Pages from the Hartle Playbook: “Black Fridays!”

I will admit I am one of those “crazy” people who love shopping on “Black Friday.” I find the crowds and the stores around this time exillerating, love the rush of feeling like I’m getting some great bargains, collecting the free -give-aways, and let’s face it…just having an excuse to go shopping never hurts either. So, when “Black Friday” rolled around this past weekend, I was begging my husband to join me in the madness. I know my husband loves me, especially since the two things he literally hates most in this world are shopping and crowds. (I did also have to promise to watch an entire football game with him in return).

You might not realize it, but being blind does add a little bit of a challenge–or at least requires a little bit of creativity–to the whole “Black Friday” shopping experience. For example, going to a store at 4 a.m. is a bit of a challenge when public transportation doesn’t usually run that early. Then there is the whole aspect of not having a trunk or car to put all the great finds you find in so that you can continue shopping. Plus, if you want to hit multiple stores and aren’t going to a mall or something, it’s a little bit trickier to manage your time with public transportation or cabs so that you don’t cut into the shopping time too much. Maybe some blind individuals out there are fortunate to have a sighted friend or family member who is as insane as they are, but in my experience, these individuals are few and far between, or not around when you need them for whatever reason. AS result, I’ve had to learn some different ways of getting the job done. So, in honor of this past “Black Friday” and with today being “Cyber Monday” I thought I’d share with you some stories from my past “Black Friday” shopping trips. They always bring a smile to my face when I think back on some of the crazy things I’ve done.

This first story was probably my biggest, longest, and most expensive trip, but definitely one of the most fun and one that will live on as a legend in the “Black Friday” Hall of Fame. It was the year I moved to Baltimore. My friend who is also blind and a die-hard shopper and I decided to hit the stores really early and make a day of it. I took the bus across town to where she and her husband live sometime around 5:30 or 6 that morning. WE then took a cab another fifteen or twenty minutes to the mall out in the county (both she and her husband are blind too.). We made it to the mall by about 7 a.m. I remember we were at the mall and ate breakfast in the food court at the only place that was open that early capitalizing on the crowds. We then spent the bulk of the morning hitting various shops. AS you might expect, we began to acquire a lot of bags. most people would have taken their bags to the car, but this wasn’t an option for us, so we started asking the clerks if we could stash our bags behind the counter while we shopped. This worked great! After a few hours at the mall, we decided to leave there and walk up the street to the Pier 1 Imports store. WE had each been in Baltimore for only a few months, so we were still “setting up house” so we figured this was a great way to get some home furnishings. So, there we were, the three of us loaded up with shopping bags, bundled in our coats (it was pretty cold that day), and walking along the street with our canes. It turned out to be a little more of a hike (uphill about four blocks) to the Pier 1 Imports store than we anticipated, not to mention extremely cold, and we were carrying some heavy and awkward bags to boot. My friend, trying to lighten the situation, started talking about how we should write a story about our experience and said something like, “You have to be tough to be blind “,and how sighted shoppers were light weights. She then said she wished we had a shopping cart to at least help us carry our bags. Remember she is blind or this next part won’t be as funny. I’m seriously not kidding, but moments after she said this, we discovered a stray shopping cart on the side of the side walk (we learned months later that there was a grocery store across the street). It was like a little humorous answer to prayers. WE all broke out laughing hysterically and loaded up our bags into the cart. WE then proceeded up the hill to the Pier 1 Imports store. We ended up coming in through an upstairs back entrance shared by another business with Pier 1 which saw little traffic. The main store entrance was downstairs on another street level. I think we actually took the cart inside and unloaded our bags and then left it outside that entrance, but I honestly don’t remember. Maybe we left it in the foyer? WE then hauled our bags downstairs to the store. , Once again, the clerks let us stash our stash behind the counter there too. Several hours later (literally), my friend, her husband, and I sat outside of the store entrance with this huge pile of stuff waiting for our cab. The contents of our pile included two area rugs, three lamps, several throw pillows, a couch cover, small end table, and some bags of other odds and ends, not to mention about four consolidated bags each from the mall. WE were met with exclamations of “Awesome!”, or “Now that’s how you shop!” and even some applause as we waited on the porch for our cab.

