Cleaning Up Someone Else’s Bad Luck

On my way home, near the Metra stop, I happened to run into a whole host of lottery tickets – strewn about on the ground. I wasn’t sure how they got to be here, whether by struggle or frustration, whether by accident or intent. But it struck me how many of these tickets there were, each of them an arrow launched into the sky in hopes of striking quarry.

I stooped down to grab this photo, and then realized I’d be an asshole if I just walked away without cleaning all this up. So I started to pick up each lottery ticket, one by one.

As I was doing this, a father with his kid was exiting the Metra. I’m not sure if he saw me taking photos or not, but I know he saw me picking up the tickets. The wind had blown one ticket further away, and he walked up to me with it in his hand. “Here’s another one,” he said.

I have this nagging suspicion that he thought all these tickets were mine. That I was some kind of horribly accident-prone person who, when not spilling his lottery tickets across the sidewalk, tends to open his briefcase only to have his legal papers scattered by the wind.

To compound this notion that the tickets were mine: I couldn’t find a trash can anywhere nearby. With all these tickets clutched in my right hand, I was wandering around briefly looking for some place to throw them away. Finding none, I had to keep walking with them, a small bouquet of tickets in my fist. I really must have looked like a crazy person.

About a block or so away, I decided to stop. With no trash cans anywhere, I ended up arranging all the tickets into a stack. They all had a crease in them, as though they had all been in someone’s wallet or back pocket. With nowhere else to put them, I stuffed them in my back pocket and walked home.

Here are the tickets. At this point, I figured I may as well take them in to get checked, just in case. I highly doubt any of them is a winner – why would someone dump all their tickets on the sidewalk like that? But I tend to be someone who double-checks a lot.

The curious thing is: there’s no nearby gas station or convenience store to where I found the tickets. If you just checked and learned all your tickets were losers, why wait until you were 2+ blocks away to throw your tickets away in frustration?

When I showed these tickets to Liz, she asked me: “Are you keeping those tickets yourself, or are you going to turn them in?” She called me a “boy scout,” which I said was praise (but learned that she did not mean it as praise). In my mind, I found these tickets as trash on the sidewalk. It wasn’t like a lost wallet, and I’d have no easy way to identify the actual owner.

I’ve still got these guys sitting on my desk. I suppose I should take them to a gas station or somewhere, and run them through one of those machines. They have those things, right? A machine that scans the bar codes on these guys? I buy lottery tickets so infrequently that few of the indicators on these tickets make any sense to me at all.

I should get these checked. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky. If you ask Liz, newly purchased tickets are statistically not a very good bet. It’s probably even worse for found/discarded tickets.

Column Artwork and Text, Hidden Along the 56th Street Metra Stop
Buying Lottery Tickets, Despite Logic and Basic Probability Theory
Gaming the Lottery: Math, Cash WinFall, and the Players That Can’t Lose
Lottery, 2007

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