My Just Barely Black Friday 2019

Kohl's Pillows!

Wheeling down the aisles at Kohl’s with my tiny cart piled high.

The one Black Friday item that Anne and I wanted more than any other this year was cheap pillows. We’re that old now.

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Our 2019 Road Trip, Part 19: The Hobbyist’s Shopping Interlude

wacky skull shop!

I was too buys getting my directions wrong to catch the name of this shop. I trust they sell cool stuff.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. We’ve taken two trips by airplane, but are much happier when we’re the ones behind the wheel — charting our own course, making unplanned stops anytime we want, availing ourselves of slightly better meal options, and keeping or ruining our own schedule as dictated by circumstances or whims. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’d been in Atlanta, but we hadn’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we aimed for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness. Before we went to D*C, there was the road trip to get there, and the good times to be had before the great times at the big show.

Anne and I don’t shop a lot on vacation. As long as she can get her smashed pennies and some other relevant souvenirs for herself and a few key relatives, she’s generally not interested in high fashion, heavy knickknacks, home decor, or…well, whatever else the upper class buy when they’re off jet-setting and whatnot. Frankly, we wouldn’t know. Depending on where we are, sometimes I’ll look for shops that feed my core hobbies. I don’t like to take us too far out of our way for my art fixes, but if viable candidates just so happen to fall along a paths between Major Attraction A and Historical Point of Interest B, Anne is okay with me indulging as long as I keep us safe and we don’t have to forfeit sites she really wanted to see.

On our way back from Stone Mountain to the heart of Atlanta, Anne graciously allowed me to make a few stops along the way, and took photos of the scenery around us while I faked my way through unfamiliar turf. By and large, Google Maps did right by us on this leg of our journey and I only made two wrong turns, neither of them irreversible. And there was only one moment she officially deemed “scary”.

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Star Wars Celebration Chicago 2019 Photos #8: Adventures in Official Merchandising

Galaxy's Edge Falcon!

Lucasfilm’s answer to “Hi, we’re in…Delaware.”

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

April 11-15, 2019, was the ninth American edition of Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Celebration, recurring major convention celebrating their works, creations, actors, fans, and merchandise, not always in that order. After jaunts around the U.S. coast and overseas, this year’s was in Chicago, gracing the Midwest with its products for the first time since 2005. My wife Anne and I attended Thursday through Saturday and fled Sunday morning…

The exhibit hall was littered with dozens of vendors plying wares old and new, but if you treated the Celebration website and program as your concierges, their strongest recommendations to you were two particular stops most directly tied to Lucasfilm itself, each demanding either that weekend’s disposable income or a promise of your future vacationing dollars. Both had everyone’s attention. Both had long lines. Neither was guaranteed to satisfy everyone.

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Our First Jolly Jaunt Through Jungle Jim’s

cereal mascots!

The Trix Rabbit, Lucky the Leprechaun, and Buzz the Honey Nut Cheerios bee welcome you to Jungle Jim’s!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last weekend my wife Anne and I drove a quick two hours from Indianapolis to attend our first HorrorHound Cincinnati convention. For us that wasn’t an all-day event, which left us time to wander a bit of Cincinnati. In addition to multiple Kings Island trips over the decades, we’d previously seen parts of the city on our past two trips to Cincinnati Comic Expo, which culminated in a six-part MCC miniseries that included some local attractions. HHC was in a different part of town and inspired us to see what else they’ve put on their map.

Recommendations from friends led us to one of the best groceries every. Jungle Jim’s International Market has been a fixture in the area since the 1970s — 200,000 square feet of foods, drinks, and stuffs from other nations across six continents. For all we know maybe Antarctica is also covered and we simply didn’t look hard enough. In addition to carrying hundreds of thousands of products, the store features a parade of wacky statues, cartoon characters, tongue-in-cheek signage, and odd specializations you’ll be hard pressed to find in your own neighborhood. Its wares are so renowned that folks like us drive from all over the Midwest to check them out and stock up on rare supplies, dabble in culinary experiments, or just let the surroundings overwhelm them altogether.

The following photo gallery represents a portion of what we encountered our first trip, which almost certainly won’t be our last. Enjoy the swell, sweeping, swirling tour!

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Our 2017 Road Trip, Part 33: “Homicide” Hometown

Fells Point!

Our first sighting of Fells Point back on Day Three, after the water taxi finally picked us up from Fort McHenry.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…

After our stops at the African American History Museum and the Star-Spangled Banner Museum, we were effectively done with Baltimore museums for the year. Day Five continued to the southeast, past our hotel, and away from the the Inner Harbor’s major tourist magnets. We walked east on Fleet Street and, the very next block after Eden Street, passed the end of shininess and treaded into the blue-collar grit of the neighborhood they call Fell’s Point.

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Our 2017 Road Trip, Part 21: Visionary Mementos

Zoltar!

Hi, I’m Zoltar! You might remember me from such films as Big and…well, sadly, that’s it. A shame no studio would greenlight Big 2: The Embiggening starring Ted McGinley.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…

Sure, the American Visionary Art Museum had art like we’d never seen before from a variety of self-taught, non-professional, iconoclastic, inimitable artists from all walks of life working in every conceivable medium plus a few no one thought to conceive till they came along. Sure, it was three buildings and a garden full of whimsy and wonder and imagination and intimidating bewilderment. Sure, one-third of it was free and the rest was worth the admission price.

But my absolute favorite part? The gift shop.

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Wizard World Chicago 2017 Photos, Part 4 of 5: Objects of Affection

Throne Anne!

