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A Black Friday Campout

By spreading its doorbuster specials over five days this year, Walmart may have thought it was sounding the death knell for the annual shopping frenzy known as Black Friday.

After all, in the era of one-click Internet shopping, who really wants to wait in line overnight, or even multiple days and nights, to get first crack at the deepest discounts?

Derek De Armond, that’s who.

Mr. De Armond, 55, set up a tent at 10 a.m. on Nov. 11, more than two weeks beforeThanksgiving. He and three teammates, who rotate through the tent to hold their place, are first in a growing line outside a Best Buy in Fort Myers, Fla., that will open its doors at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Critics of the Black Friday shopping frenzy and early store openings on Thanksgiving have complained that they threaten the traditional holiday.

But for consumers like Mr. De Armond, the pre-Black Friday line has become a Thanksgiving tradition that’s every bit as important as — and more fun than — the turkey dinner.

“It’s like a tailgate party at a football game,” Mr. De Armond told me this week. “We barbecue every night. We invite people in; we’ve made new friends.”

And he and his teammates and his two sons will be sitting down for a traditional turkey dinner — inside the tent. One son will be home from military service in Afghanistan. The other, a high school student, “is embarrassed and doesn’t want any part of this, but he’ll be here for dinner,” Mr. De Armond said.

Mr. De Armond dismissed Walmart’s efforts to diminish the importance of Black Friday, which has thrived despite previous attempts by retailers to change or rebrand it. After all, “black,” when used as an adjective affixed to a day of the week, hardly has a positive connotation — it has traditionally applied to catastrophes like the stock market crash of 1929.

Research by a member of the American Dialect Society, Bonnie Taylor-Blake, suggests that black was first applied to the day after Thanksgiving by the Philadelphia police to describe the traffic jams afflicting Philadelphia’s downtown shopping district in the early 1960s.

In an effort to put a more positive spin on it, retailers campaigned to rename it “Big” Friday, but when that failed to stick, they floated the apocryphal notion that it’s the day when retailers begin to show a profit.

Despite the efforts of Walmart and some other retailers, “Black Friday is always going to be Black Friday,” said Melissa Martin, a spokeswoman, an website that Mr. De Armond consulted to identify this year’s best deals. “It’s not going away. It’s a tradition in my family to get together and head out shopping on Black Friday, and I think that’s the case for many people. A lot of people love camping out. It’s an experience. But for people who don’t want to stand in lines, or want to shop online, there are going to be more opportunities to score deals.”

As is the case for many Americans, Black Friday brings out Mr. De Armond’s competitive streak, which is one of the reasons retailers offer only a limited number of their best deals.

Four years ago, he arrived at 6 p.m. for a midnight Thanksgiving opening and found hundreds of people ahead of him. The next year, he arrived a day early, and still wasn’t able to get the advertised doorbusters. Two years ago, he put up a pup tent.

This year, he made camp earlier than ever, determined to stake out a position at the head of the line. “People have tried to slide in ahead of me, but I’m basically sending the message, don’t even try,” Mr. De Armond said.

Much as the Pilgrims overcame adversity, Mr. De Armond has elevated the usually mundane task of waiting in line into something akin to performance art. This year, his tent has three rooms and is equipped with air-conditioning, a screened porch, a hammock, a 42-inch flat-screen TV, a tiki bar and a fully decorated Christmas tree. “We’ve kind of gone crazy wild with it,” Mr. De Armond said. The only creature comfort lacking is a bathroom — Mr. De Armond still has to shower at home.

He said a few people had taunted him, saying he should get a job, but he has one as a press operator at The News-Press in Fort Myers. He leaves the holiday encampment for work. (His team must have a member present 24 hours a day to hold its place.)

The deals Mr. De Armond is aiming for seem almost an afterthought: He’s going for an iPad Air 2 for $399 (list price $499) and a Panasonic 50-inch LED TV for $199 (list price $799.99). The iPad is a gift for one of his sons, and he plans to donate the television to a local children’s hospital for a fund-raising raffle.

One reason he chose Best Buy, he said, is that the store hands out vouchers shortly before the store opens, guaranteeing availability. That eliminates any need for the kind of stampede that has put shoppers at risk of injury. “At Best Buy, there’s no reason to fight over anything,” Mr. De Armond said.

