The Day After Thanksgiving
Black Friday memories
2:30am and the crowd was in a frenzy.
Wisps of vapor emerged from bodies swimming along the current of footsteps. Jackets that turned us into astronauts, rubbed against each other in the alleys of this retail labyrinth. Bright colored paper bags dangled in twos and threes from all possible limbs.
An upward glance revealed an overcast sky. Yellow lights like fireflies framed and draped every storefront in this outdoor mall. Windows were covered by large colorful signs: “60% Sale!” in red, “Black Friday specials inside,” in yellow and black. The Coach store had a line with burgundy velvet ropes and retail bouncers. Their line had dozens of people. Other stores like Nike had no such measures–opting to be filled to the brim with the masses. In between stores, people sat on benches indulging in the soft dough and oily musk of Auntie Anne’s pretzels.
You could tell which shoppers were Canadian; they brought empty carry-on bags for their hauls. You’d see hordes of them arriving in their chartered Trojan buses. Vancouver, B.C. is only a couple of hours away. Typically, we thought of them as our friendly neighbors up north. Poutine-lovers, Tim Horton die-hards, Canucks fans. On those nights, they were the competition.
My mother, brother, and I had been coming to this mall for a few years now. It began as an indulgence; no need to buy clothes from Ross or Old Navy anymore; now we could own the nice brands (at low prices). Eventually, it became a tradition.
A tradition with a plan and procedures. We had a game plan.
We’d have our targets mapped out, as if we were planning a midnight heist. Puma & Banana Republic were frequent destinations. I’ve bought so many clothes from Puma over the years that I hope to be retroactively sponsored by them (give me a call, Puma). Upon arriving at a store, one of us would immediately stand at the check-out line. It was a relay race: Look for what you want, try it on–or do that thing were you hold a pair of pants over your legs to see if it’s your size1, then switch places. After we all had our turn, we would decide who paid for what as if we were splitting a restaurant check.
We played this game for 5-6 hours; going from store to store, executing our relay, buying each other what we wanted. The adrenaline of it all pacified any desire to sleep. Once we were done with our treasure hunt, we would cap the night (or early morning), with a trip to the only Starbucks in the mall. As a former member of the green apron mafia2, I felt for the baristas who had to work throughout the night quenching the caffeine thirst of hundreds of rabid shoppers. Seeing them work gave me flashbacks to the times I poured milk with the urgency of a soldier loading cannons, flicked newborn espresso shots into their milky homes, and tried to shush the shriek of eggnog while steaming it (Note: I cannot stand eggnog).
Once we got home at dawn’s light, our living room turned into Paris Fashion Week. We would parade our sweaters, pants, and shoes with the excitement of Christmas morning. One year, I remember getting a lime green and lemon yellow Puma track jacket. It was one of those statement pieces that I genuinely loved. I felt like wearing it made me stand a little bit taller–now I was cool enough to lean against the wall with my leg up. We would wrap our new clothes as presents to open them on Christmas (we used to open gifts at midnight, as Colombians often do).
I know it’s odd to feel any sort of fondness for Black Friday. I mean, at its consumerist peak, Walmarts around the country turned into that scene in The Lion King where Simba finds himself in a stampede of wildebeest–all to buy an air-fryer at 30% off. Like what? Even at the mall we used to go on our midnight retail raids, I saw one too many arguments over the last size S wool cardigan.3
Yet, I miss those days. Not because I really need another sweater from Tommy Hilfiger (though my mother would argue I do), but because those nights/mornings spent at the mall on Black Friday were proof that we were “making it” in this country. And for many years, that was not certain. It took years of constant effort and sacrifice, primarily from my mother and my brother, to get to the point where we could even dare to splurge on Black Friday. When you have to rebuild your life like my family did when we emigrated from Colombia, you learn to celebrate all the little wins; the worries that no longer seemed mortal, the indulgences that no longer seemed luxuries.
It’s been a few years since our midnight retail raids. My family and I are lucky to have arrived at a place where we don’t want or need to stay up all night hunting for good deals. Truthfully, the game got a little bit old as well and we found ourselves with less and less things from our shopping benders.
Most of the pieces I bought those days have moved out of my closet. All that’s left is the warmth of those memories. The joy of those moments at 2:30am rushing from store to store, bags in hand, knowing that more than shopping, we were going on a quest together.
I will always be grateful for the day after Thanksgiving.
Foolproof methodology, of course.
That’s what Starbucks baristas call (or used to) themselves. Because wE aRRE sooo cOolL.