Rampant consumerism

What recession?

December 1, 2008: 10:34 AM ET

crazy-shoppersLook, I don't want to be a pill and rain on the whole gloom thing we're all experiencing. There's no doubt it's real. I look at the numbers the same as you do. Revenue is down. Unemployment is up. We're circling the drain, definitely, I'm not arguing with anybody about that. It's the worst black hole since all those black and white pictures were taking during the depths of the century just past. 

But it's got to be one of the weirdest recession/depressions on record. I just spent the same weekend you did. Turkey. Ham. Leftovers. And, of course, shopping. So I'm wondering if you saw the same thing I did. As in: Crowds. Lines. People clawing at stuff on racks as if their lives depended on it. Hoards of greedy Americans shoving lunchtime carbs into their faces so they wouldn't have to break stride in mid-spend. 

So I have to ask: What's up? 

Started Friday, after a Thanksgiving filled with good cheer, grog and incessant radio and television spots screaming about unprecedented buying opportunities. I asked myself: Who are these numbskulls who get up at dawn to purchase a flat screen TV? Who would stand online at 3 a.m. to get a ticket so they can come back later and get a Wii for a couple bucks off? 

The new day dawned early. "Let's go to Best Buy," said my son over breakfast. "Really?" I said. 

We were there by 10. As we rolled into the parking lot, I said to him, "You know, this recession is hitting everybody right now. Even me." Perhaps he was wearing those tiny earphones I got him for his birthday, because he didn't answer. The lot was full. Like, totally. I had to park in the overflow area.

In the store, the scene was nuts. Huge crowds around the gaming systems, the HDTVs, the computers, the DVDs. Lines at the register. We went over to the area in which we had an interest: car audio. He has a new/old clunker whose main deficiency, it seems, is in the quality of its sound system. 

There was a massive megadeal posted on the wall. A fabulous complete set-up for just $600. The car itself is worth about that, maybe a buck or two less. "Do you have any super-mega-awesome-once-in-a-lifetime Black Friday deals?" I asked the clerk, who was younger than the car in question. He looked at the deal posted on the wall and ripped it down. "That deal ended a couple of weeks ago," he said. "But we can work something out." He did some figures on the back of an envelope. "We can do a mid-range system for... $875, plus tax. That includes installation." 

I noted that the price seemed to be a simple total of the hardware necessary, plus about $300 for installation. "What happened to the meta-mooga-humongous deals for Black Friday?" I asked. "They're not store-wide," he said. We left, fighting our way through the mob of frenzied consumers toward fresh air and light. 

So obviously, there was no panic about the recession at Best Buy. True, there were absolutely NO people in their installation area, so maybe they'll be sorry later they didn't moderate their prices a bit on the car stereo question. Maybe they're getting the overflow from other places that have gone under. But who are all these people forking over piles of green? Aren't they aware that the economy is in the sump? 

Throughout the weekend, the same story proliferated. Target was full. At Costco, you couldn't get a seat at the hot dog stand. I had to knock over an old lady to get to a 50-pound bag of frozen shrimp.

So I'm open to suggestion. What do YOU think is going on here?

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