That other Black Friday denial – pt 2

One hockey practice and a 9-0 scrimmage win (including a goal by Jay) later, I’m back to finish my story about my Black Friday experience.

Let’s see, when I left off last, I had just described the crew in front of me.  It was a good 15 minutes or so that I was the back of the line, and I started to wonder if I was missing something.  I counted and recounted the group in front. The cacklers were boasting that “all four of us are here for the laptop and those people in front are too, so I don’t think you [the couple] are going to get one” and declaring over and over about how if they’re not one of the first 10 people in line, they pack up and go home.  Funny, but they weren’t in the first 10 today…. and I was wishing they would shut up or go home.

Maybe it was some sort of twisted mind game that middle aged shoppers play?  I don’t know, but between the cold and their senseless chatter – they were starting to get in my head and psych me out.  I knew the ad said “minimum of 5 per store” and it was unlikely there would be many more than 20 machines available.  I started picturing how the laptops might’ve been configured on a palette for shipping… I determined that I might be able to get one, but I’d be one of the last to do so.  I wondered if I should consider bailing out and going to Walmart for the same laptop at $80 more, or Best Buy…. no, I was going to stay here and ride it out.

Irritated by the noise from up front, I put on my headphones and began to watch “Ultimate Avengers” on Jay’s Zune. I’ll go into my review of that movie at a later time, but about 20 minutes in I heard a muffled voice that seemed to be asking me a question.  I looked up and saw that there were now three people behind me in line.  The pair immediately behind me were a mother/daughter team from Vineland who were asking me what time I’d arrived.

We chatted for a while, and I found them a refreshingly normal foil to the nut-jobs in front of me.  They were there for the laptop as well, and had that same sense of “not gonna get it” that I did.  We discussed the alternate stores… the mother swore she’d never go to Best Buy after having witnessed a fight there years ago. She added that the people at Circuit City “are so rude.” And her other daughter was in line at WalMart. I told her about the same laptop being available there for slightly more, and her eyes lit up…. “Let me call Lisa and see if maybe she can get me one as a back up” she said.

Lisa was #3 in line at Walmart!  And she had a friend with her…but they saw no evidence of a laptop special at Walmart.

“It’s there.  I know it’s Walmart because of the crazy price… it’s like $448 or something weird that ends in an 8.” I told her.  “It’s toward the back of the circular.”

“Nope, she says it’s not there.” was the response.  On that note, I was done talking to these people about it.  I’d offered to help, they said I was wrong. I’ll move along.  But then I heard the mom continue, “are you sure? He seems like he knows what he’s talking about, ask if anyone has a different circular…. no, it’s definitely not Target, he says it ends in an 8.”

I appreciated her belief in me, and so I added that I thought I’d seen an updated circular in the paper today.

“448?  Yeah, that’s the one… yeah… they have it? Okay, great… get me one unless I call and tell you otherwise, and get one for Lizbeth too.” And then she turned to me “thank you so much, that takes a lot of pressure off us.”

I appreciated that.  And it was such a different tone than the noise I’d been listening to for the prior half hour.  We went on to exhange Wii hunting stories from last year and I shared my own #3 in a pre-dawn line story from when I had to line up at 4:30 in the morning to sign the kids up for swimming lessons last spring. They were friendly but not smothering… and after a while they started to talk amongst themselves more about the cold and Lisa’s luck at Walmart (she’d arrived at 11:30).

You know, there’s no real guide on etiquette for waiting in line.  How much should you talk to the people?  What favors are appropriate to ask? Can you ask someone to watch your spot while you go the bathroom? What about running to your car for gloves? Should you allow them to go get coffee? Should they offer you some? Where’s the boundary of what is appropriate and what is not?  After all, you are technically in competition with these people.

I… because I didn’t despise these women the way I did the cacklers, would have been generous…. but they were behind me, so I didn’t really have much to offer. I extended any courtesy I could to the couple in front of me, but they didn’t want anything.

So I kind of went with the flow…. I tried not to eavesdrop, but if the conversation seemed directed at me, I contributed. I didn’t have any blankets or anything to share, but I would have.

The next time I looked at my watch it was 1:42 AM. I sent a text message and photo to my brother’s cell phone, which prompted a brief flurry of texts back and forth, and I did eventually return to the Avengers movie.

