It Happened to Me: I Slept at Wal-Mart For a Playstation 3

How a Central Phoenix superstore turned me into one of those douchebags who waits in line for electronics.

Oct 10, 2011 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

It’s OK to hate me. I understand. I watch real-time Apple developer keynotes, I frequent gadget blogs, I jerkily tell people who ask me honest questions to JFGI and I recently found myself downloading and installing a Wordpress plug-in at my hair salon via iPad.

Worst of all, I have an obnoxious addiction to camping out for basically any flossy tool that hits the market. I’m not even going to defend myself. I AGREE WITH YOU that waiting in line for gadgets is typically an act for:  attention-seeking, empty iLosers whose identities are based on being the earliest of adopters or colossal A-holes who Ebay that shit or sell their spots in line.

I also agree with you that these action-packed scenes and new-and-exciting products are over the moment shelves are restocked. I get it. I just can’t stay away. I get all into the hype and find myself asking each time: “Why shouldn’t I sleep in a parking lot?”

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It all started when my consumer-whore boyfriend (who has been an early adopter since his dad took him to wait for a Virtual Boy in 1994) told me he’d be waiting in line with open arms for the rare and valuable Playstation 3.

It was November 2006, I was unemployed and intrigued. Until that point, I’d only armchair-speculated and judged his fetish for “doing lines.” I decided to classify it as an interesting experiment/anthropological study -- maybe even a part-time job, considering the out-of-control PS3 black market -- and join him in his pilgrimage.

Wal-Mart was the only 24-hour establishment in town selling the PS3 and sleeping inside seemed like an obvious choice. We’d be living amongst the People of Wal-Mart for more than 50 hours, as we were arriving Tuesday night for the Friday a.m. release. There’d be no showers and no beds. I decided to pull a Nova Lee Nation and live off the land.

There’s really nothing but dread that fills you as you pack a carry-on and set out to sleep in a filthy Wal-Mart for the first of three nights. Prison and extended hospital stays are the only things that would have been worse. I don’t know what my expectations were, really. I guess I’d hoped for a good old-fashioned adventure. Storytelling. Good times. Precious resale dollars so I could begin to stand on my own two feet.

We got there at about 8 p.m. and, disgracefully (there’s nothing graceful in this whole story), were the first ones to the party. There was no telling when anybody might join us. The 86 year-old on duty by the camcorders had no information whatsoever, so we loitered for approximately three hours on bean bags in the housewares aisle. 

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Eventually, it was decided if we were going to really sleep in Wal-Mart, by ourselves, we’d better stop skirting the issue and form the goddamn line. I found lawn chairs and set-up camp immediately next to the counter of digicams.

For 12 hours, not one person questioned our stakeout in the entertainment section.

My A-hole BF got some legit shut-eye, leaving me to guard our belongings all night. I took the occasional spin so as not to not die of boredom, read mags cover-to-cover and encountered an exploded roll of Grands biscuits, among other curiosities. A cleaning man mopped under our chairs and blasted Def Lepperd at full volume to keep himself awake, which made for a zenlike atmosphere.

At one point, I thought I was hallucinating when a man in drag shuffled through the aisles on what I’m positive was his first outing as a woman. He looked unsure of himself and had a terrible makeshift skirt on with his wig -- definitely not the ensemble or finesse of a seasoned drag queen. I guess if you’re going to venture out in women’s clothing for the first time, 3 a.m. at a Wal-Mart is the ideal outing.

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The following day, things got more even more consumery as we took turns buying breakfast at the neighboring McDonald’s. Another line-waiter and his GF rolled in around 11 a.m., which validated our little endeavor. We were a full-fledged line!

By afternoon, we were 10 people deep and there was a marked improvement in my mood. We began setting ground rules: Short Wal-Mart excursions and bathroom breaks were acceptable, and people could alternate with a spouse to go to work if they were all responsible like that. There’d be no cutting, but leaving in your car meant forfeiting your spot in line. It was like Survivor!

With my newly restored faith in humanity, I went to the restroom to brush my teeth. I was greeted with an old person’s tie-dyed socks under a stall bracing to the sounds of explosive diarrhea.

Upon my rapid return, there were murmurings of the word “outside” and within minutes the Wal-Mart staff (who had finally acknowledged the line) directed us to the parking lot: our home for the remainder of our stay. We all bought camping gear, blankets, neck pillows, you name it, in order to survive the 40-degree evening.

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Night fell, and we all slept like homeless people in line at the Salvation Army. I counted grammatical errors instead of sheep. I was awoken by frequent “What are you doing with your life?” texts from friends and family, and the strobelight effect of late-night headlights.

The next morning, the assistant manager greeted us with a cart of nutritious pastry delicacies and “orange drink.”

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Though sitting outside was frigid, it allowed for thoroughly good people watching. I’m not one to judge, but the souls who roll into the Central Phoenix Wal-Mart are beyond anything you could imagine. Let me explain with a few descriptive statements: gums, blood-pressure checker, Fashion Bug, Geritol, shrinkage, socks with sandals, 16 kids, gang-ey, body odor, cheez balls, stuffed-animal vending machines with claws, hydraulics, monroe piercings, overalls, dirty diapers, drug deals, $7.77, rapey, braless, rattail, huffing.

The grossness grew exponentially as a little girl in line with us developed a stomach flu. Just as my boyfriend’s dad arrived to say hello, she ran through our conversation to a cement ashtray and blew massive amounts of chunks in it. The girl’s mom wouldn’t give up her spot in line, so we all had the pleasure of watching her puke for the remainder of the day. I bought a bottle of Purell and massaged it into my chair, hands and phone.

Excitement grew as we neared midnight, when the PS3 sales would ensue. Only 24 were available, so we took pleasure in telling the imbeciles arriving at the 11th hour they were wasting their time. Eventually we were moved inside and given numbered PS3 wristbands so we could break our capitalistic Human Centipede.

Our big group had gotten along surprisingly well. I’d found a new hairstylist. I was invited to an all-American family’s annual Christmas soup potluck. I learned some game called Snaps where these kids basically read each others minds. A 13 year-old boy ran his mouth about Jennifer Aniston. There were PS3 rumors, followed by the rebuffing of PS3 rumors. And we all came together to locate a security guard when a girl in line had a stranger “credit card swipe” her crack in the parking lot.

We’d bonded through the friendly spirit of the affair. The closing ceremony began at about 12 a.m. When it was my turn to step-up, my credit card was declined. It turns out Wells Fargo fraud protection considers three full days of only Wal-Mart purchases to be shady behavior. I was forced to use my mom’s Visa For Emergencies, which is why I no longer have my mom’s Visa For Emergencies.

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We said our goodbyes, ate home-cooked quality food and played with our new electronic baby. It was glorious to be home, but there was a Stockholm Syndromey week where I kind of missed Wal-Mart and our new friends.

I made about $400 off my PS3, and still feel like a jerk for contributing to such dishonorable upselling. That was the only line-waiting I’ve ever done for cash. It did fire up my hunger for “doing lines,” but only for products I have a genuine interest in and appreciation for.

Since then, I’ve waited for iPhones, iPads, Blackberrys and countless other contraptions, with similarly stellar adventures to reflect on. They’re like tech-ey block parties!

But it was Wal-Mart that helped me recognize the sport of it. Though it’s easy to hate masses of disgusting, selfish, greedy and materialistic people, it isn’t always about the money or attention or being first. There’s appreciation for innovation, camaraderie and goodness mixed in, too. And a whole lot of orange drink.