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I NEVER thought I'd do this.

I swore I would never go shopping on Black Friday, and up until this year, I hadn’t.  But they got into my head this year.  That damn Wal-Mart flyer had the laptop I wanted on sale for $298, starting at 5:00 am.  I decided to go, just to have the experience, and if I got a new computer in the process, great.  If not, then at least I’d get to observe the gross consumer-driven commercialization of an otherwise beautiful holiday.  And what better place to watch humanity at its very worst than Wal-Mart?

I arrived at Wal-Mart at 4:50 am, ten minutes before the “doorbuster” sale began.  I parked in McDonald’s parking lot (because the Wal-Mart lot was full) and walked through the dark and the rain to the bright store, a twinkle in my eye.  I had my flyer in hand, already turned to page six where the picture, specs, and price of my new computer beckoned.

What I walked into was something I wasn’t expecting:  The store was bedlam, just like the movies, parodies, and newspaper articles depict.  I honestly didn’t expect to see that in real life.  Aisles were filled with people pushing their way through herds with shopping carts.  Some already had their carts loaded with multiple flat-screens and Wiis.  At 4:55, two employees were unwrapping pallets of electronics.  An anxious mob closed in to grab at the first possible opportunity, shoving their way to the front like a flock of seagulls to discarded french fries.

“Everybody just relax,” said an obviously exhausted but remarkably patient employee.  “You’ll get your stuff, it will only be a minute.”  For a second I wished I was the one working.  My response would have been more like, “Back off, bitches!  Everyone who doesn’t get out of my face right now doesn’t get anything at all!  No Blu-Ray for you!”

I didn’t want to hawk the poor guy, so I found an available employee and asked where I could find the computer I wanted.  I assumed they hadn’t brought out the pallet yet, seeing that it was still before 5:00.

The employee replied (in a tone that implied that I should have known better), “All the laptops are gone.  We had a pallet over here” (arm waving vaguely to the left) “and over here” (arm waving vaguely to the right) “but we’re sold out now.”

“Are you serious?  It’s not even 5:00 yet!” 

She looked at me with pity all over her face (I think she knew immediately that this was my first time shopping on Black Friday) and said, “A lot of people were camping out since 8:00 last night.”

I laughed, because that sounded ridiculous to me, especially since it had been raining and sleeting all night.  I thanked her and extracted myself from the mob.  I decided to take a walk around the store but it wasn’t long before I realized that I was defenseless.  I was missing a crucial element – a shopping cart – and as it turns out, the shopping cart is the weapon of choice on Black Friday.  I saw people blocking aisles with them, pushing their way through crowds with them, “accidentally” running into other people (though I had my doubts that it was really accidental), and of course filling them up with as much as they could fit in there (which adds weight, and therefore adds power to the weapon).  People were shouting to their companions halfway across the store, with no regard to the fact that I was standing right in front of them and wasn’t a big fan of taking a shrieking voice to the ear at close range.  Then I realized it was probably a good thing I was unarmed.  I’m not above a shopping-cart-to-the-knees maneuver in retaliation.

Empty handed I snuck through the deep line at the register, enduring more than one evil eye, just to get back to the door.  Fortunately, it was still early enough that nobody was leaving the store yet, so I didn’t have to fight any traffic.

I intended to go straight home, but Best Buy was on the way, and the parking lot was filled.  Why not?  I was already awake and out!  I found one empty spot very close to the store, right next to the “Reserved for Best Buy VIP” parking space, which was occupied by a cop car.  I raised my eyebrows, but walked on.

A blue-shirted employee offered me a flyer when I walked through the door, but I refused it because I’d already received one in the Thanksgiving day paper (along with a pile of other sales flyers the size of the Sunday New York Times).  I was herded down the aisle.  “Follow the green line, everyone!” called another employee standing past the door.

I made a beeline to the computers, proudly staying on the green line as directed and not knocking anyone over in the process, although not everyone was behaving quite as well.  I thought that Best Buy would be a little more civilized than Wal-Mart, but apparently etiquette is waived on Black Friday no matter where you shop.

I noticed a long line forming in the computer section, but I wandered around and compared specs and prices on the laptops on display.  I finally found a few that I was interested in, and an enthusiastic employee noticed me and asked to help.  I asked, “How long are the sale prices on these computers in effect?”

He replied, “Do you have a ticket for one of them?”

I blinked once or twice in confusion.  “Um… no.”

“Were you looking for a specific one from the flyer?  ‘Cause you need to get a voucher.”

“No,” I said.  “I’m just shopping for a new computer.”

“Oh, that’s refreshing,” he replied with a relieved smile.  I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him at that point.

“I’m just wondering if I have to stand in that ridiculous line,” I explained.  “If the sale is going on for a few more days, I’d rather come back and shop later.”

“Well, most of the computers in the flyer are spoken for at this point, but our sales are good for a week.”

I took that to mean that I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell taking home a computer under $500 today, so I thanked him and told him I would come back on a better day.

I followed the blue line down the aisle, which took me back to the front door.  I tried to go out through the entrance door to avoid pushing my way through the checkout lines, but I was aggressively blocked by a rent-a-cop.

“You can’t go out through here.”  He stood with his feet apart and his arms crossed.

“Okay, I’m sorry,” I said meekly, and I immediately obeyed and turned towards the correct door.  I felt like a deviant having left the path of the blue line.

I suppose he was disappointed with my lack of argument, so he attempted to start a confrontation with me.  He stepped towards me.  “We have to make sure everyone goes out the exit door.”

Yeah, I worked that one out on my own, thank you very much.  Oh, how I wanted to say something, but I refrained.  It would have been snotty, and I couldn’t help but notice that the rent-a-cop was armed.  Not with a shopping cart, but with a gun.

As I passed (yet again empty handed) through the throng of shoppers at the checkout line, I followed the blue line and could have sworn I heard (although it may have been my imagination) “Be sure you find your exit buddy!”

I drove home in the dark and rain.  Bah humbug, I did not get a spectacular deal on a computer.  I was okay with that, though.  I can continue to tell my stories through my trusty, albeit extremely slow, oft-crashing five-year-old laptop.  Perhaps I will buy a new computer in the next few weeks while the Christmas sales are going on, but I’m certainly not going to fuss too much over the price.  Spending an extra $100 on a computer in order to avoid shopping cart battles or being herded like cattle is worth it to me.

I will likely never attempt a Black Friday shopping excursion again, but don’t be surprised if you see me working at Wal-Mart next year, if only for that one day.  I’ll be the one yelling, “Let go of that cart, NOW!  Step away from the flat screen!  No laptop for you!”


  1. You are a brave, brave woman. I am so glad you didn't die in a WalMart. You deserve better than that.


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