White Trash, Black Friday
27 Nov 2003
My roommate’s pal Rob wanted to do some turbo-Christmas shopping today. Personally I think it’s folly to go out on Black Friday and Christmas shop, but then I never one was for tradition. Last night after attending various Thanksgiving dinners that couldn’t be beat, Rob, Bob and I pored over the circulars that came in the paper and strategized about what deals we would try to score. It helped that we had clear-cut objectives; Rob wanted to get two $40 bikes, one for each of his kids, two $99 TVs, ditto, and two $29 DVD players by Apex. Bob merely wanted a DVD player, and for the price I couldn’t pass up one either (though I was in the market for a new TV –more on that later). Of course it doesn’t hurt that Rob is a customer support manager at a new Wal-Mart nearby and knew where everything would be stocked on the floor. We realized that the DVD players would go quickly, so we drew up assault plans to maximize our three-person strike team. Rob would head for the bikes because there were no more than twenty on sale; Bob and I would position ourselves to beat the stampede and grab 4 DVD players.
For those of you who possess the common sense I apparently lack, let me assure you that Black Friday shopping at any major store is akin to a military operation. You plan, you plot, and you leave early to cover contingencies. The other consumers are your enemy, and everyone is out to grab those few coveted items as quickly as they can. So, Bob roused me at 4 a.m. and the three of us were on the road by 4:30, grumpy and tired and ready to do battle. I was but shouldn’t have been surprised when we arrived at 4:45 only to see a line – in the teeming rain, at forty degrees, before 5 a.m., there were at least 40 people waiting to shop. Now, personally I find this whole thing absurd, but apparently if you want a DVD player at wholesale this is what you have to do. We just managed to make it under the overhang and avoid the worst of the weather. The doors were set to open at 6 a.m. (I have waited less time than this for concert tickets), but Rob had advanced intel that they would let us in at 5:30, mainly so we could cry havoc and unleash the dogs of commerce before the less rabid customers showed up. But someone on the floor at Wal-Mart was thinking, and they opened the doors due to inclement weather a little after 5 so that people wouldn’t have to wait in the rain. A sporting gesture, but one that ultimately was counter-productive, as people swarmed the register areas trying to get the best position to make a mad dash to whatever item of choice had captured their eye. A lot of people were angling for the Apex DVDs, so I figured there would be more than a few code whites (which is Wal-speak for when someone gets hurt on the floor). I noticed as we waited that little goblins, er, pre-teenagers were sent ahead to be grabbers and spotters for the big moms with the shopping carts. Now, I don’t like kids much to start with, and I was particularly irked with this ploy (and frankly, it’s not like I’m going to let some twelve-year old urchin with a Tennessee twang stand between me and a DVD player. But I digress). So I started slipping forward as our advanced scout (as Rob would be diving for the bikes and Bob had the cart). There was a false start and people started to scramble, only to be recalled and re-corralled by sales associates whom I’m sure regretted being there and wished they were home in bed (or in the line of consumers, like several co-workers Rob introduced us to). I took this opportunity to slide closer to said DVD players, taking an alternate route to Bob, trying to cover our bases. I didn’t much care if I didn’t get one, my 5-year-old DVD player is getting picky but is fairly functional yet. But Rob wanted his for his kids, and that’s a pretty good motivation in my book, and certainly justification for the insane behavior I was about to exhibit. At last 5:30 hit and they unleashed the maddening crowd. I followed some pre-teen goblin girls toward the DVD players, but they were moving too slow so I branched out from behind them. Eureka! I had our four in hand, mission accomplished. Whew.
But upon closer inspection, I hadn’t grabbed Apex players, I had another brand. Oh no! I set them on the floor with all due haste and scrambled around the display; across the aisle, there were the Apexs, and a lot fewer laid out than the brand I had mistakenly grabbed. As I made my way through the press, I saw Bob scoop up four and deposit them in the cart. So we were covered. We then pushed through to the TVs, which were not stocked on the floor. You had to pick up a ticket and fetch them elsewhere. Fine, Bob grabbed that, and then we turned back to get Rob. Only Rob wasn’t at the bikes, and the store was by this time crazy enough that looking for him was a challenge. Finally we spotted him trying to steer two bikes up a crowded aisle (no mean feat; don’t try this at home) and I dove in to help him. Soon we made it to the checkouts and were out quickly (it was still early yet, before six a.m.). Then we had another problem; the TVs and bikes would not both fit in the car. Luckily Rob works at this Wal-Mart and they agreed to let him store them in the back for a few hours. We’d have to head home, unload the bikes, and go back to Wally World to get the TVs. I asked for a brief stop at Circuit City because I wanted to look at a TV on sale there. We stopped – still in the teeming rain, still in the dark – and I sandwiched my way into Circuit City.
Madness. Bedlam. Pandemonium. A small store, this Circuit City was crammed completely full of people, and the lines to exit the store were already an hour long (and they had only been open twelve minutes). I inquired of a particularly friendly and helpful associate and was told that both models of flatscreen TVs I was interested in were already sold out – fifteen minutes into the day. Oi vey! This Christmas thing, it’s crazy! So I hopped back in the car. We made our way home and got the bikes unpacked, wended our way back to Walton’s Kingdom, and picked up the TVs. Figuring the pretty good deal they had on TVs at Wal-Mart was the best I was going to do, I grabbed one (I really did need one, my old one was given to not warming up any more) and we made our way home with three TVs scrunched in the car with us. We managed it okay, if a little wet (we borrowed a tarp from the apartment building for this trip, so my TV didn’t get too soaked) and lugged the damn things up inside in the rain. Even after all of that, it was only 8:00.
But I have to say, as I sit basking in the glow of shiny new electronics, that this was one of the most unbridled displays of greed I have seen since Gordon Gecko. I was surprised that this sort of thing is apparently routine on Black Friday (several Wal-Mart waitees mumbled that this year was better organized than last year; some of them even had collapsible chairs and coffee with them, displaying a higher degree of preparation than we had) and a bit put off that people regard this as just one of life’s little things, that you have to climb out of bed at 3:30 if you want to save money on a big shopping day. I guess the lure of saving money is a frighteningly powerful motivator (hey, nobody made me get up at 4 a.m., so I’m guilty too), but I have to wonder, given what I saw today, if Madison Avenue hasn’t completely taken over the country. Bill Moyers once said that in any community the tallest structure used to be the church, but that has been replaced by buildings of commerce. I just feel it says something slightly unhealthy that Christmas – ostensibly a celebration of the birth of the savior of mankind – is more or less simply used as an excuse to bolster the economy and take advantage of people’s greed. Thank God it only comes once a year.