All week long I've been planning on a midnight purchase of the most recent Harry Potter edition. It’s Friday, at 11:35pm I finally decide to head out the door and brave the lines. I know they will be long, but because I expect this, I am mentally prepared. I decide on a whim to go to the Barnes and Noble in Montrose, it’s a massive bookstore and I convince myself this will make the experience will be more fulfilling. I pull into the parking lot at about 11:45, well actually I pulled up NEXT to the parking lot as it was completely full and all of the aisles were jammed with cars double parking. I looked to the adjacent gas station, but it too was full, and not with people buying gas. I looked across the street to the nearby hotel. Totally packed. People were flooding from the hotel parking lot to the bookstore. I started to panic, I could only imagine how long that line would be. Would they have enough books? How long would the checkout process take? After all they only had maybe three registers, four tops. The panic won over and I ditched my B & N hopes for a more modest goal of uniting myself with HP at the local Wal-Mart.
I pull into the local Wal-Mart a remarkable seven minutes later at 11:52pm. Spy an HP line of about 50-60 people so I grab a cart and figure I can pick up a few items while I wait for the line to die down. I throw some Bounce dryer sheets and Shout stain remover into the cart when I notice two things.... 1) the line is growing considerably longer by the second and 2) they have pulled out the flat with a stack of books that seems much smaller than it should be given the current number of waiting shoppers. I start to worry that maybe they won't have enough for everyone, so I rush over to get in line. I figure I can finish shopping for my other items once HP is safely within my grasp.
At this point it is 11:56, only a few minutes till chaos ensues. People are looking eager and tense. I make small talk with a short, balding 40ish man in front of me. I butter him up with my verbal charm, but am silently preparing to take him out should I find that he is about to be handed the last volume of HP. I also note that I am exceedingly taller than he, so I stand close and use the height difference to silently intimidate him.
Then comes the announcement:
"Attention Wal-Mart guests: We will be closing down all registers at exactly Midnight to close our accounts for the day. They will re-open as soon as possible."
I do a quick count of how many registers are actually open and spot exactly five. Five registers for the now 100+ people in line, many with shopping carts full of additional purchases. And now the registers aren't even going to be up and running when everyone is ready to checkout?? Somewhere out there is a business planner that needs to be fired.
I size up the chubby kid behind me, If I get the last book and he makes a move for it I could totally take him too I think, although he's had one too many candy bars and could easily kill me by simply....sitting down. But he looks as if he is only thirteen, fourteen at the most, His brain is still growing and reflexes are underdeveloped. I could outwit him or perhaps distract him with a Pokemon action figure and be halfway to the door before he realizes what has happened. This, my friends, is war!
We count the seconds, about 87 left at this point. A silence comes over the crowd and everyone is nervously eyeing the largish lady in the green shirt that says, quite plainly "Code Green" (so named for the green cover of the newest edition). Will she start the line on time? Will she make us wait? Will she systematically lick all of the books to keep us from touching them and thus be able to hoard them all for herself? She holds our literary future, or at least our book-reading weekend, in her hands. To make this crowd of people wait is a death wish. (Suddenly I find myself, pondering the book-licking idea for my own purposes, but then promptly dismiss it realizing I just don’t have enough spit reserves to do the job.)
The crowd is HUGE at this point and there are people who curiously pretend not to notice the enormous line. They simply bypass us all and innocently stand right next to Code Green Lady. The collective line notices this faux paus and begins an aggressive campaign of 'evil eye' stares and under-the-breath comments like 'get in line asshats!' The insurgents pretend to be confused by the lines sizeable proportions and play dumb by claiming they wouldn't know where to join. But as anyone can tell the line goes from the book and magazine section back through ladies wear, where it takes a left turn at the clearance bathing suits, wraps counter-clockwise around the dressing rooms, takes a right near socks, a left at pajamas, then continues straight for some time bringing us back to the main cashier's aisle... I mean DUH people! How hard can it be??? Peer pressure wins out and the would-be rebels are driven into submission. At this point it occurs to me that this whole scenario is the literary equivalent to a going to street corner drug dealer. Harry Potter, the new crack-cocaine!
