A cloud of huffing fog emanated from the breath of shivering humanity, shining in the neon lights of the dark parking lot. The air was cold and crisp, with the sharp scent of snow stinging the nostrils of all those that dared to deeply inhale the night chill. The parking lot itself gave the impression of a snow globe, the bright lights washing out the stars and covering the sky in a murky haze that put a claustrophobic ceiling above the huddled masses.
The shoppers had been there for hours to buy some new things, having just eaten a meal that signified all of the things they were thankful for. The wind was unforgiving, coming straight down the parking lot and cutting through the clothes in all of the gaps. Rich people with money playing homeless for a night, but just half a night, because in a few hours they were going to splurge their wallets with reckless abandon. They crowded up against the wall of the store, bundled up in their winter gear as they waited for the blackest of night, when Black Friday truly began.
The crowd, with one mind, started chanting down a countdown from 20, as various models of last year’s cell phone verified that midnight was within reach. Excitement stirred up the masses as they prepared themselves for the American version of the Running Of The Bulls. What had been a collective of social solidarity huddled outside for warmth was going to turn into a capitalistic nightmare at the end of this countdown. The stampede was ready; it just needed someone to open the gate.
When the countdown reached five, some unsuspecting cashier opened the door, just barely jumping out of the way to save her own life. The first in line were sprinting, sprinting, to get to the most coveted of deals. The race to the riot was on, but in this store things were slightly different.
The Heifer Project International (HPI) had finally opened up its first large box store to compete with other large box stores like Wal-Mart or Best Buy. Customers could go in and buy miniatures of animals, farm equipment, water filters, and many other boons for the developing world and those that struggle to survive in it. These miniatures could be turned in for the real thing, which would be sent to a family in need in some third-world developing country. This year they decided to partake in the madness that is Black Friday. They were a new store. They weren’t ready for the swarms of people that had arrived, wallets in hand.
The first display to be demolished was the heifer stand. What took a minimum wage warehouse worker and two volunteers 2 hours to set up in a glorious display was torn apart in seconds. The display was a sprawling mass, arms writhing about to grab, lift, pull, and even steal any box that had a picture of a cow on it. These cows were 20% off, after all, and those savings were worth the shivering, sweat, tears, and blood. The last few boxes were pulled in various directions by an unrelenting tug of war.
The shouting match had begun.
“Let go! I need this for a noble Peruvian soul who is trying to start his own farm from nothing!”
“No way! This heifer is going to a recently orphaned teenage boy in Chad that is raising his sisters!”
“I’ve got a girl on my list, who needs a cow to restart her farm in Ecuador. Give it to me!”
Shoppers were now fighting each other at the heifer display, and the chaos spread throughout the store. The water buffalo stand was hit next with a fury of ravenous commercial hysteria. One man climbed from behind the display, falling over once he grabbed a water buffalo figure someone else had their hands on. He fell into the current and was never seen again.
The mob was not contained to just that. The rabbit isle was cleaned out in 4 passes by one man with a shopping cart and a mission. He simply stuck his arm out and ran forward, fashioning a make-shift snowplow that dumped every last rabbit avatar into his cart. He was the first to sprint to the check-out desk, but not without losses. As he pushed through the ever-expanding cluster of humanity coming through the doors, people reached into his cart to steal a rabbit or two. He made it to the check-out counter with half of the two thousand rabbits he had started out with. The clerk started to scan them as quickly as she could. “Got a thing for rabbits?”
The man just smiled at her with the radiance of unrestrained competitive generosity. “I’ve got enough rabbits for all 100 families in need on my list. I’ve been saving up since September to make them happy.”
The cashiers hadn’t been hit yet, but they would be. The shoppers were still pouring into the store and fighting each other. In the “Women’s Empowerment” section of the store (yes, HPI has a Women’s Empowerment section, your local Wal-Mart doesn’t?), a group of third wave feminists were having a shouting match with a group of first wave feminists over which was more helpful: sending girls to school or launching small businesses. The second wave feminists had all grouped their money together for a gift of reconstructing an economic structure in Rajasthan, India, and they were on their way to check-out, forming a human wedge to protect the carrier of their purchase.
Engineers, plumbers, and other blue-collar construction workers were the best organized, distributing the various water wells, irrigation pumps, and water purifying stoves between them. With less money to spend than some of the other shoppers, these guys and gals weren’t able to wipe out their section of the store as quickly, they just wanted to hang around and see other folks with the same priorities. Each purchase of a water system for them was a victory for each of them, unlike the bedlam of the sustainable farming section which was overwhelmed with environmentalists, vegans, and vegetarians attempting a coup over the faculty of HPI. A loud thud trumpeted their victory as an entire shelving unit was pushed over, sending more figurines on the higher shelves sprawling on the floor. A carpet of people hit their knees to grab the various plastic figures of crops, fruit trees, and garden baskets.
The store was bankrupt of inventory in 45 minutes. Shoppers late to the brawl waited near the warehouse entrance, where the stockpilers would come out with a cart full of new figurines from the back. They never made it further than 10 feet into the store before they were ambushed. The warehouse workers took to the new strategy of loading up a cart and just pushing it out into the store, chumming the waters for the shoppers.
The checkout tables were an uproarious ruckus. It was 1 in the morning, and HPI had not anticipated the crowds for today. Swiping the purchases as quickly as they could was not quick enough. The lines grew restless. Some took to calling out for gifts from their neighbors.
“Anyone got a beehive? I’ve an elderly couple in Guatemala that can’t do the hard labor for the veggies or live stock.”
“I’ve got seven girls on my list, and I want an education for all of them! Anyone got any leftover educations?”
“I got an entire village set with gardens, educations, and live stocks. I need an irrigation system to complete the set!”
The closer the crowds got to the cashiers the more obnoxious they got, each yelling for the cashiers to hurry.
“I need to go to the HPI store in the next city over! I didn’t get all the geese I wanted!”
“When do you restock? I’m not leaving until hunger is solved or my bank account runs dry!”
“Do you have an online catalog? I wanted to help five hundred families, and I only got three hundred varieties of plants before you ran out!”
“Are you sure there aren’t any more educations to hand out? Can someone check the back?”
The cashiers went as quickly as they could. Money was being literally thrown at them; they were not able to keep up. Tills were being run to the office, overflowing with cash. Credit card machines were going down as they couldn’t take the violent swipes from the throng of people. Checks were pulled out next. Sometimes people further back in line would throw money at the cashier just to clear out the person in front of them so they could make their own purchase. To further facilitate the chaos, the crowd started chanting “No change! No change! No change!” Even when the cashiers tried to shove money into the hands of their customers, the customers wouldn’t take it. “No Change!” they yelled, and ran off into night, dumping their figurines in a recycling bin, finally ready for Christmas to begin.