Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

Yesterday, I, like millions of Americans, engaged in the once-yearly tradition of stuffing myself with all sorts of Americana-type foods. You know the ones.
This morning, I engaged in that second tradition of Thanksgiving, not throwing up the starchy contents of my gorging the night before...but shopping.

I woke this morning at 5:15 to go to the bathroom, as one does when one is 39 weeks pregnant. But this time, I didn't go back to bed. I resolved instead to participate in that phenomenon that is shopping on Black Friday. Never one to be sucked in marketers' hype, I was surprised that for some reason I wanted to jump into the joviality. Further, I don't have a great many presents to buy this year (my family is getting a baby for Christmas!). So, my participation in Black Friday was more a social experiment, one that put me out abut $180 after all.

In the darkness of our room, while hubbie slept, I rustled myself together: yoga pants, t-shirt, hoodie, toboggan...(people don't dress up for Black Friday shopping right? I mean, I'm hoping to see people in PJ's). Dog was a bit confused about my early morning and hasty exit. Pulling out of the driveway into the still Black of the early morning, this potentially frantic ritual felt strangely calm. And then I heard it, the normally "adult alternative" radio station that was queued up on the car radio was playing Christmas music. Yes, now I was quite in the spirit...of shopping that is. I turned up the music, and enjoyed the peaceful drive to the mall, encountering only a few cars en route. However, when I reached the mall exit, I was surprised at the red-glow of rear lights already skirting along Ashford Dunwoody.

Now about 5:45, I glanced at the lights and carnival of the mall and saw a parking lot almost 1/2-full already. Across the street, Best Buy's lot hummed with activity, appearing nearly full. Busy patrons carried awkward-sized boxes of digital utopia, basking in the glow of the big yellow-lit sign. My fascination remained. Even though I had not planned on trips to Best Buy, or the mall, seeing the cars and vibrant activity made me feel like I was missing out. The strange electricity of the early-morning put a charge in my veins to jump into the fray, like you would if you saw a large gathering crowd on a city street. But despite not having coffee, my focus was regained and I continued to Target, imagining the melee that may await.

Upon arrival, I noticed that the lot was not jammed. Buy, yes. Chaotic, no. Not so far. This being my first early-morning Black Friday, I had visions of either angry mobs in cashier lines 4-deep, or that I and a few other brave souls may in fact be the only ones out and about, snatching up the deals we'd been brave enough to rise early to earn. The scene as I entered the bright-red, neon-light glow of my neighborhood behemoth was neither "Stille Nacht" nor "Party in the USA," though closer to the latter, I would say. Sadly, I missed out on one of the FREE, fashionable re-useable shopping bags given to the first 500 customers. So I had to settle for bargain-finding to make it worth my while.

Like a good shopper (and one who can easily lose focus), I had a list, a goal and I went for it. A highly-marked-down digital gift for my parents. Ah...HERE were the crowds I'd envisioned, all in the electronics department! Carts, families, short ladies with stacks of merchandise and tired-looking adventure-seekers jammed aisles. I zoned in, asking a friendly staff to direct me to the item I was seeking. Ah, THAT'S what that queue by the digital cameras is all about, I have to buy said item at the electronics checkout counter. I joined the line, one of the herd, wondering if this would be my last chance to capitalize on the $10 gift card with every $100 spent. I begged the help of another friendly attendant who told me yes, all purchases must be made together.

She must have seen my puffy, sleep-eyes, or my pregnant belly and had mercy, allowing me to travel around the store holding my electronic purchase without having to immediately check out. Another tactic for the easily-distracted shopper: carry no basket or cart. If you want it, you have to be able to hold it using only the leverage of your two arms and big belly. Ten minutes, and about 5 items later, I returned to the electronics department. It felt strangely less hectic than minutes before. I think they'd already run out of something. Wow, I guess my early action did in fact save me about $150 I may not have a few hours later.

I checked out, then racked my brain if there was anything else I needed. Well, of course, but anything else that was on drastic sale? No, no...just get back to the car and go home, Katie. See, the fever was catching. I was gaining wisdom into what marketers must already know. These strange shopping phenomena are tremendously worthwhile, the buzz opens minds and wallets to things people never knew they needed. "But it's on sale"..they reason, infected by the dark, chilly morning and bustling crowds.

I climbed in my car, feeling happy for the bargains, but a little empty. Was it over already? The bedlam of Black Friday had only been my companion for a few mere minutes, now I would return home on traffic-less streets, arriving back less than an hour after I left. As drove out past the mall, my hands twitched on the wheel, wanting the strange experience to continue, wanting to hunt for things I don't need amid the melee of other bargain-buyers. Or are half the folks out this time of morning just voyeurs like me? (Voyeurs who still spend about $180). I resisted the temptation and headed home, deciding to be satisfied with what I had gained, both in bargains and life experience. I just wish I would have been earlier to get the free bag, and see if there was actually a line-up at the door. Oh well, I guess my passion for free stuff and social observation isn't THAT keen.