I’m not exactly sure how I got snookered into going to Walmart at 7:30PM on Thanksgiving evening (OK, maybe it had something to do with four kids and cheap toys, but whatever…). Every year my wife, the consummate, veteran Black Friday shopper, does it, either that night or Friday morning. She’s told me war stories, but in my imagination they never came anywhere close to reality.
Last night, I experienced the real deal.
My mother in law came to watch the kids so we could both go on this excursion, but I left the house first so I could check out the 8PM specials while my wife got the kids to bed. I figured I’d casually drive in there and park in the back. Poor innocent, naïve me… there was no parking in the back. There was no parking anywhere. After circling several times and wondering if I would even be able to go in at all, all the while being joined by more and more cars circling with me and nobody leaving, I drove down the street a bit and parked at a neighboring (closed) business. This was, apparently, a big deal.
Walking in with the hordes of people, wondering if I’d be staring at empty shelves inside, I went over to grab a buggy. Oh contraire. In the entire front section of Walmart, nary a buggy was there to be found. OK no problem, I thought, I’ll just pick one up from somebody in the store. As I walked past the greeter I looked up and almost lost my Thanksgiving dinner – there were people, hordes of people, everywhere the eye could see. They were packed in, like a Springsteen concert, barely moving. For a second I panicked. I expected a crowd, but I didn’t expect THIS! I didn’t know where to go or what to do.
I decided to make my way through to electronics to see if I could pick up a backup memory drive I’d been eyeing in the circular. With no buggy it was doable, so I made it back there before 8 and was able to grab one of those. So far so good.
Now, on to the toy section. My wife had given me a list. Come home with those or don’t come home at all, she said (OK not really, but I did want to bring home the bacon – those $5 Barbie dolls weren’t going to get up and walk to our house by themselves!).
They were just opening the pallets in the toy aisle. Pandemonium ensued. The sense of urgency was palpable as the crowd got louder and louder and toys starting flying off the pallets into the buggies of excited shoppers. Suddenly I wanted one of everything on those pallets. I grabbed a cool Star Wars set of 10 figurines. My son would love that. Further down I saw a doll house on the list. Score! Then, the pallet with the Barbies. I grabbed 4 of them just in case the kids already had one, then started walking to the next pallet.
Having both underarms and both hands now full of toys, I realized I had a HUGE problem – I had no buggy and no prospects of getting one. I tried to make my way to the front of the store, but this proved more difficult than I imagined. I kept dropping toys, picking those up, dropping more on the way down… after what seemed like 10 minutes of excusing and pardoning myself through the throngs, occasionally hitting the random shopper with a Barbie doll, I finally made it to the front.
I left my items with a friendly lady who was checking out and walked past the check-out counters. Scanning them over, I saw a lady checking out who didn’t seem to have a lot of things in her buggy. “Excuse me, ma’am, would you mind if I took your buggy?” She smiled in what seemed like amusement and pity at the same time. It had to be clear from my panicked look that I was out of my element. She emptied her buggy and gave it to me. I thanked her profusely, and went to pick up my loot.
Buggied up and ready to go, with a new sense of confidence I decided to see about the 10PM TV deals. The lines stretched like a snake around each grocery aisle. I got in line for the one we wanted (a $148 32” TV), then started going through the things I had accumulated. The plan was to pick up whatever we thought we might want, then compare notes and go over everything before checkout. If it’s in the buggy we didn’t have to buy it, but at least we didn’t have to risk them running out!
Sorting through the piles of loot, I ddn’t see the memory drive. Thinking my eyes were deceiving me, I carefully looked again – it was gone! Somebody had actually had the gall to reach in my buggy when I wasn’t looking and take it out. Even though they hadn’t taken money or something I’d actually paid for, I still felt violated. Turns out this is pretty common practice at these things, but my first time sure was unnerving.
At any rate, my wife and I met up, compared notes, and finally made it out of there alive and with most of what we came in looking for. Unemployment is apparently at record highs, but you sure wouldn’t know it by the mob of people at Walmart on Black Friday eve! This holiday season, may we all find what we are looking for, remembering all the while that the meaning of Christmas is about so much more than $5 Barbies and memory drives.