It's 3:30 in the morning and I'm just now sitting down to write this. If it comes out wonky, that's my excuse.
I've never been a Black Friday maniac, but since so many stores were opening unusually early this year, I felt I had to take part. It had nothing to do with the discounts: I simply enjoy shopping in the middle of the night. Add in hundreds of strangers, and it's like some kind of mutant party.
The big stores were scheduled to open at midnight, if not earlier. I told Ms. X of my planned adventures last night, and while willing to join in, I can't say that she was ecstatic. Actually, she was banking on me being too tired from Thanksgiving's normal festivities to actually do it. By the thirty-seventh time she asked if I'd had enough turkey, I caught on.
But I wasn't going to miss this. No amount of tryptophan could stop me. We headed out at around 12:30, wondering if this was really going to be as insane as the news people always say it is. We've gone to Black Friday sales before, but nowhere near the peak hours. Even though the various circulars promoted everything from $3 DVDs to $200 42" televisions, I just couldn't imagine Best Buy being that busy in the middle of the night.
Holy fuck, was I wrong.
The drive towards Staten Island's big retail area was pleasant. We had the roads to ourselves, and Christmas music was on the radio. We seemed to be the only people moving or making noise.
I started imagining awesome department store visits, where no more than twenty competing buyers would stand in my way.
Those dreams were soon shattered. I've never seen lines like this in my life. NEVER. Not at Disney World, not at the debut for any huge movie. The line to get into Best Buy stretched so far back that we literally could not see the end of it. I won't be so hyperbolic as to call it a "mile long line," but suffice to say, I wouldn't have waited on that giant human python even if Best Buy was selling 42" televisions for $0.
There's a Toys "R" Us in the same plaza. The line to get in there was shorter, but still too long to even attempt an entrance. I better not find out that there was a costumed Geoffrey giraffe in there. There's irked, and there's crushed.
I started to wonder about what drives people to go through this. The line is just the start of it. There's also the fact that you stand very little chance of getting the best deals, since those items are in such short supply. Then there are the wars with other customers who want the same things you do. The stores might have ticket systems and other methods of organization for some items, but surely not all of them.
I then remembered that I am totally not in the Black Friday demo. I am not a teenager. I don't have children. I treat money like I'm allergic to it, and empty my wallet as effortlessly as I breathe.
If I was still a kid, hell yes, I see the appeal. I saw groups of teens delighting in the insanity, with the focus seeming less on bargains and more on hanging out. I get it.
I saw adults wandering around with huge, overstuffed bags – clearly, they were doing Christmas shopping cram sessions. Okay, yes, I get that too. It's an annoying night, but in the long run, maybe you'll save a few hundred dollars if you shop heavily enough. Worth it.
Since the larger stores were impossible to crack into, we hit the Staten Island Mall. In your terms, consider it Everymall, USA. I had no idea that it was even going to be open, but it was, and it was pretty packed.
There was such a weird ambiance in there, but I mean it in a good way. When you hear about Black Friday, it always sounds like torture. It's something you endure. Maybe that's how it was at Best Buy, but in the mall, everyone seemed pretty happy. Actually, I can't remember the last time I've seen a mall filled with so many smiling people. Probably because I can't remember the last time I was actually in a mall. Last Christmas in Woodbridge, maybe? Before they ditched the Playmobil store?
Of all the stores, I'd say maybe 25% of them were open. Possibly less. Some were cramped, others completely empty. (In the "empty" cases, I had no idea why some of the stores bothered to open at all. One only sold stuff like fancy clocks and overpriced flasks, and they weren't running any notable sales.)
Whenever we heard a screaming child, he or she really stood out. It takes a special breed of parent to drag a seven-month-old around a crowded shopping mall at two in the morning.
In greater quantities were the students of every high school in my city, fluttering around the mall like it was a Saturday afternoon in July. They were having so much fun. I envied them. Then I realized that I'm twice their age. Then I hated them. That mental process took about four seconds from start-to-finish.
We browsed and browsed and browsed. Some good deals, some great deals, but nothing that made us okay with a 30 minute checkout wait. Hell, even Spencer Gifts' line had to be that long. I had no idea that 10% off tit-shaped coffee mugs could create such a fire.
One of the clothing stores had a great gimmick going. Before entering, each would-be customer got to spin a wheel, which dictated the level of their discount. They were putting an awful lot of faith into the woman working that wheel. If I was in the market for women's shoes, and my wheel spin gave me a 5% discount, wouldn't I just disappear for five minutes and then go for another spin? I could wear a fake mustache and pretend to be Russian. "40%! This very good I accept!" Real Russians leave words out.
It dawned on me that I wouldn't be happy until I bought something. Everyone else was buying things. Everyone was skipping around the mall with bags that seemed to weigh four ounces at most – like in a TV commercial. If I wanted to be a part of Black Friday, I wouldn't be doing a very good job by going home with nothing.
So, I bought that dinosaur cookie at the mall's only open coffee shop. It wasn't on sale and it was featured in no circular, but it was something, dammit.
On the ride home, we drove past Best Buy and Toys "R" Us again, to see if the lines had shortened. They hadn't. Then I remembered that Target was also open, and at the risk of making Ms. X's eyes explode, decided that we had to go. Christmas only comes once a year, but so does Black Friday.
Target was crowded, but it didn't seem more crowded than it would on any other major shopping day between now and Christmas.
Until we noticed the line, that is. Holy God Shit. I don't know how Target came up with this strategy, but it was awful. The line was enormous, but Target had organized it so that it winded in, out and around seventeen aisles, like a dozen giant "S's" dropped in a massive pile. People were freaking, because the line was structured to enable other customers to conveniently "not notice" that there was "more line" behind where they chose to jump on.
Maybe that was the best option, all things considered. After all, had the line been organized in anything resembling a straight shape, it would've reached the next closest Target store. Which is in New Jersey.
I had my eye on a few things, but since it was stuff like Starburst-flavored candy canes, we mutually agreed that there would be better times to purchase them.
Still, as we were parking back home, we both admitted that it was a blast. A weird blast, but whatever. There was a certain energy to it all that you're not going to see duplicated on any other day. It's not just about the sheer volume of customers, because Black Friday is almost never the busiest shopping day of the year.
I think it was just the whole bizarro nature of it. You're shopping in the middle of the night. Everything in the distance is dark, but everything close to you is as bright as Vegas. Everyone should be asleep, but no one is. Plus, as a night owl, it's nice to have one day a year where the only places to go at 2 AM aren't bad diners and 7-Elevens.
More so than anything else, it was like seeing the holiday season come alive with my very own eyes. There it was! The hustle, the bustle! The light strands and blaring music! Half-off tags and noisy plastic bags! Santa's little makeshift workshop, right there in our local mall!
At least I got the dinosaur cookie.
Got a snowman cookie, too. But Dino ate him.
Dinosaurs can be cruel.Posted by Matt on 11/25/2011. E-mail me!