Black-and-blue FridayWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
At the risk of sounding on the verge of shouting at kids to get offa my lawn, this year’s Black Friday hype made me nostalgic for the old days.
By the old days, I mean a time when just about everything was closed on Thanksgiving Day and the day-after sales meant an optional trip to the mall, not a federally mandated competition involving fists, knife fights and Ndamukong Suh-style chest stomping.
I remember Toledo Thanksgivings and Christmases when just about everything was closed so people could spend the day with their families. If you had not stocked up on groceries and gas by Wednesday night, you waited until Friday. It was a suspension of commerce that is unthinkable today.
Just about anything you could desire was available Thanksgiving Day last week, as many if not most stores stayed open and got a jump on the Black Friday sales.
“Black Friday,” which has been used historically to label everything from financial disasters to fires to massacres to bombings to an 1881 tragedy in which nearly 200 fishermen died. Our modern Black Friday, which since 2005 has reportedly been the busiest shopping day of the year, increasingly seems like a speeding train headed for a derailment. It was interesting to see the news footage of people camped out at Best Buy and Toys ‘R’ Us, juxtaposed with images of protestors at various “Occupy” locations. We could have saved a lot of time and effort by employing the Occupy 99 percenters to hold spots in line for the 1 percenters who were lined up for Blu-ray players and laptop computers to give as presents to their servants.
This was a particularly ugly Black Friday in many parts of the country. In Los Angeles, a woman blasted fellow shoppers with pepper spray so she could step over them to get an Xbox. According to a CBS News report, “The woman got away in the confusion, but it was not immediately clear whether she got an Xbox.” In South Charleston, W.Va., a man collapsed at a Target and people kept shopping, several of them stepping over him to get their goodies. The man later died, but it was not reported if disgust was a factor. There were also reports of people in Black Friday lines being shot, but that seems to happen almost anywhere people gather these days.
My family spent this Thanksgiving with relatives in South Florida. It has been part of our tradition to sneak out at the ungodly (but warm) hours before dawn with a shopping list for Black Friday deals. But the experience has become a lot less fun as crowds have grown.
Now that we have young children, our list has changed from toys for us (me) to toys for the boys.
This year, most of the South Florida retailers were open for the day or started Black Friday sales by 9 or 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. We narrowed our agenda to two stops; one store had nice pajama sets for the kids at less than $4 a pair and one store had buy-one-get-one-free software for the LeapFrog learning tablet Santa is bringing.
Our first view of the Walmart in Hallandale Beach should have been a signal for us to turn around and go home. Police cruisers lined the parking lot, which was so full of circling cars it looked like an overcrowded shark tank at feeding time.
We parked just inside the county line, walked through the parking lot like “Frogger” players and entered. The store was packed and stacked with people; yellow police tape forced a flow of traffic through clothing areas back to electronics, where many people were waiting and where we had no desire to go.
As we searched for the boxes of pajamas, which were strewn about and tossed on every surface, we heard a commotion across the aisle in electronics. Police officers moved in, but the crowd, scores of people deep, was rushing toward something we couldn’t see, shouting and yelling. Suddenly, a medium-size box flew up in the air like a bride’s bouquet at a wedding reception, and people began jumping for it like they had a chance to spike a winning point in an Olympic volleyball game. We could not see the employee who was serving up what turned out to be computer printers, but he must have decided the best course for survival would be to move the crowd back, so he began tossing boxed printers in the air, away from himself, which caused a rush of people in whichever direction the boxes flew.
I have seen crowds in riot situations a number of times (I once saw a spring break crowd weary of rain start tossing furniture out of hotel windows, which culminated in people lighting fire to rolls of toilet paper and throwing them at thatched cabana roofs) but the sight never loses its power. We found the sets of pajamas, which suddenly seemed like a trivial reason to be exposed to the Walmart production of “Lord of the Flies,” and headed for the checkout line … which wound, Cedar Point-style, through several lanes.
As people grew impatient with waiting, the cursing, yelling and restlessness became unnerving. There’s a tipping point for time investment, and we had not quite reached it when we finally got to the front of the line … to see that someone ahead of us had urinated right on the floor in the aisle.
When we finally got back to our car, having found our items but having had no fun at all, we pulled back onto the road, toward the scores of big-box stores that were open and offering bargains and deals. We drove past them all, choosing to go back home, get some sleep and wait for the less-crazed and less-crowded deals of Cyber Monday.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at email@example.com.