On a recent drive to North Carolina, I stopped for gas at a convenience store just south of the state line. A sign taped to the pump indicated the card reader was not working and that customers should come inside to pay. This was a small mom- and-pop store and offered only the essentials. Bags of potato chips and beef jerky sat next to three-liter bottles of soda and quarts of motor oil.
A small rack held a few magazines, mostly hunting and gun titles mixed among a couple of gossip publications, which only helped con rm my belief that no matter where you go on this planet you cannot escape Kanye West.
While the store didn’t sell beer or wine, other vices were well- represented. Behind the counter, cartons of cigarettes were stacked high next to a Plexiglass cabinet displaying what looked like forty different types of lottery scratch tickets. A young girl stood behind a cash register, while across from her, and with his back to me, an old man in overalls hunched over the counter. At first I thought he was signing a credit card receipt, but as I approached I noticed a pile of scratch tickets in front of him. I watched as he robotically scraped them with what looked to be
a guitar pick. He caught me staring and said, “I won $5,000 last month. Bought a brand-new Martin guitar. It’s a beauty.”
The man’s statement made me recall a conversation I’d had with some friends around the time the Powerball lottery was approaching $400 million. We were sitting around a re pit drinking wine and discussing how we would each spend the jackpot. We talked about traveling the world in first-class luxury and buying villas and penthouses in exotic locations. One man, a friend of a friend, said that winning the lottery would most likely not make any difference in our lives because studies show that after the initial excitement wears off, the vast majority of lottery winners are no more happy than they were before they won. I remember looking at him across the re pit and wondering, “Who invited this guy?”
As I paid for my gas, I asked the girl behind the counter for a Powerball ticket, and when I turned to walk out of the store I nodded at the old man and wished him good luck. Back in my car I threw the ticket on the passenger seat and thought for a moment about winning the jackpot. Would I purchase a chateau in Provence or a villa on Lake Como? Probably both, along with a Gulfstream to quickly jet between the two. But did it really matter? Would it make me happy? Would I sip Champagne on my verandas and eat foie gras in my jet but still wish for something more, something new, something different?
As I started the car, I looked back toward the store and I could see the old man through the window. I tried to imagine what his home looked like, and I pictured a guitar case leaning up against a wall in a small living room. Inside the case a beautiful Martin guitar lay silent. Its owner was not home. He was hunched over the counter at a convenience store. Still not satisfied. Still scratching.