IT’S FINALLY 12:01 and the line begins to move. They have three clerks standing at the rapidly shrinking book pile handing out the newest volumes. This is very efficient and the line moves swiftly. Too bad they don't seem to realize that we can't PAY for the books because the registers are still down. I am finally near the front of the book line and to my tremendous relief I realize that I will not have to take out Bald Guy or Chubby Kid as there seem to be plenty of books left for all. Praise be to Scholastic Publishers!!
Now that my book shortage fears have been assuaged, I am completely dismayed at the length of the check out lines, clearly we are all going to be here for a LOOONG time. I worry that even though I still have to shop for a couple more items the lines will still be frightfully long when I return to the front to check out. I set the book down in my cart and prepare to head back into the depths of Twinkies and toilet paper. Then suddenly I hear an announcement come across the PA:
"Attention Wal-Mart guests: If you are ONLY purchasing the Harry Potter book, you may check out in customer service
I stop in my tracks and stare down narrow path in between four of the checkout lanes (crowded with book-wielding, sleep deprived buyers), low and behold it heads straight to the lone lady manning the Customer Service register. Not only this, but her register is the only one in the whole store that is up and running. I get a brief glimpse of my salvation but in the three seconds it takes me to comprehend this newest development it occurs to me that there are no less than 50 people standing in the checkout lines between me and Customer Service. I am about to give up my dream of a speedy acquisition when I realize NO ONE IS MOVING. It is surreal. The CS lady in the red smock is standing there, scanner in hand, with a functional register and NO ONE is moving towards her. Now I begin to question myself…did I actually hear the announcement? Perhaps it was the result of delusional mind and wishful thinking? The announcement is repeated. I do NOT need to be told twice! For a fleeting second I look down at my cart. I am about embark on a dangerous journey through the purchasing masses and the Bounce and Shout cannot accompany me on my pilgrimage. This trip is reserved for Harry alone, not only because his sole purchase is my ticket to the CS counter, but because the 30 feet from where I am to the glorious CS sanctuary will be fraught with challenge and I must heed to one of the primary rules of battle – travel light.
I silently break the news to my sacrificial items… Bounce and Shout, you've been good soldiers but as any good soldier, you need to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if called on to do so. The time has come for me to leave you behind. You will remain here in the middle of the main aisle where you are completely exposed to the maddening crowds but perhaps some sympathetic soul will take pity on you and purchase you in my stead. If not, you will eventually make your way back to the shelf with your dryer sheet and stain remover brethren, respectively. Know this…you will be missed.
I have Harry in hand, my purse slung over my shoulder and I decide to go for it, I break into a FULL OUT RUN for the CS register. Surely no one will mess with 'Fat Lady Running'. Everyone is so mesmerized at what I can only describe as the hideous site of a truly bounce-a-licious housewife booking it to the front of the store, that they cannot move. As I fly at warp speed I realize I still have a pack of gum that I grabbed on my way in firmly in my hand, I unload this contraband onto the nearby Pepsi display and finish my sprint to the promise land. It's a heavenly site, red smocked lady and all. I hand the book over to the smock with a scanner (who is still a little dumbfounded at the events surrounding my arrival) and take a quick moment to look behind me. It feels like a thousand faces all staring at me, standing and staring. Not a single one of their registers is open yet, they have nothing to do but ponder Fat-Lady's surprising victory. Soon other quick-minded shoppers snap out of their bewilderment and race to get behind me, first of which is Bald-Guy from the previous line. Smart man. Chubby Kid is nowhere to be found, presumably eating our dust….
I wait for my debit card to process and sign for the receipt. It prints out and the time stamp says 12:05:39. I am the first one out the door with the new HP book.
Sometimes fat ladies do finish first.