So THAT'S Why They Call It Black Friday
November 28, 2011

So this is the tradition in our society? People spend some time with their families on Thursday, and then after dinner, go out and rip people's heads off in order to save a few bucks on video games?

Malls and box stores were filled with shoppers for “Black Friday”, hoping to find fantastic bargains to kick off the Christmas shopping season. The mad rush got its name because all of the early-bird shopping the day after Thanksgiving supposedly puts the stores “in the black.” The Black Friday tradition isn't new of course, but stores are opening earlier and earlier. Instead of opening at 6 or 7am, its now 4am or even midnight. In fact, Walmart advertised a 10pm Thursday night start.

That's where things went wrong in Porter Ranch (an affluent neighborhood near Northridge in Los Angeles). A woman, described later by a fire captain as doing some “competitive shopping”, fired pepper spray into the crowd, so she could get one of the X-Box video games. About 20 people, including some children, suffered minor injuries. The suspected woman has turned herself in, but has not yet been arrested. She could face battery charges.

Isolated incident? Not hardly. A San Leandro man was shot while in a parking lot after refusing to give up his items to a robber. He is reportedly in critical but stable condition. Other incidents include a stabbing in Sacramento (believed to be gang related), shots fired at a mall in North Carolina, and a store looted in the SoHo area of New York City. A Target shopper in West Virginia collapsed and was hardly noticed by the bargain-hunting mob. People just stepped over him. The man later died.

I've never experienced Black Friday in person, but that's just because I don't like shopping and I don't like crowds. Now I have other reasons for staying home. And what about all those workers who put in those weird hours? You don't think some of them got in car crashes on their way home?

Meanwhile, Black Friday sales set records. ShopperTrak reports buyers spent $11.4 billion dollars Friday, over a billion more than last year. The total figure and increase of about 7 percent are both new highs.

But shouldn't something be done? In 2008, reminiscent of the 1979 rock concert by The Who where 11 people were trampled to death, a stampede at a Long Island Walmart killed one employee and hospitalized a pregnant woman. Again, all in the name of saving a few bucks, and supposedly for Christmas gifts, too.

You can't tell a store owner when to open or close, but clearly, some Black Friday changes need to be made. Shoppers don't know how many bargain items are available ahead of time—maybe that could be changed. How about a wristband system, like they do for concert tickets or sporting events? An example: Wristbands with numbers on them are handed out all Thanksgiving week. Friday morning (midnight, 4am, whatever), the random number is drawn, and shoppers starting with that number are let in first. The pre-lottery gathering could even be a party with live music and prizes or something, although maybe that could get out of hand, too.

My cousin Mikenna Dudley, who has just returned from 20 months in New Zealand, Australia, and Malaysia, summed it up best with her one-sentence post on Facebook: “funny how the best example of Americana culture, Thanksgiving, is followed by the worst.”

At least Cyber Monday is safer.

Sports: Wow, what a surprise, the NBA owners and players reached a tentative deal Saturday morning, effectively saving the season and ending the lockout. The players agreed to a 50-50 split on basketball-related income and got to keep a flexible salary cap. An abbreviated 66-game season is now slated to get underway Christmas Day, but this was a deal both sides could have agreed to weeks ago. I was really to the point where I wouldn't have minded if the NBA had just shut down...Gee, I was so glad I was home on Saturday night this year so I could watch the UCLA-USC game. Not. 'SC led 29-0 at halftime and went on to win 50-0. Adios Mr. Neuheisel...The only reason the Pac-10 conference expanded to 12 teams was for ONE football game. Well, now you have it, the undeserving 6-6 division champion (yep, that's right) UCLA Bruins against Oregon with the winner going to the Rose Bowl. Don't miss all the excitement Friday night on Fox.

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