Around 2 AM a local policeman who was assigned to the parking lot rode by and chatted with the people in line. He said there had already been trouble in the other stripmalls in town… Best Buy had been the scene of at least one fight, and things were getting testy somewhere else (I forget where). The majority of the line, now almost 30 people long, started asking for coffee and making those overdone “you’re a public servant, aren’t you? Well, I’m the public.” comments.  Understandably, he smiled and drove on.

At about 2:30, spouses started coming by and delivering blankets and coffee to the people in line. I hadn’t really told anyone I was going to go out and wait, so no one was thinking of bringing me hot chocolate at that hour – and to call and make a request would wake someone up, so I just toughed it out.  The cold seemed to be getting much worse, so I tried to move around a lot… but I wasn’t dressed for this. I had on the same sweater and khaki pants I’d worn to dinner. My dress shoes did little to warm my feet, and I was now shivering almost full time. I remembered that I had gloves in the car, so I went to get them…. but the cold was definitely getting to me.

I marveled at how the boy from the couple in front of me and the guy three people back could sleep. It would certainly help, as time seemed to be crawling, but there was no way I would fall asleep out there. First of all, I don’t sleep much these days anyway, but on top of that, I wasn’t comfortable enough (mentally) to let my guard down and just crash for a while.

People began to talk about the number system other stores used and speculate that Office Depot might match the habit of Best Buy, et al, and give out numbers at around 3 AM.  No such luck.  3:00 came and went with little more than a visit from the police officer.

By this time, Toys R Us had a legitimate line – it wrapped around the side of the building. I don’t know what those people were lining up for. I personally thought the Toys R Us deals were mediocre at best. Regardless, the sight of mothers with toddlers and/or infants getting into line at 3 AM generated a bunch of judgements comments from many faultless people in the Office Depot line.

Sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 each of the women behind me (daughter first, and then mother) drove to the Walmart line to chat with sister/daughter Lisa and use the port-a-potty at their line. [I know you don’t need to know that, but I’m setting something up.]  They came back and each told me how much better they’d felt after going to the bathroom, and how long the Walmart line was, and how they had 7 port-a-potties, and how great it was to have warm coffee from Mc Donalds in them, and did they mention how great it felt that they got to go the bathroom? Of course, now I had to go. But I wasn’t going to ask them to watch my spot while I drove to Walmart.  Plus, I was freezing… almost convulsing as I shivered.  It was brutal.  I was afraid that if I went in my car I’d seriously consider just going home.

By now, the line at Office Depot had about 60 people in it. I felt fairly sure I was not going to get a laptop, and I was really, really cold. I was at that point where I’d been waiting too long to justify just packing it in, and I was close enough to the front that I MIGHT have gotten a laptop.  I started chatting again (I had been off and on all night) with the mom/daughter… they were having the same sense of doubt.  They asked if I wanted Lisa to get me a laptop at Walmart, but I thanked them and explained that I had put myself under a strict “no concession purchases” rule.  There was a reason I had gone here instead of Walmart, and I understood that the whole goal of the laptop offer was to get me into the store and make me justify going with a less desirable alternative.

The mom, sensing I was starting to break, suggested I walk over to Mc Donalds and get a coffee. I don’t drink coffee, but maybe hot chocolate… but more importantly, I needed to go the bathroom.  I wasn’t going to be able to wait 2 more hours shivering like I was.  I asked if it was only the drive-thru or the whole place.  Whole place? I took her up on holding my spot, and I jogged over.

The Mc Donalds in that strip mall is fairly small, and it does not sell hot chocolate. (Really?) But it was empty, the heat was on, and they had a bathroom. I returned to line at about 4:05 warmed and reenergized for the remaining two hours.

By 4:450 AM, the first Office Depot employees arrived. To the dismay of the people in line, they moved very leisurely and did not offer any information or assign numbers to the line outside. The people in line strained to catch a glimpse of any significant activity within the store, but nothing was seen.

At 5:00 the Toys R Us line started moving…. from two directions. It seems that a group of ethically challenged shoppers had been loitering in the parking lot and converged on the door from multiple directions at the first sign of movement. The yelling got the police involved, and it eventually got sorted out, but it had that crash at a race track kind of excitement to it.

