Friday, November 25, 2011

let's talk about Black Friday.

It’s that time of year again when we start thinking about all the things for which we are thankful. Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks (as you may have inferred from its very name), and Christmas is supposed to be more about giving than receiving. But you know what I’m NOT thankful for?

Black Friday.

I’ve never been a “serious” shopper. Rarely do I go shopping with a clear mission: I must find THIS specific thing at THIS price or my whole day is wasted and life sucks. Nope, that’s not me. Even when it’s starting to get to that “wow, I REALLY should do some Christmas shopping” time of year, I don’t get crazy.  Yes, I do like to find that extra special something for my loved ones, but I almost always find it on the internet. The internet has anything you could ever ever EVER want, and you can avoid the “serious” shoppers who will run you over with their carts in order to get the last super-markdown-what-a-great-deal Wii or Furby (remember those?) or whatever.

Don’t get me wrong: not everybody who goes shopping on Black Friday is a crazy person. But really, Black Friday is a magnet for the intense, angry shoppers who mean business. I know you’ve read the stories about people who actually get trampled and DIE on Black Friday. In large groups, agitated Black Friday shoppers are just like stampeding elephants.

I have been Black Friday shopping only twice. The first occasion was when I was (I think?) a sophomore in high school. My friend Meagan and her mom went Black Friday shopping every year, and this year, Meagan asked if I wanted to come with. I was hesitant at first (mostly because I really don’t like getting up early), but then I reconsidered: it’s something that I probably should try at least once, right?

Meagan and her mom picked me up at 6.30 that morning, and our destination was Watertown. Watertown is large enough for a Target, a WalMart, and a ShopKo, but not much else. They have a dinky mall as well, but in any case, the shoppers of Watertown wouldn’t be nearly as intimidating as they would be in Sioux Falls. It turns out that I severely underestimated the Watertown shoppers.

Our first stop was ShopKo. They opened at 7am, and there was a camera on Black Friday that Meagan wanted for Christmas. We got there just as the doors were opening, and I told Meagan and her mom I would find them after they got the camera. I myself almost got trampled by the flood of people into ShopKo; I was almost Black Friday roadkill. It turned out that cheap cameras were just the tip of the ShopKo iceberg, and I was just in the way. Until that point, I had not realized that Black Friday shopping was SERIOUS.

I don’t remember where else we went that day; probably Target and WalMart. The only thing I bought that day was The Rocky Horror Picture Show on VHS at Menards (it was rated R and I wasn’t yet 17, so Meagan’s mom was on hand to buy it for me if the Menard’s people decided to shut me down). We had lunch at Burger King and were on our way home shortly before noon.

I arrived home to find my mom and my siblings preparing to depart for their very own trip to Watertown. They asked me if I wanted to come along, but I declined, saying that once was enough for today. I planned to spend the rest of the afternoon being lazy and watching my new movie, but Dad foiled my plans by enlisting my help to pick rocks. Go figure.

The second (and last) time I went Black Friday shopping was when I was on Thanksgiving break from my junior year in college. Meagan extended the invitation, and I was ready to give it another go. “Great,” she said. “We’ll pick you up at 3.” I was confused: three in the afternoon? Don’t they usually like to go early in the morning? “Yep,” said Meagan. “3am.”

When I told my parents that I would be departing at 3am for Watertown, they just laughed. I decided that the best thing to do would be to do my best to stay awake instead of trying to drag myself out of bed at 2 in the morning. I watched TV, took a shower, and ran a few circles outside in the frigid air – anything to stay awake.

Sure enough, Meagan and her mom were right on time. Our first stop was WalMart, which, thankfully, was open already. WalMart had good deals on Nintendos or something that year, but they weren’t going to bring them out until 4am. People were hovering like vultures, just waiting to pounce. There were some people who had even brought sleeping bags and were camped around locked cages of flatscreen TVs.

