Who doesn’t love a contest? We have all been on the receiving end of an ad campaign or a promotional blitz that involves a contest. One lucky person (or maybe a “select few”) will be the winner of a fabulous prize while everyone else suffers at least a teeny bit of quiet disappointment and resumes normal life.
Some people seem to be lucky. I remember watching a movie once about a woman who was highly skilled at winning contests. On a smaller scale, there was my Uncle Bob, who just seemed to be lucky. Uncle Bob was a regular guy with a wife and four kids who one day in the early 1960’s went to the gas station to buy a gallon of gas for his lawnmower and thereby got an entry to win a go kart. Lots of people in that small town had been filling the tanks of their Chevy station wagons for a chance to win, but Uncle Bob was the one who got the go kart. He somehow won a pony once, too. I never heard the full story, but for about one summer “Sparky” lived at the nearby fairgrounds, and we kids got occasional rides. My aunt hated the stupid pony and later described the hassles of boarding and feeding it as one of the worst experiences of her life.
I have been much less lucky, but I can recall at least twice when I broke out to a win in a contest. The first was when I was in the second grade and my school was planning a summer carnival. An announcement was made that we kids could enter suggestions for what the carnival’s name should be. I heard the news, got excited, then forgot all about it.
Until one morning when I was preparing to head out the door and remembered that it was the deadline for an entry. My mother looked over the announcement I had not given her until that moment and started reading off some of the planned activities. One of them was a country store, so I blurted out “Glenwood Country Carnival”. My suggestion got chosen and for a brief moment I was a child star.
The following fall the Glenwood Country Carnival got rolling. The school had a large playground and parking lot that provided room for lots of games and such. The big event was a drawing for a new Schwinn tandem bicycle, and I, as the kid who named the carnival, got the honor of drawing the winning name. There was one of those big cylindrical baskets with a crank on one end so that the entry slips inside got jumbled around and around like socks in a dryer. And, like socks in a dryer, some of them got stuck in little crevices in the mesh drum. That didn’t seem fair, but there wasn’t much to be done about it
With much drama (and the proceedings being announced on a loudspeaker) I drew the winner’s name. I still remember it – the lucky guy was Bob Gross. Which I read aloud into the microphone, pronouncing it in a way that rhymed with “floss”. Why don’t people pronounce their names the way they are spelled?
Well, Bob Gross’s name was read (by the announcer, who pronounced it correctly) several times but he failed to come forward from the crowd of downcast onlookers. That was when my second big win came – the bike was ridden to my house, with my family to be its lucky custodians until Mr. Gross came forward to collect his prize.
It was the first time I had ever ridden a tandem bike. I got the back seat of course. After all, a kid on his way into third grade (who had trouble pronouncing “Gross”) was not going to be given the “power seat” that got to do the steering.
I remember the ride and remember parking the gold bike in our garage, and vaguely recall the next day when Bob Gross himself arrived at our house to get his bicycle. You might think that I would get another ride out of the deal. Or, for that matter, shouldn’t the guy go named the carnival get the bike himself? But neither of those things happened and I tried to act happy when the smiling winner loaded the bike into his station wagon.
The second big contest win came when I was older. By my early college years I had become a dedicated car nut – the kind that actually owned cars instead of just looking longingly at the cars of others. When I went a little nuts and bought a 20 year old 1959 Plymouth to be my daily companion (see the link to my COAL story, below) I joined a club that was dedicated to the appreciation of old cars built by the Chrysler Corporation.
That club had a monthly magazine and ran something they called the annual photo-meet. Instead of an actual meet where owners could bring their cars together in one place, the photo meet involved everyone sending a picture of a favorite old Chrysler-built car for everyone’s enjoyment. Part of that photo-meet involved a contest. In addition to normal photos (and a small entry fee), each owner was directed to submit a close-up of a particular detail on the car. The contest was for members to identify the cars from the detail photo.
I found it a fun diversion the first year but didn’t put much effort into it. But the second year was different. I was home from school for the summer and spent hours poring over those pictures and comparing them with the other cars in the magazine. The stakes were big – the prize was to be an unrestored 1965 Chrysler 300-L convertible.
My mind imagined something like the picture above, but because it was described as “as is-where is”, it probably looked more like this.
Or this. It was probably far better than this if for no other reason that it was in California. But no matter – I vowed that if I won such a car I would find a way to get it home.
And I actually did win, with recognition and everything. But there was a problem. The club announced that there had not been enough entry fees to buy the car. They apologized (by letter, if I recall) and said that they hoped a free 2 or 3 year membership would be a reasonable substitute.
It was not, of course. I felt more than a little cheated. I had followed the rules and won their stupid contest, but I did not get the promised prize. Adult (and lawyer) me might have made a little more out of it. Actually, I think I would have eventually prevailed and won a ratty car parked two thousand miles away (which many would not necessarily consider a win) but I was a college kid who just let it go.
Football great Vince Lombardi has been quoted as saying “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” In both of these big wins, that actually proved to be true because I came out of both big with nothing but the stories. Which, as I look back on it all, is enough.
COAL update: I had not found a 1968 Mustang interesting enough. This one was a festival of interesting.