As I pulled into the Walmart parking lot on Thanksgiving night, one overwhelming thought entered my mind.
This was a horrible, no good, absolutely terrible idea.
Black Friday shopping has always seemed a touch romantic to me. I pictured the shoppers like noble hunters, braving the wilds to bring home a fresh meal. Or 60-inch TV, as it were.
So, at 10 p.m. on Thursday, I set off for Walmart, determined to score a good deal on some video games and Blu-Rays.
But at that moment I drove up, confronted by a mass of humanity serpentined through steel stanchions, any semblance of romance I’d attached to the holiday quickly dissipated.
The full scope of the line wouldn’t become clear until later, after I parked at the most distant corner of the parking lot, near Baskin Robbins, and hiked back toward Wally World.
If I said there were hundreds of people in line, it would be an understatement. If I said there were thousands of people there, it’d be closer to the truth, yet somehow fail to capture the daunting magnitude of it all.
As I walked through the dizzying, twisting queue to claim a spot in line, my fellow shoppers started making jokes about the line.
One compared it to Disneyland, the Indiana Jones ride where the cattle-chutes never seem to cease, and the end, as it comes nearer, seems only further away. Another, quite simply, described us as rats in a maze.
With the ice broken, shoppers began to exchange tales of Black Fridays past, like army vets trading war stories.
Many claimed the line wasn’t this bad last year. Some argued that fewer shoppers had money last year, and opted to stay home. The conspiracy theorists blamed Walmart’s “guaranteed” Black Friday deals, forcing the store to admit fewer shoppers at a time so the chain wouldn’t have to pay out.
As we waited, and waited, and waited, one topic of conversation kept coming up.
Why were we here on Thanksgiving night?
This article was not in my original plans, I must admit.
I had intended to cover Black Friday, of course, but my family’s own Thanksgiving festivities ran long. By the time I left the house, those first-in-line shoppers – always good for a rousing, Red Bull-fueled interview about the intricacies of HDTVs – had long since been admitted into stores.
Target opened at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Walmart, an even earlier 8 p.m.
Black Friday has become a misnomer; it is now Black Thursday. Or Brown Thursday, if you’d like to retain some reference to the turkeys that were once the focal point of Thanksgiving Day.
So, with that conventional Black Friday story made impossible, I decided to go into the trenches.
After more than a half-hour spent waiting in line – just to enter the store – the first stalwarts began to fade.
“We’ve got other places to be,” a man with a sour look on his face said, jumping the stanchions and heading toward the parking lot.
That first departure – with us still a long way from the store’s entrance – sent murmurs through the crowd. Was it really worth waiting in line for an hour to save $10?
An hour into our wait, with no end in sight, some fellow shoppers became desperate. As the seconds ticked away on the timed “guaranteed” deals they so coveted, shoppers began rationalizing out-loud their choice to remain in line, or their hopes that, just maybe, one iPad would remain.
Then, The Wait happened. I capitalize it, as I will never forget that singular, most horrifying event.
For 30 minutes, the line did not move. Not one inch. I remain uncertain as to The Wait’s cause.
But suddenly, around 11:30 p.m., the line resumed its slow forward progress. And by 11:45 p.m., I was in the store at long last.
I clapped excitedly, adrenaline surging through my veins as I grabbed a shopping basket – easier to maneuver through the crowded aisles with, I guessed.
I walked (read: ran) to the video game display.
And, instantly, I was crestfallen. The display was picked clean.
I glumly wandered toward the Blu-Ray section in search of a consolation prize. Leaving empty-handed seemed like admitting defeat.
And there, to my surprise, was a stack of video games. The very games I wanted to purchase. Which some fellow shopper had casually discarded.
I took it as a sign: I was meant to be a Black Friday (Thursday) deal hunter.
This was not a terrible idea as I had feared. This was my calling.
I grabbed the games, snatched a couple Blu-Rays, and dashed toward the checkout line with a smug, self-satisfied look on my face.
About 45 minutes after setting foot in the store, I had emerged victorious. I had hunted the deals, and I had won.
As I left Walmart, flush with adrenaline at my deals, I pondered making another stop. I Googled GameStop’s website, just to check if the store had opened yet.
And, to my surprise the store wasn’t just open – all of the same deals were available on their website.
In less than 10 minutes, via my smartphone, I completed my GameStop shopping. No lines, no crowds, no hassle.
Suddenly, The Wait came flashing back to me. And I made a proclamation.
Never again will I go Black Friday shopping.
Unless, of course, I get assigned to write this story again next year.