Mega hopes and dreams

D.J. Bell knew what he’d do if he won the Mega Millions lottery jackpot, rocketing Tuesday night toward a $656 million nationwide record.

“I would take care of the family first, then friends. Then I’d give to charity,” Bell, of Altoona, said after buying a ticket at FeFi’s along Pleasant Valley Boulevard. “I’d let myself lay back in the background. There’s time for myself.”

Like gas stations, corner stores and tobacco shops across the country, FeFi’s hosted a seemingly constant line of lottery hopefuls Tuesday. Some, like Bell, traveled from store to store, buying a ticket at each throughout the afternoon.

“I’ve been slammed since I got here. I’ve had quite a few lines this evening,” employee Brandi Williamson said.

The jackpot was at $636 million and climbing Tuesday evening, aided by a rush of late players hoping to cash in on the uncommonly massive winnings. The latest drawing was set for late Tuesday night.

Changes in the Mega Millions format could lead to more of the ballooning jackpots like this week’s, experts have said. The winnings could rise to $1 billion by Christmas if draws continue to roll over.

“This morning, people were buying in bulk,” said Raj Patel, owner of the downtown Hollidaysburg Sunoco station. “Not the single digits, no. Like, 100, 200, 300.”

Patel said he can’t guess whether tonight will mark the end of the jackpot’s monthslong growth.

“I don’t know. If I know that, I’m going to buy the ticket,” he said, laughing.

The huge possible winnings drew some who don’t ordinarily play – fear of missing that one chance pulls in those who don’t play smaller, daily tickets, some at Blair County stores said.

At the Smokers Express in Hollidaysburg, customers waited in a line Assistant Manager Debbie Lynn of Roaring Spring called “mild” compared with a chaotic afternoon. One customer scolded her husband for briefly pulling her out of the ticket line.

“I just hope it gets won tonight,” Lynn said. “But I hope there’s multiple wins. It’s too much money.”