We don’t watch Game of Thrones, but I trust Anne has nailed the intended mood.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time once more! This weekend my wife and I made another journey up to Wizard World Chicago in scenic Rosemont, IL, where we found much enjoyment and new purchases alongside peers and aficionados of comics and genre entertainment. Friday night left us near death by the end of our day, after a few miles’ worth of walking up and down the aisles and hallways, with breaks to go stand in lines of varying lengths and value. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

In this penultimate gallery: a look at some of the nifty items around the show floor, whether for sale or for posing with. The merchandise! The snacks! The movie vehicle replicas! The Iron Throne!

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Our 2004 Road Trip, Part 8 of 10: A Mere Taste of Canada

Canada!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Once upon a time in 2004, Anne and I got married and had a honeymoon! A week later, we (and my son) embarked on our fifth annual road trip: a drive northeast from Indianapolis up to see the watery wonders of Niagara Falls and its adjacent tourist traps.

Sometimes here on MCC I don’t come out and tell you when I’m the bad guy of a given entry. I prefer to leave those realizations and judgments for You, the Viewers at Home, either to catch or to overlook on your own. Anne and I made our peace with the Canada incident long ago, but it’ll never be one of my favorites.

In all our travels throughout the United States, we’ve left the country exactly once. This is the story of that one time. Between the communication breakdown, the part where I pulled a Homer Simpson, and the omen of car problems to come, it was not our best day. But at least I got some peanut brittle out of it.

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Geek Shopping Now Easier Than Ever (for some)

Funko Joker!

Funko Pop presents Chibi-head Academy Award Winner Jared Leto, all yours…for a price.

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.

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Our 2011 Road Trip, Part 5: Toys R Us Kicks

T-Rex!

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

It’s our first evening in New York City. We’re in Times Square. We’re wandering and gaping and acting like overwhelmed tourists. It’s who we are. We knew sooner or later we had to enter a store instead of just staring at their flickering big-screen ads.

They say there are eight million stories in the naked city. Nine million if you count its toys.

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More Than Flowers at the Indiana Flower & Patio Show 2016

Dramatic Modern!

A variety of patio design options included this stark, eye-popping Dramatic Modern setup that can be part of your backyard for the high, high price of don’t-even-ask.

In our previous installment, you saw flowers and nothing but flowers from the 2016 Indiana Flower and Patio Show. But the exhibition, sprawled across two buildings at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, has so much more to offer than pretty flower displays. Various vendors offer gardening implements, flower and vegetable seeds, digging advice, contest drawings/telemarketing signups, garage finishing services, gutter-cleaning inventions, non-stick cookware, liquor, chocolate, nuts, coffee cakes, summer sausage, massages, eyelashes, poor abandoned pets, Indianapolis Star subscriptions, and more more more. And if you love aggressive sales pitches, DirecTV bought five separate booths specifically to irritate me, because the four booths they had last year didn’t do the job thoroughly enough, according to their anti-me tone-deaf focus groups.

But enough about marketing peeves. Let the pageantry and shopping begin!

Right this way for candy, characters, patio ideas, animals, and the little old lady who loved every minute of it!

2015 Road Trip Photos #30: The Jazz Shopper

Shot Glass Gator!

This glass-hawking gator in a fedora thinks you need to drink more. What could possibly go wrong?

The French Market strives to attract your attention for all your New Orleans souvenir needs, but French Quarter shopping and culture don’t end there. Across the street, around the block, art and commerce dot the sidewalks and lure in tourists starved for a change of pace from their milder, blander hometowns.

Right this way for hot sauce, snacks, voodoo, and another gator!

My So-Called “Black Friday” 2014

Barnes & Noble!

Hero Blogger Looks for Black Friday War Stories in All the Wrong Places

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:

Right this way for a certain level of disappointment!

After the Blizzard, Sliced Bread Will Be the New World’s Currency

grocery bread aisle blizzard conditions doomsday prepOur local weather forecasts are calling for massive snowfall this Sunday. Depending on who you believe and how much you exaggerate when you pass the word along, by Monday evening we should expect anywhere from six inches to fifteen feet. Midwest meteorology is an inexact science in that respect.

One result you can count on with demonstrable exactitude: if a TV weatherman so much as whispers the word “snow” as if it’s Today’s Secret Word, viewers will drop everything they’re doing, shove aside their loved ones, drive to the nearest grocery, and buy all the bread they can carry. Without knowing whether the coming storm will produce a mild drizzle or The Day After Tomorrow, the better-safe-than-sorry motto of the doomsday-prepping majority dictates that everyone err on the side of caution and hoarding.

Why bread? Great question…

My Black Friday 2013 Road Trip: Winners and Losers

Menards, Black Friday 2013Last 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.

This year’s net results…

Your New Black Thursday Strategy Guide

Christmas toys

If you want to be first in line to buy Christmas presents for your loved ones for nickels on the dollar, even if they’re worth pennies at best, you need to be prepared.

Last year on this site I wrote at length about my frustration with the ongoing dilution of my personal Black Friday tradition. What was once a fun, singular day of people-watching and movie-hoarding has lost its charm for me as retail stores continue to reopen earlier and earlier that weekend to accommodate America’s lust to begin Christmas shopping as soon as possible, even if their Thanksgiving turkey dinner is still digesting and most of their relatives remain unvisited.

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.

How to win Christmas and ignore people!

My Quiet Black Friday Road Trip Without Stampedes or Duels

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?

Castleton Square, Black Friday 2012

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.

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Once Upon a Time When Black Friday Was My Thing

winter crowd, downtown IndianapolisNo 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.

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