Rogers: Humbled by the billion |

Rogers: Humbled by the billion

Aspen Times editor Don Rogers
Courtesy photo

Barreling across Nevada, dreaming the ridiculous dreams of that lottery ticket worth a billion.

A giant moon hovers low in the alpenglow, bare mountains pure white, Highway 50 a ribbon stretching out black and empty to the horizon either way in the basins between Austin and Eureka.

If life goes present moment by present moment, I’m already a winner.

But I’m here because of the holidays just passed, making my break from California between storms. And those Quick Picks can’t help but invite in the future, flooding with possibility.

Against all odds, a winning ticket …

What ski town, which beach? Rent or own, and where after that? PCT first or the Appalachian Trial, or maybe the Camino de Santiago? Yeah, why not?  

How to invest, where to give? What causes, which relations?

Keep working? At what?

How much would life change, wanting for nothing?


Sudden great fortune might be even more disruptive than a great setback. Misfortune is democratic, striking us all, this common experience. This other alights rare as that black swan, and the literature suggests a likelihood of ruination.

We gather round in tragedy, the best of us surfacing in support. But the stories of lottery winners run rife with examples of the worst — grasping relatives, hucksters, greed, broken families, lost connections, bent perspective, paranoia, misery, these fables, all this loss. Too many tales to dismiss.

Yet we buy so many tickets that billion dollar jackpots pay out almost monthly. So many moths attracted to the bright light of chance.

Surely I could handle it. Isn’t that we each believe? That we wouldn’t change, at least not for the worse, if the means to all our dreams materialized?


The sky goes dark, as it must, despite the moon. Headlights only go so far, even wide open Nevada closing in, driving at night. Slow down? Never, not with Ely, a meal, a room, to gain.

The fantasy turns to what I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t quit the job, divorce the wife, sell the house. No partying like it’s 1999 or other Princely pursuits. No world tour. No red sports car.

OK, maybe a sensible EV, a bigger apartment in Aspen, try out Matsuhisa, fly more often. The ol’ mountain bike is fine. Same with the snowboard and the Nordic skis. Already have new snowshoes and running shoes. No new toys are calling.

At least not yet.

But I wouldn’t go crazy. That’s the first thing. We’d take it all slow, think everything through, fulfill current commitments, stay low key, even keel, you know?

It might be interesting, from a certain distance, to see how long that truly held. Temptation, like other vacuums, demands filling.


Thinking about sudden wealth and temptation touches on morality. Is there a difference between earning your billion vs. lucking into it through a game of chance or accident of birth? Might a lottery be more fair at root than traditional wealth-building?

After all, what society values and where the money goes don’t follow mythical channels of hard work and talent in any objective sense. In this era, it flows more like wildfire to the peril of the planet.

Philanthropic contributions amount to so many coins in a tin cup — Facebook and Google “helping” community journalism while they rip us off, for instance.  

So, spend a whole lottery’s winnings on giving back? That would be pure, would it not? Who would actually do this?

The lottery thought experiment, augmented by the purchase of numbers, brings it home, then. Who am I really, I wonder in another moment, a frigid early morning driving into the sun.

Fortunately, I didn’t win. No one did. Now the prize is even greater. There’s no question whether I’m buying more tickets. I’m only human.

Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at