Target was the next stop on our list. Unlike WalMart, Watertown’s Target is not open 24 hours a day. They were opening at 6, so we got in line. I don’t remember what their big promotion was, but it was important enough for a line of people to stretch across the frosty parking lot, which is a really unusual occurrence in small town South Dakota. Meagan and I did our very best to keep warm, but even when you’re doing jumping jacks and you have two sweatshirts on under your coat, the Midwest in November before the sun comes up will not allow you to get warm, or even regain feeling in your toes.
See how cheerful we are? We hadn't been in line long.
By the time I returned home after this shopping trip, it was barely 9am. The only thing I had purchased that day was breakfast from McDonald’s. I am clearly nowhere near hard-core enough to hold my own in the world of Black Friday shoppers. Meagan and her mom? They’re tough; they’re pros. I’m just a casual shopper, so Black Friday is not my cup of tea. I decided that I’d had my fill of Black Fridays, and from now on, I’d spend the rest of them as far away from shopping areas as possible.

Until I got a job in retail.

I was living in New Orleans at the time, and I had two part-time jobs and an internship at the art museum. I didn’t want to get the second part-time job, but I was tired of living on eggs and hot dogs (and I could only have hot dogs when I worked extra hours at my first job). My first job was at a clothing store, and I got a second job at an arts and crafts store. Sounds like fun, right?

I had been working at the craft store for just a couple of weeks before Black Friday. I had taken a few days off from both jobs because my mom came to visit me in New Orleans, and we had a blast. She left on Thanksgiving Day, and I worked that night at the craft store. I had been worried about what time I’d get scheduled at each job; both stores opened at some ungodly hour like 4am. I lucked out, though: I was scheduled to work 8am – 4pm at the craft store, and then 4.30pm – closing at the clothing store. No problem.

I got to the craft store to find many exhausted faces. My coworkers told me that there was a mad rush from 4am until about 6am, and they had gotten flooded with people. The store was having a sale on some fancy scrapbooking tool, and people were vicious. The sale was one of those “while supplies last” type of deals, and supplies didn’t last long. I could tell that they’d had a rough morning from the condition of the store: it actually did look like a tornado had blown through. My job was to make the store presentable again, which was quite a task.

I was out the door at 4 o’clock on the nose, and I had half an hour to change from my craft store uniform into my clothing store clothes (they had to be trendy, of course!) and choke down a can of Spaghetti-Os for my supper. At the clothing store, we weren’t allowed to refer to the day at hand as “Black Friday.” We were supposed to call it “Green Friday” to make it sound less depressing. We also had to wear green, so we all looked like we were celebrating St Patrick’s Day and not the most dangerous shopping day of the year.

The clothing store was in rough shape, as well. Unlike the craft store, the clothing store didn’t have any “until supplies last” or “only from 5am until 9am” sales: theirs lasted all day. They had a special person at the front of the store handing out scratch-off coupons that would give you up to 40% off if you were lucky. I was all over the place: for a while, I was the coupon person, and then I moved to the fitting rooms, and I spent some time at the cash register. When the store finally closed at 11 that night, it was a disaster. There were shirts all over the floor, and the neatly folded jean walls had been annihilated. In shopping mall scenes in movies, you’ll see crazy women fighting each other over sweaters and creating absolute chaos. I’m fairly sure that actually happened on that Black Friday. There were only three of us left at the end of the night to put the store back together, which was a daunting task. By the time we all left, it was almost 2am, and the store wasn’t even close to presentable.

The rest of that weekend was almost as bad. I worked at both places on Saturday and Sunday, and there was just as much, if not more, to do. A lot of time was spent restocking and cleaning up the never-ending mess from Friday. There were still plenty of customers; those who had skipped Black Friday still needed to do their Christmas shopping, so they all came out on Saturday and Sunday. It was an exhausting weekend, but I could rest easy knowing that I had worked enough just in those three days to mayyyybe be able to afford to do some Christmas shopping of my own.

So this Black Friday, I plan to spend the day relaxing and eating leftovers. I may decide to go Black Friday shopping at a less terrifying hour; definitely after the sun comes up. For those of you who are going to brave the morning shopping throngs, I wish you the best of luck. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

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