The screeching sound that tears dreams to shreds pulsed in nerve-racking and relentless tones. My hand blindly slams at the nearby table without any effort of coordination- I only want the noise to stop. I turn my head toward the now silenced clock. I squint in rancid disgust at the glowing 4:00 before my eyes and slide my face deep into my pillow to curse. It’s a perfect start to a black Friday.
This is one of those experiences that convinces me people are generally insane. Standing before the bathroom mirror as my eyes bring into focus the crazed 4 a.m. visage of myself I wonder how many other people are doing the same thing I’m doing at that moment- questioning their mental health.
Wal-Mart’s sales begin at 5 a.m. and the allure of a flat screen TV marked down a couple of hundred dollars proved irresistible.
“Think of the money,” I tell my fatigue body as I fight the unnatural waking urge to vomit. Two hundred dollars takes me about three days or 24 hours of labor to accumulate but I can save that amount by enduring the next few harsh hours. So be it.
I had decided to get to the store an hour early because I knew they’d be a lot of people doing the same, after all I didn’t want to get up at 5 a.m. and have nothing to show for it. Better to commit the extra hour and assure my objective. I’m lucky I did.
I pulled into a surprising long line of cars all heading in the same direction at about 4:10 a.m. As we went down Route 12 I could see nearly every single one of the 15 cars ahead of me put on their blinkers as we approached the intersection to Wal-Mart’s parking lot. I arrived late to the party and parked in the third to last spot farthest from the store’s entrance. As I walk inside countless headlights continued to swing off the roadway and into the parking lot.
Pedestrian gates had been set up in and outside of the store, the kind you tend to see at a rock concert. Another music concert aspect was the black shirted sercurity/safety personal posted at strategic sales points throughout the store and every entrance. Maybe you remember hearing of the Wal-Mart employee killed in last year’s capitalist hysteria. I’d assume the placement of these new security officials was related to last year’s incident.
Basically instead of having a line outside people line up behind the items they wish to purchase. Pallets containing the most coveted items, usually electronics, are on display, wrapped in black plastic and under guard by a handful of employees.
To get these hot items you must visit the Ticket Master (what I call them any way). They give you a ticket for the item and then you go and stand in line for it. No ticket, no item.
So I joined the latter part of the line waiting to collect their 32 inch LCD televisions. A total of 64 were available. There were maybe a dozen tickets left at 4:15 a.m. The first person in line told me they had been waiting there since 11 p.m., that’s 6 hours before the sale begins.
So I stood there in line with the 50 other lucky maniacs who had received tickets. As we waited you could tell people were tired and a little hysterical… not in the panicking sense but in the “I’m laughing at everything, what did I just say,” kind of way.
Two Wal-Mart employees near us exhibited these symptoms to a high degree, having wandering conversations with sleep deprived patrons covering topics from the stimulus package to Hanna Montana. I asked them how long they had been working. They said they started at 11 p.m. last night and wouldn’t finish their shift until noon today. Trapped in a Wal-Mart on black Friday for 11 hours straight. I began see how the job might become life threatening. After being there for an hour I was ready to kill or be killed.
At 5 a.m. the black plastic wrap came off and a half dozen Wal-Mart employees stood guard fending off line crowders (I hate you people) and those lacking tickets as the rest of us filed by in an orderly fashion to collect our prize.
Now came the escape. There should be a limit on how many carts are allowed inside a store at any one time but obviously there isn’t.
Physically speaking you could not move through the store on your own accord. It was like a slow moving river after an ice break and you were just one piece of the shattered surface drifting along. The carts flowed together in currents of general direction moving only as fast as the slowest person ahead, occasionally bouncing off one another. At times you stood completely idle for minutes… and I wasn’t even in a line for anything I just wanted to get out.
Eventually the time came to check out and as I left the store at 5:26 a.m. people continued to pour in. As I pulled from my distant parking space, the one third from farthest space in the lot, two different cars slapped on their turning blinkers and waited for me to pull out. I don’t know who ended up getting it but there were a lot of showdowns that day, a lot of winners and many more losers. It’s a dog eat dog shopping world.
As I left the parking lot a number of people had double parked in the lanes and at every turn two cars traveling in opposite directions competed to move through a space only big enough for one. Less than half an hour after it started one car was already missing a side mirror and had discolored paint streaked across it. At 5:38 I turned onto the road and headed home.
The worst part… I forget to pick up a piece of equipment apparently vital to hooking up my new TV to the rest of my electronics. So once more unto to the breach dear friends….