The “empty-bucket” list

Ever since the movie came out in 2007, we’ve all heard people talking about their bucket lists: Things they hope to do before they “kick the bucket.” Or maybe you’ve made such a list yourself. I don’t know how long – or if _ the term “bucket list” existed before the film (which I didn’t see; I’m not a Jack Nicholson fan). Most people probably called it a life-wish list or something.

I have a friend who, on her birthday each year, writes down a list of things she wants/hopes to do, and the number has to correspond to however old she is. So she was 50 this year, and listed 50 things. Some of these are “huge” things that she might never do (scale Everest and such), some are very small (finally paint that damn chair on the back porch) and some are the same year-to-year, such as “walk my dogs more” or “listen better to my patients.”

Rather than her list getting smaller as she does things, it gets longer every year. This is a type of ambition rather alien to me.

Of course, she graduated from medical school, learned how to sail, and can speak French. I am a sports writer whose dearest hope for years was that all three seasons of “The Patty Duke Show” would be released on DVD. (They have been, by the way. I suppose I don’t actually need to say I own them.)

Anyway, she (my friend, not Patty Duke) cajoled me into making my so-called “bucket” list at age 43. I decided it’s going to stay at 43 since it will take at least the rest of my life to have a 1 percent chance of doing even half them.

I’m sure my friend thought my most ridiculous ones were:

  • See a real ghost.
  • See an actual flying “saucer” or other alien spacecraft.
  • Visit Transylvania and see the ruins of Dracula’s castle.

However, I think those are all much more realistic than this one very high on my list:

  • Completely restore a 1960s muscle car, such as a Charger or Mustang.

Because the truth is, I don’t quite know how any machines work. The idea of me rebuilding an engine? That would then run? I better just keep vigil for a visitor from another planet or the afterlife, since I have a far greater chance of being able to cross one of those off my list.

Anyway, the real genesis of this post is this: I was wondering what you call the list of things that you hope you don’t do before you die. Maybe it’s the “empty-bucket” list. As in, you wish that none of these things would be in your bucket before you, um, kick it. Or something like that.

Unfortunately, I just did one of them this week. I suppose I should be happy to have made it to age 46 before this happened, and that it was so easily remedied. Still …

I went to the grocery store, got a series of items, went through the checkout line, had my purchases sacked and back in the shopping cart, reached into my shoulder bag and found:

  • Two kinds of lip balm.
  • Four pens.
  • Car keys.
  • i-Pod shuffle and earbuds.
  • 1 ½ rolls of peppermint Lifesavers.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Old pair of my regular glasses, which I wear at the gym.
  • Hairbrush.
  • Sheet of paper containing the itinerary for something I did two weeks ago.
  • Oh, look, it’s another roll of Lifesavers.
  • Ticket stub from “Super 8.”
  • Three actual “pairs” of earrings, and two solos who are waiting – almost certainly in vain – for their respective mates to be found.
  • Assorted change in three different pockets.
  • Speeding ticket I was given last week for going 45 in a 35 when I wasn’t even in the slightest hurry to get anywhere.
  • Various receipts I don’t need.

As you can discern, none of these things were what was necessary to pay for the groceries. Fortunately, I was only 5 minutes from my house. So I could go back home and get my wallet _ which was sitting on the desk wondering where the heck I went without it _ and returned to pay.

I thought, “I do plenty of dumb stuff, but hoped this was one thing I would never do.” (And, yes, I was very careful on that 5-minute drive home, lest I get another speeding ticket and also be cited for not having my license with me.)

This incident made me start thinking about what would be on my “empty-bucket” list. I didn’t want this list to have any obviously horrible and unbearable things, such as:

  • Meeting a fate much like that of the most unfortunate victims on “Criminal Minds.”
  • Watching the Cardinals’ bullpen blow an eight-run lead in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the World Series.
  • Living with Ann Coulter.

There are things that I really wish I could include, but sadly, I’ve already done them. One is “leave laptop in a bin at an airport security check-in.” I truly can’t believe I did that, since I frequently say I could go longer without food and water than I could without my laptop. But in Washington D.C. four years ago, I did it.

I realized it about three minutes after I’d walked away from security, and the sprint back was about the longest and most panicked 30 seconds of my life. The old Kansas City Star-issued Dell covered with Cardinals stickers was safe and sound with a security guard, the reality being it was so slow and outdated they probably couldn’t have given it away if I hadn’t returned for it.

There were some extenuating circumstances … I had taken my mom and nephews along on a working “vacation” (the only kind I seem to go on) to the WNBA All-Star Game, and so was shepherding them and their stuff through security, too.

My mom, then 84, was saying things like, “This is ridiculous. Do they really think an old lady would blow up a plane?” (Me: “Mom, PLEASE stop talking until we’re through security.) And the nephews somehow had acquired an enormous amount of crap in just a few days of touring our nation’s capital/visiting Virginia Beach. (They dubbed seeing the White House “pretty boring.” The Washington Monument was “OK.” The Lincoln Memorial was “All right.” The ocean ranked much higher.)

