Today, I decided to just give in. I usually set up a barrier around myself and ignore this sort of thing, but today, the power overwhelmed me and I found myself in its grasp, unable to escape. Resistance was impossible -- the only option was surrender.
That's right, I went shopping on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, the supposed busiest shopping day of the year.
I didn't do it because I necessarily wanted to, of course. I did it because I needed to. You see, for the past few weeks, my television has been on its last legs. It has ceased to display several shades of green properly. For a while, the entire picture would suddenly go black and the "On/Off" button failed to turn the TV off. I think it was about that time that I realized that maybe I should look into getting a new TV.
Since I was beginning to amass a collection of DVDs but didn't actually own a DVD player, my plan was to find a TV/DVD player combo for an incredibly low price that I could purchase with an advance on the birthday money I was going to receive. However, all of the units I could find were either $100 over my price range or within my price range, but with a 14" screen instead of the 19" screen I was accustomed to. After a couple of weeks of poring through the weekly ads, I resigned myself to the fact that if I wanted to find a really good bargain, I was going to have to wait until the day after Thanksgiving.
I'm assuming that every red-blooded American knows about the day-after-Thanksgiving tradition. With Thanksgiving officially over, people suddenly begin to realize that Christmas is only approximately a month away (the fact that stores have had their Christmas decorations up since November 1 helps, too). Simultaneously, every person has the exact same thought: "If I get my Christmas shopping done now, I won't have to fight my way through crowded stores to find the things I want before they're out of stock."
The stores, able to read customers' thoughts via transmissions through those metal bars by the doors that supposedly deter shoplifting, decide to give customers an incentive to visit their store over all of the other stores out there -- they put five or six items on an incredible sale. The thinking being that customers will come in for those incredible prices, then decide that they might as well buy hundreds of dollars worth of regularly-priced merchandise while they're there, too.
The result? Lines of people stretching down the sidewalks in the middle of a cold November night, waiting for a chance to go inside the store and spend, spend, spend! The news networks, knowing that nothing ever happens on the day after Thanksgiving, send two or three reporters per station to cover the shopping madness, further advancing the idea that such behavior is normal.
Since I needed a new TV, and since I had never experienced the phenomenon first-hand, I decided to join in on the "fun." So on Thanksgiving day, I bought a newspaper, which was weighed down immensely with ads from every single store in the city of Los Angeles. I searched through some of them and found nearly identical deals from both Best Buy and Sears -- a 19-inch television and a separate DVD player that totalled about $90 after rebates. I decided that Sears would be my target, on the theory that more people would want to line up outside of Best Buy.
At 4:00 a.m. that morning, my alarm went off and I woke up (this after I had already woken up two hours earlier because of a drunk person in the apartment below mine screaming at the top of his lungs for somebody to open the door, even though he was clearly inside, which I could tell because he was stomping around all over the place and slamming into walls that caused the rest of the building to shake). I groggily put on a sweatshirt and jeans and got in my car (no need to shower or shave -- I'm here to buy electronics, not pick up a girlfriend).
And boy, was it foggy. I drove a few miles to Burbank with maybe a 20-foot radius of visibility around me. Fortunately, L.A. does go through a period where there is practically no traffic on the road -- that period is between 3:00 and 4:30 a.m. It's kind of surreal to be driving down the streets at the posted speed limit -- it's like you're in some kind of post-apocalyptic world. The fact that it's 4:00 in the morning and you're still kind of sleepy only adds to the effect.
I got to Sears, parked in the parking garage, and walked to the building. The strange thing was, I couldn't find any other people. It was 4:30 a.m. and the store opened at 6:00 -- surely there must be somebody else around. I walked up some stairs to a second-floor entrance -- no one. I looked around the side of the building -- no one. I looked at the Circuit City across the street -- lots of people. Was everybody lining up inside the mall somehow? Or was I really the first person at Sears?
Since one of the doors led directly to the electronics department, I looked inside. I could see a stack of TVs, including the TV that I wanted. Good, at least I'll know where to go for one of my items. I then saw a sign that had been up for a few days before that said that the first 200 people to line up at the Merchandise Pickup entrance would receive a $10 gift card. I was standing at the Merchandise Pickup entrance -- I'll be danged, I really was the first person there. Frankly, I'm disappointed in everybody else for not showing up earlier.
So I stood at the door and patiently waited for them to let me inside so I could give them money. The fluorescent lights of the sales floor provided more than adequate illumination for the magazine I had brought to read to kill the time. Gradually, a line began to form behind me -- a row of sleepy people who had dragged their bodies, still swimming with tryptophan, to the store. One guy stood right next to me at the doors, which I thought was a little rude -- he wasn't the first one to arrive at the store. Heck, he wasn't even the second or third.
Throughout the 5:00 hour, several Sears employees opened the doors so that they could go inside and prepare to be assaulted by bloodthirsty customers. To my surprise, only once did the crowd try to press their way inside while the doors were completely open.
At about 5:45, the line had finally begun to stretch to a sufficient Black Friday length. An employee risked her life to come outside and hand out the $10 gift cards. When she didn't immediately answer my question about whether this meant the store was open, the crowd began to move in. She quickly learned a lesson about listening to customers' inquiries when she had to hurriedly inform us that they weren't open yet.
While standing in line, I got a chance to overhear some conversations about the lines at other stores. According to the people behind me, the line at that Circuit City had begun to form at 1:00 a.m. And according to them, the line at a Best Buy had begun to form at 10:00 p.m. the previous night, with some people bringing sleeping bags. Ah, that sounded more like it.
