It’s 4:46 in the morning … and what the heck am I doing awake at 4:46 in the blessed A.M.?

Oh, right. I’ve been assigned by my editor to do a Black Friday story. So here I am, on the pre-dawn streets of Turlock while she undoubtedly is snug in her bed.

Actually, I’ve been awake since 3:59 a.m., which is a minor miracle since I spent most of the Thanksgiving holiday in a food coma. Upon waking from that coma during the third quarter of the 49ers-Seahawks game, I figured there was no way I’d get to sleep before midnight (I was right) and no way I’d wake up in time to talk with shoppers eager for Black Friday deals (I was wrong).

The Turlock Journal is a small operation, and we don’t have an army of reporters to dispatch across the city for stories such as this. I’m it this morning. A one-man strike force. A retail Rambo, armed with an iPhone, a reporter’s notebook, and a Pilot G2 extra fine-point pen. To make this work, I’ll need to strategize and get the most bang for my buck, to use a shopping term.

Monte Vista Crossings, on Countryside Drive, will afford me the most locations to talk with as many shoppers as possible.

Kohl’s, which is scheduled to open its doors in just a few minutes at 5 a.m., will be my first stop.

I pull into a mostly empty parking lot, and the only sign of life are the swaying trees that dot the lot. The breeze is stiff and cold and I feel underprepared in Levi’s and a pullover fleece.

I suddenly wish I liked coffee, and that I owned mittens.

As I walk up to the Kohl’s entrance, I notice that only five people are waiting to be let inside. I expected the line to stretch for hundreds and hundreds of yards, full of aggressive, caffeinated consumers intent on fighting over limited inventory.

I suspect, however, those days are gone.

Anyway, at the Kohl’s entrance, I immediately begin to introduce myself as a Turlock Journal reporter. Before I can make that distinction, however, I feel the glares. Some assume I’m cutting the line, but most just expect some trivial small talk — “Sure is cold this morning” … “Maybe they’ll let us in early” … “I might go sit in my car for a while to warm up” — before a bevy of questions. I come out blasting, like Mike Tyson in a three-round bout.

I feel as though I’ve broken an unwritten Black Friday rule as I address a woman at the back of the line,

“Hi, my name is Joe Cortez and I’m a reporter with the Turlock Journal.”


“I’m doing a story on Black Friday and I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions.”

She blinks. I blink back. Rambo doesn’t retreat.

“Yeah, sure,” she says.

Her name is Tammy Cole and she lives in Post Falls, Idaho. She grew up in Turlock and is here visiting family.

“Old Navy opened at 4 o’clock and my mom wanted $5 pajama pants,” Cole says with a laugh.

I follow up with the obvious question: “Couldn’t you just do that online?”

“Yeah, but it’s not the same,” she counters.

“So, it’s something of a tradition?” I ask.

“Yeah, but I feel like that tradition is dying, because there’s nobody in line at Target or Walmart right now. Everybody just shops online, which is kind of sad because it takes jobs away from people.”

At this point, Turlocker Nicole Ryans, who’s shopping with Cole, interjects.

“I’d rather shop online. I like to sleep.”

“So does my editor,” I think to myself.

At this point, I turn to another line-stander — Melissa Farris of Lake Don Pedro. I ask her to explain why she’d forego slumber to stand outside in the cold.

“Shoppin’ for good deals.”

Again, I ask what I think is an obvious question: “Can’t you do this online?”

“Yeah, but it’s not as fun. It’s a tradition,” she explains. “I’m 56 and I’ve done this since I was a junior in high school and I’ve never missed one. I will not work on Black Friday. I’ve been at my job 22 years — I’m a pediatric trauma nurse at Valley Children’s (Madera) — so they know they cannot schedule me on Black Friday.”

Like Farris, I’m 56 years old. I do some quick calculating and realize that she’s been doing this since Christmas of ’83 … 40 years of Black Friday. So what’s the appeal?

“It’s just the fun,” she says. “To me, it’s always been the start of the holiday season. You have Thanksgiving, which is fun, but Christmas has all the lights and atmosphere. And in my experience over the years, I’ve never run into the big riots or anything like that. You always meet nice people.”

As I retreat to my car, confident that I’ve spoken to enough people to cobble together a decent story, I notice two women sitting in their vehicle. They’re deep in conversation and drinking coffee. I can also tell, from the lights on the instrument panel, that the seat warmers are on. They exit the car at the stroke of 5 and I ask if they wouldn’t mind answering a few questions.

Shawneen and Leslie agree, but they opt not to give me their last names. And good for them. Have you seen what I look like at 5 in the morning? 

“We’ve been doing this every year since our kids were toddlers,” says Shawneen, who points out that their kids are now in their late 20s. “Now, we’re just coming for the nostalgia of it.”

According to Shawneen, some of the fun has been taken out of Black Friday. Not as many stores are open, there are no Black Friday-specific ads in local newspapers, there are no lines, and — gasp! — it’s not even a problem getting a cart anymore.

“It’s so different now,” Shawneen continues. “We’re usually in the checkout line for hours, kicking our stuff across the floor.”

Leslie interjects, “If we get the stuff, we get it; if we don’t, we don’t. It’s just the kickoff to the holiday, something that we’ve done together forever. We don’t stand out in the cold and rain and wind.”

Shawneen, who likely had more than one cup of coffee, takes over: “Well, we used to when our kids were little. Especially at Toys R Us … the electronics. You had to get that. As we’ve gotten older, we’re like, ‘We’re not standing out there in that.’”

Realizing that I’m keeping them from a climate-controlled department store, I thank them for their time and get into my car. 

On the drive home, I think about how I’ll attack this story. What do I want to say? How should I say it? I’ve gotten a lot of good quotes this morning. This is one of those stories that kind of writes itself. And if it wants to get written soon, it had better, because it’s 5:15 in the morning and I’m headed back to bed.