To the best of my memory, I’ve never shopped on Black Friday before. For all but a handful of the past twenty years I’ve spent Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, and so it didn’t make much sense to go shopping there, only to lug it back home here, and though my family is no stranger to American consumerism, they never seemed much interested in braving the crowds. But I know a bargain when I see it, and when I found myself inexplicably awake at 6AM, I decided to head on down to Fry’s to grab a 19-inch LCD HDTV for only $178, and maybe a couple of digital picture frames.
Jesus Christ… I had no idea.
After walking a quarter mile from the nearest open parking space, I found the aisles of the giant warehouse store clogged by a daunting check out line that made the Bataan death march look like a slow day at the 7-Eleven. A seemingly endless parade of dazed bargain hunters, their shopping carts as engorged as their turkey filled bellies, slowly snaked around empty palettes of sold-out sale items, their contents long picked clean of their advertised prizes. It was reminiscent of the scene in Lawrence of Arabia where the Arab forces loot the Turkish train… only more chaotic and less beautifully photographed. As I stood there inspecting the carnage, I imagined a splendidly robed figure strutting atop the overturned shelving that once housed the 52-inch screens (1080P, 120Hz, “major name brand,” only $1198) while the warehouse echoed with the thunderous roar of shoppers triumphantly chanting “Awrence! Awrence! Awrence!”
The 19-inch HDTVs? Gone. The picture frames? Gone. The 32GB USB flash drives, which I didn’t really need, but how could I pass one up for only $29.99? Gone. Not that it really mattered, as there was no way in hell I was going to append myself to the end of that interminable line—assuming I could even find it—all for the sake of such trifles.
“Three hours… maybe four… who knows?” a stunned store clerk estimated when I asked how long the wait might be, and that alone was more than enough to send me home empty handed, no matter how enticing the bargain. It was only then, as I trudged back to my car, that I noticed the piles of refuse littering the sidewalk, clear evidence that the line inside had once wrapped around the building’s exterior, where eager shoppers had obviously camped out, hours before the store’s ridiculously early, 5AM opening.
So this is Black Friday. I’d heard about it. I’d read about it. I’d watched it on TV. But I never knew, until today, how black a Friday it could really be.
By 7:30AM I was back at home, a cup of hot tea in hand, browsing for bargains from the comfort of my own living room. Oh look… a 19-inch LCD HDTV, only $199, with free shipping from Best Buy. Sure, it’s a little more money, but it doesn’t require a four-plus hour wait in line. And given my experience this morning, that’s what I call a bargain.