"Be a winner."
That's what I found in my fortune cookie at lunch one day. Pretty ironic because the next day I was headed to New York City to test out for the possibility to be a contestant on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire".
I'm going to try my damnedest.
It's funny what possesses a person to do such things. The idea first came to me when the show was announcing auditions for the fall season. Having recently overcome a very personal and challenging six months I figured what the hell, why not?
I went to the site, plugged in the required information, and within a few hours, they sent me an e-mail with my scheduled time and date.
Like a boyfriend who's afraid to commit, I immediately got second thoughts. I suddenly felt silly. I don't know why. I watch people every day on games shows, trying their luck and sometimes winning big. I sit on my sofa and think to myself how easy it is and I could be a better contestant. I yell answers at the television set and become frustrated when the contestants don't hear me.
Fantasy is always better than reality, and the reality is I am much braver from the comfort of my living room.
I was suddenly insecure, afraid of the outcome. I second guessed my actions and kept putting it off. There were doctors appointments, school plays, no one to accompany me, etc. Anything I could use as an excuse to not follow through. The website had several weeks of testing dates, so I would keep rescheduling to the following week.
Until I tried to reschedule one last time and noticed that there were no more weeks to reschedule.
Crap. Now, what do I do?
I was at a crossroads. Either I scrap the entire idea and think for the rest of my life "what if" or I suck it up and stick to my plan.
Since my brother would have kicked my ass if I passed up this chance, I decided to follow through.
Life is an adventure, right? I thought to myself.
I booked a seat on the Acela express to NYC; taking on the "Big Apple" for one full day; by myself.
It was heaven. The seats were large, cushy, and made of leather. Of course, I picked one next to the window. Free wi-fi, electrical outlets by my side, footrest, adjustable desktop, and best of all; nobody sitting next to me. The only noise I heard was the clicking of the train on the tracks. It was like riding first class on an airplane.
This was the life.
Until he came on board.
Amtrak has a special car called the "Quiet Car". This is for people who want absolute quiet. I chose this car to ensure that I'm not bothered by crying babies, annoying business people, or loud iPods. I wanted to take this time to think and write. Amtrak is very strict with the rules attached to this car. They make sure to announce it several times at every stop and as the conductor collects tickets.
The rules are, no cell phones, no talking, if it is essential to talk, it is to be in short, whispered conversations and no music. Hell, even my computer had to be in mute mode. I could literally hear a pin drop.
It was very clear to everyone what car we were in, and I was about to find out just how seriously people took these rules.
We stopped in Connecticut and picked up some passengers. I remember being a kid on a school bus and not wanting someone sitting next to me. I would put a backpack next to me and avert my eyes, hoping that they would get the hint and pick another seat. Sometimes we got lucky and this strategy worked.
Unfortunately, this tactic didn't seem to work with the old man. There were several empty seats around me, but he decides to stop at my seat and smile.
I had all my shit strewn about the two chairs staking my territory. There were clearly plenty of other seats available, but because the universe likes to fuck with me, this old man was attracted to me like a moth to a flame.
"Is this seat taken?" he says looking straight at me. I look at him, then look at my shit everywhere, and ever so badly want to say; "Hell yes old man! Don't you see I'm all settled here?? Go find another seat!"
It's times like these where I wish I was a cold-hearted bitch.
However, I'm not, so I smile weakly and strain to politely say, "Oh, no, it isn't, here, let me put my bags under my seat."
Me and my fucking manners.
As he puts his things in the overhead compartment, I'm scrambling to neaten up my area. In my head, I'm thinking, why me? Out of all the seats on this freaking train, why the hell does he have to sit next to me?!
Why? Because that's just my luck.
Now we're settled and the conductor goes through his announcements and the "Quiet Car" schpiel; No talking, no music, yadda, yadda, yadda.
I go back to my work and people around me are doing the same. Things are good. For about 60 seconds.
He then decides that he is going to spark up a conversation with me. "So, Where are you going?" in a rather loud voice.
Now, the woman across from us turns her head so fast in our direction, I swear she got whiplash.
Here we go.
