Early Saturday morning, before the sun even finishes its first cup of coffee, I find myself standing outside a local department store with my daughter stalking a hard-to-find gift for her brother.
“They are supposed to get seven in today,” she says as we pull into the parking lot. She’s been tracking a small computer game for weeks – crawling websites for intel like a hacker trying to break into the DNC’s email server.
Pulling up we see a line of people sitting and standing below the unlit sign.
“How many people are in line,” she says as slowly drive by.
“Six,” I say. As the passenger, it is apparently my job to scope out the competition.
“Good,” she says, pausing the car to drop me off while she pulls around to park.
Not even on a bet would I have believed I’d be up at 5 am and standing in line for an electronic object I don’t even understand how to operate – particularly when the store isn’t scheduled to open until three hours later.
Nintendo something-or-another is all I know about our target.
We settle in behind the others. Two are seated in stadium chairs; others stand or lean against the exterior wall. The doors remain locked.
The conversation leaks towards my daughter and me.
“Yeah,” says the first person in line, a man in a t-shirt and shorts. “I’ve been tracking these all over. Shows they should be on the truck here.”
I find myself marveling how people have elevated shopping to such a sophisticated level.
A woman joins us, standing behind me. She shares she recently left a 24-hour store two towns up the interstate after finding their inventory empty and a shipping manifest showing our local store would potentially have a couple on their overnight shipment. Doing the math tells me she’s already been up for hours.
What develops next is unexpected – at least from what the television news reports enjoy promoting. Then, unexpectedly, an odd camaraderie begins to form among these strangers.
“What are you here for,” the second in line asks the others. Everyone is doing the math in his or her heads, but this reveals not everyone is in line for the same item. A tangible relief rolls across the group.
The toy-seeking soldiers begin sharing war stories – of being in line in another location and coming up short.
“Last week I was next in line and the guy in front of me buys two,” says a man with the beard. “I’m like, dude, come on. I’m right here.”
Others share their versions of near misses or arriving only to find their intel incorrect.
“Maybe the store employees got to them first,” says another after telling about such an experience. “You know its gotta happen.”
Oddly enough, we all bond. We laugh, we share stories, and we buy each other cups of coffee after the store opens. But in the end, we’re soldiers of fortune – only our target is a toy made in China.