I've Got a Golden Ticket!
Jan. 17, 2011
I never thought my life could be
Anything but catastrophe
But suddenly I begin to see
A bit of good luck for me
--“I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”
Was there ever a more perfect representation of unbridled, innocent joy than Charlie Bucket running home through a maze of streets and alleys after finding the fifth Golden Ticket?
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is my second-favorite movie and thanks to syndicated television I’ve probably seen the 1971 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book at least as many times as I’ve attended Georgetown basketball games.
I became hooked on Wonka for what I suspect is the same reason as most young children—I desperately wanted to drink out of the chocolate river and own an Oompa Loompa. Later on, of course, I understood the not-so-subtle morality tale implicit in all those songs (spoiler alert: it’s kind of unsettling, and that’s even before considering the boat ride).
On recent viewings though, I’ve been struck by that scene of Charlie slowly peeling back the Wonka Bar wrapper, his face lighting up and the music building to a crescendo as he sees the shiny reflection of the ticket hidden inside. I have to confess, more than once during the movie I’ve wondered how I would react in a similar situation; say, if I won the lottery. Would my face light up as I read the numbers and realized I’d beaten impossible odds?
I’ll say this: I reckon if Georgetown were to win a National Championship in my lifetime, I’d probably run through the streets, playing the scene out just like Charlie (this assumes, of course, that subsequent Final Fours will be held in 1970s Bavaria).
What makes the scene so powerful in my view is the sudden and magical shift in Charlie’s fate. Charlie hasn’t had the greatest life—he comes from a poor background, his mother is a widow, and the guy from Chico and the Man sleeps (and sometimes spontaneously breaks into song) in his living room. Willy Wonka’s contest offers that rare something better for Charlie to imagine, but he’s not able to spend as much as his classmates on Wonka Bars, and we learn a few scenes earlier that the fifth and final ticket granting access to Wonka’s factory has supposedly been found.
There’s not much that Charlie can do: his fate in life, and the contest, are pretty much out of his hands. But then, we find out that the final golden ticket was a fake…and moments later, fate finally smiles down upon the youngster. If you wait long enough, good things will eventually happen…
…at least I kept telling myself that in Philadelphia last month, when for the fifth consecutive time, the Hoyas lost a game I travelled outside of Washington, DC to attend. This was a close call—a three point loss to Temple in which we missed a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds. I wondered then if I might be caught in some kind of spiritual funk, and ended my blog post saying we’d find out during my next road trip in January.
How’d that turn out? Right, a three point loss to St. John’s in which we missed a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds.
Where’s the Twin Peaks giant when you need him?
I pondered what kind of good luck charm might overcome fate and break my roadtrip hex as I drove back from New York on January 4, the day after the St. John’s game. I was far from the only person thinking of luck and superstition at the time.
The news channels were buzzing with chatter about that night’s Mega Millions drawing, the jackpot for which would eventually settle at $380 million, the second-largest prize in the history of the lottery. I treat big lottery jackpots a lot like Charlie Bucket treated the Golden Ticket contest: with limitless hope and limited resources. When I got back to Virginia, I popped over to my local convenience store for a single quick-pick.
The conspicuous lack of signs near McDonough Arena announcing “Future Site of the John D. Hawkes Athletic Training Facility” are a clue: the Mega Millions fates weren’t smiling on me (I wasn’t even one of the thousands of people who won $150 playing Hurley’s numbers from “Lost”). But I had an epiphany in front of that automated lotto kiosk at 7-11…and it was all about the numbers I didn’t choose to play that time.
In March 2007, I traveled to North Carolina on a Hoya Blue roadtrip for the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. This was my first trip to a NCAA venue, and having collected memorabilia of my college basketball experiences since I was a freshman at Georgetown, I was eager to vacuum up as much of the Winston-Salem area’s merchandise as my wallet would permit. I bought the normal fare (t-shirts, programs, etc.), but I also sought out more personal mementos of the trip.
