Wednesday, April 4, 2012 | 4:18 p.m.
The trunk of the palm tree is stuffed with litter, plastic bottles mostly, shoved into its bark, a byproduct of the lotto line. The woman in front of me chucks her empty bottle onto the gravel and we look off into the desert. Cars breeze past Primm on the I-15. Dust kicks up. A little boy pokes a Gatorade bottle with a broken stick. Failing to pierce it, he crushes it with a small boulder and it explodes.
We have three hours to go before we reach the store. The line curves around the edges of the parking lot and extends well down the road. There are umbrellas, walkers, strollers, metal folding chairs and wheelchairs. A vendor selling water and chips pushes his cart on one side of us. A woman collects soda cans for recycling on the other side. We watch her silently; my new friends and I. Cars pass by. Riders take our photo. “Excuse me. How does it feel to be last in line?” someone shouts out a window. We laugh. Nobody’s complaining about the hot sun, the long wait, the more reasonable things we could be doing if we weren’t in line, hoping to win millions. Unlike the DMV, everybody is here willingly, even with the ridiculous odds against winning the more than $600 million. They share their stories with each other, and you listen to the different conversations even though you don’t know the language—mostly Spanish and Mandarin. Occasionally, my neighbors break into English and we talk about the lotto.
People emerge from cars to join the line, quietly and intently, as if on a spiritual mission, their numbers in their heads or on notebook paper stuffed in pockets and purses.
We fixate on the same distractions—a woman eating her Carl’s Jr. meal at a table made from folding chairs, ants mauling a discarded corn dog.
After two hours, we reach the store parking lot. A security guard passes out stacks of Mega Millions play slips. The line is astir with dreamers pulling out their sheets of numbers and taking orders from friends and family members over the phone. Then it’s back to waiting.
What are the odds?
Odds of winning Mega Millions: 176,000,000 to 1
Odds of being killed by a vending machine in any given year: 112,000 to 1
Odds of drawing a royal flush from a deck of 52 cards on the first deal: 649,350 to 1
Odds of being killed by falling space debris: 5 billion to 1
Odds of finding your soul mate: Sorry, you’re on your own