So I look at her with a, "what the hell do you want me to do, ignore him?" look, and then turn to him and quietly say "New York City".
"WHAT?" he yells.
I wince and think, "Dear Lord; whatever did I do to piss you off today?"
Now, in addition to the pissed off whiplash woman, I have acquired two passengers sitting across from us who are very annoyed at the fact that the old man is talking in the quiet car.
Because the man is older than Christ himself, he can't hear me, and I'm forced to answer a bit louder. "New York City!" I said.
A loud sigh and a roll of the eyes comes from whiplash lady.
"Oh!" he says, "New York City is a great place to visit! There is so much to see and do..." as he was talking I became anxious and just wanted him to shut up. Suddenly his voice just went into an inaudible tone. You know, like the parents in the Peanuts cartoons. The parents' voices were just - "wahp wahap waaahh wahp". I couldn't hear a word he was saying.
I began to sweat because I could see the darts shooting out of the eyes of the other passengers who wanted me to tell him to shut the fuck up.
What was I supposed to do? Like it was my fault the old man didn't care what fucking car he was in.
Then to make matters worse, I hear a man equivalent to a flight attendant starting down the aisle with a cart that holds various candies, gum, soda, alcohol (you know, for those functional alcoholics) and salty snacks. He's quite the smart ass- he makes smarmy comments and pushes his overpriced crap onto people who just want to get to work.
He stops at the old man and me, then suggests that the old man buy some 'tasty pretzels' or a cup of coffee. The old man peeks over at the cart and comments on how he's not interested in this junk food and doesn't bite at the overpriced bait. Offended, the snarky snack pusher moves on.
He turns to me and starts talking about how annoying that man was. I turned my head, nodded at him, politely smiled then returned to my work.
Quiet means quiet, old man.
Noticing that I was not engaging with him, the old man decides to nap.
I continue to write, look out the window, and munch on the lunch I brought. I had about an hour and a half to myself. I felt like a parent who was trying to get in all the "alone" time she could before her kid woke up.
The train comes to a stop and the old man wakes up.
He looks at me and asks, "Where am I?"
Oh, great. Now he doesn't even remember where the hell he is?!
Hoping that he knew, I state, "In Connecticut." He flatly states. "I hate this state."
Hey, old man, thanks for sharing.
I ignore him, continue to type away. He glances over at me and asks me what kind of work I do. Inside I'm screaming "SHUT.THE.FUCK.UP!". People around me are looking at me like I'm the one encouraging his behavior.
I turn to him and sort of put up my finger to my lips and answer him in a whisper. Of course, he doesn't hear me and asks louder. I don't repeat, but instead, say "Shh, it's a quiet car." In perfect timing, Mr. Snack Pusher comes back with his overpriced loot.
This time, the old man purchases a Snickers bar. I think to myself, thank God. At least, his mouth will be full and can't talk.
I go back to my work and after a few minutes, I hear coughing.
I ignore him. The coughing continues. Then he makes this little squeak cough that makes me look at him.
Annoyingly, I turn to ask him if he's okay, and I notice he's choking.
Of course, he is.
I stared at him, watching to see how he does. I don't panic because he was coughing. The first rule; if a person is coughing, they can breathe. No need to intervene at this point. This I remember from my 20+ years of CPR/First Aid training.
His face was red, but he was still coughing. One last cough and the old man cleared his throat.
His face had a panic on it. His eyes were watering. I asked him if he was ok. He wearily nodded his head and said, "That was scary." and put down the rest of the candy bar.
Smart move old man.
Whiplash lady gave a raised eyebrow look as if to say, See what you get for talking in the "Quiet Car".
Seriously bitch? That was totally not called for.
I ignore the passengers, the old man, and the snack pusher for the rest of the train ride. If anyone tried to engage, I just pretended that I was so engrossed with my typing and didn't hear them.
Rude? Probably. But I had enough. What was supposed to be a wonderfully relaxing train ride for me, was nothing but stress, aggravation, and a near death experience.
I want my money back, Amtrak.
We pulled into Penn Station and I actually traveled on the NYC subway. No muggings, No bums, No panhandlers.
Finally, things were looking up.
