LIFE IN WILLISTON: Tales from the front line

By Karen Wyman

Although you would never know it now, I used to be quite athletic when I was younger. Ever since my husband and I stopped playing on our co-ed softball team when the twins were born, I had thought my days of competitive sports were long over. This may be why it was such a huge shock to my system last week when I found myself actually competing in an extreme sport—Black Friday shopping.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am far from out of practice when it comes to shopping, but Black Friday is like getting called up to the Big Leagues for shoppers. I felt like a rookie completely surrounded by seasoned professionals, and I knew I had to step up my game. I had to be focused and keep my eye on the prize—the latest iPad. My inexperience and total lack of preparation were painfully obvious, but luckily some of the veteran shoppers quickly initiated me.

My initiation started right away as I stood in line with about 400 other people. It seemed everyone was prepared to be outside for a long time, except, of course, me. I naively thought since I arrived only 10 minutes before the opening that I would just walk in after the masses who had been in line for hours were let in first. Apparently a little thing called a “fire code” prevents this from happening. It was the old “two out, two in” once the maximum occupancy was reached. Being the amateur that I was, I didn’t account for all of the employees inside who also contributed to this quota. Needless to say, I now understood why people in line had camping chairs, blankets and coolers with food and drinks. What had I gotten myself into?

The veterans in front of me brought me up to speed on the standard pre-game warm up to be completed while in line. They showed me maps of the store that they had printed out and highlighted where their desired items were located. They also explained their zone offense to me: always bring at least two other people with you, assign items to each person and then spread out and try your best to score. But be forewarned—if you let your team down, you will be replaced next season! They also demonstrated their communication techniques as they handed out walkie-talkies to their team members. The captain would use a cell phone to talk to another team at a different store vying for some of the same items. If this sister team scored a big-ticket item first, the captain would call an audible and reassign one of her players.

Even though there was a lot of trash talk in line about who was going to get what and what they would do to whoever got in their way, I felt that there was a certain sense of camaraderie. Once I was finally allowed inside the store, I realized whatever bond we had formed outside was quickly broken. Game on!  People rushed around with garbage barrels and emptied entire displays of DVDs and video games into them. Shoppers used carts and even their children to block opponents from entering aisles or getting close to displays. It was absolute mayhem.

I anxiously made my way through the throngs of people to the electronics department at the back of the store. That’s when it dawned on me why people had been studying the maps the retailer had provided online. The merchandise was strategically placed all over the store, and people were not willing to disclose where the hot items were located. Finally a nice couple took pity on me and pointed me to the iPad line that started in the automotive aisle.

After desperately making my way to the opposite side of the store, I was handed a ticket and told that the specially priced iPads would be unveiled in two hours, and I was not to get out of line or my spot would be forfeited. This wasn’t an issue for the teams who had players spread all over the store. I, however, was stuck staring at windshield wipers for the next 120 minutes, unable to take advantage of any other deals. For the majority, the game was just beginning. They utilized the time in line to pore over the sales fliers and memorize the maps of the stores they would be hitting next. As for me, I used the time to get in some quality people watching, and boy were there some colorful people to observe! My favorite overheard comment was from a woman bragging how she had even thought to wear Depends.

Before long there was a palpable excitement in the air. You could hear other lines throughout the store roar in delight as big screen televisions and sought after toys were unveiled. People began singing Christmas carols and for the first time it actually felt magical. At this point I didn’t even care if I got an iPad, I was too enthralled with the experience itself. As I marveled to those around me how surreal my first Black Friday was, they quickly corrected me that this was in fact Grey Thursday. The name seemed perfect to me, since I hadn’t felt this much anticipation and adrenaline in my body since I read “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

On that note, I would like to thank all of the employees who kindly worked on Thanksgiving so people could participate in this November Madness. Even though I did score in my first official appearance, I have decided to retire after only one season. I realize that, unlike the real sports heroes whose jerseys are hung from their stadium rafters, I will never have enough skills to have my purse hung from the rafters at Wal-Mart as one of the greatest shoppers of all time!

Karen Wyman has been a Williston resident for seven years, and lives with her husband and twin 5-year-old daughters.