Do you remember when times were simpler – back when families enjoyed time spent together, eating turkey and mashed potatoes, and then slumbered by the fire? They would watch football and perhaps play some games, and then eat some pumpkin pie. Then they would get a few hours of sleep before girding their loins for battle in the pitch black November morning… yes, you know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the years gone by when Black Friday shopping took place on Friday, not on Thanksgiving.
First of all, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so the fact that Black Friday has shifted to Thursday totally ruins it for me. I refuse to spend my Thanksgiving shopping for extraordinary deals on suspect quality goods. I didn’t particularly care for shopping at 4am on Friday either, but at least it wasn’t ruining my favorite day of the year. Plus, the wifie loves Black Friday, so I did what any dutiful husband would do, and I shopped with the crazed masses.
Of course, the peak of true Black Friday shopping occurred in 2008, as the economy was tanking. Shoppers that year were ravenous for great deals, to the point where several people died at Wal-Marts around the United States. I didn’t almost die, but that was the year I nearly brawled at the Ford Road Wal-Mart.
When Wifie and I planned our trip to Wal-Mart, we thought we had given ourselves enough time. Oh, there’s always the crazies that line up the day before (my apologies to those of you who are crazies), but we thought a 3 am arrival time would be sufficient to get a good spot in line. We were wrong, of course. Again, that was the year the economy was plummeting. The line to get into Wal-Mart started at the door, went all the way along the front of the building, turned and went to the back of the parking lot, and then turned again and went across the back of the parking lot… an hour before opening. Our arrival time was a bust. Instead, we were at the very back of the parking lot, watching the breath of a thousand rabid shoppers rise into a cloud above America’s favorite superstore…
Nothing passes so slowly as an hour standing in the same place, especially if speaking leads to frozen lungs. The minutes slowly ticked by. An employee passed out a map of the store, and we carefully laid our plans. We would divide the store and conquer – I would head to the right to secure a bicycle for Reagan, then a portable DVD player. Wifie would go left and pick up the winter coats on sale for $7.99, and we would meet near the sheets that were on sale for $18. As we planned, the crowd swelled, the line now stretching across the street to Sam’s Club. The line became a live wire – agitated, pulsing with excitement… soon we would dive into the debauchery!
And then, the doors opened…
I literally thought the trump had sounded. A shout went up, and I felt sure the Good Lord had called us home. We looked towards the door and saw the mass of humanity surge forward. Not just the people in line… several hundred people who had been biding their time in their cars rushed the door as well. I found myself hypnotized as an extremely large woman RAN from her car to the front of the line, her body moving in ways that bodies aren’t meant to move. The man in front of us looked at his son and said, “Should we?” His son nodded vigorously. They made a beeline across the parking lot, yelling “Freedom” as they headed for the logjam at the doors. Freedom? Really? That’s the best you can come up with? These are the jealous thoughts of a man who stayed in his place in line…
And stay in line we did. Across the back of the parking lot. Up the side of the parking lot. Finally we were marching towards the doors. 20 minutes had passed. People were already streaming out, carrying 4-5 televisions and other goodies they would bestow upon their families for Christmas (or more likely, use for themselves, the greedy jerks). It was frustrating, but those of us in line were simply doing what we felt was right. We flowed towards the store, not quite single file, taking a relaxing walk through the cold night air.
That’s when it happened. I casually strolled up next to (and perhaps a step beyond) the gentleman in front of me in line. Again, this was not a tight, single file line. It was more of a slow-moving, amorphous blob that was staying loosely in order. I was perhaps two steps ahead of wifie, and maybe a half a step ahead of the mystery man. An unlikely conversation began.
“What the %&$# do you think you’re doing,” he asked me.
Now, put yourself in my shoes. I have been standing in line, freezing my sweet buns off for over an hour, as had this fine, upstanding, rounded man. I was not running for the doors, like so many others had. In fact, I felt a certain kinship to this portly fellow, as we had stayed true to appropriate human decorum and followed the line. So naturally, I thought he was kidding when he asked me that question.
