Shortage means a long wait in the damp, dark cold
At least the wind wasn't blowing at the Wood Village Fred Meyer on the recent Friday when I ambled up to the doors at 5:45 a.m. to stand in the damp, dark cold in the faint hope that I could score this year's most insanely popular Christmas toy - a Nintendo Wii.
Being male, and therefore genetically disadvatanged when it comes to any form of competitive shopping, it never occurred to me before that morning to attempt extreme tactics in search of a Wii. I had read the horrific stories about Wii shortages - people traveling from store to store, standing in lines and literally bribing store clerks who suddenly were giddy with the power that comes from knowledge of Wii shipment dates. And if all that talk of the impossibility of landing a Wii weren't enough, there was this: It's just not in my nature to go out of my way to buy anything - like ever.
Or at least that's what I always believed up until the instant my wife Janet flipped on the light in our bedroom about 5:30 that morning and reminded me that our only daughter would be 13 for just a brief period of time and that what she really wanted for Christmas - even though she hadn't actually asked for it - was this electronic gizmo that no one can obtain.
So that's how I ended up walking over to Fred Meyer long before dawn on a Friday - which was the day, according to my wife's secret informant Heidi Schneider, who teaches at Woodland Elementary School, that this particular store would receive whatever meager allotment of Wii's it was allowed for the week. When I arrived outside the entrance closest to the electronics department, there was absolutely no one in sight. My heart leapt for a brief moment with the thought that I had been misinformed - maybe no Wii's were coming and I could be spared a 75-minute wait for the store to open.
I called my wife from my cell phone: 'Nothing's going on here,' I reported. 'Maybe I should leave.'
Before she could respond, a guy who turned out to be a Gresham construction contractor emerged from his car. He'd been waiting there for an hour or so and now was peeved that I'd beat him to the door.
'You must have walked,' he observed. 'I would have seen you coming in a car.'
And that's when I realized I was in the most unlikely of positions: First in line for a Wii.
Soon, others arrived. Being Oregonians and all, everyone was quite civil. They just lined up behind me and the construction guy. He was there for his 9-year-old son. The others ranged from aunts to dads to moms to grandmothers.
Wii rumors floated up and down the line. 'I heard WalMart is getting another shipment,' a grandmother whispered.
'Last time, Fred Meyer only got three,' someone else noted.
I started to hope there would be at least two this time. I didn't want to be the one who snatched the only Wii from construction guy.
Seventy-five minutes is a long time to stare through the doors of an empty store. We watched the clerks walk past. They all avoided eye contact until one of the employees, apparently oblivious to the whole Wii phenomenon, strolled over to the doors to find out why we had gathered there.
'We're hoping to buy a Wii,' I told her. 'It would really help if you could tell us if any came in last night. That way we wouldn't have to wait here for nothing.'
She promised to go check. She never ever returned.
After much discussion, we decided that was a positive sign. Surely, she wouldn't be so perverse as to leave us waiting if no Wii's were to be had.
The movement of the clock on the Wood Village Town Center tower was glacial - which also is a good description of the temperature. We shifted our feet, rubbed our hands and dabbed at our noses. As the 7 a.m. opening time moved closer, we caught a glimpse of the young man who works behind the photo-electronics desk.
'He's the guy who knows,' someone said.
The clerk walked clear up to the entrance, through the inner doors and into the shopping cart area, all the while keeping his head turned away from the crowd outside the door. He was unreadable.
Then the hour had arrived. A female employee turned the key. Construction guy told me to run to the counter - which I did. The photo-electronics clerk was standing there. He actually cracked a partial smile. 'We have nine,' he murmured.
Construction guy and I slapped hands as if we'd prevailed in some grueling contest. I never even looked at the Wii, just put it under my arm, wrote my check, ducked my head and walked past all the people standing in line who wouldn't get a Wii on this day - never making eye contact.