A Best Buy spokesman confirmed that chain employees would hand out tickets to people in line starting about two hours before stores open. This weekend, the chain is staging Black Friday simulations so employees can practice. “We’re committed to the safety of our customers and employees,” Jeff Shelman, the spokesman, said.

Best Buy is also committed to the concept of Black Friday, and is featuring some of its best deals — like the iPad and Panasonic TV Mr. De Armond wants — from 5 p.m. on Thursday to 1 a.m. on Friday. Stores will then close and reopen at 8 a.m. with a new set of deals.

While he didn’t want to comment on Walmart’s strategy, “We have a lot of customers who really like Black Friday and look forward to it.” Mr. Shelman said.

Still, like Walmart, Best Buy is also catering to shoppers whose idea of fun isn’t Thanksgiving dinner in a parking lot. Mr. Shelman said Best Buy would feature some online deals even before Thanksgiving and would save some specials for the following Monday, known as Cyber Monday. “We’ll be offering deals throughout the period,” he said.

For shoppers, the holiday retail landscape has become so competitive and complicated that is offering an app that provides constant email pricing updates as well as the lowest prices available for items on a customer’s wish list throughout the holiday season. “There are going to be some great deals heading into December,” Ms. Martin said.

Thanks to higher employment rates and lower gas prices, many consumers have more money to spend this year. But slow wage growth since the financial crisis has kept them extremely price conscious — an ideal environment for targeted specials like those on Black Friday.

In a statement, Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation, said, “Consumers are in a much better place than they were this time last year,” but “shoppers will still be deliberate with their purchases, while hunting for hard-to-pass-up bargains.” The federation is predicting healthy holiday sales growth of 4.1 percent, to $616.9 billion.

Mr. De Armond said he’s enjoying himself so much that he’ll be sorry when Black Friday is over. But he doesn’t have to wait long to relive the experience. Season tickets for Red Sox spring training games, always much in demand, go on sale at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers on Dec. 6.

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I’ve seen plenty of lists of things that annoy baristas on sites like  Most of them consist of complicated orders.  For me, I could care less how complicated your order is.  Baristas are guilty of the most complicated of orders.  It’s all in how you order.  It’s also in how much sense your drink actually makes!

My list doesn’t piss off all baristas, I’m sure, or even most of them.  These things really just upset me, the Eco-friendly, on a health kick, vegan.  But I figured I’d share and see what you guys think of these things. I apologize in advance for the sarcastic and judgey undertones you’re about to read.  If you do any of the following things, please know I mean no harm, but you might want to look into the health effects some of these things could possibly have.  Or if you don’t care, just laugh it off and call me a preachy, bitter barista.  I know I sound ridiculous, but after 8 years of serving coffee and after learning about so many different health issues, this is what gets me.

Without further adieu, in no particular order, here are things that I silently sneer at.

1. Double Cupping or Sleeving a Cold Beverage.

Even sleeves are a waste to me.  Most drinks, (regular coffee/Americanos aside) I find don’t need a protective covering so your hands don’t burn.  But I get it.  Not everyone’s hands can handle the heat.  But why isn’t that little piece of cardboard enough protection for you?  Okay, go ahead and waste another cup for your morning coffee if you must.  Wait, you want it double cupped AND a sleeve?  Now, you’re just being ridiculous.  But the people who really kill me?  Those customers who can’t stand their cold beverage cup sweating.  Oh no, you have condensation on your hands! Gross.  Or the other reason for these prima donnas (usually college girls, please excuse my stereotyping), is that the cup is just too cold.  Really?  First world problems much?

Starbucks_straw_large2. Asking for a Straw for Your Hot Beverage.

Don’t get me wrong — I love drinking through a straw!  However, plastic straws are made for COLD drinks.  There is  even a warning on most straw wrappers: Not Intended For Hot Beverages.  There is a reason for this.  Plastic melts!  And sure, your straw looks in tact, but are you forgetting that whole plastic emitting gas thing?  I just fear all the cancer cells being activated every time you drink your double tall vanilla latte.