“I’m a goin’ Black Friday shoppin’,” I said with my best dumb grin.
Alas. He wasn’t kidding. “Well, you sure as #*@& ain’t gettin’ in front of me!”
Now, I have a certain naïve belief that people are good at their core. So since my initial reaction was that this little sparkplug of a man was kidding, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. “OK buddy. Whatever!”
“I’m serious!!!” He’s yelling at me now! In the words of Ron Burgundy:
So, now it is time for an admission. While I am generally mild-mannered, and light years better than my younger years, I have a bit of a temper. “A bit of” might be understating it. A lot. And usually, I don’t respond to people yelling at me (or members of my family, as you will hear in the garbage can story someday…) very well, especially in public. So, at this point, my hackles were raised. My brow had furrowed, and my caveman eyes had disappeared. This little ball-shaped man that barely came to my chin wasn’t going to yell at me in front of everyone!
“Hey, man, what the heck is your problem?” I may have used stronger language. It was the heat of the moment… I may well have been speaking in tongues.
Then it happened. He looked up at me, stepped forward, and said, “ain’t nobody getting in front of me in this line!!!” And then, he belly bumped me.
Now, for all of my joking about drinking Mt. Dew and being obese, I’ve never had one of those solid, perfectly rounded and hard barrel bellies. I wouldn’t know what to do if I did have one. This guy certainly had one, and (thought) he knew how to use it – by belly punching me. He apparently thought I would bounce away and leave him to enter Wal-Mart approximately 1.23 seconds before I came in, defeated in his wake. But I have my own techniques in these type of scenarios, and at this point, I was ready to unleash the beast.
Well, not really. What I really wanted to do was buy my kids some Christmas gifts. But I could not let this affront stand. Silly round man needed his comeuppance! And so I did what I have been so good at since high school – making myself look bigger than I am to scare off a fight.
Now, to be fair, I am already a big man – 6’3” and 230-ish pounds depending on the month 😉 But I do this thing where I throw out my arms to full extension, puff out my chest, make my eyes almost totally disappear, and leave myself open to a punch in what appears to be total disdain for my opponent. I actually look an awful lot like the praying mantis in this picture ->
Anyway, apparently its kind of scary. I’ve had multiple people tell me that through the years, almost always after a fight that didn’t happen. And so I did my best praying mantis for my whiny, Black Friday friend…
“DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM?” yelled maximum expansion Derek.
And, as often happened when that version of Derek shows up, he literally deflated. His shoulders came forward, and his head sank. In a crybaby-esque voice, he said, “Its just that so many people ran to get into the store!!! Its not fair!!!”
My task was done. He was broken. Fight averted. And the crowd turned on that little, whiny man.
“You’re an idiot!”
“They’ve been in line behind you for an hour, you $(*@!!!”
“Its not his fault the rest of those people rushed the doors! Stop being a jack donkey!!!”
Ah, I had won the crowd. Little Buddha didn’t stand a chance after that!
We made our way into the store – finally. As we were walking in, I called out to security and pointed my nemesis out – “Watch that guy, he’s trying to start fights!”
He turned and looked at me and nearly cried, “YEAH RIGHT!” and turned and dashed into the store. I never saw him again.
Oh, there are some more details about that black Friday – like the woman who used her arm to scrape the entire shelf of sheets into her cart and then refused to let anyone else get any, and the 2.5 hours it took to check out. But those details are inconsequential. That was the last REAL Black Friday. In 2009, there were safety measures to avoid a repeat of ’08. By ’10, Thanksgiving was given over to Black Friday in an all out war on the family. But in 2008, for one last glorious year, we did it up the old way. I survived the belly bounce and showed myself to be the biggest, most intimidating guy in the Black Friday line one last time.
(By the way, this has become one of my students’ favorite stories, as I use it to illustrate how out of whack “supply and demand” can get during certain time periods… my life is a lesson)