You know about Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, don't you? That's him in the picture, which was liberated from the Internet(s). I've seen him do his thing live twice. He's awesome.***
Buying nothing on the day after Thanksgiving is a very easy thing to do for those of us who finished our meager holiday shopping last week (it's been a costly year), but there was a time when not participating in the ritual of Consume was very difficult. I loved getting out there with the crowds with my Mom, and later, my girlfriends. Or, if I was on a particularly harsh mission for a difficult to secure thing and needed to Lone Wolf it in order to drop anything that could slow me down, by myself. With mailers and coupons in hand, zipping all over whatever city I lived in at the time, it was fun. When I had to be out there for a different reason due to the previous career, it was still fun, but in a different way.
This is my third year of not having to be out with the masses on Black Friday, hitting the lines at Toys R Us at 4 a.m., jumping from there to Wal-Mart to Best Buy to the Mills and the Plaza, with a couple of stops at Krispy Kreme for sugar and coffee to keep the energy up. The "official first day of the holiday shopping season" is a traditional filler story for newspapers, and it fell under my beat, so the photog and I would start our troll at an obscenely early hour searching for a not-too-stale angle. Not an easy thing to do. Nov. 25 was the day I both dreaded and looked forward to. I loved the challenge of trying to unearth the shiny newness and knowing that my workday would be over at 11 a.m., but on the other hand this Not A Morning Person had to be OUT of bed, DRESSED and FUNCTIONING by 3:30 a.m. at the latest. And since I tend to be a Prime Bitch in the morning before the coffee hits, and over all those years it never occured to Starbucks to open up early on Nov. 25, managing to be In Pleasant Interview Mode was always the most difficult part. (Interviewing is FAR less about the questions you ask than it is about LISTENING to the answers and tracking what you're being told. You need to be awake and on your game to interview properly, even if it's an ambush interview outside of a K-Mart at 4:30 in the morning. Awake and on game is not an easy thing to do at 4:30 in the morning.)
Often the photog and I would spend part of the early part of the day (actually night) together so that some of the photos and copy would match, then split up to cover as much territory as possible, calling each other with any big hits. There's a lot of teamwork involved in covering Black Friday, which is part of the challenge and the adrenaline rush. One of the big things was trying to figure out which store to be at for The Doors Opening Shot. Whichever spot had the biggest, most eager/angry crowd usually won. You want that stream of people coming right at the camera as they flow inside the store when the doors open, because that's visually dramatic. The photog would stand inside the door, just behind the security guards and beefy store workers (the stores ALWAYS put their biggest guys on the door for Black Friday opening) so he could get the shot when the crowd was finally allowed to stampede. The poor photog got knocked about more than once getting that shot; when the doors open, people lose their fucking minds. Depending on how helpful the store manager felt like being, I either stood out of the way of the crowd outside to watch them go in, or I was allowed to go inside about 10 mins before they opened up, where I would stand by whatever the Hot thing was that year to get the very first shoppers who managed to get there. That was always scary. That was even scarier than when I worked at Lionel Kiddie City (remember those?) the year the Cabbage Patch dolls made their debut. The people SWARM, they have tunnel vision and they are not in ANY mood for delay. I learned VERY quickly to not even attempt to talk to anybody until after they made their grab. The first time I did an inside post, one woman, who had to have been in her 50s, SHOVED me, and several THOROUGHLY cussed me out. The worker posted next to me fell out. He had warned me to not to try and interview anybody as they flung themselves down the aisle, but I didn't listen. Never made that mistake again.
The years a new, hot videogame system was released tended to provide the jackpot. Once we hit a Best Buy where more than 1,000 people were standing out front, some of them there since midnight. Random tidbit ... most of the die hards on Black Friday were women, which is no shocker. But at the electronics stores such as Best Buy and Radio Shack, the crowd was primarily men. There were no Apple stores back then, but I bet if there were those too would have a higher proportion of men waiting for the doors to open than women.
So anyways, after getting the story filed and checking out for the day, what I often did was hit the streets again for my personal shopping. One advantage to being in the stores before they opened was knowing where the secret, not advertised, even BETTER Black Friday deals were. Just about every store has their advertised deals, then the this-day-only deals you don't find out about until you get inside the store. Since the rules were I couldn't shop while working, I'd just keep track in my notebook and then rush about to scoop up whatever was left after I made deadline.
The weird thing was half the time I wasn't buying anything that I actually needed. I usually have my core holiday shopping done by early November. I was just buying stuff because it was there and on sale. A REAL sale, not a fake sale. $15 dvd player on sale. 10 sweaters for $20 bucks on sale. Pretty, boxed jewelry sets slashed down 75%. So I'd buy extra gifts and lots of stuff my Moiself.
It wasn't until my last five years or so in the previous job that it hit me that, you know, I don't NEED any of this stuff. I stopped going back out for my personal Consuming after I filed my story. I just went home to start cleaning the house in prep of the weekend's Festival Of Decoration, or to the movies. (You'd think I'd just go home to sleep, but I'm so wired on Black Friday because of the rush and the coffee and sugar that the idea of sleep never hit until early evening.)
IT WAS INCREDIBLY HARD. My default is Power Shopper, and to not go back to buy stuff on deep discount, even when I and nobody I knew needed it, was painful. I slipped up a couple of times. But the year I didn't go back to the box store for the secret $15 dvd player, or to the shoe store for the buy two/get two of equal or lesser value, was the year I knew I had FINALLY broken my programming. It felt good.
Once I left the previous job, that first Black Friday was a difficult time, but not because of the shopping. I woke up at 4 a.m. and laid there for hours missing the hunt, struggling with the reality of no longer being part of the profession where I had planned to spend the rest of my working life. But last year I didn't get up until 6 and only did Angst for an hour or two before going back to sleep. And this year, I don't even care. My plan is to sleep until the cat forces me to get up and feed him, then finish off cleaning the house (which is still trashed from this weekend's visitors), then get to work on several projects which are running late, and do the first round of holiday baking.
Oh and in case you don't know, Nov. 25 is called Black Friday because that's the day retailers make it into the black. Sales on that day can signal whether or not their entire year can be made or broken. But I have never seen an actual study supporting this, I've always felt this claim to be a bit dubious. I think Black Friday is more a phenomenon of marketing, buzz and cultural programming than it is of fact.
*** And yet, even as we acknowledge that Rev. Billy is RIGHTEOUS, we must avert our eyes when he starts in on Starbucks. Their coffee is the strongest, and there's one within a two-mile radius of wherever you are. Strong coffee is LIFE. Easy access to strong coffee is NECESSARY. Last week, when my main Starbucks was closed due to some problem with not having water in the building, there were two other outlets within easy each. One was just over a mile away and the other just over three miles away, SAVING MY SANITY.