I quickly found my way to the ABC Studio. Huge pictures of Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson hung on the walls in the foyer. I felt like I was on the set of GMA. I walk into the lobby and was greeted by security employees. I told them that I had an appointment (like I was important) for "Millionaire" at 5 pm. The guard directs me to a gray door down the building and informed me to be there around 4:30 pm. I thanked her and leave to find the door.
That's kinda sketchy, I thought. I found the door. It was flush with the rest of the side of the building and had no handle or sign on the outside. Now that I knew where I was supposed to be, I decided to take in the sites of Lincoln Center.
I returned to the designated door at 4:30 pm. Only, this time, there is a line with about 75 people in it.
There are two men with headsets and clipboards in their hands. I walk over to one and give him my paper. He finds my name, checks it off and tells me to stand in line.
So like a good and eager contestant, I do.
I'm behind a man who is like a large sumo wrestler. He keeps turning around and looking at me. I smile politely, he smiles back.
I'm assuming that a smile was the New York City signal to converse. Nice. Now I have to entertain this fucker too? Shit. All I wanted to do on this trip was to blend. He asks me if we were supposed to bring any sort of identification.
Who am I your fucking mother? I think to myself.
Stunned, I look at him and say, "Yes, and there are two applications they wanted to be filled out and brought in."
"Oh." he says. "Well, I didn't bring anything. I hope they don't ask for it. I just came here to get out of work for the afternoon. My boss thinks I'm at a dentist appointment." then turns around.
New Yorkers. Gotta love'em.
He turns back around to me a second later, and asks, "So, what happens?" I said, "With what?" He says, "With getting on the show?"
Now, I'm thinking to myself, Do you even know what fucking show you're trying out for?! Thank Christ, it wasn't Jeopardy.
I explain to him (because I'm an ass like that) that there is a 30 question test we have to take to qualify, but other than that, I had no idea. He thanks me then turns around again.
Another second later, he turns back around and states that he will probably fail the test since he's not that smart.
Really? I would have never guessed. Up until now, you seemed pretty intelligent to me.
The line now starts to move. As we head into the non-descript gray door, there is a ramp that leads to a room that is quite large and has several square tables and chairs at one end, and round tables at the other. Pictures of various ABC celebrities hung on the walls and we were directed to go through a metal detector and have our bags searched.
Two young women conducted the testing. One directed us to our seat and the other handed us our test. At the tables were a "Millionaire" pencils and magnets.
Parting gifts, I'm assuming.
One of the women passed out large yellow manilla envelopes with numbers on them to each 'contestant' and an answer sheet. We were to remember that number on our envelope.
The other young woman went through the rules for testing and what would be happening if we qualified to move on. Her tone was that of a tour guide. Bored and tired of saying the same thing over and over for hours on end.
We had 30 questions to answer in 10 minutes. There was no specification of what was a qualifying score. The answer sheets were passed in and fed through a computer for scoring. If our number was called, we passed and were to go to the round tables at the end of the room and wait to get our pictures taken.
At this point, I'm getting pretty anxious. I wanted to get going. All I could think of was my fortune. "Be a winner." This was my time. I could feel it. I started thinking of all the ways I would help my family, being able to meet Meredith Viera and 'ask the audience'.
I felt like Bobby Brady fantasizing about meeting Joe Namath. It just had to happen.
The ABC staffer starts the timer and the race was on. I did well. Or so I thought. I finished in record time and even had time to recheck my answers. Some of the questions were silly like;
"What is a national brand of oatmeal" A. Episcopalian, B. Quaker, C. Protestant D. None of the above.
Then there were harder ones like; "Entomology is the study of what?" A. Bugs, B. Snakes, C. Horses, D. Skin.
There were 100 people who tested out for the show, only 15 passed. To this day, I have no idea why they passed or why I didn't.
(By the way, the answers to the above questions were B and A.)
From start to finish, it only took twenty minutes to find out that I was not going to be a contestant or a millionaire.
So I left with my handy-dandy magnet and pencil for my efforts. But I'm not giving up. I will try out again.
Because I believe that someday I will, "Be a winner".