As we waited for the last few minutes to tick away so we could be let inside, the folks behind me began to grow restless. One woman claimed that they had already started to let in the people waiting at store's mall entrance, even though she had no way of knowing this (unless she possessed the ability to see through walls). This, of course, alarmed everybody around her, and I prepared myself for a The Who-style trampling. I wasn't too worried about her report -- the only way into the electronics department from the mall entrance was to go down the escalator, which I could easily see from my post. If we started to see other customers ride that escalator, we were prepared to take things into our own hands -- we had seen enough employees manually enter through the automatic doors that we knew what to do.
At 5:58, the head Sears security guard took his post by our doors. He radioed his fellow guards to prepare to open the doors in two minutes. And at 6:00, he opened our doors. With a brief plea to us to walk in an orderly fashion, he let us inside.
Now, I was at the head of the line. There were at least 12 of the TV that I wanted stacked against the wall. It was all but guaranteed that I would be able to walk 25 feet into the store and grab one of the TVs before 12 people behind me could. Still, as I went inside, my animal instincts kicked in (they do that so rarely) and it was all I could do to keep from running to the TVs, even though I knew I had essentially a 100% chance of obtaining one.
At a brisk walking pace, I quickly grabbed a TV as the rest of the crowd had only begun to file into the store. Amazingly, everybody did walk in an orderly fashion. I easily lifted the TV and began to carry it around as I looked for the inexpensive DVD player.
Note the adverb in that last sentence. Now, my arms are thin with very little muscle mass -- the only people who have arms thinner than mine are severely malnourished. While I am capable of lifting a 19-inch television, it does take a good deal of effort on my part to do so. Before this day, I had joked that my adrenaline would allow me to use the television as a battering ram to move people out of my way as I searched for the DVD player. But I had no idea that my adrenaline really would kick in! As I carried the TV, I thought, "Boy, this is light." I lifted the box 90° from its starting position. I briefly wondered if the box even had a TV in it. I have since checked the printing on the box -- according to it, the gross weight of the TV and everything inside was 41.9 pounds. Nearly 42 pounds! I know from experience that it takes all of my effort to lift boxes that weigh 40 pounds -- I had to do so regularly at Target. Yet here I was, carrying this huge box around the store like it was filled with loosely-packed feathers.
It took some searching and asking, but I was able to find the mountain of DVD players that was in the middle of an aisle. I easily grabbed one -- this, officially, was lightweight -- and placed it on my TV, always keeping at least one hand on my TV in the process. Time to check out!
As I rounded the corner to a cash register in the tool department (on the theory that there wouldn't be as much of a line there), the true weight of the television finally set in. My fight or flight response had dissipated, and now that sucker weighed what I expected it to weigh. I was able to lug it over to a register that had just opened (first in line -- oh, I'm good) and checked out. Everything went exactly as I had planned, except for the part where I forgot to give the cashier my $10 gift card, so it's still sitting next to my wallet.
All that was left to do was go back to my car in the parking garage. I took the long way around, behind the appliances, so as not to swim upstream against the hundreds of other customers. Man, that thing was getting heavy. Good thing I parked right next to the entrance.
As I unlocked the trunk of my car, I noticed that one of the cars circling the parking garage, looking for a spot, had stopped and had its blinker on. Clearly, they were waiting for me to vacate my alpha male parking space. No time to pause to soak in my shopping victory -- I had to get out of there.
And, of course, the television wouldn't fit in my trunk. So I quickly opened the door to the rear seat of my car. I lifted the box and pushed -- nope, it's too big to go in there, too. Gee, I hope I'm actually able to get my TV home. I looked at the front passenger seat by way of the driver's seat -- the steering wheel was in the way.
So I carried the TV around my car (man, that thing weighed quite a bit), opened the passenger door, and miraculously got the TV onto the seat. It was backward, with the heavy end resting against the dashboard, but I risked harm to myself if I made the person in that car wait any longer. So I closed all the doors, got inside, and drove off. Good luck, people who hadn't even gotten in the store yet!
As I left the parking lot, I found it difficult to turn the steering wheel, my arms were so tired.
My primary objective successfully completed, I formulated my next plan. The whole point of my getting up early was to get that TV and DVD player. But since I was already in Savage Consumer mode, I might as well take advantage of another deal I had found while shuffling through the ads. Staples had advertised a few free items (free after rebate, of course) in its Thursday announcement. One of these items was a paper shredder. With all of the credit card offers I receive in the mail, I could really use a shredder. Especially a free one.
So I drove all the way over to Studio City, because that's the only Staples location that I knew of (it turns out that there were at least three others that would have been closer, but I had neglected to look that information up the night before). By the time I arrived, it was a little after 6:30. But I figured that very few people would be lining up outside of Staples in the middle of the night.
Once again, I was right (this was an alarming number of times in a row that I had been right). I got my shredder and was back in my car. I readjusted the TV to sit properly on the seat, then considered getting some of the other free-after-rebate items. But since I couldn't think of any reason to own a telephone or another surge protector, I drove through the dawn back to my apartment.
I certainly wouldn't want to do it more than once a year, but this was an interesting shopping experience (I feel positive about the experience, of course, because I got everything I went after). It was fun tapping into my jungle instincts, hunting down my electronic prey before the other gatherers got to it. And I didn't have to hurt anybody. So yeah, I guess Black Friday isn't a terrible thing. Even with the heavy lifting factored in, it was easier than attending a taping of "The Price is Right."