On the Friday afternoon between games, I stopped off for supplies (which as far as you know means Wonka Bars) at a gas station near our hotel in Kernersville, NC. I noticed the Powerball jackpot was a little high and thought: that’d be a random souvenir and maybe even a good luck charm. So just for the heck of it, I bought a NC Powerball ticket and played Georgetown’s starting lineup as the numbers:
Three and a half years later, as I was telling the Virginia Lottery kiosk I didn’t want to enter my own numbers, I was reminded:
I still have that ticket.
And maybe…THAT’S THE TICKET!
What could be a better reminder of good times that a memento from my first NCAA Tournament experience and what I still consider my favorite roadtrip in eight years? It’s certainly portable and transportable: I kept the ticket in my wallet for the rest of the weekend in 2007, and it’s been enclosed in a display case next to my desk for the last three years. It also never lost its mojo: I never brought it to another game after Georgetown beat Boston College in Winston-Salem.
The NC Powerball ticket met all the criteria for a quality good luck charm…but that was one further detail that made it truly golden: the ticket itself was a winner.
Neither Wallace, Summers, Sapp, Green, nor Hibbert came sliding out of the Powerball tumbler that weekend in March 2007. But the fates were kind when it came to the all-important Powerball I chose:
I never turned in the ticket—the souvenir was more important—but the prize was fitting:
My Golden Ticket and I arrived in Piscataway, NJ. It wasn’t exactly Willy Wonka’s factory, but the RAC would have to do.
And there was no lifetime supply of chocolate or Everlasting Gobstopper in the offering Saturday. Instead, my “Family Four Pack” ticket to the Georgetown-Rutgers game got me a free hot dog (sauerkraut and mustard) and soda.
I juggled my free food as I trudged up a seemingly endless climb on the steep incline of the Louis Brown Athletic Center all the way to Section 314, Row L…literally the second to last row at the peak of what I’m calling “Mount RAC”. Rutgers has always had a reputation as a disproportionately difficult venue to play in due to the crowd noise, and I can understand why: everyone not in reserved seats is delirious from hypoxia.
When my Sherpa and I made base camp at the summit, I was met with a familiar site: several dozen Georgetown students who travelled by bus from Washington, DC this morning on a Hoya Blue roadtrip. It’s always heartening to walk into an unfamiliar arena and see so many passionate fans of you team. More to the point, the Hoya Blue group reminded me of that golden era of a few years gone, when I’d travelled across the east coast on student buses watching the double Big East Champion Hoyas kick butt.
One of my favorite parts of these trips is the inevitable moment when the home fans unlucky enough to have picked tickets around the GU students realize just how uncomfortable their experience is going to be. The reactions range from frustration (ugh, I have to listen to this all game!) to anger (I can’t see over you!) to envy (why can’t our school travel like this?).
And sure enough, ten minutes before the start of the game, the five remaining rows behind Hoya Blue cleared out like the plague had hit Central New Jersey. I was treated to the unusual site of a few adventurous Rutgers fans standing on top of seats in the last row of the RAC trying to see the action over 50 Georgetown students. The view was magnificent.
It’s never a precise science breaking down a basketball game—to figure out what the combination is of luck, skill, and preparation that produces a victory. Perhaps the break after our mid-week home loss to Pittsburgh allowed for a needed re-focusing period. Maybe the Hoyas’ talent advantage finally came to roost against an inexperienced Scarlet Knights squad.
Or could it be, as I kept repeating during the second half, that it all looks so much easier when the shots are falling.
Was Georgetown’s 50% shooting percentage from three-point range merely a return to the mean after a weeks-long shooting slump? Who knows. But I confess to thinking about the lottery ticket in my wallet with every silencer Austin Freeman stroked through the net to stop the Scarlet Knight scoring runs in the second half.
I’d like to tell you that I sprinted out of the RAC after Georgetown’s 74-65 victory, grinning ear to ear and running wildly through the New Jersey forests accompanied by a soaring trumpet soundtrack, until suddenly stopped in a back alley by Slugworth (or Jim Boeheim) and offered a big cash reward for the secret Princeton playbook.
In truth, I was more relieved than anything. My personal hex had been broken after six games and 403 days. But Georgetown still stood at 2-4 and tied for 11th in the Big East. There was, and still is, a long way to go.
Talk about a reminder of good times.
John Hawkes (SFS '04)
Proud Member of Generation Burton