It was 4 o’clock in the morning and close to freezing outside.
I should have been at home, warm and cozy in bed, sleeping my way through the turkey-induced coma from the day before.
Instead, I was standing in line outside of a mall with hundreds of other brave shoppers who are, apparently, just as crazy as I am.
It’s the same every year. It begins on Thanksgiving with the arrival of the coveted Black Friday advertisements.
Dedicated shoppers spend hours pouring over "doorbusters" and "early-bird specials." With pen and paper in hand, they carefully create a game plan, making note of what stores open when, who has what deals, and which routes will get you from one parking lot to the next in the quickest fashion.
I had planned to go to bed early and wake well rested, but my attempts to sleep were futile. Around midnight, when my husband asked why I was still awake, I found myself echoing a Disney World commercial when I whispered, "I’m too excited to sleep!"
I gave up on sleep, helped myself to some leftover pumpkin pie, and studied the sale ads like I was cramming for an exam until it was time to hit the stores.
There is something about standing in line to shop before the sunrise that bonds people. The relationships formed between "linemates," however, is short-term and delicate.
It begins with a polite nod and a half-smile – kind of your way of saying, "Hello, I see you’re crazy, too!"
The conversation that follows usually revolves around how far you drove, what time you woke up, and who you are shopping for. She with the worst hardship is named queen of the line.
The item you are in search of that day, however, is never revealed.
Careful not to step out of place, you try to keep up with your new friend’s line of conversation while at the same time, eyeing the sale ad tucked under their arm for circled items.
Questions like, "Are you here for the same thing I am?" and "How fast can you run?" jog through your mind.
Then, at last, the hour has arrived. The doors open and just as fast as you made your new friend, they are forgotten.
Eyes straight ahead, you take that first step forward. Your heart is pounding, your hands are shaking, it’s time for Christmas shopping!
Now, at any civilized function, the crowd would proceed in a single file line, everyone taking their turn. Not so here.
When the doors opened, you could hear a cheer from the crowd. Within seconds, a couple that was probably 50 people back in line jumped out and ran, full speed ahead, to the front.
Seeing this, most other people that had waited patiently all morning followed suit. Once it was obvious that the armed guards at the door no longer had control over the crowd (maybe the presence of these men should have been my first clue), they started coming from the parking lot.
I’m still not sure where this last wave of runners came from. My only thought is they were ducked down behind parked cars, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
I think this is when my Christmas spirit began to waver. Here I had been, waiting patiently in line, and these cheaters just go in first and buy what I came for!
I maintained my dignity and continued to wait my turn. Surprisingly, I made it inside a mere 10 minutes after the store opened. Little did I know that the battle had just begun.
I started off trying to be nice. I really did. I even helped a woman get one of the last shopping carts unstuck from the corral.
Five minutes later, that same woman ran that same shopping cart into my heels and told me to "move it."
That was when I lost the spirit completely.
I completely forgot everything I had so carefully studied just hours before. Why was I here? What did I need to find?
Within minutes I was throwing elbows with the best of them, using my shopping cart to push my way through unmoving crowds of people.
People all around me were in a state of panic and it seemed to be contagious. Shoppers were shouting orders that seemed eerily similar to football plays.
"I’ll cover the left, you go right!"
"Who cares? Push her!"
"Just grab it, we’re running out of time!"
Some people seemed not to care at all what they bought, as long as it was on sale.
"Just get it. If no one wants it, we’ll return it later," they’d say.
Some people were willing to make great sacrifices for the good of the sale.
"I’m going in here. If I don’t get out in time, do what you have to do, go on without me," one woman told her friend.
Thankfully, the good sales are generally over by noon, and the limited items are usually sold out within 30 minutes of the store’s opening.
This means that by lunch time, the angry, scowling, fire-breathing shoppers are transformed back into a smiling, cheery, caroling bunch.
For those of you that have never been, please don’t let me scare you. Black Friday shopping is an experience that everyone should have at least once.
While it can be a hassle, it’s all worth it when you find what you came for – that prized gift that will light up the face of a loved one – for half price!
If you decide to go next year, take my advice. Don’t take it too seriously and have fun. Also, don’t forget your elbow pads!
Whitney Wilson Coy is editor of the Westside Messenger.