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Frost, Frangos – and a Fender-Bender: The Story of Surviving Black Friday

One woman's quest for bargains leads her out into the rainy, black night.

My family members are convinced I’m crazy.

Maybe they’re right. After all, why else would any sane woman willingly risk being trampled to death and/or freezing to death in the rain on Black Friday?

I prefer to look at it as having a deep appreciation for a good deal.

I am no stranger to Black Friday. Last year, I waited in line outside Toys R Us for about 15 hours, just so I could get my son a Tag Junior. A year later, he hasn’t learned to read, but he does know that throwing things at the cat, however educational, is a poor choice.

This year, I got my major shopping for him out of the way early, so I could focus on others when Black Friday rolled around. Seriously, toddlers are the easiest people on earth to shop for.

My husband – a mall-hating sportswriter – agreed, for the first time in 10 years together, to go shopping with me. I still can’t decide if it was out of concern for my being nearly 7 months pregnant and wandering around Tacoma at midnight or out of concern for our credit-card balance. Either way, he said he would go, and I took him up on the offer, but graciously told him he didn’t need to join me on my first stop, Wal-Mart at 10 p.m.

After dropping our son off at Hotel Grammy, I headed off to Bridgeport Way … and ran into a barrage of red taillights from cars waiting to get into the parking lot. And when I say waiting, I mean creeping along at about 5 mph to even get onto Wal-Mart’s property where A) seemingly the entire city and B) the Lakewood Police were standing in the rain.

And then someone ran into me. Literally. Yes, I managed to get into an accident before I even made it into the 10th circle of hell, aka the parking lot. Oh, and did I mention that I was driving my husband’s not-even-a-year-old car?

He later said when I called and said by way of greeting, “OK, don’t be mad,” that he was worried I had made some huge purchase. Given that his car needs a new bumper, I am guessing he would have preferred I was coming home with an air-hockey table.

I made it inside and expected to be waiting in line, since the store didn’t open for another hour, but to my surprise, they had let customers start shopping even though the registers wouldn’t turn over to Black Friday prices until 10.

And it was total bedlam. Seriously. It made the parking lot look like a luxury cruise. Everywhere I looked, there were carts, people, boxes flying through the air … In all my years of Black Friday shopping, I had never seen anything like this.

I fought my way to the area where the cheap Rubbermaid food storage was (and when I say fought, I may or may not have shoved my way through, stomach-first) and then waddled/ran back to electronics to pick up something my mom asked me to get her to give my husband.

Unfortunately for me, Wal-Mart spread out its doorbusters all over the store, so by the time I made it to the area where the $50 play kitchens were, they were long gone. I picked up a couple other things and then got in the shortest line ever. (?!?!) I soon found out why, when my husband’s present rang up at full price, because there were still 12 minutes until 10 p.m. The seasoned shoppers were loitering around the sweatpants displays waiting for just the right moment to pounce.

So yes, I really and truly had to get out of line, wait and then get back in the vastly longer line. Apparently being right near the register doesn’t count for anything when your adversaries are wielding Kinect sensors and $4.99 blanket sleepers. But I’ll gladly take a glare over being pepper sprayed, like some woman did to "the competition" at a California Wal-Mart.

I would take this opportunity to point out how nice I am to my mother to have gone through the line twice, but my son apparently decided it was party time and didn’t go to sleep until close to midnight, so I’m going to just say deck the halls and call it good.

I was back outside and fighting my way to the car by 10:30. I got home, had a snack and then off we went to the mall for the Black Friday experience my husband had managed to avoid for 30-plus years.

With 45 minutes to spare, we got in line outside one of the main mall entrances. My strategic planning paid off because there weren’t as many people where we were as opposed to the doors closer to the big stores like Macy’s and J.C. Penney. In fact, there were about 4 million people crowded into the vestibule outside the Macy’s shoe department. And people wonder how pandemics start.

We opted to stay outside in the nice clean (freezing) air, and I could actually touch the automatic door, a near miracle compared to a few years ago when I was the 498th person through the door at Sears, where the first 500 got $10 gift cards. Talk about putting a big dent in the cost of a 32-inch TV.

My primary goal was to go to the Apple Store … but while we were waiting, I read on my phone that it wasn’t opening until 4 a.m. Argh.

On to Plan B: The Gap.

As soon as the doors opened, most of those waiting with us peeled off to Old Navy, and we headed in the opposite direction. Being the first through the door had a big advantage – we were in and out within 15 minutes. Our next stop was Gymboree, which was definitely crowded, but it was nothing compared to the total madhouse that was Victoria’s Secret. The den of all that is pink and sparkly was so packed that the line wound all the way around the store – and they had been open for all of 20 minutes.

The people of Pierce County clearly take their half-price bras very seriously.

Our final stop was Macy’s, which was also packed to the rafters in every department. We made our selections and then got in line, where we waited … and waited … and waited. Seriously, it’s cruel to have displays of Frango Mints within arms’ reach and nary a sample in sight. And, of course, being in line for so long leads to impulse buying, which in this case was two boxes of Frangos. They’re, um, gifts. Really.

As we left the mall, the parking lot was awash in red taillights as people fought to find parking spaces for the second wave of store openings – J.C. Penney, Sears, Nordstrom.

And as for my thwarted trip to the Apple Store?

I made my purchase online exactly nine minutes before passing out in a heap in my bed.

I survived.

As for my husband? He’s still speaking to me – and thanking his lucky stars that the Apple Cup being on a Friday next year gives him a reprieve from Black Friday 2012.

Or so he thinks.

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