By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 9:28 PM
The white glow of the parking lot lights didn't make the frigid morning any warmer. Some of us faux-jogged in place, waiting for the store to open, smiling at one another as we acknowledged the craziness of our situation.
At last, a clerk unlocked the doors, and we streamed in.
Mountains of yams - 39 cents a pound!
Towers upon towers of canned pumpkin - 99 cents a can!
Flour - a buck a bag!
Temporary insanity is included with each cranberry purchase.
This was not a typical Black Friday shopping tableau. It was something far more desperate.
Welcome to Working Woman Wednesday, the prelude to the holiday marathon that leaves so many of us overwhelmed.
On the day before Thanksgiving, we wanted to beat the crowds, make sure we got sweet potatoes before they sold out and buy a bird that we could somehow jam into our fridges for a day.
Just about every shopper I talked to who came to the GlenardenWegman's in the pre-dawn darkness was in the same situation, racing to buy food before heading to the office to finish a week's worth of work in three days' time.
We were exhausted before it was even time to cook.
And most of us wanted absolutely nothing to do with the most horrifying of American traditions (besides the insistence that pop stars should be turned into dolls): Black Friday.
For decades, ever since marketers figured out they could whip consumers into a shopping frenzy, Black Friday has been the day to head to stores and start Christmas shopping. But not Tony Santos. I met him in line at Wegman's, doing the Working Man Wednesday (you rock!) grocery run. He said it was about all the shopping he'll do this week.
"Black Friday? I sit there. I protest it. I won't go," he told me.
"I hate it," he added, just in case I had any doubt.
"No way," said Frances Thomas, who was at the grocery store at 6 a.m. Wednesday but said she will be sleeping and eating Friday morning, thank you very much.
"I tried it once, about five years ago. I'll never go again," she said, loading coconut cakes onto the conveyer belt and checking her watch every five minutes, afraid she'd be late to work.
The time she tried to get a door-buster deal, Thomas got up at 2:30 a.m., stood in a line that wrapped around the store, and, after waiting for hours, got inside to see that the television she had wanted to buy was sold out.
But isn't Black Friday supposed to be a fun chick thing? The ladies bonding, drinking hot chocolate, having a little shopping adventure together? Didn't Thomas see the beauty in that?
"Friday should be a national day of more eating," she said. "And sleeping."
I couldn't agree more.
To me, the whole Black Friday scenario sounds more like this: After you've cooked an enormous feast for the whole family, why don't you drag your exhausted body out of bed at 2 a.m. (the one that was in the grocery store at 5 a.m. Wednesday), prepare to wage battle against other equally sleep-deprived shoppers and see whether you can save some money on a flatscreen TV, K?
I don't get it.
Is any amount of savings worth it? Do the folks who'd pitched tents in line last week really need a 3-D television that badly?
Enid Watkins explained to me that for her, Black Friday is sport. She's a pro at this. She not only shops at Wegman's at 5 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving, but she is also in that midnight-on-Black-Friday crowd.
"When do you come back?" I asked her.
"Umm, I go in and out. I have to go home to unload; that's usually about 1 or 2 a.m. Then I head back to other stores, then unload again about 3 or 4 a.m.," she said.
I asked her whether it's worth it.
"Oh, I love this story. One year, I got a 42-inch television for $300," she said, spreading her hands as though showing me a trophy displayed on her wall.
I wonder whether she has time to watch it.
See, when the sport was in its early days, a couple decades ago, the stores used to get a little crazy and open at 6 a.m.
Then 4 a.m.
The shopolympics became so intense that a Wal-Mart employee was fatally trampled in Long Island in 2008 by Black Friday crowds of about 2,000 stampeding toward door-buster deals at 5 a.m.
Now, in an effort to both eliminate this kind of frenzy (they allege) and get those cash registers ringing even earlier (they acknowledge), big chain stores are opening even earlier.
Kohl's is doing it at 3 a.m.
The entire Potomac Mills shopping center is opening at midnight.
Topping it all off, Sears began Black Friday deals on Halloween weekend.
That is so wrong.
Thanksgiving is the purest of American holidays: food, family and friends, period. Spiritually - we simply give thanks.
There are no carols to sing, no Thanksgiving plays or concerts to get tickets for, no Thanksgiving displays to take the kids to and no Thanksgiving presents to have to buy for everyone.
It once was a sacred day of rest and food, with stores and schools closed.
And now, Black Friday has seeped into it.
To heck with National Opt Out Day , in protest of airport body scanners.
How about opting out of Black Friday?
We can come up with a better tradition. I like Frances Thomas's idea of National Eating and Sleeping Day.
Her husband suggested it be come Cultural History Day.
A retiree out shopping in the morning said the day is already decided for him: "It's football day, sweetheart," he said.
I'd settle for National Leftover Day.
Anything, as long as I don't have to go to a store.
E-mail me your idea for a tradition to replace Black Friday.