Black Friday Came...

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(Above. Video Jessica and I shot for the Riverchase Galleria in 2011, the only time we ever worked together as a team of freelancers!)

If you've heard the latest MIDNIGHT CITIZEN, then you'll know I make a big to-do about the time-honored tradition of Black Friday. For me, I look forward to it just as much as Thanksgiving. It's not about the deals or door buster prizes, though. For me, Black Friday is the greatest day ever to be out in the retail world, strictly because it combines three of my favorite things: night, shopping malls, and coffee.

Every year, about a week out from Black Friday, I begin pestering my mom to wake up with me and my fiance Jessica at 4 am to hit the mall, but she always tisks at us and passively grunts "That's okay", or "Yeah, ya'll go have fun with that!" This makes me laugh because, ironically, my mom is the one who got me into Black Friday, made it a part of my Holiday tradition -- just as much as putting up the Christmas tree or eating a varied harvest of popcorn out of tin cans smashed in Holiday decor. In the mid-90's, she would pack my sisters and me into the Plymouth Voyager and set out down I-459 toward the Riverchase Galleria, where we would wait for about an hour in traffic before even breaching sight of the anchor stores. But it was all in great fun, and the whole routine of listening to Christmas music for the first time in the season as we inched along down the highway before finally unloading into the shops, plazas and food courts of the Mall imprinted a memory in my brain that I have ever since been nostalgic for and attempt to re-create every day after Thanksgiving.

Of course in recent years, Black Friday has not come close to the kind of fever pitch it reached between 1995 and about 2003. This was when the mad dash competition between retailers to see who could open their stores the earliest resulted in all that great news footage of folks camping out and eating their Thanksgiving dinners in Best Buy parking lots; when it became a mandatory news desk assignment for a reporter to set up shop in a busy plaza and report on the midnight madness. It's not to say that all this doesn't still happen, but it is all in a much more muted form now, thanks to the surge in things like Cyber Monday, the idea of a "Black Friday season" when stores start slashing prices up to a month before the big day itself, and the inception of "Small Business Saturday".

I do admit to getting a little depressed these days when I hit up the Mall at 5 am and find a dismal crowd shuffling in and out of the few stores that actually opt to open that early; it's absolutely nothing like the days when the place would open at midnight to a captive audience of restless shoppers in the thousands. They would even bring in acts like Davy Jones to perform his hits. But sadly, it's just not in the numbers to pull out all the stops like that anymore. Even if mall management did, who would come see it? Like everything else in the real world, the Internet has ruined Black Friday.

But still, like stringing up lights for Christmas, I indulge Black Friday every year, as if it's still a relevant thing to do. Even though I haven't bought anything in years, it's just something I've trained myself to do and be excited about. 


And as I mozied through the food court this morning at 5:30, waiting for the Starbucks and all other stores to open at 6 (this was the latest the Riverchase Galleria has opened on Black Friday in years), I could see that the news media was right there with me, like clockwork, taking a bite. Still taking a cue from all those years when it was a crucial story that had to be covered, we watched as a lone backpack cameraman searched desperately for good film. Like in the old days, he looked high and low for the crowds of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, lining up in thick football insignia blankets and drinking hot coffee from thermoses, prepping for battle to beat one another to the door buster savings. But, alas, it was all a shell of its former self. To pour even more salt on the wound, everyone was in short sleeves. Today was one of the warmest Black Fridays on record.

As we stood in line for coffee, I watched as the newsman quietly rejoiced when he saw a line of about fifteen teenage girls sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor in front of Molly Green, anticipating their promised free gift bags. In the old days, this cameraman and the reporter he was assigned to would have had no time to waste. They would have been ping-ponging around the Galleria, from one riot to another, interviewing shoppers, retailers, mall managers, and Davy Jones to boot. Today, after getting every conceivable angle of the teenage girls, he sat down quietly at a table in the food court and played Solitaire on his phone while he waited for more people to arrive when they felt like it, and not when the red tickets at the Mall told them they had to be there.

Side note: 


Whenever I see news reports of ravenous mobs full of obese people storming the gates of the Gap and toppling over security detectors like zombies, I'm inclined to believe that I live in an alternate universe of peace and harmony, because I've never seen anything remotely resembling that carnage -- even in those Black Friday glory days when it was a real event and I worked at the Mall. Nevertheless, here's some compiled videos of that violence for your post-Thanksgiving pleasure, thanks to AL.com.

And here's a cool news report from 1983 that I played on this week's show: