I have avoided Black Friday every year. Somehow, the idea of baying, greedy crowds fighting for $100 off some piece of electronica seems like the equivalent of searching for stray wax in a stranger's ears.
But there's a Best Buy opposite the greatest Starbucks in the world--at Marin City, Calif. (one-time home of Tupac Shakur). And, struggling after an interesting Thanksgiving meal of, well, too much good food, wine, and secrets told after the good food and wine, I parked outside my Starbucks and was drawn by the fascination of the blue and yellow.
A large sign outside Best Buy read: "Line starts here," but there was no one standing there. Had people simply ignored the sign, smashed down the doors, and stormed the building, in search of the weekend's dream of a larger, flatter screen?
I walked gingerly toward the front door, fearing I would immediately see tense bodies and twisted faces fighting over the last box with Samsung written on it. Instead, a chap in the blue polo shirt bid me good morning. Inside, it seemed like any other day at Best Buy.
People milled around with seemingly little purpose. Best Buy employees stood around, one or two stifling a little yawn, a couple of others not bothering with the stifling.
Most of the aisles had no more than one person in them. Wandering around was as simple and comfortable as a Wednesday stroll on the beach. But finally I saw a line. What was it that was drawing so many people (at least 15) to one place?
Ah, yes, these were the excited folks trying to line up an appointment with the Geek Squad. Names were being called out. Satisfaction was being doled out.
Then I remembered I needed some ink for my printer. I wafted over to the aisle and noticed that the price of an Hewlett-Packard double pack of black ink and color had actually gone up since I'd last bought some. There didn't seem to be any special offer on this one.
Should I buy it anyway? Wouldn't it be a pain to stand in line?
Then I looked up and saw that the line at the cash registers consisted of precisely three people. Two of them were together. As I paid my $34.87, the clerk had particularly bleary eyes.
"Crazy day, huh?" I said to him.
"No," he said, in an entirely friendly way.
"Is this usual?" I asked, somewhat confused.
"Oh, yeah. I'm happy," he replied.
After he'd taken the time to tell me that the man in front of me in line had enjoyed precisely the same security code on his Amex card as mine, and after another Best Buy employee had marked my receipt with a special marker, I disappeared to Starbucks.
One of the great baristas of our time, Kershina, told me that she'd opened the store at 5 a.m. and there had been around 200 people outside Best Buy at that time.
Now, just after 9, there was no one. It was just another day in the Marin City firmament. How typical this was of the rest of America, I have no idea. However, as I took my lattes back to my car, a couple were piling their own two-pack of boxes, both with an LG logo, into theirs. They seemed strangely relaxed.