I don’t know how we ever managed to get everything into the cab. Luckily it was a cab driver we’d used a lot and who liked us. Otherwise, I don’t think he would have wasted his time trying to pack the cab and take us home. We even convinced him to stop off at Wendy’s for dinner with us (we treated him to some as well.) He then drove all of us home which was about another forty-five minutes by the time he dropped me off from where we had been shopping. I think he even gave me a little discount as he spilled coffee on my area rug. (Thankfully it came out.) WE laughed for weeks about this trip and still brag about it today. .

The next story took place a year later. This time, we decided we wanted to hit up an outlet mall in Hagerstown, MD which is about an hour and a half from Baltimore. WE also wanted to get there early in the morning of course to get all the early-bird specials. We toyed with going at midnight, but decided a good night’s sleep would do us good after a long Thanksgiving Day. So, these same two friends, plus one more all stayed over at my house on Thanksgiving night. WE called up our cab driver friend from the year before (whom we used often) and asked him what he would charge to drive the four of us to the outlet mall. WE worked out a deal, arranged for him to pick us up at 5:30 a.m., and agreed to split the cost between the four of us. WE also determined we would take the Greyhound bus back that evening when we were finished as it would be a little cheaper and not lock us into a time with the cab driver. This time though, we were prepared with our own “trunks” (a.k.a.rolling suitcases) wherein we could put our shopping bags and make transporting our finds a bit easier. The shopping was great and I remember getting a lot of really good deals on some gifts for family members, clothes, and a couple of free-bees along the way. WE again stashed our suitcases behind counters as we shopped and prided ourselves on our ingenuity in thinking of bringing the suitcases along this time—a practice we used on subsequent shopping trips. But the real fun started after the shopping. Late that afternoon, we began the trek to the Greyhound bus station. It was about a mile from the outlet mall and required us to walk along the unpaved shoulder of this really busy frontage road to get to it. The bus stop was also on the opposite side of the road, which wasn’t that big of a deal except that the only place to cross was this really crazy-designed intersection with tons of traffic going through it. Think of the visual we must have made with all four of us tapping along with our long white canes, rolling suitcases in toe. . A half hour later, with sore arms and ringing ears, we found ourselves standing in a small bus depot, easily passable for something straight out of Mayberry, except less clean, and were met with the disappointing news that our bus had been delayed. So, we had no choice but to hang out and wait. At one point we had to wait outside for some reason (I guess when the bus was getting near) and there was an individual loitering outside the bus station who I believe transformed the outdoors into his own restroom facilities while we were waiting outside thus making the air “Not so fresh.” In the end, the bus ended up being something like two hours late by the time it rolled into the station. WE anxiously boarded the bus only to sit there for another forty-five mins. Or so. When we first got on the bus, we heard some commotion in the back about someone stinking and not wanting to sit next to them. About ten minutes later (all this was taking place while the driver was loading up and doing paperwork) the bus started to wreak of Ax cologne, (this really disgusting, cheap cologne). Apparently stinky man from the station had been sprayed by another passenger with the cologne to cover up his smell. When the driver got on the bus to leave, she immediately started freaking out and protesting that she couldn’t leave until the bus had aired out because she was a terrible asthmatic. So, we waited.

I was never so glad to get back to Baltimore as I was when we rolled into the Greyhound station at 10:30 that night. I caught a cab home and vowed I’d never take the Greyhound again. Now that I look back on that night, I realize how naive I was traipsing around the ghetto in Baltimore on a greyhound bus! Don’t think my mom ever knew about that one and it’s probably just as well.

