Today was "Black Friday" in the US. So named because a lot of retail businesses operate in the red until today, when hordes of shoppers flood the market and marketplace with money and their presence to officially begin the Christmas shopping season.
To be honest, I largely ignored this event until last year - when my beautiful bride talked me into waking up at 3:00 AM to stand in line at a major electronics retailer in the bitter Roanoke, VA cold. We waited about 90 minutes outside, shuffled around the store for another 30 minutes, then stood in line for three hours to check out - and I enjoyed every minute of it.
This year I needed a new laptop. I was going to put the purchase off until the last week of the year but was informed Wednesday "you can use your own laptop to do the demos during the keynote for the Philadelphia Launch Event of Team Edition for Database Professionals." The old rugged Gateway is still chugging along, but it's a couple years old at this point and has definitely tolerated more abuse by me - not to mention Stevie Ray and Emma bouncing on it (yes, there will be more about this later. The kids are a veritable hardware stress-testing laboratory...). In addition to this motivation, one retailer had Sandisk 2GB Micro Cruzers on sale for $30 each, limit five per customer - I had to get these to build my long dreamt-of Flash-drive array inspired by my good friend Harper Trow.
So Christy and I ride over to said retail establishment around 3:00 PM and there's a couple college guys out there with a tent. We think "Crazy kids! They're way early!" and return to Casa de Grandparents to continue the turkey attack. When the second football game became boring I said "Hey Cutie, let's ride back over there and see if anyone else is in line." We did, and there were about 10 people in line! We rushed home and recalculated the plan. We simply had to have a TV/DVD combo that was on sale for a great price. I wanted a nice LCD monitor because, for some odd reason, I'm tired of x-rays having their way with my brain via my optic nerves, and they had a nice laptop in the circular for a decent price.
By "nice laptop" I mean a dual-core 64-bit box with 2G of RAM installed and enough hard drive space for SQL Server 2005, lots of projects, and a couple / three virtual servers. By decent price I mean under $1000 (by a significant fraction). So off I go to sit outside all night bundled in several layers of clothing and battle the elements for a TV, LCD monitor, and a snappy new laptop.
Mind you: If I did not enjoy this particular shopping experience, I wouldn't do this. Considering the time this consumed and the things I need to accomplish in the comming weeks and months, this wasn't a wise investment. But I wasn't investing, I was enjoying my holiday! :)
Things were ok in line. I met some very cool people, everyone pretty much discussed the same sorts of things: how brave we were considering people were robbed a few weeks ago when the new video gamming system (I refuse to plug those people, much less buy anything they manufacture, until they build a time-machine, go back in time, and tell themselves "whatever you do, do not release those CDs with that root kit!") was released, how uncool it is to break in line and the clever ways people did it last year, and wondered what the people in front of us were buying - hoping it wasn't what we were buying.
It was a study in human psychology to observe the responses to the questions about what people were buying. I was around number 12 in line and no one in front of me was after the high end laptops or TV/DVD combo - and we all knew there'd be a billion or so flash drives present. But when the folks behind me were asked what they were after, the responses became more obtuse. As a pattern-recognizer, I immediately noted the proportional relationship between distance-from-the-front and open-honesty-without-hesitation-about-what-they-were-hoping-to-buy. And this is perfectly understandable. Suppose you're there for a TV/DVD combo and flash drives like me, but the establishment advertised they would have a minimum of 5 TV/DVD combos - where are you going first? especially if someone ahead of you admits that's what they're after? Yep, me too.
Pattern-recognition aside, it was still an interesting evening/morning. I got to enjoy a milder night out than expected, even if I did get cold around 2:00 AM. The only really bad parts came towards morning.
Folks began showing up just before vouchers were to be handed out and attempted to cut in line. Mind you, by the time vouchers were to be handed out the line was considerably long - perhaps 500 people or more. Basically, if you hadn't made the line before about 10:00 PM, you were out of luck... unless you cheated. And some tried. And a few succeeded. One was punched just inside the store, removed, and later re-entered the store to (presumably) buy his item. I personally advocate violence as a last resort, but I completely understood - after having waited 10 hours for the store to open - someone's frustration at this person breaking in line.
One couple walked up 30 minutes before vouchers were handed out and stood just outside the line. When asked what they were waiting for they replied they were "just standing there." When the vouchers appeared, they joined the crowd vying for them. When confronted they explained "we have kids." Now this makes a lot of sense and explains some things I hadn't understood until now. These folks are the ones producing the children on the planet - not the rest of us. Someone in line threatened to punch these "parents" in the mouth and they (wisely) decided to walk to the back of the line - voucher-less and exclaiming "Look what you've done! I hope you're happy!" The line applauded - apparently very happy indeed at what they'd done.
Suffice it to say I was a little disappointed in this handful of my fellow shoppers for this behavior. It's not like this is anything new - Black Friday happens every year. The rules do not change: there are bargains for those who arrive early and scraps for those who do not. If you want what you want, get there early. Cheating makes you look like, well, a cheater. It's unethical and you shouldn't do it.
If I conducted myself in this way, in any endeavor - personal or business - my mother would (somehow) hear about it. Most likley it would be immediately. The only thing that travels faster than light is news to our Mom that me or one of my three brothers is misbehaving. Someone in line would have recognized me and called Mom to tell her what I was doing. Mom would then show up and, in front of the people I was attempting to defraud, have me go pick my own switch and then whip me with it in front of those people.
Mom still has a temper. And she has no tolerance for unethical behavior whatsoever.
The question I have is: were the line-breakers never exposed to the existence of consequences? If so, they did a great job of concealing that fact. I actually witnessed the "male parent" (I won't call him a man) turn his back on someone taking him to task for his actions. Honestly. Stevie Ray has known better than that for a year or more - and he's 3.
Perhaps Universal Justice, the entropic nature of the universe, or good old-fashioned kharma will take care of the folks who cheated today. But even if it does, will they recognize it? or learn anything from it? After all: some of them, at least, got what they wanted...
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