Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Spirit Of Christmas

*** Grab a Snickers, this is a long one.

I'm sleepy. But then again who wouldn't be sleepy, and achey, and cranky from staying up all night in a line outside a local Best Buy.

You see, I have been turned into one of those people. You know, those people you see on the local news. The zombie-like creatures standing outside the big glass doors of the department store slapping at them with hungry eyes, waiting for them to open so they can rush in, attack the clerks, eat their brains, and finally grab that one thing on sale that they so desperately need to live.

Yep, that's me now. And all because my middle son wanted one of the new X-Box 360s for Christmas.

If you have been paying any attention to the news lately you know that the 360 is the toy this year and, naturally, the evil that is Bill Gates didn't make enough to meet demand. The initial shipments of the game were sold out even before the original November 22nd release, and since then the only way to buy one was to pony up three to four times the $400 price on Ebay. If you walked into any electronics store and asked about them, you would be met with that pitiful laugh teenage clerks reserve for pathetic adults who should know better.

So because of this we told our son that he stood a good chance of getting a Santa IOU for Christmas. He was okay with that actually. He's a good kid and wasn't unreasonable about it at all. But even so, he kept surfing the Internet for intelligence on a second pre-Christmas release of the game. Day and night he peered into the flickering computer screen, chasing rumors of shipments much like NSA chases rumors of Moroccan-based terrorists calling florists in the United States.

So about a week ago he stumbled on intelligence about a second release of a limited number of 360s to Best Buy stores nationwide. He not only had the release date, December 18th, but knew exactly how many games would be shipped to each store. According to his sources, 24 games would be put on sale at 8:00 am at the Best Buy near us. Twenty-four. No more, no less. And if we wanted to get one we would need to be there early.

Now I admit I didn't really believe him. Most of his intel came from rumors on gaming web-site forums. But since this was Christmas and he had been so good about the impending Santa IOU, we decided we should at least make an attempt to secure one if it was possible.

Loving wife started the process over a week ago by doing some HUMINT (Human Intelligence) while shopping for other presents. She made friends with Best Buy clerks and assistant managers, culling small bits of information which she then relayed to an NSA computer for analysis. No doubt she obtained most of her information through bribery. Her chocolate-chip cookies are quite tempting, and when combined with a low-cut sweater few can keep secrets from her. I don't think she used torture, and even if she did I would deny it. But whatever she did worked because she found out that the store was indeed going to get at least 20 of the games and they would go on sale first thing Sunday morning, December 18, 2005.

It was good intel. From multiple sources. The WMD 360s were there and we made a decision to go in and get them.

Her sources told her the games would be available on a first-come, first-served basis. So after dinner on Saturday evening she and my son drove the 20 miles to the store to get in line. They took folding chairs, sleeping bags, snacks and drinks, and a tank full of gas so they could take turns getting warm in the van. I was to follow later in the night to relieve them, taking our youngest son for a modern-day "camping-trip" in the parking lot.

When they arrived there were already three people sitting in chairs near the entrance. So they set up their chairs behind them, got in their sleeping bags and settled in for the long night. Slowly but surely other people showed up and by the time I arrived, there were about 26 people in line along the side of the store. Everyone was sitting in chairs covered-up from the cold, talking and laughing. The mood was much like a pre-game tail-gate party without booze and chili.

The manager had spoken with the first people in line and recommended they start a list of the people as they arrived. She said she would use the list when the stored opened and she assured everyone it would be an orderly process. No mad Wal-Mart rushes. No crazed herd stampeding over kids and old people. It was a good plan and everyone seemed fine with it. Even the ones at the end of the line.

Of course, I was the cynic. I told loving wife I thought there would be trouble when the store opened in the morning. I had already heard some college-age boys mumbling that they were going to get one of the games no matter when they arrived, and I also knew there would be a lot of people showing up right as the store opened after they read the Best Buy circular in the Sunday paper.

It was peaceful now, but I knew how quickly things can change in the jungle.

Anyway, the night went pretty well. Loving wife sat bundled up in her chair holding our place in line and I ran errands, getting food and hot chocolate for us and several people in the line. Early in the evening the group was pretty active. Lots of conversation about families, Christmas and sports, especially football. But as the night moved into early morning people started getting tired and quiet, and like scared turtles most of them disappeared into their blankets and sleeping bags.

At this point imagine lots of muffled whispers, some loud snoring and a lot of shaking from the cold and you have a good description of the early morning hours.