My last “Black Friday” story took place the first Christmas my husband and I were married. We had received a number of gift cards to Target as wedding presents earlier that summer which we hadn’t used yet, so we decided to redeem them as well as hit a local furniture store on “Black Friday” in order to capitalize on some of the sales. So, we set out that morning on a very long bus ride from downtown Baltimore where we lived out to the county where the nearest Target was located, with a nice furniture store nearby. We decided to go to the furniture store first so we wouldn’t have to carry any shopping bags with us while looking at furniture. Unfortunately, the bus driver didn’t have the audio stop announcements turned on, so we were relying on him to let us know when we got to our stop. After a while, we began to worry we had gone too far, so my husband asked the driver where we were. Of course, the driver had forgotten and passed up our stop by about a dozen stops. But, this driver feeling so guilty that he’d passed up our stop, turned his bus around, deviated from the route, and took us back as close as he could get us to at least the street we needed. Kind of sounds like we hi-jacked the MTA doesn’t it? WE then walked several blocks through this subdivision to the intersecting street where the furniture store was located. WE managed to find some great items there and arrange for their deliveries and left there ready to set out for phase two of our shopping extravaganza. We knew that the Target was relatively close to the furniture store, so we decided to just walk as the bus to there was a bit out of the way. WE got better directions from the clerk who had helped us with our purchases. She assured us that the Target was only about ten minutes—just down the road through two stop lights in another shopping plaza. So, we set off walking. We learned a valuable lesson that day—when people who usually drive say something only takes about ten minutes to walk to, you’d better triple it. A half hour later we made it to Target.

WE had decided to use our Target gift cards to buy our Christmas tree that year. After finding the perfect tree, we went to pay for it. You can imagine how the next few minutes played out:

Us: “HI, we want to pay for our tree

Cashier: Great. That will be $XXX.

Us: Okay. (Transaction takes place.)

Cashier: Can I get someone to help you get this out to your car?

Us: (momentary pause)” um, well, actually, we can’t drive, so we are going to take the bus home. Do you think you can hold this somewhere for us while we go locate the bus stop?

Cashier: (Seeming a little stunned) “Sure. I can do that.”

I should probably point out a few things to you at this point. #1: My husband is the biggest cheap skate ever and refused to take a cab home as it would have cost about $40 to get from the Target to our apartment at the time. #2, the Target was located in this huge shopping center with mile-long parking lots. WE had never been there before so we didn’t know where the bus stop was and neither did the cashier, so we wanted to find it before hauling the tree outside with us.

About twenty minutes later, we were returning to the store when we ran into two employees carrying our tree on a flatbed cart. They said they had heard what we were doing and wanted to help us get our tree to the bus stop. The stop wasn’t far, actually pretty much straight across from the main entrance of the store, but there wasn’t really a direct path to get through the parking lot because of various obstructions, and there were four lanes of traffic to cross over as well unless you walked about a block up the parking lot to the driveway where the intersection with the crosswalk was located. So, we welcomed the use of the cart and the extra hands. After helping us carry our tree to the bus stop, we thanked the two guys and told them we could manage from there.

When the bus arrived, the bus driver laughed out loud and told us we’d really taken the shopping day seriously. The ride home was a bit amusing and I know we made quite the scene on the bus–confirmed by all the comments and smiles from other passengers–but everyone seemed to be good natured about it and didn’t seem to mind how much space we were taking up at the front of the bus. The driver even seemed tickled to think that she played a role in helping to “make our Christmas.” Thankfully, we only had to carry the tree about a block from the bus stop to our apartment. IN any

case, it makes for a fun story and we look forward to telling our children about how we drug the Christmas tree home on the bus one year.

Well, this brings me to the end of my “Black Friday” reminiscing, at least the funny blindness-related ones. I hope you’ve found some of our tales amusing and even a little helpful. The bottom line is that being blind doesn’t mean you can’t do all the same things others do. We just have to find another way to work things out. Remember, when God closes a door, he provides a shopping cart. And, lastly, just remember, you’ve gotta be tough to be blind because only the strong survive.

Happy Holidays!


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