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Christmas Shopping on Black Friday

December 1, 2007
By WAYNE SHEETS, Contributing Business Writer
As I was sitting around the tube enjoying football after Thanksgiving dinner, my wife and daughter, not much interested in the sport, inevitably began to talk about Christmas shopping. Sensing their mission for the morrow, I asked to go along. They exchanged glances of shock and awe.

Finally, I convinced them that I would not get in their way. They agreed to let me tag along so long as I drove my car and could come home when I wanted without cutting their shopping day short. I agreed.

One likes to think that his family members are immune to the infectious (and sometimes disastrous) influences of excitement and anticipation that affect others, but I was to learn differently. Around 9:30 a.m. Friday, in separate cars, we left Steubenville, Ohio, for the Mall at Robinson in the western suburbs of Pittsburgh.

Driving speeds were near normal when we left, but the closer we got to the mall the effect of those infectious demons began to take effect. Example: About 10 miles west of the mall, the speed limit dropped to 55 miles per hour, but did that slow us down? Nope. I had never been to that mall and had no idea where we were going. If we became separated, I had no chance of finding them. By the time we reached the mall, I felt like the poor sucker at the end of the line in that “follow the leader” game people like to play at parties. You know the one where everyone grabs hold of the waist of the person in front of him (or her) with the leader making all kinds of loops and turns around the dance floor and the poor unfortunate half-inebriated klutz at the end is snapped around like the tip of a bullwhip. That was me trying to keep up.

The first place we visited was a shoe store the size of Heinz field. Neatly displayed here must have been half-a-million pairs of shoes, and a few mismatched pairs. In their excitement some shoppers must have forgot to put their shoe back on and walked out with the mate of one of the mismatched pair.

Inspect them my wife did. What she didn’t pick up, she touched. Looking through those displayed on the “reduced for quick sale” racks, she found a pair she liked. After admiring them for a few minutes and trying them on, I asked, “Aren’t you going to buy them?” She said, “They’re the wrong size.”

OK, I thought and was beginning to wonder how long I could stand this useless standing around with my hands in my pockets.

A few minutes later, she was inspecting the shoes in the racks of sizes much too big for her and, of course, this begged the question, and I asked it, “Why are you looking at these shoes? They are way too big for you.”

“Well,” she replied, “the ones I liked were on a rack in the wrong size, so I thought I might find another pair with others of the wrong size.”

Phew, how could I be so ignorant as not to grasp this simple, basic, female logic? During the next half-hour or so, she found a couple pairs she liked and upon leaving the store, I asked another stupid question, “Aren’t you going to buy the ones you like?”

I should have been ready for her answer, but I wasn’t, which was, “No. I might find a pair I like better somewhere else.”

Let’s face it guys, as men we’ll never understand a woman’s shopping philosophy.

While in the store, I did gain a valuable insight into the duties and fortitude of those who work there, and an undying respect for them as well. With nothing else to do but people-watch, my attention was taken in by two teenage girls ensconced in an isle with probably a dozen pairs of shoes and their boxes scattered around them. They were sitting on the floor Indian-style trying on one pair after another. Eventually, tiring of their game of fantasy, they got up and walked away not bothering to put the shoes back in the proper boxes, much less back on the shelves, leaving their mess to be straightened out by some poor exasperated employee.

As we went back to the cars, I was to learn that we were not actually at the mall, but a satellite store, and would have to navigate a maze choked with near-disasters to get there — another exciting and breathless experience at the end of the bullwhip.

As we topped a slight grade and looked down over the mall, the challenge we faced became frighteningly clear. Sprawled out in front of us lay a complex of stores surrounded by parking lots on all sides that would cover the entire Elkins-Randolph County Airport and not a single empty parking place could be seen.

After what seemed like forever navigating the most dangerous territory in America, we found two spaces within eyesight of each other. I had to cut another driver out to get mine, and was reminded of a scene I witnessed in a grocery store parking lot in Atlantic City, N.J., wondering if the same fate awaited me. The looser of two women vying for the same parking space got out of her car and waited for the winner to get out of her’s and when she did the slugging, hair-pulling, scratching and screaming began. There was no winner in that contest, as I recall. My daughter said, “I can’t believe you took that guy’s parking place.” In exasperation I replied, “It was no more his than mine.”

The teaming mass of bodies in the mall reminded me of the rhythmic movement of worker ants in an anthill. The motion was directionless, yet smooth and non-threatening. This, of course, belied what was going on beneath the endless sea of heads in perpetual motion. While I did not see any blatant displays of animosity toward others, there were no apologies made for bumping into one another or banging passers-by with one’s overloaded bags of Christmas morning surprises. A sense of evenness liken to that on a football field seemed to prevail — I’m here to do what I have to do, if you happen to get in my way expect to suffer the consequences. No quarter was given for being in the way of another’s intended destination, be it Sears, Penny’s, or a place to sit in the crowded eatery. Nor was a woman, small in physical stature dragging two huge shopping bags, accorded leniency.

My experience was not atypical of those who usually know what they want when going shopping and I soon tired of standing around watching my wife shop, so I found a place in the eatery where I could enjoy an Orange Julius and watch the crowd. I learned, contrary to what we may think at times, that there is still a sense of family closeness in our society — a sense of enjoyment of being with spouse and children. It is heartwarming to see people in such jammed-up, stress-filled places enjoying their family and the excitement of the season.

I also came to the conclusion that if this mall was a representation of what was going on all across our country on this day, our economy is in great shape, everyone has a seemingly unlimited budget for Christmas, and the price of gasoline is of no consequence.

As we enjoy our family and friends at this time of year, let us not forget those who are separated from theirs and are in harms way guaranteeing our privilege and safety as we so.



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