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Column - Black Friday was eye-opening

I'm not a big shopper but I decided to see for myself what Black Friday is all about.

I expected big crowds of eager bargain hunters - some of them, perhaps, a little too eager - along with some long lines and a little confusion.

I was blown away.

When my wife and I approached the Target parking lot just a few minutes before its 4 a.m. opening, I thought the lot would be full, but not jam-packed. And not just in the lot but also along the side streets, nearby lots, the back of the store - everywhere you looked - and more cars were coming. A long line of shoppers was already at the door. I guess we should have arrived much sooner, perhaps hours before, like some of the crowd must have done.

My wife decided to drop me off at the entrance and search for a parking spot. So I was on my own - and completely unprepared for what waited ahead.

I joined the long line of shoppers that slowly shuffled forward in the dark as the doors opened. The front of the building was barricaded with shopping carts to prevent a massive invasion.

I saw a few people butt into line but surprisingly, I didn't hear any repercussions. There was some shouting among shoppers who recognized each other, telling them to buy a certain DVD or a special sale item if they saw it first, but aside from that, the scene was generally quiet. Shoppers were too focused on just moving ahead and getting into the store.

Still about 50 feet from the door, I was amazed to see people already coming out, their carts overflowing with items. How they were able to get in and out with so much stuff in just a few minutes boggled the mind. They must have planned their shopping assault like a tactical force unit.

While I was still marveling at those savvy early birds, I witnessed the Parade of Big Screen TVs. Shoppers, mainly men, were wheeling out cart after cart containing big-screen televisions, most of them the 40-inch variety that were on sale. There were dozens of them. We in the dark watched them whiz past, envious that they had already completed their shopping objective.

I was there for only one particular item - a Garmin GPS at a ridiculously discounted price.

Finally, our throng made it through the doors. The wait was far from over, however. The store was also jam-packed, worsened by all carts that shoppers were pushing around. I stayed to the right, joining the surge of people trying to make their way back to the electronics.

I didn't see any actual pushing or shoving - thank goodness - but there was some jostling going on and a harried impatience hung in the air heavier than the too-early Christmas music piped over the intercom.

While shuffling forward, I spotted a DVD that was on my sister's Christmas list and I stopped long enough to pick it up. At least I had something accomplished.

Back in line, I wondered if I'd ever find my wife in this sea of shoppers.

Like exits off a busy freeway, the line ahead split into different directions - some to cameras and phones, others to the video games and systems. I stayed in the GPS lane where I finally found myself packed in among other shoppers in front of the locked glass case.

I had no idea of what to do next. Neither did any of the other shoppers until one of them said he'd heard that the GPS units were being displayed at the end of an aisle somewhere nearby. Everyone who overheard this formed a snake-like line in search of the rumored display. No luck.

Then I spied a woman who had in her hands the exact model of the GPS I wanted. When I politely asked her where she had found it, she said, rather tersely, "This is the last one." But there was something in her voice that I didn't trust. "How does she know it's the last one?" I thought to myself and then realized I was getting a little too caught up in this shopping frenzy myself.

I decided to do one last loop. Along the way, I reconnected with my wife. She was in front of the GPS display case, which we discovered was open. The model we wanted, of course, was gone. I wondered if the case had been unlocked the whole time.

Beaten, we tried to make our way out of the store. I took one look at the checkout lines that were crammed with dozens and dozens of people stretching all the way back to the rear of the store, and put the DVD back. We left the store empty handed and with a new appreciation of the fact that buying gifts, thank goodness, is really only a tiny part of Christmas.

It was my first Black Friday - and my last.

"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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