The manager showed up at about 5:00 am and took the list. Things were looking up as she assured us that she would either hand out vouchers or let the people on the list in a few at a time to buy the games. I started feeling some hope. But that was short-lived because at about 6:00 am she came out and said that she had read the letter from her corporate office and she wasn't going to be able to give out vouchers or let the people who were in line get their games first. Basically she said that she was going to be forced to open the doors up and whoever got to the games first won.

This caused as stir as you can imagine, with those of us at the front of the line suddenly feeling betrayed and those at the end of the line moving forward to take advantage of the chaos. They moved up to the door, trying to get in front of the first ten or so, sensing panic in the herd. Naturally, we moved in to protect our territory and suddenly there was a big crowd pushing into the closed glass doors.

As I feared, in a matter of moments what had been a friendly atmosphere turned into one of anger, distrust and frustration.

Now most of the people tried to keep things civil. Even the ones who were trying to break in line didn't argue too much. Mostly they just held their ground, keeping quiet while those of us who had been near the front of the line advised everyone to take it easy and do what we had originally planned which was to follow the order of the list.

But the first few of us in line realized that things were going to get out of hand so I suggested we call the local police department to have an officer respond to keep control. Someone did and about 20 minutes later not one, but three officers drove up to see what all the ruckus was about.

I walked over and talked to them, explaining the situation and warning them that they might have a mini-riot on their hands if they didn't do something. They didn't seem happy about it, mostly because no one had broken a law and they didn't really have any authority to do anything, but also because shift change was coming up. But they went inside and talked to the Best Buy folks, who read and re-read some letter on company letterhead and made phone calls to what we found out later was their corporate office.

So we waited. And to tell the truth I thought we were going to have to fight for the stupid games. I figured the officers would not be able to do anything to enforce the "list" and that the best we could hope for was for them to try to keep order so no one would get hurt. (I wasn't worried about loving wife; she could handle herself. I was worried about whoever tried to take one from her, because they would end up in the hospital and I would be bailing her out of jail.)

But I have to say I was pleasantly surprised when one of the officers came out and said, "I don't care what Best Buy says, we are going to go by this list."

What a guy.

He told everyone that he had decided to go by the list in the interest of public safety and that if anyone caused any problems he would have no hesitation in arresting them for Breach of Peace.

Again, what a guy.

So he gave the list to the first guy in line and told him to call out the names. And as he did, everyone got back into the original line. Since there were only 20 games, everyone past that mark were simply out of luck, but as badly as I felt for them, there wasn't much I could do. You have to get up pretty early to beat loving wife to a bargain, believe me.

Now, there was some mumbling and a lot of dirty looks, but the presence of the three officers kept anyone from getting too vocal, and most of those who were not in "The Twenty" left. A few hung around in the small hope that there might be more than twenty games, and I can't say I blame them. If I had been out there that long I would have too.

The mood lightened and all was good with the world again. The next hour went by pretty quickly and even though new people started arriving they went to the back of the line and waited their turn. Whether they weren't told there were only 20 games or they didn't believe it, I don't know. And I didn't care. All I know is loving wife was fourth in line and we were getting one of the things.

So at 8:00 am the manager came out with an officer and they let in people two at a time, and in a few minutes loving wife emerged with her trophy. The crowd cheered as they did for the first three people, and I escorted her to the van all the while scanning the parking lot for X-Box bandits.

But we made it safely and drove off home with smiles on our faces and Christmas in our hearts.

And I am not being sarcastic when I say that. Yes, I know Christmas is about much more than buying stuff. Or at least it should be.

But when you think about it, this was very much more than that. We met a lot of nice people last night. We talked about kids and families and sports and I had a long conversation with a soldier who is shipping out to Iraq on Monday. His unit is already there, but he was allowed to stay back for a couple of weeks so he could be home for the birth of his first son. He was in line to get one of the games so he could take it with him for the guys to use during down-time there.

And he got one because in the end good triumphed over evil. The evil of Bill Gates and line-breakers. And to me that is very much in the spirit of Christmas.

*** Welcome Moderate Voice readers. My blog is quite conservative, but even if that is not to your liking, feel free to look around a bit. You still might find something interesting, including my many Brunettes of the Week. And regardless of your politics, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a Happy New Year. Oh, and thanks, Joe, a very special Holiday Greeting to you and yours.