It had taken me 20 minutes, two stepped-on toes and numerous nudges from wayward carts to progress from the back of the line to the register.
"Did you find everything you were looking for this afternoon?"
I looked at my phone. 7:23 a.m. It sure felt like afternoon. Late afternoon. But what I was seeing through the glass doors of Toys "R" Us wasn't sunset but sunrise and the poor soul cashing out my Kerplunk had probably been on the clock since late the day before.
Ordinary rules do not apply during Black Friday, the official opening for the blood sport that is holiday shopping. A feeding frenzy of consumerism, it's designed, via bargains and, apparently, sleep deprivation, to liberate dollars from wallets.
I don't like crowds, lines, shopping, waking up early or being cold, so I'm no fan of Black Friday. I'm never going to be the guy focused enough to grab the big bargains -- reports had people lining up Wednesday for Best Buy's big ticket items -- and my pillow is far more attractive that 20 percent off. Still, in the interest of observing the American consumer in its natural environs I set off with a wife-supplied shopping list and joined the fray.
It didn't take long to realize I was deeply out of my element. There was traffic on Washington Road at 3:45 a.m., a time when it should have been all green lights and go from my house in Evans all the way downtown. The line to get into the Kohl's on Washington Road, which opened at 4 a.m., extended to the doors at Target before beginning to double back. Making matters worse, the line for Target, which opened an hour later, already extended as far as Kohl's. It was hard to keep track of who was coming or going.
It led to hard feelings, with a couple "no cuts" uttered. I don't think that's a phrase I've heard uttered since elementary school. I guess Black Friday brings out the adolescent in some.
In terms of behavioral observation, the lines were pretty entertaining. I think I might have heard the entire arc of a young relationship, from new love to the end of the road, transpire right behind me. The Hills , it seems, has nothing on Kohl's.
I honestly believed the Kohl's checkout line was long. What a sucker I was. At Target, the line started at the back of the store, went to the front, wound back to the rear again and then finally ended at the tills. By my count, it took about an hour.
I spent a while just walking the aisles, checking out people's purchasing habits. I was surprised how many went off script, ignoring prepared lists in favor of impulse buys. It led to a lot of very full carts in the roller coaster line and, I'm sure, some very happy execs at Target World Headquarters. Admittedly, I made an impulse purchase of my own. I bought a Coke.
Although insanely crowded, Target managed to keep things on an even keel. Shelves were stocked, aisles clear and traffic, though tight, continued to flow.
Toys "R" Us was another story.
It was a plaything apocalypse that looked and felt a little like bombed-out Beirut, had Beirut been bombed out by the LEGO patrol. Toys were everywhere and aisles were blocked and jammed with shoppers and toys. It should be noted that by the time I arrived, just as the sun rose over Wrightsboro Road, that Toys "R" Us had already been open for several very busy hours. It should also be noted that, in spite of the chaos, I managed to locate and purchase three of the five Toys "R" Us items on my list.
I left believing the initial Black Friday rush had subsided. Feeling brave -- or foolish -- I hit the mall.
Under the best of circumstances, I'm not a mall fan and this was not the best of circumstances. The crowds were not overbearing, but people who, having finished focused shopping, were now enjoying their first browse-and-stroll. It was too much, too many. So, after more than four hours and a dozen or so purchases I called it quits.
I didn't finish the family Christmas shopping but I made a dent. More importantly, I survived Black Friday without getting too blue.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.