Last week, my wife, Abby, and I went to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina for a week vacation at the Island Links Resort, a wedding gift from Abby’s Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen. Our residence for the week was part of a timeshare community that consisted of a three-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, dining room, and living room. It was too big for us to use on our own so we invited our friends, Andrew and Lauren, to join the adventure.
On the last night of the vacation, we played mini-golf and played games in the arcade after we finished our putting extravaganza. One of my favorite games is called Monster Drop, and it’s quite simple to play. For usually one or two tokens (or quarters), you get one to three balls to drop from the top of game onto a constantly spinning wheel below. You earn tickets corresponding to the number value on the ball slot. As you can tell from the picture below, the “Drop Bonus Balls” slot has a raised lip around the edge, so a ball that is rolling around is unlikely to go in it; it requires a drop straight in or a bounce. The wheel has values ranging from 1 – 50, the ball slot getting smaller as the values go up. But there are also a few other triggers on the wheel, including Jackpot (which has a raised lip), Add Bonus Ball, and Mystery Value. You’ll also see a Monster Jackpot on a raised level in the middle of the wheel.
One of my favorite things to do is drop the bonus balls. You can see from this image below (this is a picture I found, not the exact game I was playing), that the Bonus Balls Total was 32. In the game I was playing, there were 22 bonus balls that had been stored up.
My goal, with my 15 dollars in tokens was to release the 22 bonus balls and win a bunch of tickets. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities as one ball drop cost two tokens (50 cents). But I had played this game numerous times before and knew the timing of how to get the best chance of a Jackpot or Drop Bonus Balls.
On my third attempt, I slightly missed the Drop Bonus Balls slot and the ball bounced off of the wheel and into the air. It bounced again, and once more before going directly into the Monster Jackpot.
The machine lit up and a deep, electronic voice played through the game’s speaker. “Monster Jackpoooooottttttt! I’d never won a Monster Jackpot before so I was incredibly excited. I looked up at the top of the machine and saw my total winnings: 1,350 tickets. The machine started pumping out tickets, spewing them all over the floor of the arcade. Abby and I got down and tried to gather the tickets, folding them into rows of five as quickly as the machine was spitting them out. Every now and then we’d look up at the countdown. Still 900 to go. Then it was under 500. Finally our last 100. Then it stopped. In the end, I had a ticket stack that was at least five or six inches long with more than 1,400 tickets from my total winnings.
Then Abby and I did what we always did. We looked around the arcade for children. We didn’t need these tickets. Sure, I could have gotten a basketball or a stuffed animal, but it would have meant very little to me, while one of these prizes could mean the perfect day, week, or month for another kid.
We saw a group of three kids with their parents and gave each about 1/6 of the tickets. They were elated and their parents were both surprised and grateful. The other half of the tickets we split for a group of three young teenagers, seemingly all related.
“Would you like some of these tickets?” I asked.
The teenagers’ eyes lit up.
“Sure!” one of them said. “Thank you!”
“Can I go ask my uncle?” one of the girls asked.
“Sure, but what are you going to ask him?” I inquired. “Just take the tickets and get yourself something nice.”
She was still hesitant.
“Why don’t you take these tickets, show your uncle that a nice couple won a lot of tickets and gave you some? I don’t think he’d have a problem with that.” She took the tickets and ran out of the arcade to find her uncle.
The third teenager was very gracious, saying thank you a number of times. But this was a teaching moment as well.
“Do me a favor,” I told him. “Just remember this when you’re my age, and remember that you can make a kid’s day by giving him your tickets. Remember to pay it forward.”
“That’s right!” the man behind the counter said. “Words of wisdom!” he said to the teen.
I didn’t think it was anything wise. Abby and I just put ourselves in the shoes of these kids and thought how excited we would have been to get hundreds of tickets when we were younger. Back then it would have been about the pure enjoyment of getting the coveted stuffed animal or new toy, but now it was about instilling lessons of sharing, random acts of kindness to strangers, and being respectful. (*On other occasions of giving tickets to very young children, we’ll give the tickets to them only after they promise to be nice to their mommies and daddies.)
When Abby and I go to Ocean City, Maryland in July to celebrate her birthday, we’ll do the same thing at Marty’s Playland on the boardwalk, just as we’ve done each previous year. And when we go on our next cruise, I’ll rack up as many tickets as I can, go to the prize dispenser, trade in my tickets for as many prizes as I can, and leave all of them at the bottom of the dispenser, waiting for a kid to come and grab something extra, just because.
Maybe these children won’t remember these experiences, but maybe they will. And maybe in a few years, or 10, or 20, they’ll go back and do the same thing, paying it forward for the next generation. Maybe they won’t, and that’s okay, too. Because in that moment, we could see the happiness they had, and that was good enough for us.