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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Black Friday Survival Guide

My first year in Chicago, I happened to see an advertisement for Midnight Madness at the Chicago Premium Outlets. So, on Thursday night at midnight, the stores were opening their doors for extra special deals and steals.

This being my first Thanksgiving 2300 miles from home and without being at a Country Buffet with my hoop teammates, I thought this would be a fun adventure. I mentioned my plan to my friend, Hope, who offered to chauffeur and take part. Still being in the Utah/Idaho mindset, I envisioned a couple hundred crazy people out and about in the wee hours.

Hope and I took off at about 11 pm and headed to Aurora. About ten miles out, there was this incredible traffic back-up. The Ronald Reagan was a parking lot. We thought there must have been some kind of horrific accident. Then we came upon a flashing sign saying, “OUTLET MALL PARKING LOT FULL. FOLLOW ALTERNATE ROUTE.” This was serious. Thousands were out for midnight madness – I had found my people.

As a side-note, this would become a theme for Hope and me. We seemed to think these national events were just for us and no one else was invited. For instance, we attended the Taste of Chicago on the Fourth of July completely unprepared for the crowd of 1,000,000. I’m not exaggerating; one million was the official count. Smashed in a Metra train trying to get home, Hope grabbed me by the arm and said, “NEVER AGAIN, don’t even ask me.” But that’s another blog post, for another time.

I’ve come a long way since my first all-night shopping excursion. I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned:

1. Leave EARLY, stay late. Hope and I tried leaving at 11 pm and spent around 3 hours and 45 minutes in traffic. Laurel and I headed out at 10:30 pm and still faced 3 hours of traffic. This year I started out at 9:45 pm and was parked by 11:45 pm. With the one lane traffic, two hours is as good as it gets.

The longer you can brave the cold and stay, the better the crowds disperse. The weak will fold pretty early and head back to their cars. I like to heckle them as they depart.

2. For whom the bell TOLLS!

There will be tolls to pay. There will not be an attendant so correct change is crucial. Hope and I overlooked the tolls in year one. We literally had to pay in pennies anywhere we could find them – under car seats, stashed in ash trays, buried in the bottom of purses. Let me just tell you, everyone LOVES the girls counting out sixty pennies to pay the toll. Cars were even honking their horns cheering us on.

Now, I’m prepared, or as Laurel says, suffering from oldest-child-syndrome. I know it takes two sixty cent tolls to get there and two more to get home. I have four ziplock bags each prepared with sixty cents. I could just get an I-Pass, but that is also another blog post for another time.

3. What NOT to wear.
It is no secret that I’m neurotic. One of my psychosomatic symptoms has to do with my girl clothes and MAC make-up. Midnight Madness is not pretty, so you shouldn’t try to be. My first couple excursions, I tried to be presentable. I wore my Calvin Klein leopard print faux fur and my Audrey Hepburn ballet flats. However, this is not the one night of the year I tell the Stacey and Clinton voices in my head to go to Hell.

Dress comfortable, layer up, and above all else, wear the most depressing, sensible shoes you own. Here is why:

A. You are most likely going to have to park in a random field and hike to the stores. It’s not uncommon to have to cross a ravine.

B. No matter what kind of Indian Summer has been occurring, this will be the night it drops to 18 degrees.

C. You will need to be warm waiting in the lines outside and want to strip layers off waiting in the cashier lines on the inside.

D. People will push and grab, they don’t care if your scarf is Donna Karan chiffon and fragile.

E. You’ll never see so much Old Navy fleece in one place. If you can’t beat them, you might as well join them.

4. DE-Hydration is key!
The only thing worse than the register lines are the lines to the bathroom – and that includes all the disgruntled men forced to attend the madness. So, think twice before that second glass of sparkling cider at Thanksgiving dinner. I allow myself one sugar-free, 8 oz. Red Bull right when I park to insure a second wind. But, trust me; no matter how cold it is, step away from the Starbucks. Plus, even if you brave the bathroom line, do you really want to see the state of a public restroom after a thousand-plus consecutive uses?

5. Good things come to those who WAIT. Okay, there are going to be lines. It’s beyond your control, like the fog at O’Hare. So, just put on your i-pod and people watch. In fact, next year I want to organize a flash mob. It’s the perfect setting for a little dance therapy to kill some time.

It’s also just best to accept the fact that you aren’t getting into the COACH store. It’s like Studio 54 – just accept your fate and move on to an inferior brand. The line is always multiple miles long just to get in to the shoebox sized store.

However, most of the time, the wait is worth it. I got AMAZING deals at Kenneth Cole, Michael Kors, The Cosmetic Company, and Ralph Lauren. I’d go into detail but I don’t want to spoil Christmas.

As another side-note – To all my Lady T-Birds out there, remember the free Vera Bradley bags we got at the basketball tourney in Fort Wayne? I wish I would have kept mine to sell to the people waiting in the insane line to get into her store.

6. Texting at 2 am is not LOL.
Shopping is a drug. And when you are scoring these kinds of deals, you want to tell your homies all about it. It’s got a drunk dialing effect. Just remember that most of your entourage is in a food coma and does not care about the designer military sweater coach you scored for $40. It is fabulous though.

7. Take a power nap and PUSH through.
I made it home from the madness at 3:30 am and was in bed by four. But I forced myself out of bed at 7:30 am and went back into the mob to check out some of the more mainstream deals. It is best to take a short nap and push through with the rest of your day. This keeps your sleep pattern somewhat intact. If you sleep all day, you’ll waste the long weekend trying to get your sleep pattern regulated. No one wants to feel jetlagged on Monday from a short trip to Aurora.

8. Last but not LEAST.
And finally, it is no surprise that I’ll leave you with my five favorite words: