Black Friday generally divides people into two distinct, highly militant camps: those who think it glorifies overconsumption and everything else shameful about America, and those who are so turned on by deals on big-ticket electronics that they’re willing to camp outside of Target in their jammies in late November. I’ve never cared one way or the other. You’re sure as hell not going to catch me lining up to score a big screen television the day after Thanksgiving, but I’m cool with the idea that some people enjoy that.
That is, I was cool with it until this year, when Black Friday bled over into Thanksgiving Day and I was caught completely unaware.
I had a nasty sore throat on Thanksgiving Day this year. I wasn’t sure if I had some sort of bug or if my body was rebelling from having to work on my vacation (spoiler alert: it was strep throat), but, regardless of origin, I needed something to soothe my throat. After Thanksgiving dinner, I convinced my brother to drive me to a nearby big box store to pick up some sparkling water and cough drops.
On the way, we wondered if it would even be open at 6:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day. How naïve we were.
After we lucked into a parking space in the completely packed lot and dodged a few manic-looking shoppers exiting the building (are they drunk? we wondered, are they Thanksgiving revelers?), we stepped inside and promptly dropped our jaws. The store was packed with people. It’s a good-sized big box store, especially when the relatively small size of my hometown is taken into account, but we would have been hard-pressed to find enough free space to maneuver a cart.
Lucky for us, we didn’t need a cart. We avoided the non-moving, enormous line of people snaking throughout the store without a defined beginning or end only to be stopped by some yellow tape strung across the end of the aisle. We could discern no useful purpose for the yellow tape, so we stepped over it. Whereupon we promptly encountered another strangely placed line of yellow tape.
After clearing another couple yellow tape obstacles, we had the sparkling water in our hands. I turned to ask a nearby employee where the cough drops were. Wide-eyed, she gestured to the opposite corner of the store. “But you won’t be able to go through the line,” she warned us earnestly. “You’ll have to walk the long way around.”
Unimpressed by this non-moving line to nowhere and growing impatient because, dammit, my throat hurt, I led my brother directly through the line, only to be thwarted by a display of sweatpants. My brother navigated us through the clothing section and across a second line (this line which appeared to be moving) into the pharmacy section. Triumphantly, we grabbed the cough drops.
And froze. This second line, now between us and the exit, was little more than a mob. At least one hundred people were pushing carts overflowing with electronics, board games, and wrapping paper toward the checkout aisles at a maddeningly slow pace. It was impossible to tell if it was one line or several small lines that were just crushed against one another, but it seemed clear that purchasing my sick girl supplies was going to be more of a commitment than anticipated.
That was when we noticed the self-checkout aisles. The aisles were blockaded by those barriers that look like seatbelts and are often found at airports, and there was a woman in a bright yellow vest stationed nearby, eyeing the excitable line warily. Just beyond her, surrounded by the protection of the barrier, I could see people checking out with sodas, gum, bananas, and other minor items. Almost manic myself at this point (was the consumerism contagious? or was it the impending strep throat?), I brandished the sparkling water and cough drops at the self-checkout guardian. Mercifully, she opened the gate just enough to let us pass.
Learn from my mistake: Don’t think you’ll just casually pick up some cough drops at a big box retailer after Thanksgiving dinner. It’ll already be Black Friday.