Black Friday is not for the slow, weak, or rational. Never participated? Then you've probably wondered why anyone would risk getting shanked in the leg for a 720p HDTV with subpar contrast ratio. Unfortunately, a scientific explanation for the phenomena doesn't exist. There's just something about the magical phrase "70-percent off" that sends humans into a crazed state of frenzy.
But despite strip malls turning into a scene from 28 Days Later, coming home at 7 a.m. with a new laptop in one hand and seven HDMI cables in the other makes one feel like George Washington after reigning victorious at Valley Forge. The soreness, bruises, and frostbite are temporary prices to pay for the glory of a new wireless surround sound system.
But there's an art to getting what you want on Black Friday ... and not landing in jail or on the local news. Rest assured, it is the most insane, frantic, and intense experience short of jumping the Grand Canyon on a rocket-propelled scooter, blindfolded and handcuffed.
Honest men turn into thieves, stealing products they missed out on from a stranger's cart. Loving mothers turn into cage fighters, issuing death threats to sales clerks who directed them to the wrong area of the store (I've actually seen both happen). Imagine an apocalyptic scenario with 500 people simultaneously looting a hardware store for the same supplies. You now understand Black Friday.
After participating in the day the past 12 years - two of which I experienced on the flipside, working at a Walmart during college -- I've learned a few things. Below are some essential practices that will give you a chance at getting what you want, without risking death.
Stay the Eff Away from Department Stores
Everyone knows how protective a mother bear is of her cubs. Now multiply that ferocity by 100 and imagine a horde of them fighting over three Vera Wang totes. You definitely don't want to be caught in the middle.
However, the biggest threat isn't inside the department store; it's in the surrounding parking lot and streets. Minivans battle each other from stoplight to stoplight, turning normally quiet streets into a 'baby on board' stickered drag strip.
Avoid becoming a Honda Odyssey hood ornament by staying the hell away from all department stores.
Roll with a Wingman
Doorbusting with a Wingman isn't essential to a successful Black Friday, but it sure helps. If there's more than one item you want from a store, which is pretty typical, you can easily divide and conquer.
But the Black Friday wingman is useful for many other reasons too. She/he is there to decrease your chance of an altercation, pick you up should you fall during the mad dash, spot cops enforcing radar when you're driving 40-over on the way to the next store, and most importantly, keep you company when in line.
Note: If you do use a wingman, consider rolling with walkie-talkies. I know this sounds ridiculous, but instant communication is critical. Keep in mind that most of the time you'll be stuck in the middle of a flock of screaming shoppers in a building with poor phone reception.
Wear Tennis Shoes
On Black Friday, entrance doors transform into racing gates. And as soon as they fly open, you better sprint through faster than Seabiscuit. Sure, this sounds pretty lame, but you don't have a choice. The majority of fellow customers are going to run as fast as they can to their item. Unless your prized product is at the front of the store, you better haul.
Plenty of Black Friday-ers join the line late, figuring they'll tear through the aisles and simply beat those who walk to popular items. Don't spend all night waiting outside just to go home empty handed - be ready to run.
Stretch and Stay Loose While in Line
If you're hoping to secure a big-ticket item, you'll probably be sitting in line for 6-8 hours. Bring a foldable chair to relax and keep your legs fresh. About an hour before the door opens, get up and start stretching every muscle in your lower body.
If you fail to loosen up, and are over the age of 20, you'll undoubtedly pull a hammy during the race to the TV section. But the pain has just begun. Immediately after, you'll fall to the floor in agony while the rest of the pack runs over you. They won't stop to help you up; you're just an out-of-luck speed bump to them.
By the time the herd passes, the item will be long gone, leaving you with a broken ankle and heart.
Bring the Sales Ad into the Store
Always bring the sales ad into the store, and make sure to circle your coveted item with a heavy black marker beforehand. Usually there will be a couple of employees standing right behind the entrance doors. As soon as you get in, run up to these gatekeepers and point to your item on the ad. Since it's circled, you won't even have to open your mouth, just feverishly tap the mark with your finger. They'll immediately point you in the right direction and you'll be en route to securing your prize.
Note: Even if you know the store like the back of your hand, this is still a good technique. Sometimes retailers move big-ticket items to a special display or end cap outside of their normal departments.
Shoot the Gaps
Football running backs are familiar with the phrase, "get skinny." It's when they get the ball only to face a solid wall of linemen ahead. While maintaining speed, the running back turns sideways and squeaks through a tiny gap in-between the 300-pound men.
Getting skinny is useful on Black Friday. If you're not first into the store, there's still hope. Quickly, and nimbly, shoot though every tiny gap of space that appears and you will end up at the foot of your item in no time.
But be warned - while this technique is effective, it really pisses people off. If executing, keep your head on a swivel to make sure you don't catch an elbow to the jaw.
Never Use a Shopping Cart
Dead weight. There's no way you can outrun the rush, weave between people, and shoot gaps with a basket on wheels.
Furthermore, if you leave it for a second to go grab an item, everything will be looted from it when you get back...which brings us to our next rule.
Keep a Death Grip on Your Item(s) at All Times
On Black Friday, people's morals, common sense, and decency take a backseat to obtaining a doorbuster. Sadly, an empty shelf is not enough to deter someone who left Thanksgiving dinner early to sit in line for eight hours.
If you set your item down, even in your own cart on the way to checkout, you can count on it getting stolen the second you take your eyes off it. Keep your hands clenched on that product until you hand it to the cashier. In fact, hold it tighter than you would your own baby in the middle of a warzone.
It's also a good idea to avoid tossing your item to your wingman once you've obtained it - before it travels a 6-inches, it will get snatched out of the air and swallowed into the abyss.
Don't Line Skip, Unless You're Looking to Get Choke Slammed
I live in Wisconsin, which means I usually lack feeling in my lower extremities by the time I get into the store. Every year I see people wait in their heated cars until the doors open. As the block-long single file line begins trickling in from the side, those parking lot chumps walk straight in and skip everyone who just froze in line for hours.
Needless to say, all hell always breaks loose. My advice is to avoid this technique. It's not cool, and more importantly, you'll probably get clotheslined.
Note: Within the past two years, stores have caught on to this method and are now placing a tiny squadron of workers outside to intercept skippers.
So, you're probably a little overwhelmed and maybe even a little scared. Believe me, it's better to have this feeling now than in the middle of a 400 person mob this Friday. But don't be afraid, you now know exactly what to expect, and more importantly, a couple of key techniques to increase your chance of glory.
Oh, and if you think I'm being dramatic and over-exaggerating the insanity of this day, check out the video from Urban Outfitters' Black Friday opening last year. Keep in mind these are Californian hipsters, allegedly relaxed, chilled-out, and sensitive people.
Jordan Hart is the author and illustrator of Steel Rainbow: The Legendary Underground Guide to Becoming an '80s Rock Star [Lyons Press, $12.95]. You can follow him on Twitter @Jordan_Hart.