Another “empty-bucket” list thing I regret I already have done was, in fact, a very long time ago: Getting stopped by the police twice in the same day. Did that on March 9, 1985.

Again, extenuating circumstances. The University of Missouri’s women’s basketball team was playing in Kansas City on Saturday afternoon for the Big Eight tournament title. My sister’s high school team was playing in Columbia on Saturday night for the Missouri Class 3A state title.

Interstate 70’s speed limit was then 55 mph. So you can figure out how I got the speeding ticket. Anyway, despite the police’s interference in my law-breaking drive, I did make it to tipoff of my sister’s game … which her team lost in overtime. I handled this with all the maturity of my almost-20-year-old self: I was mad as hell.

Driving back to my apartment in Columbia (two minutes, tops, from the Hearnes Center) … yep, I got pulled over again for going about 4 mph over the limit. Well, I thought, at least Missouri won, the only thing saving the day from being an epic disaster.

The officer asked me for my driver’s license, which I no longer had. Back then, they took it from you if you got a speeding ticket and then would mail it back when you paid up. In the meantime, you had the ticket to show as proof that you really had a license, just in case you were stupid enough to get pulled over again. So I explained the whole thing in one long rush to the officer:

“I was in Kansas City for the Big Eight tournament which Missouri won and beat Oklahoma and the teams don’t like each other so it was great Missouri won and I write about them for the student newspaper so I was there covering the game but my little sister’s high school team was playing here tonight for the state championship so I wanted to make it back in time so I got pulled over for speeding on I-70 and they took my license and then my sister’s team lost in overtime and I think we got some bad calls and I was mad and so I was speeding on my way home even though I didn’t really know I was speeding and I live on that street right over there and I can’t believe I got pulled over again and my parents are going to kill me when they find out.”

He paused to take this in, then said, “Well … I guess one ticket in a day is enough for you. Go home.”

So … here is a quick top-10 for my “new” empty-bucket list:

  • Getting pulled over by the cops three times in the same day.
  • Accidentally pocket-dialing a coach or player at 2 a.m. (Of course, by definition, all pocket dials are accidents.)
  • Arriving at the airport for departure and realizing I never actually bought the plane ticket.
  • Asking a woman who is not pregnant when she is due.
  • Complaining about someone in an e-mail/text and mistakenly sending it to that person.
  • Getting confused by an election ballot and voting straight-ticket Republican.
  • Locking myself out of my hotel room while still in pajamas … or less.
  • Realizing I’ve worn some new piece of clothing with the tag still on it the entire day/night at, say, the Final Four.
  • Encountering a faulty lock in a bathroom stall with one of those ceiling-to-floor type doors, like exists at Chicago Midway Airport, and finding myself trapped inside. Bonus bucket points if it causes me to miss a flight.
  • 10.  Absent-mindedly driving to Kansas State when the game is at Kansas.

Oh, and guess what the cover story was for a magazine in my hotel here in Tulsa, which I noticed when checking out today. The “bucket list” for Oklahoma: Things you simply must see/do in the Sooner state before you really “check out.”

I didn’t even want to know.

About mvoepel

Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women's college basketball and other college sports for ESPN.com.
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2 Responses to The “empty-bucket” list

  1. Karen says:

    Getting caught up on your blogs. Loved this one. Already done that wearing clothes out with the tag thing–was walking up the “cattle” ramp to a Comets’ game, ignoring the “Miss, miss…” of an unfamiliar voice coming from behind me, when I noticed my partner had stopped and was talking to this woman. I waited for my partner to catch up, and when she did, she ripped the 12″ long plastic strip off the back of my jeans leg….you know, the one with the freakin’ SIZE plastered all down it!

    Never have been pulled over twice in a day, but I do have an experience being pulled over once that just might be equal to being pulled over twice. I was an English teacher and a JV basketball coach in a small 3A school district and after out-of-town games, often got the assignment of waiting with the players whose parents had to drive in from the far reaches of the district. After one particularly late and tiring trip, I finally was headed home and had just turned on the main “drag” when flashing lights pulled me over.

    I had been sitting in the car with the radio and heater on waiting to tear out as soon as the last player was picked up and had not turned on my headlights since my dashlights where already on and the parking light and roadways were lit. It was only an oversight on my part, but apparently an oversight that signals “possible drunk driver” to the police. The officer who pulled me over was very polite but very thorough in his assessment of my sobriety and all of this is going on with my students and players driving by honking, waving and even hanging out the window and hollering questions at me! Talk about wanting to crawl under my car!

  2. Howard says:

    LOL! Now, that final list was my best laff of the month so far!

    Ann Coulter? That’s the scariest thing you’ve listed.

    “Asking a woman who is not pregnant when she is due.”
    Now, this is something I would NEVER ever do….I thought. Last week, I noticed a significant difference in a client at work, whom I figured I *knew* well enough to inquire politely. She looked at me blankly and said, “No…I just had a breast reduction.” Totally new dimension in awkwardness.