Early Birds

Adventures in shopping on the day after Thanksgiving.

It is undoubtedly due to something I did in a past life that I found myself standing outside the Sports Authority store on North Oracle Road at 5:05 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. And I wasn't just standing outside the store; I was standing in line outside the store, along with hundreds of other people.

I looked back at the line that stretched for a half-block behind me and thought, "There's no way that all of these people used to be John Wilkes Booth."

I was wearing shorts, because, well, I always wear shorts, except for when I'm coaching a game or going to church, both of which are religious experiences of a sort and therefore require a measure of decorum. It was cold and windy. I've hardly ever seen 5 in the morning--from either direction--but I've always been under the mistaken assumption that winds die down after dark. That's what Jimmy Stewart has always said, and if I see that chump any time soon, I'm going to give him a kick with my frozen left stump.

My son, Alexander, had seen an ad on Thanksgiving morning that the store was offering a $600 bicycle for less than $200. I tried to explain to him that this probably meant there was one such bike available somewhere in the entire Sports Authority chain. It's like trying to find the Boardwalk playing piece during a McDonald's Monopoly contest. The winner is always somebody from Raleigh, N.C.

But he said it was worth a try, so I said OK. I honestly figured that it would be like several other such days-after-Thanksgivings in the past, where he or my wife or my daughter would plan on going shopping way early in the morning, only to change their mind right before they went to bed or, at worst, when the alarm goes off. (The secret is to make sure the heater is turned off before turning in, so the house gets nice and cold, and nobody wants to get out of bed.)

But it didn't work this time. The alarm went off at 4-something, and I let it ring for a while, expecting to hear my wife's ultra-sedate version of, "Oh, hell no!" Instead, she got out of bed and went to get Alexander, who, much to my horror, was already awake. The die was cast.

Standing in front of us in line was a guy who had New Jersey written all over him. You know how everybody from New Jersey looks like Billy Joel? (I realize that Billy Joel is from Long Island, but you know what I mean.) A friend of mine once said that Jerseyites all look like they're "one-half Italian, one-half Jewish and one-half something else." It's that three-halves thing that causes that one big-ass eyebrow to spread all the way across their forehead.

This guy was relatively good-looking, leaning toward the Ken Wahl-Gino Auriema Jersey-unibrow look, approaching Frankie Avalon as a limit. He was wearing a full-length leather trench coat, which I noticed afforded protection from the wind for his legs É which were in pants anyway! Rub it in, why don't you?

He was way too cheerful, regaling us with unsolicited tales of how he always gets all of his shopping done on the day after Thanksgiving. He goes to all the stores and is done by 9 a.m. I wanted to punch him in his eyebrow. I think he said he was standing in line to buy his wife a paintball gun. Can shivering legs cause you to hallucinate?

I explained that such behavior was an affront to guys everywhere. We're supposed to do our shopping in the December 20s. He just laughed an evil, New Jersey laugh.

As it got closer to the ungodly opening time of 5:30, a few people started hanging around the exit of the store, trying to look casual. I thought to myself, "There's no way those people are going to try to cut in line."

But, sure enough, white trash knows no bounds when it comes to classlessness. The doors opened, and the extended Clampett clan tried to squeeze in. One of the immutable rules of traffic is that if all the cars in the United States were lined up end to end, somebody in a pickup truck with a Dallas Cowboys bumper sticker would pull out and try to pass. But sometimes, all of the drivers are of a single mind and stay real close together and don't let Butthole Bubba cut in. Well, that's what happened at that moment. Those in line marched into the store in lockstep; some even shouted derisively at the would-be line-cutters, who, I decided, were all going to end up in hell, sitting in soiled adult diapers and forced to sit through an eternal slide show by Karl Rove on how he stole Florida for George W. Bush.

Amazingly, the bike was there, and we were out of the store by 5:45. I took it home and went back to the stores to join Alexander, who, by then, was standing in a line at Best Buy to get something for his sister. The line didn't move for like a half-hour, because this group of people from Pakistan or India wanted the store employee to open every box and explain the function of every camera component therein. The poor store employee couldn't understand what they were saying; they all sounded like Apu on speed, so I figured they must be physics professors at the UA.

A few years ago, stores used to open at a shocking 8 a.m. on that Friday. Now, it's 5:30 or earlier. If this leapfrog rush to grab the early customers continues at its current logarithmic rate, in about 10 years, the sales will be held on Labor Day weekend. That will be fine with me, what with the shorts and all.

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