TURKEY? YOU BET! SHOPPING? NOPE!

My family has a tradition on the day after Thanksgiving. We go shopping. At the mall. We are, therefore, insane.

We have been insane for a long time. Ever since I can remember. We celebrate Thanksgiving on roughly the same scale as the Million Man March. Every cousin within airport distance is expected to fly in. Oceans are not considered barriers.

Over the years, relatives have come from Spain, England, the Netherlands and Italy. No one applauds. It is expected.

So is our customary trip to the mall on Friday. The practice began years ago, when our family gathered for Thanksgiving at a farm in Pennsylvania. In those days, the mall was actually an exciting option. Let’s face it. You can only look at pinecones for so long.

When my home in Detroit became Turkey Central, the mall thing, admittedly, lost a little luster. Still, tradition is tradition.

So we go. We shop. We don’t really buy anything. It’s more like throwing ourselves into the mosh pit. Getting dirty with the crowd. The Friday after Thanksgiving, after all, used to be the busiest Christmas shopping day of the year. (It is now, I am told, a Saturday in late December, proving that election results aren’t the only thing Americans are slow in completing.)

Anyhow, that was the attraction. To be where the action was. To feel the rush of consumer frenzy. To see middle-aged men hauling luggage racks, train sets, cashmere sweaters and bowling balls out of JCPenney. To watch cars back up to the loading docks at Best Buy and fill their holds with 35-inch color TVs, all tied into their trunks with bailing wire.

OK. So it’s not thrilling.

It beats pinecones.

Up with the cows

Except that this year, I noticed a change. We used to hit the mall just after lunch. Took our time. Made sure our cars were following one another.

This meant we engaged in another great American Christmas shopping tradition: the search for a parking space in a lot that had none. There were years when we parked so far away, we would have been better off shopping in Brussels. Some years, we never did go in. Just circled the mall 47 times and went home.

(By the way, may I make a suggestion? No matter how desperate you get, do not begin following people who are exiting the mall, creeping behind them at 2 miles an hour like some David Letterman stalker. It just gives them the creeps.)

Anyhow, we put up with the parking thing the way we put up with the crowds. After all, that’s what you do. And that’s when the stores were open.

Only now, the stores don’t open at late morning. They don’t open mid-morning. They open before the cows wake up.

“EARLY BIRD SPECIAL SALE!” screamed one advertising section last week. “6 A.M. to 11 A.M.!”

Early Bird Special? We’re not ordering beef brisket here.

Six a.m.? Who can find his wallet at 6 a.m.?

Searching for bargains

Apparently somebody can. A quick check of Thursday’s newspaper saw no less than Circuit City, Hudson’s, Radio Shack, Sports Authority, Best Buy, Toys “R” Us, Media Play and Kmart all opening their doors at 6 or 7 a.m Friday.

And they all ran sales! Are you kidding me? At 6 a.m., you don’t run a sale. You run hot water.

Do you know what it’s like outside at 6 a.m. in late November? Black. Frozen. Silent. A dog musher would roll over and go back to sleep.

But there we were Friday, before sunrise, rousing the kids, pouring cereal in the dark, gulping coffee, wiping sleep from our eyes. All to be there for the
“40 percent off all outerwear” sale.

And we made it. And we drove there.

And there still were no parking spaces.

So I’m rethinking this tradition. Maybe we need to get back to a simpler time, when families spent the day after Thanksgiving in a more quaint yet equally shared activity.

Burping.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Mitch will sign copies of
“Tuesdays With Morrie ” at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Borders in Oakland Mall and at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at Barnes and Noble, 19221 Mack, Grosse Pointe.

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