Friday, Bloody Friday

It seems you can’t talk about Thanksgiving anymore without mentioning Black Friday. If you’ve been out of touch for the last decade, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when America loses its mind, and unfortunately some people lose their lives all in the search for a cheap flat screen TV.

About four years ago, I decided to join the ranks of the bargain hunters and line up at Best Buy. It was about 5 pm, and I made a quick trip over to the store to see if anyone had lined up yet. They were. I rushed home to get my gear and shot back there as quickly as I could. If memory serves I ended up about 70th in line. So I sat in my folding chair and started watching the people.

There were a lot of kids in line; by kids I mean late teens to early twenties. These kids were organized and knew exactly what they were hoping to get. They were in constant communication with their friends in other cities and appeared to be best suited for the 12-hour wait ahead. I engaged a few in conversations; a few kids were a little surprised to see that a guy my age had brought a PSP to help pass the time. I then started a conversation with a lady who was a little older than me. She looked worried, and I asked what was wrong. She had a daughter that was leaving for college and she was hoping to get a laptop for her as a gift. She was a single mom and her only means to get her daughter a gift of this magnitude was to sit outside in the cold (albeit California cold) for 12 hours for a chance to get it. She had been counting the people ahead of us and knew exactly how many “doorbuster” laptops were available at this location. I’m pretty comfortable with math, statistics, and probability problems so I did a quick equation in my head and assured her that unless everyone in front of us wanted a laptop that she would be fine. That eased her mind a bit and I was surprised when some of the kids took it one step further by walking the line to ask folks what they were in line for. They turned my statistical probability into a certainty and I saw relief wash across her face.

Good news! I got the last Tickle-Me Elmo with Kung Fu Grip in the county!

That’s when I had my epiphany. I was in line because I wanted to be, this woman was in line because she had to be. I had the financial means to pay a regular sale price, but there was something in my DNA that couldn’t stand the idea of paying more for something when I could pay less. Seeing the woman who was willing to sit in a line for 12 hours to get a gift to help her daughter have an easier time in college made me suddenly feel selfish and small. It was around that time that I saw a guy ahead of me in line by about 10 spots stash a wicked looking knife in his pocket. There was no security or police presence; this was a group of tired and impatient people trying to maintain order and fairness on their own. I didn’t like my chances of not flipping out if somebody cut the line and I knew that my reasons for being in line couldn’t hold a candle to why others were in line. I calmly folded up my chair, wished the lady waiting for a laptop good luck and did the walk of shame to my car.

Now that’s not to say that everyone in line was as altruistic as this lady. I think most were like me to a degree. Maybe they weren’t as financially well off, maybe they were. What I do believe is that Americans in general want to live above their station. That’s what credit cards are for. I think that for a precious few it’s an opportunity to get something that normally would be beyond their financial reach. For most it’s a chance to get more crap for the same amount of money. Little Janie can now have a digital camera, a laptop, an iPod and the entire Twilight franchise on Blu-Ray. Oh, crap don’t forget a Blu-Ray player. Gone are the days of wanting a gift. Just that one gift that you really want. We’ve lost sight of what’s truly important, and we’ve filled the hole with electronics and other nice-to-haves.

I remember when SteveO and I were much younger and we’d go Christmas shopping together. It used to take me forever because unless I knew exactly what I was going to buy somebody I would wander around until I saw something that made me think of that person, and then I would buy it. That’s how I came to buy Stevo a script from an episode of CHiP’s signed by Erik Estrada. I saw it on EBay, and there was no way I couldn’t buy it. I guess I could have sat in a line to get him two things for the same price, but somehow that wouldn’t have been as good.

The holidays are supposed to be about family, and waiting in a line for 12 hours doesn’t make for good family bonding. It’s also not good for the employees that have to deal with the worst that the American public can throw at them after going without sleep and being told that the new purple iPad just sold out. I know there are some people that would gladly work on Black Friday if they received triple time pay. I say give it to them. The squawking about not opening at midnight or not opening at all will fall on deaf ears. Black Friday isn’t going anywhere, so let’s at least reward those that have to open those doors to an unwashed and bleary eyed public.

So since that time I have not attempted to sit in line; my time is too precious and my bed too warm. I’ve become OK with the fact that I will either pay a little more or I will get a little less. I have gone out right at 6 am when doors open, more as a social observer than anything else. I wanted to see how the group behaved and was the end of the journey cathartic or chaotic for the brave souls that endured the line. Along the way I picked up some second- and third-tier deals, mostly on things that were precious to me but not so for the masses.

As for the lady in line, I showed up at Best Buy at 6 and watched the line file in. I wasn’t allowed in the store until some people had exited. There were lines for each “doorbuster” item, and I looked over to the computer section. I waded through the tide of humanity and saw the lady I had spoken to the night before. She saw me and held a laptop box above her head, channeling John Cusack from “Say Anything.” I gave her a big thumbs up and a smile. Maybe she’ll tell her daughter what she went through, maybe she won’t, but I have to imagine that it was going to be a pretty nice Christmas for them. I then snapped back to reality as I realized that there was utter chaos around me and I had to leave … just as soon as I bought this copy of Dragon Age Origins for my wife for the low price of only $29.