Spain has Pamplona and the running of the bulls every July 6. Here in America we have Wal-Mart on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The first thing you see in the frigid pre-dawn darkness is the flashing lights. Not the “come buy this stuff” lights but the lights of a dozen police cars and assorted emergency vehicles lined up in front of Wal-Mart for the annual running of the shoppers on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving.
Entry was no problem — we followed the EMT with the stretcher. Folks were begrudgingly giving him a wide swath. When he broke left to a woman sitting dazed in a chair apparently nursing the effects of a dust-up, we broke right, headed with the horde to the electronics section. Took out a little old lady George Costanza-style on the way. Too bad — gotta go, gotta shop.
But we never made it. We only got about this far, from which vantage point we could see four or five Fairfax County Police perched atop the merchandise, shooing away the pressing horde. We stared in wonder at the mob, made our way around a bit, breathed it all in. Americana — bereft of fixin’s or filter.
On our way out we saw this guy, a Wal-Mart employee who also headed for higher ground. If we could have found higher ground, we would have. Angry shoppers frustrated by too little supply of laptops and other electronics to meet their demand, headed to the Customer Service desk. We got a shot of that, too, on the way out. If you look closely, you can see the “Customer Service” sign on the other side of the mob.
Hemingway found Pamplona because, as he said, he went searching for something that would awaken his senses to both life and death. Emerging from Wal-Mart this morning, seeing even more police cars, the parking lot now closed off completely, the woman being loaded on the stretcher into the ambulance, we felt a special bond with Hemingway. Life and death indeed.
There are things every American should do just once in their lives, a civic duty, if you will: You must see Mount Rushmore, stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon in all its breathtaking vastness, gaze at the Statue of Liberty like so many immigrants before us and once — just once — be at Wal-Mart at 5 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving.
And we escaped without a scratch.
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