Friday, December 22, 2006

My night as a computer geek

I am not a computer geek (not there’s anything wrong with that). I can prove I’m not one. I don’t own a pocket protector and I don’t know what a protractor is used for (unless it’s some dental tool). But my typical Sunday afternoon is spent surfing the channels for any semblance of soccer on television while my wife and two of my daughters sit with their laptops surfing, playing, learning, and most importantly, spending. So, I decided that this soccer nerd should join the computer geeks by getting a great deal on a laptop. That way, while they are all surfing the web, and I am surfing the cable channels, I can feel secure that I might someday surf the web too.

Well, apparently the best deals on laptops require personal torture and sociology lessons. A local computer superstore was having a day after thanksgiving sale. It started, for some reason at 4:00 am. I’m not sure why someone thought that was a good idea. It seems that, with enough caffeine, people could be equally irritable and irrational after the sun has come up. I figured I would go with the flow and show up at 3:00 or3:30 and be really early. My wife (who speaks computer geek with greater fluency than I) told me we should check earlier, like noon on thanksgiving. Now, I want a good deal on a laptop I will rarely use, but I’m not un-American. I refuse to go anywhere until I have eaten more turkey than some third world villages have ever seen, and then taken the requisite post-tryptophan nap. So, at about 4:30 pm on Thanksgiving Day we drove through the parking lot so I could prove to her that no-one in their right mind would be in line almost 12 hours in advance. I was right, no-one in their right mind was in line, but 11 people were there.

One rule in my life should be “never make a quick decision.” I always regret it when I do. But I foolishly made one. Since the sale flyer promised “a minimum of 10 items at each store” I decided to get in line and let her go home and come back with supplies for us to spend the night. Beyond the obvious, my first hint that this was insane was when I sat on the sidewalk it felt like I sat on a sheet of ice. I found out later that the temperature dropped to 35 degrees Fahrenheit which translates to too @%#) cold to be outside all night. My wife returned with lawn chairs, sleeping bags, coats, thermal underwear, and thermal socks. She made two errors, she didn’t bring enough sanity to tell me to go home to my heater, and she brought coffee. I think it would have been better to bring sleeping pills, so we would be unconscious through the torture that was to come.

The sociology lesson began immediately. Almost everyone in line ahead of me had been in the same line last year. They were talking about all the great deals they got last year. Some of them were talking in English. Oh, there was one group speaking Farsi (I think) and another right behind us speaking Korean, but the rest were speaking some language I’ve never heard. I think it was geek, but I couldn’t really tell any more than I could swear the one group was Farsi.

My first conversation went like this. Geek: “What are you in line for?” Me: “A laptop.” Geek: “Which one?” Me: “The one on a good sale?” Geek: “The HP or the tosh?” Me: “The what?” Geek: “The Hewlett-Packard or the Toshiba?” Me: “What’s the difference between them?” What followed was a string of letters and numbers that I assume were technical details about the two options. I thanked him for the input and said I would think about it a while.

He was polite after that. Like competent employees with a new hire that is rumored to have faked the High School Diploma on the application.

The “Farsi” group was visited by family twice. The Korean group had a party. They had a kerosene heater (I don’t know why my wife couldn’t have brought one of those… a much bigger one). They brought a portable putting green, a trampoline, a beach volleyball set, and a DJ. At about 9:00 pm, the local news station showed up. I pulled my blanket all the way over my head. I didn’t want my soccer nerd friends to see me hanging out with a bunch of computer geeks. The camera man thought my pose conveyed the sense of being cold and “camped out” for the night. So he got a 30 second close up of my blanket gently moving up and down to rhythm of my muttered “I’m not a geek, get out of my face.”

From 10:00 to midnight was quite pleasant, aside from the mind-numbing cold. All the people in line, which was up to about one-hundred (still none of them in their right minds), were chatting, talking, reading, or playing korean volleyball. It was quite the little social group. We all laughed together at the guy who drove by offering $100.00 to whoever would give up their place in line (my wife restrained me).

