CHARLESTON — Most of us, I’m sure, have seen Dave Sayer on television at one time or another. If you have, you have probably also secretly wished for him to show up at your front door someday. Whenever he does, it is memorable. Last month, he came to our Bay Area.
But when his trip didn’t go as planned, the opportunity arose for me to become Dave Sayer for a day.
Sayer is the founder of the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol. His job is to bring oversized checks to unsuspecting people all over the country. Usually a camera is there to record that life-changing moment, which is then shared with television viewers all over the country in one of Publishers’ commercials.
It is arguably the most exciting part of the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, which is a major part of the company’s mailings and website.
Serving to draw attention to the merchandise and magazine values that they offer, it is repeated dozens of times a year, with the Prize Patrol traveling for any prize over $10,000.
In this case, the winner was getting two checks. One for being a $10,000 winner, and another $10,000 for being a PCH Facebook Superfan.
The whole thing is, typically, very much a surprise for the winner.
Sometimes, however, the person is not home when the Prize Patrol arrives. It forces the crew to get creative. Such was the case last month when Sayer came looking for Mary Ihry at her home off Libby Lane in rural Coos County.
“We never know when the person is there,” Sayer said, as he prepared to surprise the local winner with flowers, champagne and two big oversized checks. “In some rare, rare, instances we have to just mail them the check. If possible, we like to at least try to leave the flowers, balloons and the big check with a friend or neighbor so they get to keep those.”
But, that is only after every effort is made to locate the winner, including finding out if they are at work and heading off to surprise them there.
The important thing is that they don’t have to be home to get their prize.
In this instance, even with local newspaper reporters joining in on an online scavenger hunt of sorts, the winner could not be found. After one more attempt the following morning, Sayer had to head back for his next mission.
Days passed, he says, before word arrived from two sources indicating that Mary Ihry would soon be returning home. One of those sources was Bev’s Flowers.
A customer at the North Bend flower shop, from which Sayer had purchased the flowers and where he had left the big checks, told them that Ihry had been in Texas visiting family.
Publishers Clearing House made contact with her and found out that she would be home Monday. They worked out a time for her to be home so she could sign for the checks. But, they also knew they still had some oversized checks sitting back at the florist.
Sayer contacted the World and asked if this reporter would be willing to deliver the rest of the Prize Patrol experience in his stead. Officially deputized, it set in motion the opportunity to feel part of the joy that keeps Sayer flying all over the country, even after 33 years.
He says, though, that it isn’t difficult to understand why he still enjoys that role.
“I travel to wonderful places, meet good people, and make their day,” he said.
I was fortunate to get to experience that Monday.
The day began with a trip back to Bev’s to pick up the flowers, champagne and prop checks.
Bev Rossback, the owner, seemed to be caught up in the same kind of joyful emotion for the role that she was getting to play.
“We’re really happy to be a part of this,” she said, beaming. “She’s so lucky, and I wish her the best.”
Then, fully loaded with the tools of the trade, photographer Alysha Beck and I headed out for the home on Libby Lane. The only thing missing was the official Prize Patrol van — and, of course, Dave Sayer.
It is a difficult feeling to describe, handing out checks that you know will impact someone’s life even a little. I can say that it is hard to suppress the smile that starts to break out as you approach the winners door, particularly when you have seen this scene play out countless times before from the outside.
There is the traditional knock, the subtle shuffling movement from within the home, the anticipation building outside, and then the look of shock, joy, amazement and disbelief — all in one. Even in this case, where the element of surprise may have been subdued just a little bit. Mary Ihry didn’t even seem to be bothered that there was no van or that I was not Sayer.
Appearing in her doorway, with her little dog Pixie, one showing a little more surprise than the other, both had the look that something epic had just taken place and it was still being processed.
It was indeed epic, especially for Ihry. Having only ever won a pizza before, it was obvious that the possibility of winning a check from Publishers Clearing House was not something she spent much time dwelling on.
“I’m so excited! I never thought this would happen ever — ever, ever.”
It was a heady experience to be a part of; one that will be hard to forget. After all, it is not often you get to be a part of the impossible. Unless, of course, you are Dave Sayer.
You can follow his series of adventures, delivering the impossible, on Facebook at the Dave Sayer PCH Prize Patrol page.