The following photo was taken outside an Indianapolis store on Black Friday around 9 a.m. At far left in the background is a strip mall; at far right, a Best Buy.
What’s wrong with this picture?
If your answer was, “There are empty parking spaces,” you win! Congrats on spotting the unoccupied tarmac in the upper-right corner. I owe you one imaginary cookie with your choice of pretend toppings.
Judging by today’s predictable headlines about consumer-driven violence, my benign Black Friday experience was out of the ordinary. It helped that a generous skimming through this year’s corporate Black Friday circulars revealed there wasn’t a single item that could tempt me to camp out overnight, to forgo bathroom and family for hours of line-waiting, or to brandish weapons at other civilians. I wasn’t remotely interested in spending hundreds on obsolete gadgets or thousands on new gadgets I don’t need and don’t have room to store. I absolutely refused to shop on Thanksgiving Harvest-Colors Thursday, or in the middle of the night. Just the same, though, I decided I still wanted to enjoy the one aspect of my own personal Black Friday routine that I’ve never heard anyone else on Earth express.
To wit: Black Friday is my annual one-man road trip. I pick one side of Indianapolis; I hit the open road in that direction, leaving family and friends behind; and I enjoy some time alone. Sure, to the average human, rushing headlong into frenzied crowds may sound like the stupidest strategy to achieve solitude. For an introvert like me who draws very little attention and rarely inspires conversation from strangers, it works surprisingly well. (Depressingly so, sometimes.) But it clears my head, lets me knock out a few errands, and gives my wife time to herself so she can accomplish things in my absence, including but not limited to buying me stuff for Christmas.
The key to keeping my various stops relaxing is simple: I don’t go where the riots will be. They’re not hard to predict if you know the variables, run the calculations, and determine through years experience which places and times scream Bad Idea. This year’s me-time journey took me to the following kinds of businesses, none of which resulted in my injury or death:
* Office Depot. I’ve never seen a crowd there in my life, not even on Black Friday. I arrived at 6:30, a half-hour after open. Coincidentally, they had the friendliest, most helpful staffers I met all day.
* A Wal*Mart in an unsafe neighborhood. Some bravery required. They’d opened at 8 p.m. the night before. By the time I sauntered in, their staff was bleary and brusque, but the customers were few and the discounted movies were still in abundance.
* Any electronics store besides Best Buy. Fry’s Electronics has much smaller market penetration, but vaster selection and better prices in certain departments. This stop wasn’t about a Black Friday sale, so much as it was my semiannual free-roaming visit to their voluminous man-toy warehouse. Once again, the early birds were long gone and out of my way by this time.
* The shopping mall. Castleton Square had few cars outside, but fairly thick crowds inside. I was mostly there to see their decorations and do a lap around the place for some exercise. None of their shops had ridiculous lines except the upscale anchor stores, which consistently fail to lure me with their promises of thirty-dollar T-shirts and jackets that require a loan application.
* A department store with ugly clothing. JCPenney had lines galore filled with shoppers complaining about their misfortune, but who seemed dedicated to their slow-motion vigil nonetheless. Luckily, everything in my size and price range was anathema to me. (Polo shirts? Flannel shirts? Those shirts that look like colored thermal underwear? Yeah, none for me.) The one place with tempting Black Friday clothing prices instead became a painless no-wait experience
* A bookstore. In a season where tablets and e-book readers are among the most in-demand treasures, the home of the printed page was a veritable fortress of solitude. I was hardly the only customer at Barnes & Noble, but suffice it to say that personal space was in ample supply. Again, this stop wasn’t about a Black Friday bargain per se, but their periodic 50%-off Criterion Collection sales have become my newest drug of choice.
To summarize the key strategy points: I didn’t wait at a single store before it opened. I skipped some of the popular places altogether, including Target and Meijer. I lost no sleep over missing out on the trendier buys. And I didn’t even think about competing with three thousand savages for a 75%-off entertainment gizmo stocked three per store.
Best of all, I’m just weird. I can’t recommend that state of mind nearly enough.