Ok, this is probably as close to self-sacrificing as I get.  I went shopping and hung lights on my house.  Hey, give me a minute… it’s scarrier than it sounds.

First, the shopping.  Every year, my wife and her siblings go in on a big gift for their mom.  This year, it is a big, flat screen tv.  Generally, people give what they can afford.  My wife and I signed up to pick out the tv based on biggest bang for the buck.  After a couple of weeks, we weren’t real happy with the prices vs size.  She wanted something bigger than 37″ and we knew we’d be restricted to the neighborhood of $7-800 (and we’d need a tv stand).  It wasn’t very hopeful, but my wife and I had talked and would make up any difference to get her the size she wanted.

Then, Thanksgiving hit and all of the Black Friday fliers.  Walmart had a 42″ 1080p LCD for $598.  Sure, she would have been happy with a 720p, but they were actually more expensive than this deal.  I don’t know what got into me… maybe it was the high from my awesome cranberry sauce or just the desire to do something for a woman who loves my kids so much… I don’t know… but before I knew it, I volunteered (Yes… I said volunteered… no one asked, hinted or kicked me) to go to Walmart on Black Friday.  The sale started at 5AM, but I knew I had to get there earlier.  On the way home, we stopped at the local 24hr Walmart to make sure they would have that one in stock (the ad said not all stores would have it) and how they dealt with people coming in.  The girl in electronics said they definitely had them and that they gave out no numbers, organized no lines.  Sometime around midnight they would move the merchandise into the aisles on pallets and it was first come first serve at 5AM.  Doing the math and discussing with the wife, I decided to get up and be there at 3AM.  

After 2 1/2 hours sleep, I was showered and driving to Walmart.  The people lined up around the BestBuy freaked me out a bit.  Honestly, I didn’t see anything worth going to BestBuy for, but these folks were really into it.  The Walmart parkinglot was about 1/4 full, so I parked up close and headed in (gotta love the 24hr stores).  I found the TV pallet right away.  There were a handful of people clustered around the 42 incher.  

“So, is there a line or anything for the TV?” I asked confused.

“No,” the ring leader answered.  “There are 15 tv’s and you are number 8.”

I smiled in relief and they welcomed me into the crowd.  The ring leader was in his early 30’s, clean cut and did sales for an online company.  There was a young couple, two older women (sisters, cousins or just close friends) and three young guys who worked at Walmart as stock boys.  The ring leader had been there since midnight.  I clicked play on my ipod and started listening to my book.

Around 4AM, a woman arrived and started rolling her eyes and making comments about the people who were so desperate to come out so early for a tv.  She ended eating crow when she realized she had to talk to us to get into the “inner circle”.  

Time passed and more people showed up.  As each newcomer arrived, they were given the latest tally and their pecking order.  At 4:30, we assigned specific TVs to each of ourselves, tightened the circle around the pallet and tensed up.  Every 5 minutes, the manager would announce over the speakers that all of the sale items in the aisles were not on sale until 5AM.  If anyone attempted to pick an item up, they would be escorted from the store.  At 4:45, workers cut the plastic from the pallets and we each put our hands into the box handles on our respective tv’s.  There was a slight panic at 10 til 5 when two guys on the other side of the pallet realized they were both claiming the same box, but they worked it out.  All TVs were claimed and by 4:55, we had worked out the logistics of how each of us would be moving our TV off the pile, while direction we’d be heading away from the madhouse of the aisle, etc.  A few people tried to wedge their way in, but we formed a united front.  5AM arrived, the announcement went out and we all moved in a very deliberate, organized way.  It was actually pretty slick.  I dragged my TV through the Young Miss cloths section and was away safely.  A young employee startled me when he came up behind me and asked if he could help me with the tv.  He quickly found a cart for me and I was off to the checkout lanes.  Within 20 minutes, it was loaded in my truck.  

With that accomplished, I headed back in, bought Kungfu Panda, a special 2-disk Iron Man and the latest Indiana Jones DVDs for my kids ($9/movie).  

It was 6AM and I was feeling cocky.  My wife mentioned an electric blanket at JC Penney’s, so I hopped over the interstate and hit the mall.  I was in and out of there in 15 minutes with the blanket (and 2 sweaters for me).  I then stopped at a Staples on the way home and picked up an external WD 680g harddrive for $69.  

It didn’t feel like a life threatening experience until I saw later in the day how people were being crushed and shot at Walmarts around the country.

I’ll post later about my adventures hanging Christmas lights on my house.  The thrills…