During the next ten minutes cell phones began to ring with updates from people at other stores: Walmart had simply opened the doors and let everyone in at once – no numbers, no priority.  This put the mother/daughter behind me in a state of panic as “Lisa” was understandably going to get her own things first and then would go to electronics… which had no organized line, she relayed. It was an anxious 15 minutes as the mom waited for news… “they got one… and would let us know if they could get another…” .

Meanwhile, back in Office Depot, I found myself the tallest person in line, and I noticed the employees were wheeling U-boats with various Black Friday specials items on them to the front of the store.  One at a time, they unloaded the contents…. monitors, cameras,… pretty much 6 or 7 of each…. and then finally… some laptops…. 8 Toshiba, and 17 Hewlett Packard laptops.

I knew then that I wasn’t getting one, but how could I leave? I began to rationalize that they might have more in back or up high…. but I knew that there were two different HP laptop models for sale that morning so at best, there were 9 of the laptops I was seeking. I shared what I’d seen with the mother/daughter duo, who had just received news that a second Walmart laptop had been obtained. They offered once more to try and get me one, but I politely declined… and then…

I noticed I was now #23 in line.  Let me recount… No, now I was 27.  Really?  Wait, 30?  A whole group of people had emerged from cars and were now filling the line in front of me. Despite having the laptops from Walmart, mother/daughter duo started making a lot of noise as did the rest of the people behind them. The line at Office Depot was now nearly 100 people long and extended around the side of the building. Those of us in the first 20 places were holding out hope that the 1 per household policy would allow us to still get a laptop – and now this was being quickly put into jeopardy.

There was a lot of under the breath muttering, and then finally the mother behind me went to get a cop.  Long story short, most of the newcomers fled at the policeman’s arrival, some others I could identify as having been among those shuttling back and forth all night, while still more claimed to be family not interested in buying only there to pay or support emotionally (?). The bottom line is I was back to #21, maybe lower…. depending on how that whole family thing played out.

The policeman visited the Office Depot employees and explained the concerns. They told him “we have done this the last three years without incident. We have a plan and a system in place, tell them all not to worry.”  Well, people were worried, and tired, and irritated, and just wanted to know if they were going to get a machine or not.

Another 20 minutes went by with tempers starting to flare among the people in line, both among each other and at the Office Depot workers who seemed in no hurry to address the crowd. I, personally, was resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t be getting a laptop, but I couldn’t justify leaving when I was so close to the door and so close to the 6 AM opening time.

Finally, at 5:53 AM, the staff came out… they declared that they would only honor a 1 per family policy…. and they went through the line one at a time asking your name and what you wanted to buy.  I watched as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7… 8…. and 9…. people (actually 9 of the first 15 people in line) “bought” the laptop I wanted. Then the clerk got to the lady just ahead of the cacklers…. the woman asked the employee something, and then angrily yelled “If you want a laptop, they’re all gone… go home” as she stormed out of line.

The cacklers each had to ask “you don’t have any more of that laptop?” be told no, and then ask if they could get a raincheck… no.  EVERY ONE of them said the same thing… one after the other.

If there is one good thing about that night, it’s that they were denied as well.  Actually, I shouldn’t say that…. I was pleased to have been able to help the people behind me…. but sad for the young couple before me, and of course myself.

I didn’t really need the laptop, I just thought…. I’m going to be up until 4AM anyway, and it’s a good deal.  It was fun (in a way), and I would do it again for the right item.  But, I do think Office Depot could’ve handled it all differently.

They were that busy on Wednesday before closing, that they couldn’t have gotten everything set up ahead of time? They couldn’t have posted an item count on the door or enacted some sort of numbering/information system earlier than 5:50 AM?

So, that’s the short version.  I know it reads long, but remember this over 5 hours of information.  I got home at around 6:15, and fell asleep for about 4 hours.  I woke up aching from having been “clenched” in a shiver for so long. I was a little cranky (I regret that), but it was from being tired and uncomfortable – not from having been denied the laptop.

I will probably run in later today and get the shredder and thumb drive I would have gotten that day if they’d had the laptop. As far as buying a new computer, I’ll watch the cyber monday deals and I expect I’ll find something else out there before I REALLY need one.

That’s another chapter in my oh-so-exciting life.

Contributed by: Scott Copperman (Guest Author)


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