Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Black Friday Story (from 2004)

Greetings from Shopping Hell,
or, Merry Eff-ing Christmas to You, Too, A$$wipe!

In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving (i.e., the fourth Friday of November) is commonly recognized as the official beginning of the Christmas season. Never mind that most retail stores started in October with stocking the shelves with Christmas cards, Christmas lights, Christmas wrapping, Christmas ribbons, Christmas novelties, and — the seasonal holy of holies — the Christmas Singing Trout.

Retailers refer to this day as "Black Friday," not in the sense of recalling the stock market crash of 1929, but rather in the sense of changing the ink in the accounting books from red to black. Retail store owners expect to earn half of their total profits for the year in November and December, and they count on Black Friday to move them into profitability for the year. Consumers in the U.S. spend more than $7 billion on Black Friday.

I'm 45 years old. I've known about Black Friday for the last 25 years or more, and I generally try to avoid the mayhem. But today was different.

It actually started on Thanksgiving Day, which was at my mother's house, which is about a 30 minute drive across town from my humble abode in the entrails of suburbia. We had a lovely mid-day meal, but I started getting some kind of nasty sinus/migraine headache, the kind that can be solved quickly by one shot of a Glock 9mm to the ethmoid sinus (#2 in the photo; #1 are the frontal sinuses and #3 are the maxillary sinuses) otherwise the migraine will last all day.

My husband and I left my mom's house around 3:00 p.m. when it was clear no one in the room owned a handgun of the appropriate calibre (hard to believe of us gun-toting cowboys, isn't it?). Being in a state of reduced sensibilities, I forgot a few things, including my wallet, which had fallen from my knitting bag.

So, after confirming that my wallet was indeed at my mother's home, and confirming that it would be acceptable for me to arrive around 7:00 a.m. in order to retrieve it, I drove to her home early in the morning of Black Friday. It took longer than usual, though, because I had to obey the speed limits owing to the fact that my driver's license was in my wallet and I didn't want to risk being caught with out it. I had a cuppa with dear old mum, then left.

"I know," I said to myself, "I'll run over to Best Buy [electronics and software retail chain] and get the upgrade for my Norton AntiVirus software." Brilliant. I needed to drive across town again and further west to the Oak View Mall, which was my nearest Best Buy location.

Now, my need for the anti-virus software could, indeed, have been fulfilled over the Internet. Except that I had tried that already. After four hours only 50% of the program downloaded, and then my dial-up connection expired. So, I reconnected to the Web, went to the Symantec web site, and I used the appropriate form to request they send the %$#*ing software to me on a CD. I received an automated reply, but no response. That was three weeks earlier. The day before Thanksgiving I searched the Symantec web site for a telephone number to call. There was none. Eventually I was able to do a Google search for "Symantec Telephone," for which I was rewarded with a toll call to their corporate office in Oregon. For my trouble, I received a recorded message which gave me a toll-free number to call that would allow me to connect to someone who could help to sort out this mess.

Or so I thought. I ended up in a hellish labyrinth of touch-tone menu options before I finally got through to a very well-mannered young man for whom English was not his first language. He apologized at every turn, but the most he could do would be to issue a credit to my card and to direct me to a customer service representative who could help me place the order. Except that the customer service representative was the scion of the Wicked Witch of the West. She would not allow me to place an order for an upgrade until I could provide the serial number of my current software (no, she couldn't look this up in a data base). I hung up on her. It would be less trouble to purchase this software from a retailer.

Thus, I drove out to Oak View Mall (about 30 minutes from my mother's house) and pulled into the parking lot for Best Buy. A sign on the door said that the store had moved to the brand new Village Pointe Mall (no, that's not a misspelling, but a quaint custom among developers to make us think these pre-packaged retail enclaves are unique and exciting), which was at 170th and Dodge Streets. I was at 144th and Industrial Road. It was a mere 5 miles away.

In the meantime, I could weave through the parking lots and harried early-morning shoppers to the Barnes & Noble (book store chain) for a few items I needed there.

No, I couldn't. Unlike every other retail store in the country that opened its doors at 6:00 a.m., Barnes & Noble wouldn't open until its usual hour of 9:00. It was about 7:45.

I crept my car along the gridlock that is the hallmark of this particular location (the planners for this mall were either optimistic or flat-on-their-arses drunk). By now the drive to 170th & Dodge Streets was tantamount to driving all the way to San Francisco. Especially when I hit the road construction.

For those of you not from Omaha, Nebraska, let me explain a few things:

1. Omaha is the largest "city" in the state. It has a population of around 600,000 spread out in a geographic area in which most real cities could easily pack 7.2 million residents and their dogs.

2. There is only one mode of public transportation and that is only the pokey old Metro Area Transit bus system which drives routes that hearken back to a time 20 years ago when this pretentious little hamlet went no further west than 102nd Street.

3. There are only two seasons in Nebraska: Winter and Road Construction. As the former had not yet come upon us, we were entrenched in the latter.

At this writing, nearly every major east-west and north-south thoroughfare in Omaha is under construction, usually at the place where you absolutely need to get through or else you have to drive about five miles out of your way. Thus, a trip that should have lasted only 10 minutes or so ended up being a 30 minute odyssey through single-lane roads, orange hazard cones, and something I'm sure was razor wire. All of these roads were choked with traffic. Apparently everyone was in a hurry to get to Village Pointe Mall because the only parking space I could find was near a building that was still under construction (as was the entrance to this mall).

Best Buy was packed, of course, with all kinds of people who were willing to wait in line to get their whopping 10% discount off of the latest electronic gadget that wasn't tagged with any sort of price in the first place. I located the software section; I located the Norton SystemWorks package. I could not locate the upgrade version. As there were an abundance of sullen teenagers employed for the season, I collared one and asked him to bring out the upgrade version. He perused the shelves

"I guess we don't have that," he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"We don't stock upgrades."

"Why not?"

"We just have the full program."

"But I only want an upgrade."

"You can buy this program and send for the $30 mail in rebate."

"The upgrade costs less than that."

"With the rebate it's only $39.95."

"So, why don't you sell me this package at the upgrade price, which is $25."

"We don't have the upgrades."

Oh, I so wanted to beat that software box against his pointy little head. I wanted to commit a memorable act of mayhem, the kind that would make the national papers, the kind that would ensure me a feature spot on Jerry Springer's show and then a follow-up on Oprah after I'd gone through rehab.

But I didn't. I took the box and went to look for the checkout.

I'll say this for them: All of the cash registers were populated and working (unlike the one or two tired and bored clerks they usually have on duty). I saw one long line of people snaking through the store.

"Is this the line for the cash registers?" I inquired of a clerk.

"Oh, yes," he replied with seasonal enthusiasm. "The wait is only 35 to 40 minutes."

I threw the box on a shelf and stormed out.

Send me to Iraq: I'm ready to kill.


Angie said...

A fine rant Judith!
A good bitch and moan makes you feel so much better doesnt it?!

By the way, my scarf is keeping me very warm these days!!

Anonymous said...

Hi John here (fellow contributor to the Old Chapel)!

Why didn't you just use AVG?

It's free!! and doesn't turn your machine into jello!

Was just trying to help - but I see you actually did all this in 2004 - so I'm probably a bit Late!