse. We loved it!
My parents were able to sell the old car, pay the bills, and have a new car to drive. Some of the neighbors, especially the family who had just bought their own 1950 Ford, were a little upset, as was understandable.
Emboldened by his luck, my father spent the next 40 years of his life trying to win another car. In the summer, he would go off to church carnivals, looking for his lucky raffle ticket. He did win other prizes (the fully-stocked bar with cases of liquor was a lot of fun) but never another car. My mother claimed that he shelled out enough dollars on raffle tickets that he could have bought a new Cadillac, and I suspect she was right.
My father also sold raffle tickets, almost to the day he died. They were monthly drawings to raise funds for the high school football team or the marching band. He paid for my college tuition one quarter with winnings from some game at the grocery store. (Note: College wasn’t nearly as expensive then, but we did need the money.)
He also bought lottery tickets and entered sweepstakes advertised in Sunday fliers or through the mail, such as the Publishers Clearing House.
He would enter each contest with the confidence of a winner. When the quasi-personalized letters would come, he read them several times and kept them in a drawer. To his credit, he never bought a magazine subscription from them, but still he wondered: Am I close to winning? Should I buy something?
He wasn’t and he didn’t.
I think of my father because, on a whim, I entered the “$7000 a Week for Life” sweepstakes.
My logic went like this:
- Someone does have to win the prize, or they can’t keep advertising.
- I was curious. Are they still selling magazine subscriptions?
- How do they deliver the “Kate Lester: You are so close to winning” notifications?
I thought of it strictly as research and a possibly a chance to quit my day job.
I entered and waited for the e-mails. I lasted a day and a half before I unsubscribed to everything. These people are relentless. I could be entered in a second-chance sweepstakes. All I have to do is scroll through a dozen pages of ads for junk products, like those sold on daytime television.
They just want to verify my Zip code and the local television station that will broadcast the Prize Patrol coming to my front door to award the prize to me. Blah, blah,blah.
“Unsubscribe,” I clicked.
Then I searched for complaints against them. Many, many complaints of this sort: “I’ve been answering their e-mails for years. They tell me I’m about to win but I never do. I think it’s a scam. I’m going to give them one more chance and then I’m done.”
I don’t think it’s a scam as much as very savvy marketing to some vulnerable people. They are offering hope, but what they are really selling are cake pans and car wax. Is that illegal? No. Is that honorable? No again.
The odds are against you, folks, but once in a blue moon on a warm summer night, someone does win the chartreuse Ford.