|A decidely lo-fi Black Friday ad in Mineral Point, Wis.|
It began, as so many things in my life do, as a search for good cheese.
Somehow, though, it turned into a perfect escape on day in which so many people escape into a certain kind of crazy. Suddenly, there’s been no more perfect way to spend Black Friday than to wander the main streets of some of the area’s loveliest towns.
Strangely, though, I get the more popular option. It’s not for me, but I’ve had a unique view at it and can’t say it’s all bad. People fighting over a slow cooker is pathetic, people getting injured is tragic and people waiting outside for days embarrasses me as a human being.
That’s why on last year’s Black Friday, I had the day off and drove the opposite way from the mall. It wasn’t a concerted effort to have the anti-Black Friday (or, as I’ve come to call it, Lo-Fi Black Fri), it was indeed a trip to buy cheese. November is release time for the famed 15-Year Cheddar made by Hook’s Cheese Co. in Mineral Point, and it makes a nice gift if you can afford to splurge.
Cheese purchased, I looked around and saw the inviting decorations in town and stuck around for a while. Mineral Point is a town I’ve been to hundreds of times in my life, but had never seen it at the holidays. It was settled by Cornish lead miners in 1827, amazingly early for a Midwestern community. To this day it remains a slice of England in an area surrounded by German, Norwegian and Irish settlers. To be there around Christmas kind of felt like being in a Dickens village; indeed Main Street there is called High Street, as is the case in English cities and towns.
That getaway was a perfect tonic to how I had spent the previous two Black Fridays: at the mall, at 5 a.m. or so.
The life of a journalist is one where you end up places you’d never imagine yourself to be. The mall on Black Friday would be right up there with, say, an Amana Colonies restaurant eating wienerschnitzel with Ashton Kutcher or a murder scene. For two years, however, I was a retail reporter and this was my gig.
The tough part of being a retail reporter was that I hate shopping more than almost anything in the world. I understand that covering retail would have appeal for many of my friends and colleagues, but to those I know who hate sports, I said, “Imagine if you walked in to work one day and now covered college football.” They usually turned pale at the thought.
Yet on a human level, covering Black Friday was fascinating. At the soul of most journalists is a curiosity about what people are doing and, most importantly, why. Black Friday provided the perfect opportunity to learn about both.
And it was a fascinating revelation. Beyond the strange sight of people around me lugging around sale-priced shop-vacs was the sight of families together. I’d interview people who were here from all over the country because they were visiting family and this is what they did together the day after Thanksgiving.
I bumped into acquaintances or high school classmates and met their moms, sisters or daughters. I saw groups of families in matching T-shirts, for whatever theme they chose for the day. I didn’t see very many children. I saw a mall full of people who utterly understood what they were doing was ridiculous, but found a goofy sort of fun in it all.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing this holiday season about the people who have to work on Thanksgiving and a lot of judgment about the people who choose to go shopping. I feel bad for those who work on holidays, particularly a cousin who works at a department store.
|Black Friday crowds not a problem.|
Several Christmases ago, after the presents were opened and the meal eaten and the dishes done, my family decided to go bowling. It seemed so un-Christmas that we called to make sure an alley was open. When we got there, we were stunned: The place was packed. At each lane, there was a group of people who looked enough like each other that you knew that this was a bowling alley full of families. We got in there just in time; about an hour later, we started hearing announcements that so-and-so’s lane was open. There was a waiting list to bowl at 10 p.m. on Christmas Day.
This year, I avoided the mall again and chose another small town to wander. It’s tempting to feel smug and superior about such choices, but I’ll reserve judgment.
After all, you may not ever see me at the mall on Black Friday, but somewhere in the basement near my holiday decorations is a bag with a 12-pound ball and some size-9 shoes.
I'll have them ready. Just in case.