The Fifty Pointer

December 1, 2009 by  

As I joined the mad rush at 5 a.m. on Black Friday with my wife in the aisles of the Virginia, Minn. Target store, I caught the stare of one half-awake fellow in a camouflage hunting coat, pinned down between a cart full of pink baby clothes and a display of 42-inch plasma TVs. His view shifted up to the blaze orange hat on my head and he nodded. I nodded back with a “stay strong, brother” before I ran off into the fray with Angie’s orders to find the last stand of digital photo frames on sale for $29.99.

bargainzI don’t do it for the door busters, I can tell you that. No discount in all of Herberger’s or even the more man-focused K-Mart is worth it to me if I have to dodge a stream of carts pushed by the most aggressive bunch of middle-aged women fueled to NASCAR speeds by their early morning coffee. And while I try to think that finding the “secret” check out that everyone has missed is a coup comparable to locating the untouched backwater full of five-pound bass, the rush will only carry me until we get to Village Inn for breakfast. Here’s a hint for those guys along for the ride next year – check the electronics, jewelry and makeup registers, as everyone seems to think the only place to pay is at the front of the store.

Nope, there’s one reason and one reason alone why I brave Black Friday. I do it to stand outside the only store in the region that hasn’t caved to the absurd idea that a belly full of turkey actually makes people wake up earlier the next day – L&M Fleet Supply. Each year, a line begins forming in front of this man-grunt Mecca at about the time the other stores in town start opening, and through good weather (like this year: 28 degrees and calm) and bad (last year: 11 degrees, snow and 20 mph winds), people wait like catfish anglers on the bank trying to land the big one. But this trophy, which someone always gets between 8:00 and 8:07 a.m. on this exact Friday every year, is neither finned nor furred. It is one fifty-percent-off* coupon (*good for up to $1,000 off your purchase) in a bucket full of tickets with lesser discounts. And as long as you’re one of the first 125 people in line, you’ve got a shot at it.
And in this line, the ratio is reversed. Where the gals outnumbered guys in the mall anchor stores by about fifty-to-one, here the men hold the statistical advantage, and each one has “the list” firmly in his grasp. It’s the culmination of a week’s worth of calculating just how many pairs of Carhartts, ice shelters, generators and tackleboxes one can buy with the golden ticket. For some it’s a fantasy of funding, as buying five Vexilars at half price and selling them on eBay could net a significant subsidy for the upcoming fishing seasons. For others it is a daydream of a truck bed filled with new equipment.

When I asked the guy next to me in line what his plan was for the big one, he reached into the pocket of his coat, unfolded the crinkled paper and read aloud.

“Two muskie rods, some broadheads, ice auger, that Honda generator that’s on sale, two treestands for next year, a new ice shack, trailer hitch, a deer painting for the den, a fish finder, tackle box, new ratchet set, tow straps, Buck knife, some jigs and a couple bucktails,” he said, while flipping the scrap of paper over and preparing to recite the second half of his Christmas wish list.

But before he could get the words “trail camera” out of his mouth, the report murmured through the line that the doors were open and the big Five-O was almost within reach. As we crept into the warmth of the entry area and each customer’s hand was pulled from a mitten and thrust into the basket full of green paper slips, I watched the people ahead of me for their reactions.

“Twenty-five,” a teenager said excitedly as he looked up to his dad, who beamed with the recognition that his new snowblower had just become significantly cheaper.

Meanwhile, inside the second set of double-doors, two brothers compared their tickets.
“Only a five this year,” one said.
“I got a ten, so we’ll use mine,” said the other.

The process can be quite a racket, with confirmed reports of as many as twelve family members getting into line in order to maximize their chances for the big one, or at least for one of the better discounts to help reduce their holiday shopping costs. My wife and I combine our efforts, with 2007 being our most successful year when Angie nabbed a 25-percent off coupon. This year, our fortunes were the same as the brothers ahead of us. Angie drew a ten, and I grabbed the ultra-common five, not even enough to cover sales tax.

I pulled out the two pieces of paper in my jeans pocket, crumpled up the significantly longer docket of dreams and tossed it in the garbage can with a sigh, defaulting to my much shorter shopping list. Meanwhile, this year’s fortunate shopper silently stalked the aisles, not stopping to celebrate at the customer service counter as previous years’ winners had done. That left the rest of us to wonder in green-eyed envy who the lucky outdoorsman was that took the Fifty-Pointer. My guess is he’s the guy who will tow out a well-stocked, brand new ice shack in a couple weeks or have the most tricked-out deer stand in all of the woods next fall…in our outdoors.


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