The one Black Friday item that Anne and I wanted more than any other this year was cheap pillows. We’re that old now.
It’s not this time of year without too much shopping! Or so I hear frequently from the media, TV ads, all surrounding retail shops, our local newspaper, the voices in my head that like buying new stuff for loved ones and myself, sometimes in that order. The true Black Friday experience — getting up ridiculously early the day after Thanksgiving and not one day earlier to compete for the privilege of loss-leader pricing on either understocked new merchandise or obsolete shelf-filler — lost my commitment when corporations decided a Friday should be fourteen days long.
The increasingly charmless holiday event notwithstanding, I usually have free time to spare that particular day regardless, so it’s still a good opportunity to leave my family behind for a few hours without guilt and go take care of my share of the Christmas season. This year I spent much of my morning at Indianapolis’ own Castleton Square Mall, where I usually don’t have a lot to do since women’s clothing and designer shoe shops aren’t my thing. This year, more than ever, quite a few stores were aiming specifically for my geek dollars with the kind of merchandise we normally see only at our annual comic and entertainment conventions. Suddenly “geek chic” is a thing and proprietors hope the masses will buy in.
It was that time of year again! Black Friday has become that highly anticipated, deeply dreaded, beneficial, violent, invigorating, intimidating, fulfilling, decaying, economically necessary, ethically questionable, joyous holiday and/or time of mourning for everyone’s souls. Depending on who’s asking, it’s shopping as a competitive sport, or shopping as the closest American society comes to legalizing The Purge. It’s a great time for rock-bottom bargains, or it’s a time for suckers to get stuck with retailers’ unwanted, defective leftovers. It’s when the Christmas season begins for real, or it’s the ultimate defamation to the name of Christ.
Reporters spend the day prowling for cautionary tales of merchandise hoarding gone wrong, of consumer entitlement run amuck, of retailer manipulation backfiring, of fisticuffs and gunfights, of hair-pulling and cheek-slapping. Somewhere out there, shoppers will be boxing for the privilege to take home a ten-dollar panini maker that the manufacturer discontinued due to exploding wiring, and any number of news crews mean to catch it on tape before some lucky amateurs capture and post it on YouTube first. Everyone tells themselves it’s all part of the Game and complains about the system while continuing to do their part.
Black Friday used to be my thing. In recent years I’ve scaled back my expectations and participation. No more arising at 4 a.m. or earlier like a shopping zombie that thinks “doorbusters” is a synonym for “brains”. No more scheming for the largest tech items that’ll be stocked at a maximum of two per store. No more long shopping lists requiring fifteen or twenty stops’ worth of hunting and gathering.
This year I implemented more modifications to my approach. This is how my Black Friday 2014 turned out:
Last Christmas season on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
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.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect this year. I kept my expectations near zero and remained open to the possibility that I might come home empty-handed and down in the dumps. I worried that so many stores opening the evening before would serve to put the “lack” in “Black Friday”. Would all the suspiciously priced sale items be sold out? Would all the store shelves and displays be barren, their wares looted by the Blackest Thursday stampedes? Would the stores themselves still be standing, or collapsed from the wear and tear of consumer shootouts larger and grander than the Battle of Helm’s Deep?
A few stores failed me, but I’m pleased that a few locations catered to my modest whims. Per my personal standards, my trip only lasted from 8 a.m. to noon., at which point I promptly pulled the plug and went straight home. Firm boundaries are a key component of effective self-restraint.
Last year’s new fad was for stores to reopen at midnight Friday instead of waiting until Friday’s been up and running for a few hours first. This year, many stores think midnight is too long to wait for shoppers to come fork over all the monies, and are reopening Thanksgiving evening, around the same time that some families are accustomed to holding their Thanksgiving. On the bolder end of the spectrum, Old Navy plans to open on Thanksgiving at 9 a.m. I’m sure they’re not alone in rejecting the holiday’s existence altogether.
Clearly if one wants to win at two-day Black Friday, the old single-day Black Friday playbook needs to be shredded and competitive shoppers need to rethink their strategies. Because, like Black Friday, this new tradition of Black Thursday isn’t just about Christmas survival. It’s about Christmas victory.
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.
No one would deny that Black Friday, on a base level, has always been about crass consumerism. Even in more mild-mannered times when the day after Thanksgiving was simply the starter pistol that signaled the first day for many people to initiate Christmas season protocols, phase one was almost always, “Commence gift-shopping.” Within that oft-derided framework, though, for the past several years I managed to develop myself a fun routine in which I found fun and purpose in my own little ways.
My ritual would begin each Thanksgiving evening, after all relatives were finished with my presence for the day. For just this one special day out of the year, I would spend several hours reading a newspaper. My wife and I would open up the day’s issue of the Indianapolis Star, toss the articles to one side for later skimming, and have several hundred pages of ads lying before us. I would assess our technological and living situation; brainstorm a list of things that could use replacing, upgrading, or first-time owning; then study all the ads laboriously like Rupert Giles researching an obscure monster. I created a notebook index of my most viable store options — potential deals for the items on our want list, both the most impressive sales and the next-best alternatives in case I was beaten to the punch by too many other, wilier shoppers. I would assemble a strict chronological itinerary visit in descending order of store opening times. In my own special way, I prepared for war.