Shortly after midnight, things got interesting. The interlopers arrived. One lady walked right up and sat down next to my wife like she had grown out of that particular spot on the sidewalk. All of us in our little Korean, Farsi, Geek, friendly, group looked puzzled and then loudly told her that the end of the line was about 50 yards to her right. She said she hadn’t been able to tell where it ended when she arrived. I told her it ended “right behind all those other people.” She left and went to her car and got warm. About 30 minutes later she tried the same act about 25 yards to the right. What amused me was that the entire line started yelling at her. These geeks are a tight knit group. Here they were defending the place-in-line rights to complete strangers of varying nationalities. It was humorous until it got scary.

The trash can was near the door. Everytime somebody from the rear or from a warm car in the parking lot walked toward the trash can, you could hear the suspicious growl rumbling along the line. It was safer, if you needed the trash can to carry your trash in plain sight and walk with head bowed apologetically. Then people started walking the line counting how many were in front of them. Depending on their level of paranoia, they did this every hour or every 12 seconds. If the count from one walk was higher than the previous count, a direct confrontation with somebody was in order. The first 30 or so all banded together and made a list that we all approved and signed in blood as to who was first, second, etc. I contributed the pen and paper as I found myself willing to fight for the death for a Tosh or HP either one, regardless of the RAM or CPU. (I still don’t know what those are, but I was willing to fight for them anyway.) I don’t know who we were thinking would carefully follow our list, but we made it!

One group of 4 hoodlum teenagers decided to play hacky-sack in front of the door at 2:00 am. Now, these geeks are no fools, they immediately calculated the odds of 4 teenagers randomly being here in lightweight clothing, playing hacky-sack at this particular door, in this particular strip mall, at 2:00 in the morning. The suspicious, angry glares reminded me of a dog when you try to take away it’s bone. That’s when the line Nazi’s appointed themselves.

Two very small ladies, who are probably delightful people that keep the nursery in their church, decided it was their job to insure the fairness of this line. They walked up to the teenagers playing hacky-sack and announced that the line started “about 250 people that way.” Then these sweet ladies stood and ridiculed the young thugs until they went crying to their car. The line Nazi’s then went on patrol. Everyone seemed to feel safer because of it, but I found them so intimidating that when they walked past I hid under my blanket again.

At 3:00 the store staff started to arrive to rousing applause, I say rousing because it woke me up from where I was shivering, hiding under my blanket. At 3:30 the “line crashers” began to arrive. When people cut in line at 2:00 they tried to be subtle (remember the, “I couldn’t tell where the line started” lady?). At 3:30 it became all guts. “I’m here! I’m walking in when the door opens! You can’t stop me! I don’t care.” These would-be toughs didn’t know about the line Nazi’s. I really thought fisticuffs were likely. I think the fact that the line Nazi’s were so tiny and petite protected them. Nobody wanted the label as “the one that hit the 85 pound little lady” no matter how intimidating she was.

The store had wisely decided to make sure there was a police presence; they unwisely thought it wouldn’t be necessary until about 30 minutes before the scheduled opening. But thanks to the line Nazi’s there was no physical violence. I was worried when they chased off the lady on crutches. She whined about not being able to stand in line all night. They squealed back “you could sit on your rear out in the cold like the rest of us!” Anyway, when the Police arrived, he officiously said, “all right people, let’s settle down, if you haven’t been in line all night you need to go to the end of the line.” Nobody moved. The line Nazi’s screeched “He said, settle down, if you haven’t been in line all night you need to go to the end of the line.” Most everyone, including me and the Police Officer, until some others grabbed us, bowed their heads in shame and trodded past all 847 people in line.

When the store opened, we were the 11th and 12th person in the door. We bought the laptop I had endured all this torture, suffering, and fear to obtain. But, because we had stood in line all night, we also bought another $600.00 worth of stuff that we don’t need but was at a really good price. It seemed to us that we earned the right to this stuff we don’t need by sitting in line all night. It was also unfair if didn’t buy it, that would just leave something for that lady on crutches who was still trying to talk someone in the next county into letting her get in front of them.

I learned a whole lot more about the sociology of perceived scarcity, but I need to stop writing now. I contracted bronchitis from the cold, and have a doctor’s appointment.

So, for a night of cold, I got a laptop, a credit card bill I can’t afford, a bunch of sociology lessons, and I bonded with people I barely understand and, even though we parted by saying, “see you again at the sale next year,”

I will never see any of them again…. Unless, next year on Thanksgiving night, I decide that I need a flat screen TV….or pneumonia.

No comments: