When a blue-faced genie appears in a red suit and white gloves, hair in a mohawk and beard in braids, offering you an all-day ride in a BMW convertible, just jump in and buckle up. It's your lucky day.
That's what happened to Sylvia Wiggins on Tuesday - a reward for her life spent collecting coats, space heaters and light-bill money for the poor at Raleigh's Helping Hand Mission. And when Wiggins saw the blue-faced imp - who calls himself the "Experience Genie" - she hugged him around the neck like he was Santa Claus come two months late.
"This is over-the-top terrific!" she shouted. "I've been looking at these beautiful BMWs at the stop signs, and I never thought I'd be driving one. And I get a genie!"
He gets around
Under the genie mask, made of blue silicone that fits like a second skin, Joshua Dawson has granted similar days full of wishes to roughly 50 people in 40 cities nationwide. Based in both Montreal and Miami, the 35-year-old genie impersonator looks for deserving do-gooders, like Wiggins, and also for cancer survivors. Typically, those honored get spa massages, trips in luxury cars, meals in top restaurants and thrill-ride adventures.
Dawson thought up the idea after his father died of cancer without the chance to check off items on a bucket list.
"I'm the blue genie, and I travel around and surprise heroes with their dreams," Dawson said, noting that he neglected to bring his lamp Tuesday. "One time, we convinced a 57-year-old cancer survivor to jump out of a plane with us with 15 minutes notice."
A helper for years
For decades, almost anybody in Raleigh who ever woke up cold, hungry or broke has sought out Wiggins at Helping Hand Mission on Rock Quarry Road. Helping Hand not only drums up food and clothing, it also fields Raleigh's most spirited marching band. The mission's Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys feed hundreds every year, and the band booms through every parade.
Wiggins' goddaughter Tamala Brown and family friend Willie Thorpe contacted the Experience Genie, hoping that Wiggins would finally get a day dedicated just to her.
She hadn't exactly wished out loud for a flying lesson, or a face-to-face meeting with the Carolina Hurricanes, or a night at the Residence Inn. But that's the typical dream day the genie's sponsors provide, so Wiggins was more than eager.
A night at the Residence Inn? "My favorite hotel!"
Meet the Canes at practice? "I love the Hurricanes!"
Fly a plane? "Do what?"
She was game anyway for the opportunity to pilot a Cessna. You can't chicken out to a blue genie.
When Wiggins showed up Tuesday morning at Performance Auto Mall in Chapel Hill, one of the sponsors that provided the BMW, she thought she'd be coming to a meeting.
Enter the genie, and Wiggins jumped 3 feet high.
"This is better than a cup of coffee!" she said. "Genie, genie, genie, genie, genie. Everybody needs a genie, and I got a genie all day."
When the day wound down and the BMW rolled back to Chapel Hill, and the waiters took back the empty plates at Angus Barn, and the plane touched down on plain old Earth, Wiggins returned to her life among the less-fortunate, happy and thankful for the day's diversion.
Dawson wafted back into his bottle, waiting to pop out and surprise another hero - and to make another day.
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