Passing ‘Go’

While home for the holidays, the negative 20-degree temperatures kept me from venturing too far outdoors in my old stomping grounds of Lake George. So I opted to dust off the Monopoly board. “National Parks Edition.”

My love-hate relationship with this game kept it tucked away in the basement all these years. We had no idea if all the parts and pieces were still inside the box, buried amidst the petrified crumbs of middle school snacks and, for some reason, clumps of black hair from my brothers childhood dog, Howard – may he rest in peace. After sifting through the debris, the essentials appeared to be there.

Growing up, I never seemed to win this game. I always bought up every single property I landed on, leaving me broke in no time. This usually resulted in tears after someone took all my possessions, and I’d run off swearing to never play that stupid game again. But I’ve learned a thing or two since then.

I had a new strategy for maximizing my capital gain. With my ultra selective real estate purchasing, I was bound to rake in a nice income. And I knew that if I could imagine myself, the backpacker, (remember it’s the National Parks edition) landing on Yellowstone and Yosemite, then I could buy a ranger station for each park in no time. I couldn’t wait to be basking in the glory of my first ever Monopoly win. Oh, and yes, Yellowstone and Yosemite are those dark blue ones, Boardwalk and Park Place, in case you forgot.

My opponents, the canoe and the grizzly bear, were also on a mission, but they were falling for the old trick. Buying it all in the first couple laps. I had a rough start, no doubt. Paying lots of fines and fees and getting sent to jail multiple times in a row. Yet, my strategy worked, and soon enough my dream monopoly came true.

All my worries, fears and stresses drifted away. I could land anywhere on the board without a care in the world. When I rested on free parking with no reward, I hardly noticed. If I had paid $75 for eating dinner at the Ahwahnee (a fancy resort near Yellowstone replacing the luxury tax), then good on me. And I didn’t even feel obligated to pause the game to make another screwdriver. With the lack of pain for losing, there were no sorrows to drown out.

As for Monopoly itself, legend has it that the man who sold the notorious game to Parker Brothers in 1935, Charles Darrow, is not the original inventor. The Landlords Game, patented in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie, is considered its true precursor to Darrow’s extremely similar version. Before anyone had the foresight to realize the game’s huge potential, Milton Bradley rejected the purchase of Monopoly from Darrow in 1934. The Parkers only reconsidered once its popularity proved profitable, and after they secured Magie’s patent, for $500 of course.

Heck, one could write an advanced research paper on the depth of history behind this game, let alone all the ironic lawsuits and royalty discrepancies spun around it. But regardless of its development, a few simple rules have always applied when it comes to the dice. Roll doubles, go again. Roll doubles twice, OK, go once more. Roll doubles three times in a row: go to jail. Yet, roll doubles while in jail, and woo hoo, you’re free.

Even with all the doubles I seemed to be throwing, after a while, I got bored of being the monopolizing bully. Yah, I know it’s the object of the game but it seemed wrong taking every asset from my dad and boyfriend, forcing them to sell their tents back to the bank and lose their beautiful national parks. I kept finding myself saying, “keep the change” or “just give me Mesa Verde, Petroglyph and Canyon de Chelly, and we’ll call it even.” 

After my sudden change of heart during my total domination, a wave of questions flooded my mind. Can money really solve problems or does it just make more? Would I get bored if I actually were wealthy? Will I ever find out? What’s happening to our democracy? Why is our nation’s economic inequality gap continuing to widen? 

In that moment, I decided to be thankful for my financially challenged life. Sure, I’ve never understood why I work so hard to feel so poor but during that game something clicked. I think. And even though I can’t answer all my questions, there’s one thing I know for sure. In life, like in Monopoly, an unlucky roll can beat you down. For me, that cursed roll has sent me to Durango Orthopedics for multiple surgeries and Animas Surgical for more spinal injections than most should have in a lifetime. I suppose while floundering in medical bills and fighting denied insurance claims, I’ve learned a little about managing time and money. Will that make me rich? Probably not. Do I tell myself it could always be worse? Most definitely.

And as for Monopoly, a game promoting the fact that in order to win you basically gotta be greedy, I might have felt guilty about winning. But I still wonder if I could do it again. Good thing there’s hundreds of different editions to keep me interested. From the “John Deere Collectors Edition” to the “Israeli Edition” and even the “Walking Dead Survival Edition,” the list goes on and on.

But beyond the strategies applied to winning this silly game, and no matter what the theatrical edition,  Monopoly still serves up some real life themes. For example, take a chance and risk going directly to jail. I’ve been there, and even though I did get a “get out of jail free card”  – also known as a court order – the fees and penalties set me back a pretty penny (see La Vida Local Feb. 9, 2012, for that full story).

On the brighter side, you can pass go and collect every now and then. An unexpected bonus from a boss. A generous tip from a happy customer. Winning a sweet prize from a fundraiser raffle. Such simplicity has always put a smile on my face.

And let’s not forget about community chest. I am a strong believer in what goes around, comes around. Karma. Fate. Whatever you wanna call it. Why not donate some of our precious time at the soup kitchen or volunteer at a nursing home?  Maybe in return we’ll stumble upon a hundred dollar bill on the floor of the Ranch. 

   Nevertheless, playing Monopoly in my 30s has had far more implications than I could have possibly imagined. Next time you happen across this American classic, why not take a turn and give that dice a little kiss for good luck while you’re at it.

Stacy Falk