There was this telling moment Tuesday night when my wife turned to me and said, 'We're going to buy some lottery tickets.'

I gave her one of those looks, you know the one that says you must be crazy, but she seemed to be completely sane and, worse yet, persistent.

'The jackpot is more than $350 million,' she said. 'We'd be kicking ourselves tomorrow if we didn't at least buy a ticket tonight.'

Indeed, lottery fever had finally reached the point where people like us, for whom winning the lottery is not part of our retirement plan, were infected.

So off we went, into the night, just a few hours before the deadline, looking for a convenience store that sold lottery tickets, which turns out to be all of them.

Double down

Next thing you know I'm in line at a local gas station, looking at an array of lottery possibilities that would make a bookie's head spin.

People who play the lottery on a regular basis know these games well. It's a language they speak fluently. But for rookies like us, it was a new experience.

'They've been lined up all day long,' the harried clerk said. 'They've jammed the system, so you'll have to wait a minute until it comes back up.'

When it came my turn, I stared at the clerk with that deer-in-the-headlights look.

'You here for the Mega Millions?' he asked.

'Yeah, the big one,' I muttered, and then stood there with a few dollars in my hand, not knowing what to do next.

'You got a number?' he asked.

'Um…,' I said.

'So, you want Quick Pick?'

'Yeah, Quick Pick.' I said.

'And you want the Megaplier?'

I didn't know that was a real word, but said yes, which meant I doubled down on a bet I didn't understand in the first place.


Four dollars later I was handed a lottery stub with two numbers longer than the odds of actually winning the $355 million up for grabs.

The lady behind us, who had been mumbling the whole time, stepped up and blurted out, 'Mega Millions with Megaplier!'

Then she quietly added, 'My son from out of state called and told me to get him a ticket. I've been repeating those words over and over so I wouldn't get it wrong.'

She was also a rookie. But the guy next to her was a player.

'I won $15,000 in the lottery once,' he bragged, a little too loudly. 'Sure did. Used it to buy a new car.'

He didn't mention that was five years ago, the car was shot and he'd spent three times that much on lottery tickets since then trying to duplicate that winning feeling.

But it was kind of exciting, until we learned Wednesday morning that people in Idaho and Washington had hit the jackpot. Good for them, we said. Hope they spend it wisely.

As for us, we were left with a worthless piece of paper, all those plans we had for the money, and a good story to tell.

Which, of course, is priceless.

Reach Ken Burger at or 937-5598 or follow him on Twitter at