Best Birthday Present Ever: I Won the 'Hamilton' Lottery

by Cara Paiuk

 

I thought my birthday was off to a good start. When I woke up in the morning, my scale informed me I had met my goal — 50 pounds!!! I woke my husband with the good news, but when he grumbled and retreated under the covers I felt like I had gained 50 pounds of resentment.

Still, I had arranged for a photographer to take some glamour shots, and the before-and-after picture pair I posted gave me the response I had been hoping for from my husband. The social media spotlight buoyed my mood, but I wanted more than anything for my husband to celebrate with me and not sit on the sidelines. Actually, it felt like he was in the outfield, or maybe another field altogether... I'm not sure even he knew what game he was playing.

Thankfully, I had also arranged for my best friend to visit me two days later to celebrate my birthday in style. We planned a two-night stay in NYC and from the moment she stepped off the plane she rejoiced my weight loss. She let me talk about it non-stop and didn't seem to mind my self-congratulatory bingefest. She indulged me in my happiness.

We arrived in NYC on Christmas. The city felt like a ghost town. I had assumed the streets would be jam-packed because of the holiday and unseasonably warm weather, but they were eerily void of people. Two blocks from Rockefeller Center that all changed.

People started manifesting themselves as faint music piped in from a distance. By the time we arrived at The Rock, we could barely squeeze through the crowds. When we paused to absorb and observe the scene, I am not sure what I found more unbelievable: the fact I was wearing short sleeves at 9 p.m. on Christmas, or that we paid $13 for Mr. Softee ice cream cones.

The next day we hit the shopping circuit hard and around 5 p.m. made our way towards the TKTS booth at Broadway and 47th Street. My BFF had never seen a Broadway show before and I wanted to treat her to some tickets. Along the way, I recounted my intensely emotional experience trying to win Hamilton lottery tickets a few weeks prior: the thrill of being part of a crowd that cheered when someone's name was called, and how uplifting it felt to see strangers from all corners and classes genuinely happy for someone else. We decided to detour to peek at the line.

It was like nothing I had ever seen. The line snaked through the Marriott carport and around the block. We scanned for its end fruitlessly as it dove past the horizon. We decided to simply enjoy the spectacle and stationed ourselves across the street. As the lottery opened and the crowd dutifully inched forward, the flood of humanity swelled over the barricades and into the street, bringing traffic to a standstill.

IMAGE: CARA PAIUK

IMAGE: CARA PAIUK

We watched in awe. What chance did we have to win a ticket? Maybe one in a thousand? I've faced worse odds and survived, I thought. At 5:55 as we started to backtrack in search of where to queue up, the man with the lottery entries suddenly appeared. We ran to the end of the line with a slip of paper each. At precisely 6:02 we crumpled them up and tossed them into the bucket.

Moments later, they began calling names. Names from all over the world – Chinese, Indian, French... names I could never pronounce. Yet the emcee read them without a stammer. Every time they announced a winner we could place their location by the raucous cheers that erupted around them. These spontaneous outbursts of revelry made standing there in the cold worth it. There were only a handful of winners amongst us, but there certainly were no losers.

With only a few tickets left I started wondering when I would next be in New York to try again. "I know I am going to butcher this one," the announcer prefaced. The master of ceremonies could effortlessly pronounce Krzyzewski and Eyjafjallajökull, so this name had to be weird.

 "Cara PAY... uk?"

I honestly don't remember exactly what I said next. It was probably unprintable. My screams may have also burst the part of my brain responsible for memory formation. I vaguely recall my friend pushing me forward, holding up two wobbly fingers to request my tickets, and getting corralled with the other winners. I trembled a text to my husband, then called him sobbing with joy. Unbeknownst to me, he had tried and failed to find Hamilton tickets for less than $500 to surprise me with, so he was quite relieved when I told him these only cost $10.

IMAGE: CARA PAIUK

IMAGE: CARA PAIUK

My friend joined me once the cordon came down and all the tickets had found homes in grateful hands. She and I took selfies and pictures of the tickets and the crowd, which I of course posted immediately. The show had not even started and it was already my favorite of all time.

As I walked into the theater I knew I had been very lucky to win those tickets, but only afterwards did I truly grasp my good fortune. As hyped as it was, Hamilton still managed to surpass my expectations. And so did my birthday.
 

Cara Paiuk is a freelance writer and photographer whose articles and pictures have appeared in The NY Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and many others. She lives in West Hartford, CT, with her husband, young son, and toddler twin daughters. You can follower her @carapaiuk.