Sunday, November 29, 2009

Black (& Blue) Friday - shopper within the maelstrom

Being a person who "thinks outside of the box," I did my Black Friday shopping on Saturday. A few sacrifices had to be made: living with the disappointment that I would likely not witness anyone being trampled to death; knowing the odds of witnessing shopper-on-shopper violence had decreased from the day before. But I made do with the day, anyhow.

One thing I did notice -- paying for purchases at Borders Books is like checking in for a flight at the airport. You're holding a product(s) in one hand, a mode of payment in the other. The transaction should move at the speed of the electronic cash register. But it doesn't. There is a litany of questions to be answered: "Do you have a Borders Reward Card?" If you don't: "Would you like to open one?" Once that is over with, the customer is asked if they'd like to donate a dollar to some Borders-sponsored charity -- complete with brief explanation of said charity and even mode of gift and delivery. And then finally: "Would you like a gift receipt?" I answered "no" to everything -- even the query, asked in semi-shock: "Would you like open a Borders Reward Card?" -- and it still took me about three to four minutes to checkout. This after waiting in line behind people who answered "yes" to these various questions, and whose checkout procedures took between four and eight minutes. Honestly. To buy a fucking book, CD, DVD or calendar? I wouldn't be surprised on my next visit to Borders if I should bring my metaphysician to help me explain whether or not I am worthy of my purchase.

I was not only engaged in my own shopping, but had the pleasure of chauffeuring -- and it was a pleasure, though they were a little light on the tips -- three Shopping Titans for whom Saturday outings are treated like Olympic events. As they conducted their commerce, I availed of my freedom in the car, spinning by to pick them up at various venues when summoned telephonically.

So, in picking up my passengers, I had occasion to venture into other stores where I would not normally have gone.

I was disappointed to find that Costco wasn't under martial law. It appeared to be hemorrhaging 50" television sets, but aside from that, all was in order. We even had lunch there. Turkey wraps. And I was endlessly amused to see an octagonal metal box bolted to the napkin and condiment counter, which bore the following legend: Onion Dispenser. At a glance, I guessed that the box was bullet proof and probably impervious to radiation.

Target looked like it might offer more action. For instance, there was a bird flying around inside the store -- a small sign of nature's intent to one day encroach and overtake the place, growing wild mushrooms in dressing rooms, saplings in the toy department, tar pits in the music, movie and "books" departments. Other than the usual bovine, mouth-breathing lumbering set in electric wheelchairs and wheezing over laden carts, there was no need for tear gas or truncheons.

One place where tear gas, truncheons and water cannons were needed: on the roads.

Michigan is the only American state where I've logged enough hours and miles to make a true judgment on its drivers: they're dangerous, unthinking, with the red needle of their mortality quivering every moment between homicide and suicide. Although I've yet to secure verification, here is my best guess at how their driving system works: Michigan drivers are rewarded (probably with fuel credits) for every accident in which they're involved. Instigators of accidents are eligible for more rewards, but the victims aren't left out entirely. That's the only explanation for the way people conduct themselves on Michigan roads.

Where I come from, automobile accidents are viewed as something negative. There's the risk of injury or death -- then dealing with doctors, hospitals, recuperation, rehabilitation, lawyers, and the whole mire of insurance. There's also the damage to a needed vehicle, and once again dealing with the insurance company. Even when the accident isn't serious, it's an enormous inconvenience. Often, the police are involved. At the very least, the drivers involved must convene at the nearest safe location to exchange insurance information -- or blows. In fact, automobile accidents in my neck of the woods are so inconvenient, so no-win, that most people actually do their utmost to avoid them. The problem for me driving in Michigan is I do not know how to collect the rewards for engaging in a collision, and thus appeared to be a bit of a kill-joy on the motorway.

By afternoon, my party was in the Great Lakes Crossing shopping center. There, things began to get dicey. There was no violence, not even a whiff of a threat of violence. There was only the untended mayhem of so many people in the same place at once. I'm sure there's a formula from the realm of physics to explain a phenomena I witnessed -- the larger the single group of people walking together, the slower they walked. Whole systems of round, planet-shaped people clogged the walking area like asteroid fields.

This is where shopping mall cops -- some hilariously on Segways -- need to act a little more like rangers on golf courses. Gotta get those herds moving. One method I think would work is to make any person moving substantially below the average speed of the other walkers (some calculations would be required, as well as speed monitoring equipment) should be made to wear large orange cones on their heads. This would give the dual messages of "Pylons" and "Dunces Ahead." I mean, clearly, intelligence is linked to how quickly a person walks. Margaret Mead or Thomas Edison determined that.

One final sociological note: health care in America costs a fortune and obesity is the leading cause of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, etc.. You see where this equation is going. Yet, the same counter-intuitive curveball I witnessed on the roads was on display everywhere I encountered shoppers: people are eating themselves right into intensive care wards, which few of them can afford. So, there must be some hidden reward system at work that I could not figure out. I did see an enormous number of tattoos, though I didn't stare long enough to make sense of any of them. Maybe these peoples' bodies are like NASCAR cars, covered with logos of sponsors. Maybe they're sponsored by the makers of corn syrup and all the other science fiction ingredients found listed in soda or chocolate bar.

I believe there is a documentary to be about that hidden world.

So, after a day of disappointing civility, no reward points from any car collisions, I took my charges away from the action and delivered them to safety. We had engaged in commerce on the most herniated shopping weekend of the year and had only our purchases to show for it.


Anonymous said...

Drivers don't drive to win awards in Michigan (and Detroit), but they gain much personal satisfaction for breaking as many rules as they can, while on their way to a destination. Seems like most people want to put on their very own show, on the road. And what an audience! The freeway is one of the few public places where rich and poor, educated and not, have the potential to meet as equals (unless a police escort is involved).

Anonymous said...

Interesting take on Michigan drivers, coming from a guy who rear-ended a semi and drives in a straight lane with a not-always-so-subtle weave like a bowling ball ricocheting off inflatable bumpers. ;)

However, I do agree the overall skill level of drivers in Michigan is sub-par, but couple that with their lack of confidence and you end up with lanes full of people who are intimidated by their peers as well as superior drivers and can't manage to drive themselves out of a sticky situation especially if their lives depend on it.

<--my take on it.

Love ya, Rev.