I left work and went to Target on a mission to find a friend’s birthday present. I knew what I wanted to get – a travel mug. It was supposed to be a quick stop.
While driving, a mid-summer thunderstorm rolled into Saratoga and I was running around puddles to get into the store. Inside, you could hear the thunder overhead and the drumming of hard rain on the flat roof. We customers shopped around as if our errands were more interesting than anything nature could throw at us. Dark clouds, shmark clouds.
I found the travel mugs. I grabbed the perfect one – a silver Contigo with a clasping handle – I was all excited! I’m a girl who has a poor record when it comes to buying gifts, so it was quite novel to be sure that I was doing the right thing. “Yesssssss,” I thought to myself. Internal high-five.
I heard a child call for it’s mother.
I was motionless for a few seconds. It was eerily peaceful for those few seconds in the dark Target store. No one was panicking, no one said much of anything. In fact, in the dim light from emergency flood lamps I saw a few people continue shopping as though nothing was happening. Dark store, shmark store!
With mug in hand, I made my way to the front of the store. Customers were slowly congregating by the registers and bottlenecking. No one could check out because the computers were down and the teenaged cashiers just shrugged awkwardly.
New customers continued to walk into the store — they couldn’t tell from the outside that the lights were out. I watched more than one person walk in with their head down, on a mission like I had been, only to stop abruptly when they realized they had walked into what could have been a scary movie set. I wanted to whisper to them, “There’s no turning back. You should never have come.”
The reason there was no turning back was because the assistant front end supervisor on duty wasn’t letting anyone leave the store. She was probably about 22 years old with a dirty blond pony tail and glasses. With her walkie-talkie in hand, she paced quickly in the front of the store. From customer service to the sliding doors to the Pizza Hut Express, she was calling for people named “Trina”.
She was a blur in red and khaki. It was evident that she hadn’t received any “what to do during a blackout” training. As the highest ranking official in the building, her crisis management composed largely of striding in one direction, then slapping her thighs while spinning on her heels to walk in the opposite direction. Under the emergency flood lamps, we customers watched her like you would a tennis match. I stood in the girls pajama section to stay out of the way.
Things continued that way for a full 15 minutes. People came in, but no one left. Eventually the store would burst with shoppers if our captor had her way. Mutiny was inevitable. Children were driving their parents crazy. The tone in people’s voices had changed from anxious/excited to whiny.
I looked down at the mug and considered my quandary.
I was going to see my friend the next day. This was pretty much my only chance to buy a gift, and I wanted to get this mug. My patience was re-newed when I realized that I didn’t have anywhere else to go or anything more important to do. Plus, where else could have I seen a scene such as this?
The lights flickered on and the registers booted up. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. The assistant front end supervisor on duty stopped walking so fast. One person clapped over on line 2.
Bzzzzzt! The lights went out again. This time, a collective whine. “Aa-noooh!”
Things continued that way for the next 45 minutes. The lights would come on, the registers would get 90% booted up, then the lights would go off.
Eventually, I paid for the mug in cash and paid more than it cost because they were unable to open the drawer to give out change. I slipped out into the parking lot, without a receipt but with one great, and entirely worth it, gift.