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Every year, it seems like the coveted post-turkey nap on Thanksgiving surrenders more ground to Black Friday. Store hours are pushed back earlier and earlier into the small hours of Friday morning. Recently, stores have opted for blowout sales late Thursday night. Then Walmart led the charge last year with stores opening just after Thanksgiving dinner. (For the record, I’m still enjoying my naps.) You either love Black Friday or hate it. A cursory Google search turns up celebratory stories of sweet deals and volatile rants against rampant consumerism. I favor the third option: people-watching.

Growing up, my family and I would head out to the local mall on Friday morning, not for the sales but to watch shoppers making complete fools of themselves. Our hallowed tradition of ogling people has now spread to YouTube, where watching videos of deal-crazed consumers battering down the doors of big box stores has now turned into a Black Friday tradition of its own. But trust me, it’s better in person. I'm here to tell you that Black Friday offers some of the best people-watching you'll ever experience in this life. Yes, it requires a bit of planning, discomfort (if the weather's bad), and long hours, but, like waiting for the eventual collision at a NASCAR rally, the effort is totally worth it.

Since I grew up between Pearland and Pasadena, I can only vouch for a few storied locations along the Gulf Freeway. But believe me when I saw that these tips are easily applicable to the Galleria, Greenspoint Mall, and a host of other retail locations all over the city. If they're lining up for deals, then you're in for a treat.

Preparation

Approach this like you would a football tailgating party. You're going to be hungry, thirsty, and in need of the occasional activity or two to pass the time. Food is a must. If you want to go all out, bring along your choicest meats and fire up the grill. You know, the one that takes up the entirety of your truck bed, the smallest one in your arsenal. As an alternative, there's always cold cuts, pre-prepared items or – the obvious choice – Thanksgiving leftovers.

Don't forget drinks. Water and sports drinks for hydration, coffee or tea for warmth and caffeine, and spirits for your spirit. And for moments between fights and stampedes, bring a football to toss around. But the most important item is your smartphone. How else will you document this occasion for the benefit of social media? People-watching in a vacuum is creepy, so you either need to bring some company or be prepared to share your observations with the world. 

Shelter

Meteorologists predict lows around 50 degrees Thursday evening and Friday morning, so make sure to wear something warm. Since there's a zero percent chance of rain, you won't have to worry about keeping things dry. No need to bust out the garage-size canopy tent for this excursion.

Of course, you're more than welcome to bust one out if you think you can manage it in the confined space of a shopping mall parking lot. Since this is more of a come-and-go situation for everyone else, mobility is key. Sticking to your parking spot (more about this below) is ideal, but if you can nab a spot along the line of people waiting to storm the store, by all means go for it. Setting up base camp with a few pop-up camping chairs and a flag or two will do the trick.

Location

Of all the things to consider, location is the most important. This is due to the fact that you'll have two spots to worry about – wherever you park your car, and wherever you decide to park yourself to people-watch. At Baybrook Mall, my family’s location of choice back in the day, we’d always opt for a parking spot far in the back of the west lot, between the Dillard's and the JC Penny. The closer we parked to the Gulfbrook Drive or Midbrook Drive exits, the better. (Hint: The road near the Texas Art Supply store is an ideal getaway route.) This way you can escape the mayhem whenever the local riot police are finally called in.

As for a place to people-watch, it depends on what you're in the mood for. The best seats in the house are right up in the action, along the long lines waiting to tear down the mall doors. If you're in for something friendlier, a comfortable spot nearby or at your car will do just fine. You'll miss the initial chaos, but you’ll catch sporadic walks of shame endured by empty-handed shoppers.

With all of these delectable dishes, beverages, and games in plain view, make sure to flaunt 'em if you got 'em for the benefit of the crowds waiting in line. They're there because of a good sale, but you're there for a great show. Between the two groups, one is obviously winning Black Friday.

 

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