Ireceived the news at 7:15 on a Tuesday morning. The call woke me up.
"Hi, Terri? It's Brett from the 'Sports Junkies.' The guys want to get everyone who qualified for the grand prize on the air."
"Oh, uh . . . okay," I said, still half-asleep. Then, as I became more lucid, "Wait, wait, WHAT?"
I was put on hold. The WHFS morning radio show was playing in my ear, low and muffled. Now I was wide awake and desperately trying to figure out what was going on.
The week before, I had been listening to the show and heard them announce a contest: The first five listeners to call in would win a prize that included a digital camera. My phone was right in front of me, so I thought "Why not?" Unbelievably, I got through -- and won. What I didn't realize, however, was that winners also had their names entered in a grand-prize drawing that would take place the following week.
Nervously listening, I heard the Junkies say they had the grand-prize winner on the phone.
"Terri?" Suddenly, the sound of the show was no longer muffled, but normal and loud. "Congratulations!" one or all of them said -- I don't remember, I was in shock. "You just won a Harley-Davidson!"
A 2004 Sportster, to be exact.
Then, off the air, Brett said, "You know, if you don't want the bike, you can take the cash equivalent instead."
I instantly felt like a Rockefeller. I had no idea what a Harley cost, but assumed it had to be around $15,000 to $20,000. I was wrong. The motorcycle I won was the low-end model, retailing for about $7,000. Still, it was a motorcycle or $7,000 more than I had only five minutes earlier.
When I called my parents, my mother was just as excited as I was. My father was a different story: "Okay, before you go crazy, let's think about the tax implications first." To which I heard my mother respond in the background, "Oh, Frank! Do you have to ruin the moment with tax talk?" My sentiments exactly.
My initial thought was to take the money and run. I had a hefty car payment and a student loan, Italy had recently been calling my name, my dog needed to see a cardiologist about a heart murmur, and the new iPod had just been unveiled. Plus, there was this fantastic coral Marc Jacobs coat with fur trim that I was dying to own. Of course I was going to take the cash.
But then a friend asked: "Why don't you keep the bike?" I honestly hadn't given the idea much thought. A motorcycle just wasn't my style. The unruliness and rebelliousness they represented didn't mesh with my Catholic school sensibilities. In addition, the loud, guttural sounds they emit never charmed me, and the thought of parking my very own hog in front of my Georgetown apartment didn't have much appeal.
But then I started thinking about the possibilities a motorcycle offered: the freedom, the adventures, and let us not forget the coolness factor. I could become a hot biker chick. I could buy a distressed leather jacket, some worn-in harness boots and a pair of aviator sunglasses, you know, like the kind Kelly McGillis wore in "Top Gun." I could sell all my belongings -- heck, give everything away, since there was no need for wealth or material possessions where a bike could take me.
My sister-in-law, Carrie, said she would pay me to attach a sidecar for my dog, Sam, and buy him goggles and a red scarf, but I think I would do that for free. I imagined us hitting the road and leaving D.C. behind, heading into uncharted territories, my long hair and Sam's long ears flapping against the wind. We would explore the vast countryside by day and retire in small hamlets at night. I'd pick up odd jobs here and there, exchanging a day's work for a warm meal and a place to sleep. We'd rise before the sun and set out on our way again. No goodbyes, no attachments, always in search of the next adventure, the next possibility. Always looking, but never finding. (Cue mysterious music).
In the midst of my reverie, my Harley tires abruptly came to a loud, screeching halt. Could I call my mom during these adventures? Coolness factor of that question: a definite zero. No matter how much I wanted to believe I was capable of being that carefree and detached, I wasn't, and never would be. I had to take the money.
It fascinates me that the relatively small sum of $7,000 had me briefly challenging my lifestyle, reevaluating choices and future prospects. What must it be like for people, lottery winners for instance, who instantly come into millions? For the first time, I didn't envy those people at all. Well, maybe just a little.
In the end, I took the cash. After putting some aside for taxes, I used most of it to pay off my car. Then I made a doctor's appointment for Sam, put some (okay, hardly any) in savings, bought myself an iPod and the fab Marc Jacobs coat and called it a day. Yes, I was responsible and unexciting, but as much as I like to fantasize otherwise, that's who I am.
The upside is that my accountant dad is proud of me, though he has no idea how much I paid for the coat. And best of all, my wonderful dog won't be subjected to the ridiculousness of wearing goggles and a scarf. Life is good. Or, as the Junkies would say: It's money.