The sun rose reluctantly, carefully stretching its wan rays of light through the misty morning fog air to rest on the huddled forms on the sidewalk. One of them stirred, a tousled head emerging with a yawn. “Is it time yet? Are they here?”
Next to him his comrades slowly struggled to their feet, swaying slightly. They were bundled in coats, knit hats, and blankets against the chill but their steely eyes blazed with resolute purpose. There was a palpable feel of intense anticipation; these people had a mission and they were determined to see it through, no matter the cost. For hours they had waited in hardship, with hours more to come, and still there was no sign of wavering or weakness. I was one of them, holding silent vigil in the December morning, and my goal was as clear as the paper sign taped to the wall: “Nintendo Wii Line Starts Here.”
I was one of the greenest, having arrived at a measely 6 a.m., only two hours before the stated sell time. Hard-bitten veterans near the front of the line had been bivouaced for days, with their base camps of sleeping bags and massive Thermos mugs established on the Wal-Mart sidewalk. They talked among themselves in spirited terms as they shared donuts and power bars, laughing and confident of their success.
Inhabitants of the middle of the line were more nervous, uncertain of their future. They knew, instinctively, that not all of them would make it, and so they were hesitant to make any attachments that would make backstabbing awkward later. They jogged for position and watched each other carefully.
Out towards the end of the line were the resigned and the hopeful. There wasn’t much chance that Wal-Mart would get in enough of the maddeningly elusive new game system for everyone to buy, but they lined up anyway. You never know, you just never know… Line position out here was less guarded, more flexible. Your place could be held for you if you needed a bathroom run.
I was stationed somewhere at the end of the middle. In front of me was a man with eight earrings and a Vikings ballcap who stood silently, moving from foot to foot to ease the wait. A nervous couple from DeBary were in front of him, muttering to themselves and looking around every few seconds in case Wiis began falling out of the sky. Behind me was an energetic brunette who kept leaving the line to go count heads and try to predict her odds. She’d been through this before; many of us had been. The veterans traded grizzled experience about shipments and truck movements.
“Sunday’s the best day for Target but you have to be waiting when they open.”
“Best Buy tells you in the ads when they get theirs.”
“The Wal-Mart in DeLand only got three, but the one in Ormond got 24.”
And the war stories. Nearly every person near me has been this close to getting a Wii at another store, but they were always just a little too late. She was #29 when they got in 28. He missed out on the 18 boxes by being #20. And so on. And everyone knew someone who had just walked in and bought one, the lucky swine. We hated those alleged people bitterly.
Some may ask why we go to the trouble. All I can answer is: you must not have kids. When Christmas comes along it is hard-coded into your child’s DNA to immediate and uncontrollably want something that’s impossible to find. Cabbage Patch dolls, Princess Leia, April Summers, Tickle-Me-Elmo, Furbies, White Tiger Zwords, Xbox 360s, and now Nintendo Wiis, all released in limited quantities to help speed up natural selection in parents until the only ones left are the strongest and the fastest. Turning our backs against the wind (with the guy without a jacket on the inside, for warmth) we all agreed that at least our kids hadn’t asked for a Playstation 3, which is even tougher to find and can only be acquired through assassination. Sure, it’s possible that Nintendo will come through on their promise to have plenty in the stores by the holiday, but where’s the sense of accomplishment in that? When we get these bad boys we’ll have earned them, giving us major guilt mojo over our offspring for weeks, at least.
We bonded that morning, these very different people and I. Even though we came from all walks of life we still drew together as a single unit whenever anyone new tried to cut into the line. There was laughter and shared experiences and personal sacrifice. I knew that whenever I pass one of these people in the mall from now on we’ll nod to each other and smile a smile that our family and friends can never understand. Sorry, but you weren’t there.
At last the long hours of patient, self-imposed torture were acknowledged when a Wal-Mart manager appeared to general cheers, and we moved in perfect unison to get our goal. Finally I let myself feel the pain, the better to appreciate my hard-earned reward.
Wal-Mart got in 32 Nintendo Wiis that morning. I was #33.