Experiential Prizes by
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Watching whales on a glassy blue ocean is an experience everyone should have.

Auctions never appealed to me, so I have no stories about them. As for raffles, I count myself among people who rarely win anything, and normally don’t have much interest in the prizes, with two happy exceptions.

... my name was called, the first and last time I won this organization's raffle. The people at the table were delighted I won ...

In the 1980s and 90s, I belonged to a professional marketing communications group that met monthly for lunch (what a quaint practice that seems now). As an incentive to attend, a raffle prize was offered, drawn from those who were in the room, at the end of the meeting. Most months I was indifferent to the prize–bottles of wine were nice but not exceptional. However, one month, the Mountain Winery, which is a spectacular outdoor local concert venue, was the raffle sponsor. The prize, announced at the beginning of the meeting, was two tickets to hear Stephane Grappelli there.

All the people at my table were confused. “Who is that?” someone asked. “Wow,” I replied. “What a great prize. He is a wonderful jazz violinist who played with Django Reinhardt–le Jazz Hot.” I got blank looks. At the end of the meeting, the raffle drawing occurred, and my name was called, the first and last time I won this organization’s raffle. The people at the table were delighted I won the tickets and would appreciate the concert. It was indeed terrific.

The other win was really my then-husband Marty’s achievement for running the Bay to Breakers race. Marty was (and is) a competitive mid-distance runner and has run Bay to Breakers for many years. Most people know about the “social race” with the fun costumes and party atmosphere, but there also is a serious race for the most capable runners, about 500 athletes. This group includes elite women runners, who had been having issues at the starting line, being overpowered and jostled by the elite men.

The race organizers came up with a great solution–they identified a group of excellent male runners, just below the elite level, who could run a sub-five-minute mile for the first mile and a half of the race. These men served as escorts, running on either side of each elite woman for that distance until the crowd thinned. This was no easy task, but as a reward the escorts then could run a more serious race ahead of the party and have a good finish. Marty served as an escort for a number of years.

One year, when Marty finished the race among the first 300, he was entitled to draw a ticket from a box linked to a prize. It turned out to be a stay at a B&B in Pacific Grove, along with money for fun activities while there. Being very house poor at the time, we were thrilled; we never could have afforded to stay at this beautiful inn with an ocean view. Neither of us had ever been whale watching, so we treated ourselves to a trip that turned out to be memorable. The ocean was like glass and the weather clear, rare for Monterey Bay. We spent more than an hour watching three whales courting, so close to the boat that we could almost touch them.

I still remember that terrific weekend and the “impractical” prize because, unlike bottles of wine, memories can’t be consumed and thrown away. An experiential prize is priceless.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Mare, both your “wins” sound terrific. I’m so glad you won that concert ticket, since you were apparently the only person at the lunch who actually knew and appreciated the people performing – what luck!

    My husband used to run (not as well as Marty, but fairly well) and we’ve known about the Bay to Breakers race for years, but only the goofy part. I’m very impressed both by Marty’s time and his escort ability. Good idea!

    And his good deed was rewarded. We, also, enjoy experiences like you do, not being wine drinkers. Yours sounds amazing – being so close to the whales for hours, watching the mating dance. Wow!

    • Marian says:

      Experiences are the best, Betsy. Many people don’t realize that Bay to Breakers is a serious race as well. The elite groups line up in front at about 4 AM. The centipede category is serious as well (10 people tied together) and the top team could beat Marty.

  2. Thanx Mare for you two raffle stories.
    This jazz-lover definitely knows Stephan Grappelli!

    But disturbing to hear that female runners needed escorts to protect them! However, so glad you ended on a sweet note – whale watching sounds delightful!

  3. Suzy says:

    Wow, those were two fabulous raffle prizes, Mare! So much better than the things I have won at raffles! (Although the Bay to Breakers one was not a typical raffle – it sounds like Marty got to pick a ticket, and every ticket in the box would give some sort of prize.) You are so right that experiential prizes are the best! I once bid on, and won, a catered dinner for 8 in my own home, and that was fabulous. I actually forgot about it until I read your story, so thanks for the memory!

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Marian, especially for a non-auction-er. Looks like you’re two-for-two in raffles, so definitely quit while you’re still batting 1.000. (Mixed metaphor?) And I agree that both those prixes are great. I’ve even heard of Stephane Grappelli.

    And after my father and step-mother moved to Marin County when he retired, my father ran in Bay-to-Breakers a number of times (the fun run group, though he was a very good runner) well into his 80’s. I even have a great photo of him running it somewhere in my archives. So I know all about it and its crazier aspects.

    • Marian says:

      How fun that your father ran the Bay to Breakers at that age, John. I still enjoy watching the “fun” aspects of the race, but learning it from Marty’s perspective gave me an appreciation of the competitive part of it as well.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    Great prizes, Marian. Sounds like you hit the jackpot with both experiences. Not to mention the luck of a calm day on Monterey Bay (with whales!). Once we splurged with another couple at an auction to bid for the experience of a helicopter ride. It would have been great, but we never coordinated times with the other couple, the pilot got called to wildfire duty, COVID happened, years passed and so it has ended up just being a donation to the Meadowlark Festival. Which is okay, but it would have been fun to get the experience too.

    • Marian says:

      Sorry about the missed helicopter ride, Khati. That would have been fun. Let’s hope pandemic and environmental problems don’t completely hamper our ability to have experiences. At least the donation went to a good place.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I’d say you were a lucky winner both times. Having a memorable experience is so much better than winning something (even fine wine) that is quickly gone and forgotten. My kids have recommended gifting our grandkids with an experience (pre-Covid) rather than a regular birthday gift. We took two of our granddaughters to live theater, which was great for all involved.

    • Marian says:

      Excellent idea for a grandchild’s gift, Laurie. My parents took me to see “Oklahoma” at a summer theater when I was ten, and I was hooked from then on. Can’t thank them enough!

  7. Jim Willis says:

    I liked your story of your raffle experiences and especially your last comment about the nature of raffle prizes: that the best ones are the memories those events can produce. I would have loved to hear that jazz concert you won, though!

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