Thursday, December 1, 2011

How I Survived Black Friday and Why I Now Need A Drink!

Green Dragon asked me what this post has to do with wine. The only hook is that it created a really good reason to drink. Here’s my tale…

There’s no one else to blame but me. Normally I stay away from shopping areas on Black Friday like they were swathed in radioactive fallout. This year though I was lured by the Siren’s call.

I’ve been scoping out a new HDTV. My old clunker has served us well and has a nice large screen. We also have a small HDTV upstairs (for emergencies, like important football games). But as prices kept plummeting and the picture seemed to get fuzzier, I decided to take the plunge.

Still, it was all good. I had done some scouting and found a nice 55” set at a reasonable price. When the advertising circulars came out on Thanksgiving, I glanced through them just to be sure there wasn’t an outrageously good deal on the model I wanted. Nope, I’d just wait until the shopping madness was over then saunter in and buy my set.

But as my step-son read through the ads, he pointed out what I had overlooked -- the Samsung of my dreams at a $500 savings! All that was needed was to go to Best Buy and get it – and the store conveniently opened at midnight.

With all the planning of a black ops mission, I determined that my best bet was to go to the store after midnight and let all the camping-out line-loving crazies go in first. Then I’d slide in, get my unit and be on my way. If only!

The first signal that things were going bad was when I drove past Target and noticed a line of waiting shoppers that stretched about a half mile. It was after midnight but traffic was flowing like high noon in downtown Chicago. The Best Buy lot was jammed.

The waiting shoppers had not entered the store, but rather were being allowed in a handful at a time and the line looked like a swarm of refugees queuing up for food from the Red Cross truck.

As I walked to the end of the line I had to make a snap decision – bail out and head for a nice warm bed – or brave the 35 degree cold for a chance at a picture with amazing resolution and 4 million to 1 dynamic contrast. I was committed – stuck in front of an overweight teen with a videogame T-shirt and behind a family with a “tween” who was freezing in a thin nylon windbreaker.

This was not the family I envisioned spending Thanksgiving night with, but we would become very well acquainted over the course of the next hour standing in line. Every so often, the authority-mad security guard would let a dribble of consumers into the store and the line would shuffle ahead a few paces. Families would carefully watch the packages as they left the store to project whether their “doorbuster” would still be available once they entered the shopper’s Shangri-La.

I judged progress was being made when I could see part of the yellow neon store sign. A tedious 30 minutes later the gatekeeper gave me the head nod and I swarmed into the grand parade of lifeless packaging.
Soon I reached the TV department and obtained the coveted blue ticket, which permitted me to buy one of the advertised 12 available TVs. This Black Friday was a piece of cake. I was stiff and cold from an hour standing in line, but I finally held the prize and should soon be on my way, at least that’s what I thought.

I headed for the maroon balloons signifying the beginning of the checkout line – it was only then that I saw the serpentine line winding through every department of the store before finally reaching the fabled land of Oz (checkout).

OK, I would brave it out. After about 45 minutes of bleary-eyed, weary waiting, a helpful employee informed me that if you had a blue ticket, you could move ahead in the line on the right. Yeah, the VIP treatment!

Unfortunately, people who were buying very expensive products from them were singled out for punishment – being forced to stand in a line that moved two feet every 15 minutes. The customers who bought the $27 videogames shot through the other line at seemingly warp speed.

I was condemned to purgatory. Stuck in the vacuum cleaner department for what seemed like an hour (later I learned it was only 50 minutes). Nothing to do but stare at the latest Dyson machine and read about its amazing cyclonic sucking features.

Finally we inched around the corner to where I could see the end of the yellow brick road. What should have been a straight 15’ shot to the customer service desk (home of the Geek Squad) was roped off sending the customers through a maze that would do any airport security check-in proud.

To add to my ire, one clerk, we’ll call him Luke, had decided that he would try to get through Black Friday by helping just one customer and dragging it out as long as possible. At one point he was talking on two telephones. Between occasional conversation with the customer, he would pal around and swap jokes with co-workers. This went on for 25 minutes! Hello, customers here! Please help us, it is 3:00 AM!

Finally, I made it to the check-out counter at 3:15. Of course, the delivery of the TV wouldn’t be for two weeks! I could have ordered this online at the same price, gotten free delivery and had it delivered earlier!

Like a battered prizefighter staggering to his corner, I made it home and jumped into bed at 3:30 AM. Never again, never again!

The upside? It’s a good story to share over wine and, unquestionably, a great reason to drink vino.

Flickr photo by Insane Hank
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