I thought I was going to stay away from temptation this Black Friday, but like a drug addict drawn to the red-light district, I found myself wandering over to the local mall as if by accident. Okay, I’m lying. In actual fact, the whole shopping thing was pretty well rehearsed. My mother had cut out the Macy’s coupons from the paper, and we knew exactly where we were headed, even though we didn’t have to vocalize it to each other. There are unspoken signals which seasoned shoppers can communicate, and I know this language well; an anthropologist should really study this one day. The point of this nonverbal communication is that it makes you feel less guilty about what you are going to do, which is to spend money.
As someone who has spent more than my fair share of time at the mall, I thought there were no surprises left. But things have changed considerably in the 15 years since I left the United States. Since this is one of the biggest shopping days of the year – if not the biggest – the mall was crammed full of people looking for bargains. So far so predictable. The real surprise was the method people were using to cart around their precious finds. I guess shopping bags are now passe. The new way to get around is on wheels.
Of course I’ve seen shopping carts (shopping trolleys for my British friends) at the local supermarket – and I’m well acquainted with them. And I’ve even seen them inside malls, because some have huge Walmart’s, like the one we were in today. But in my 30-something years of shopping at department stores, I’d not seen a shopping cart inside Macy’s – until today. These Black Friday shoppers had abandoned any sense of decorum and were brazenly walking around all the shops inside the Parkway Westfield mall, such as Macy’s, the Express, JCPenney’s, et al, with Walmart shopping carts loaded full of televisions, toys, clothes and even toilet paper. It was, to put it mildly, surreal.
The entire mall was one huge parking lot for these trolleys, which were absolutely everywhere. I even saw a baby sleeping inside a Walmart cart, where his parents had very thoughtfully placed a blanket so that he wouldn’t be punctured by the metal bars. Another parent had decided to put their huge baby seat inside, with the infant too. Arranged around the child were their purchases.
I’m not entirely sure why Walmart allows people to just walk off with these carts. I suppose they can’t control where they go. But why would a department store like Macy’s allow people to wander freely through their overcrowded aisles with these huge shopping carts? I’d ban them. It did make for an amusing afternoon, though. The people who won’t be amused are the poor Walmart employees who will have to locate all these AWOL shopping carts all over the mall in the wee hours of the night.