Monday, November 22, 2010

When Black Friday comes . . .

The Battle of Endor Ultimate Battle Pack
This time of year has always been my second-least favorite time of year to shop. (My very least favorite time is the two-to-three month period after Christmas when stores are slow to restock.) I'm sure I'm not alone in this, for I have never met anyone who enjoyed fighting the traffic, crowds, and other shoppers in order to secure the latest action figure, video game, pencil sharpener, or oven mitt that is essential to rounding out your collection (this week). Needless to say, "Black Friday" is usually my stay-at-home day.

Three years ago, however, I broke my ban and not only went shopping on Black Friday, but participated in one of those insane pre-dawn lines that extend for blocks beyond the doors of "big box" retailers. The year was 2007, and the item I was after was the Target exclusive Battle of Endor Ultimate Battle Pack from Hasbro's Star Wars line. This item had a confirmed street date of the Monday after Thanksgiving, but I had heard a rumor about a rumor that it might be available on Black Friday. Since I considered the Endor Battle Pack a "must-have", and since I just knew that they would be sold out before they could even be unpacked and placed on store shelves, I therefore just knew that I needed to be first in line at Target on the day after Thanksgiving.

We were traveling this particular year, but our hotel was right next to a Target-anchored shopping plaza, so it seemed like an easy trip. I set our room alarm for 4AM, and backed it up with a wake-up call. When I awoke, I made the last-ditch effort of asking if anyone would like to come with me (No), and set off.

The Target in question was next to a BJ's Wholsale Club, so when I saw a line wrapping around BJ's, I assumed they were having an early-opening sale as well. They weren't — the line was entirely for Target. If you know how wide Target and BJ's stores are, you know how far away I was from Target's front door when I finally took my place at the end of the line. I couldn't see the front door — I couldn't even see Target — because I was around the corner, on the side of BJ's, next to their automotive repair shop. It was cold and the wait was long, but the novelty of what I was doing kept me entertained, or at least I imagined that it did.

Eventually the line began to shuffle forward. 45 minutes later, I reached the front door, where I rationalized the sight of several police officers into assurance that I wouldn't be crushed by a stampeding crowd, all the while aware that it was for this contingency the officers were on hand, all the while aware that should a stampede occur, the officers would also be crushed. Lemming-like, I stepped through the doors.

It took longer than usual to walk through the crowd to get to the toy section. It wasn't really "walking" so much as "advancing". Imagine a row of soda cans in a convenience store refrigerator moving up to fill in the empty space of the can you just pulled out, or a huge viscous mass being poured into a rat's maze, oozing slowly into the various pathways until the entire maze was full. But I did gradually ooze into the toy section, whose aisles were tightly packed with shoppers intent on finding an unspeakable deal. What struck me most (aside from various boxes falling off shelves or being tossed between members of family shopping teams) was that there wasn't that much on sale. This could have been any given Friday, for all it mattered.

I realized after some time and patience what I had suspected all along — that the Endor pack was not yet available. I worked my way to the front of the store and glanced at the battery of cash registers. I was surprised to see that the lines were not too backed up, so I decided to pick up a few essentials we had forgotten when packing for our trip. In the time it took to round up these items, however, the lines had grown to intolerable lengths, and I was about to scrap everything and call it quits when one of the pharmacy registers opened, only four feet from where I was standing. I stepped up and set down my Black Friday haul — a six-pack of bottled water, a tube of triple antibiotic ointment, and nail clippers. I tried to look unfazed when the cashier asked, stupefied, "Is this all you came in here for?" "Yes" was such an easier answer.

Epilogue (In Color)

The following Monday, back on my home turf, I queued up outside my local Target for the regular 8AM opening. With me were just a handful of regulars, collectors who check in every day looking for new toy releases regardless of advertised sales. There was no crowd and no mad rush to the back of the store. I found the Endor Battle Pack — an entire display of them, in fact. As it turned out, I was the only early riser interested in Star Wars that day, so I took my time and selected the one that best met my criteria — the best possible combination of paint application, apparent joint and accessory condition, and condition of packaging. The packs were available for a couple weeks before selling out.