3. Wanting Cream on the Side.

This is usually a drive-thru issue.  “Can I get extra cream on the side?”  On the barista end, we wind up giving you an 8 ounce cup of half & half.  Not only is my Eco-brain yelling “wasteful” for that cup and the plastic lid (and possible splash stick to go inside the cup) that we’re giving you, but for the extra cream that is also probably going to waste.  Instead, you could come inside and prepare your coffee with just the right amount of cream without wasting all that paper, plastic and that poor cow’s secretions. (Sorry, that last part is the vegan in me feeling guilty for even serving all things I don’t agree with! 88 days until I stop going against my ethics.)

pupcup4. Ordering a “Pup Cup” or “Puppuccino”.

“What the heck are these?” You ask.  Oh, just a cup of whip cream for your dog.  Seems innocent enough and it’s oh so cute watching that little beagle’s snout in the cup, covered in white sweetness.  So I guess that adorableness overrides the fact dogs shouldn’t have milk products?

5. Bringing Your Own Cup, but Not Wanting to Use it.

“I have my own cup, but can you just put my drink in a paper one?”  No joke, I’ve had more than one customer ask me that.  And then to follow with, “I can still get the discount, right?”  No, you can’t!  I then politely explain, “The cup discount is because you would be saving our company a cup.”  I then usually mutter something about saving the Earth, but they never care about that.

aspartame16. Adding Artificial Sweetener to Any Beverage.

I realize so many people still use Splenda, Sweet & Low and Equal.  As I choke on the fumes while opening your 5 packets of Splenda for your latte, I wonder if you just assume you’ll get cancer anyway, and might as well speed along the process, or you’re just unaware.  What I really don’t understand is the people who order a Mocha (or any flavored latte) and want to add a packet of Equal in there as well.  So now you want regular sugar AND aspartame?  WHY???

7. Getting A Half Nonfat/Half Soy Latte.

Sometimes I think I understand this logic, but then, no, no I don’t.  At all.  First, let me explain soy milk is not a “low fat” or diet beverage.  Especially not the one at Starbucks.  It’s vanilla soy – added sugar.  Nonfat milk also has added sugar, by the way.  Soy milk is simply an alternative to milk, not a better choice calorie wise.  Anyway, I never understand what one tries to accomplish with getting soy milk to save calories, fat or sugar.  But then again, I can’t understand the benefits of nonfat milk anymore either.  But to mix the 2 in your 12 ounce drink?  Maybe just stick with the standard 2% milk then?  Whatever.  I’m lost.

8. Steaming Your Beverage to 192°.

Okay, so did you actually stick a thermometer in your drink and decide such a specific number is the perfect temperature?  Do you even know what happens when we steam milk to temperatures past 180°?  It overflows the pitcher and practically burns, losing most of its frothy consistency.  Also, if we steam your beverage below 120°, it allows bacteria to form inside the milk.  Maybe just stick with the terms “kid’s temp” (140°) and “extra hot” (180°) just to be safe and less annoying.

9. Asking for the light version of a drink and still wanting whip cream.

This doesn’t nearly bother me as much as it used to.  Why?  Because it’s so freaking common now for people to do this that I just roll with it.  Let people think that whip cream (made with vanilla and heavy cream) isn’t going to pack on calories/fat/sugar into your caramel frappuccino light.  Speaking of, those light beverages are made with both aspartame and regular sugar, and now you just added the worst thing of all onto it — the whip cream (roughly 100 extra calories).  Don’t blame me when you crash hard after that sugar rush, gain weight from all the dairy/sugar, and are constantly hungry because of the aspartame. (I’m talking to the people who think it’s okay to consume such a beverage everyday.)

10. Asking for an extra shot of espresso in a drink that does not get espresso.

“Can I get an extra shot in that iced coffee/frappuccino?”  Um, well, neither of those drinks get shots of espresso to begin with.  Why are you ordering an “extra” one?  The way people word things confuse me.  Or are they confused?  I don’t know.  I’m just a barista who’s ready to throw in the apron.

Ask me in three months if these things still bother me while I’m visiting other coffee shops as a customer.  I’ll probably say yes, but at least I won’t feel like their crack dealer anymore!


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