The Great Toys ‘R Us Traffic Jam of Twenty-Ten


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This might be an unreasonable question, but I still have to ask it: Is it really necessary to buy your kid a Sing-A-Ma-Jig before the glazed ham has even cleared your colon?

by Scott Daniel // November 29, 2010

Black Friday LineTraffic crept at a snail’s pace for more than a half-hour on the West Baltimore Pike late Thursday evening. We left a family friend’s home in Kennet Square, Pennsylvania, at around 8 p.m. after a plentiful Thanksgiving bounty. The trek back home to the other side of the Philadelphia suburbs was long enough by virtue of distance alone. The sluggishness occasioned by the unexpected congestion threatened to keep us on the road until Black Friday.

Surprise bottlenecks like this one often give rise to speculation that ahead lies a gruesome car accident or a set of orange vests and traffic cones. That was certainly my theory. After twenty agonizing minutes trapped in the stock-still Cherokee, slowly, but surely, the gait of the autos ahead hastened. Fifty yards later, we cocked our heads to the right to catch a glimpse of the nuisance fluorescing in the distance. The glowing letters affixed atop the God-forsaken Toys ‘R Us cast the luster of mid-day upon objects below. A throng of vehicles, driven by people we can only assume are physically adults, poured into the parking lot to join scores of others queued single-file in the relentless cold.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Mom whispered in dumbstruck awe.

I was right. It was Thursday, and we were still on the road for the early arrival of Black Friday.

Black Friday, of course, is the demotic term for the day after Thanksgiving, in which Americans go bat-shit crazy in droves getting a head start on their holiday shopping. The origin of the term is fairly ironic, given the above anecdote: it was first used to describe the nightmarish traffic that once tied up the streets of Philadelphia post-Turkey Day.

We appear to have both come full circle and expanded from the car culture to the cult of conspicuous consumption. That last sentence was way too alliterative. It demands explication.

“Conspicuous consumption” was the operative term of Norwegian-American smart person Thorstein Veblen in his classic 1899 socio-economic commentary, The Theory of the Leisure Class. Therein, Veblen described the chief economic contribution of the Gilded Age wealthy as “waste” generated by their shameless purchase of widgets and doohickeys. They had; therefore, they spent. The rapid emergence of department stores in that period only augmented the worship of things.

Criminy, who can resist that Wanamaker’s two-for-one sale on Bilbo Catchers?

Over a century later, America has fallen victim to trickle-down materialism. The open obeisance of objects as life’s source of joy transcends race, religion and income level. Even those of us who are technically poor by most measures succumb to the allure of stuff. Hence, the explosion of exploitative credit lending to have-nots in the form of high-interest credit cards and subprime mortgages.

It’s the same rationale behind opening Toys ‘R’ Us late on Thanksgiving night. We’re impatient. We want it all. We want it now.

Black Friday LinesUnless a 3-D Virgin Mary appeared on a Samsung flatscreen, there is literally no excuse for this.

I by no means suggest that buying the stuff we want is somehow bad or wrong. I curse myself daily for breaking my childhood vow to forever remain a Toys ‘R’ Us kid. What I do suggest is wrong-headed is the puerile notion that we absolutely must have the thing we want before the unwashed hordes take it from us. It’s really a slippery slope from there. Hell, the global acquisitive spirit has magnified to the point that a Spanish woman recently claimed ownership of the sun – lest another woman assert ownership and steal her tan. Possession, my friend, is nine-tenths of mental illness.

It’s this Black Friday attitude that causes gun threats, thefts and stampedes in the name of Christmas and other festive days. Even worse, it’s that attitude that provided the unfortunate inspiration for the worst Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ever made.

So let me use my time machine to send a clear message to those of you who are in line, in the cold, at the Toys ‘R’ Us at 1154 West Baltimore Pike in Media, Pennsylvania, in the hours before 9 p.m. on Thursday, November 25, 2010. Whatever it is you need to put under the tree for your child will still be available for purchase for an entire month. If it isn’t, then it’s likely a fad toy that your kid would sadistically destroy, anyway. God knows we don’t need any more Furbies overpopulating the planet.

Plus, look at the bright side. By failing to get your son exactly the thing he wants, you’d be teaching him a valuable lesson: You can’t always get what you want. Now stop clogging up traffic and go slice your kid some pie.

Photo credits: Gear Diary, Savvy Savings Tucson.

Cave into the mob mentality and read these stories on Black Friday…


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  1. #1 by Will Hull, MPA on November 29, 2010 - 5:54 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I also wrote about “Black Friday” before here and here. I know 2007 was a long time ago, but my feelings on “buy nothing” day still stand and for good reason. It is only getting worse by the year. Now, “Black Friday” deals are starting to appear several weeks before Thanksgiving. I am perturbed as much as you are.

    • #2 by Scott Daniel on November 29, 2010 - 6:27 pm

      Agreed, Will. It is a travesty, a sham and a mockery. It’s a traveshamockery.

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