I had a wonderful time today. It is, in case you were living under a rock, Black Friday, the day to kick off the consumerism that masquerades as Christmas spirit. But my good time had nothing to do with that.
Every year, I ignore the ads, ignore the commercials, ignore the radio--in fact, I avoid unnecessary shopping between Black Friday and about early January. No mass-produced gift basket or unnecessary and overpriced gadget can induce me to voluntarily take on massive crowds, unnavigable aisles, and overworked staff. The touch of claustrophobia and mild tension headache that result from such an excursion are compelling enough reasons not to.
The madness started early this year; some stores, eager to get the jump on the competition, were open Thursday evening. Others decided to open doors at 4 a.m. (sounds more like a bedtime to me than a get-up-and-stand-in-line time) or 5 a.m. "What on earth could be worth getting up that early for?" I pondered aloud the other night as I caught the tail end of a commercial. I was ready to forgo all of that nonsense, that is, until I caught wind of Half Price Books' special for the first 100 customers--a $5 gift card and a tote bag. I even set the alarm to get up; it went off at about 6:30, whereupon I shut it off and said screw that. If I want the five bucks that badly, I'll sell some books back next time I go.
So I went back to sleep, and when I got up, it was to get ready to make the drive out of the city back to the small town where I went to college. Yeah, that drive--the one I realized I kinda liked. The plan: lunch with a good friend at our favorite hole-in-the-wall-homestyle-cooking-and-tea joint. We shared a pot of black currant tea and ordered lunch. I'm proud of myself for trying something new (and liking it, too!), not the same thing I ordered the previous three times we had lunch there. We chatted and caught up, enjoying the atmosphere, the food, and of course, the company. It's hard to stay caught up with friends when they're all working, in grad school, or some combination of the two, and it'd been at least summer since we last got together.
Afterward, we pondered over what to do. There's not too much that doesn't involve shopping, and she, like I, didn't want to mess with that. So we decided to check out a park on the outskirts of town. Best. Decision. Ever. We parked and then set off on the walking trail. Not far in, the path split--one way, straight ahead, the other way, across a bridge. Across the bridge, an unpaved, footworn path through the woods. After a few Robert Frost punchlines, we crossed the bridge. The path forked a few times, and at each junction, we decided which way to take. When we reached the end of one trail, we'd turn back and take the other junction. There were lots of cool things to see--little creeks and rivulets, moss covered rocks and trees, impressive fallen trees, a few impressive rock walls. Eventually, we headed back to the paved trail--only to find another footpaved path to follow. A couple of those turns led us straight into the adjoining grave yard. Others led back to the rock face. Near one rock face (we couldn't decide if it was one of the "caves" that the area was supposed to have), there was a whitish-colored... ball... of something. My friend's first question: "Is that a skull?" Her second question: "Should I kick it?" In the intervening time, of course, we determined it was not a skull, but the incident was good for about 10 minutes or so of chuckling. "I'm blogging this," I said as we made our way back.
One rock wall was quite impressive, but it was a bit eerie--and the mud was a bit thick to slodge through. As I looked at it, a bit of graffiti caught my eye. "Looks like vandals have been here," I remarked. "Or maybe they were Goths," she replied. "Or Visigoths?" I asked.
At the end of the paved trail was a definite indentation in the rock where all manner of graffiti had been sprayed, all sorts of names and initials had been carved, and even some Mayan-looking faces carved into the rock. An occasional beer can or water bottle littered the area. We finally turned back, as it was getting late-ish, but we didn't leave until we'd explored one last footpath.
My hands were getting numb about half an hour in, and I could barely feel them by the time we left. My nose was running about off my face. I was chilled all the way through, but I had a wonderful time. I regretted not bringing my camera, but I snagged a bunch of shots with my cell phone (forthcoming, if I can get the software to work to get them off said phone). But really, there's nothing like tramping through the woods with a good friend, exploring the pathways, cautiously testing your footing on an uneven trail and finding with increasing confidence that you can feel your way through, and, yes, I'm going to sound New Age-y or at least somewhat transcendentalist here, getting out into nature. In places, it was absolutely silent, broken only by a bird twitter or squirrel darting through the leaves. It was perfect, absolutely perfect, and I can't wait to do it again--we only explored part of the park; who knows what the rest will hold.
And that's how I spent most of my Black Friday--with a friend. And that's the best thing to give--or receive--time, attention. Caring. Listening. Laughing. Exploring. The other crap in the stores? Material. Ephemeral.
Don't buy; do. It lasts a hell of a lot longer, costs nothing, and means so much more.
Which leads into one last Thanksgiving nod: I am so thankful for my friends, for their quirks, for their humor, for their intelligence, for their full acceptance of who I am, for the fact that they're there whether I'm looking to have a good time or whether I need someone to listen. I can only hope I've been half as good a friend in return as they have been to me.