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Smell Coffee: Sorry, I'm new here

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Excuse me, ma'am," a lady said to me. "Where did you move the baby department?"

It was somewhere around daybreak and I was part of the nut mob shopping at the mall, except by that point, I was no longer shopping but rather waiting somewhat numbly for my daughter and her friends to make their way back to the place we'd agreed to meet. I'd already taken my things out to the car, so I was simply roaming around the ladies' section at Macy's, entertaining myself by hanging up clothes that had slipped off hangers.

So there I was, bagless, coatless and purseless, straightening clothes, while dressed nearly all in black. Just the same as the staff.

Since I knew where the baby department had been moved, I gave the woman directions. Even walked part of the way with her so I could better show her. I'd have gone farther, except I was shanghaied by another customer wanting to know where to get boxes. Since I'd asked the same question earlier myself, I simply parroted what I'd been told.

It quickly became one of those situations that I'm convinced only happens to me. I was hit with back-to-back-to-back questions from customers, every one of which I was able to answer or assist, even though I only occasionally shop at Macy's.

It wasn't until someone asked about a brand I knew nothing about that I realized the corner into which I had painted myself. Several of my previous customers, plus one still waiting, were lingering nearby and I didn't want them to overhear me admit that I didn't actually work there, but was merely a half-cracked customer impersonating a saleswoman on the busiest day of the year.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm new here. You'll have to ask that lady at the counter."

I was assisting two ladies wearing pajamas when my daughter and her group finally arrived. I mumbled something to the ladies about being off the clock.

But still helped carry their stuff to the nearest dressing room.

Maybe I've been lucky, but I've yet to see a single incidence of bad behavior during my forays on Black Friday. I suspect a big part of that is because we steer clear of Walmart and Toys "R" Us and stick instead to the mall and a few standalone department stores. But I think most of it is due to us being in West Virginia, where people, for the most part, simply don't behave that way.

Last Black Friday at the mall, I stood in line for somewhere close to an hour at Starbucks, which I never would've done any other day of the year, except that that time it was fun. By the time I'd reached the counter, I knew everyone around me. There was this festive yet foggy feel to it, with most everyone sleep-deprived to the point of stumbling and silliness.

On a couple different occasions, I witnessed people who were buying much allowing those buying just a little to get in front of them at checkout. I saw strangers sharing coupons, offering suggestions on where to find better deals, watched them open doors for each other and help carry strollers down stairs.

Every year I go out expecting that this time I'll see what the news channels in other states show, but so far, so good. Though I suspect that's going to change as retailers, in their greed to attract the most shoppers, continue this trend of stealing more from Thanksgiving Day. I'm afraid they're going to change the tenor of the middle-of-the-night fun with Black Friday as those chasing the deals will get lured away from their families to try and score the best buys the night before.

I wish they could've just let it be, with stores sharing the same Friday starting gate instead of nudging it earlier and earlier.

And not stopping until they've succeeded in making it no different from any other day of the year.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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