Freelining with Mike Freeman: The reason for the season

ORLANDO – It’s a bit hard to judge, around this time of year, exactly what you’re going to get from your local cashier.

Or from your fellow shoppers.

The Mall of Millennia goes all out this time of year.

A perfect example: last night, I hit one of the local big box stores to do a little bit of shopping, hopeful that 4 o’clock in the afternoon was early enough that I’d miss the worst of the shopping rush, which I had expected to begin well after the 5 p.m. end of the day office closing time.

I was wrong.

The crowds had beat me to it – whether it was in the parking lot, where I could easily have simply parked at my house and had the same walk to the store’s entrance, or in the isles, where being thin became a useless commodity. People act strange when they do their shopping around this time. For one thing, planting your shopping cart in the middle of the isle and not moving aside to show a bit of consideration for others – a definite no-no on most days – appears to be acceptable when you’re standing in front of an array of products and can’t quite figure out which one to buy as a holiday gift.

It’s sad but true: shopping etiquette gets awfully messy during the holidays. Maybe it’s that frantic rush to get in, buy a lot, then leave that engulfs people. I rarely noticed what I felt was a “happy” shopper. Nobody had a smile on their face, nobody seemed to be taking their time to savor the joy of finding that perfect gift. Mostly, there was a kind of dog-eat-dog determination. I kept looking over my shoulder nervously as I walked from one isle to the next.

When I had all my goods, I headed to the first check out lane I saw – there was one person being scanned through and a second one waiting behind her, which wasn’t bad. So I headed there – only to have another man swiftly cut in front of me.

I stopped short, and looked at him, a bit surprised at how brazen he was – but he barely acknowledged me. Plus, since he was bigger than me, I decided to let it pass.

Then I noticed a check out lane two isles over, which was – surprisingly – empty. There were about five lanes open, and each one had a line, except for this one. So I walked over there and put my stuff on the counter, and was done in less than a minute.  The cashier scanning my good was in a great mood. Not all cashiers are — I know stores like they employees to be happy ambassadors for the store, but have you noticed how many of them scream out I hate my job! through their sour expression and equally dour tone? Not this one, though. He seemed positively upbeat as he engaged me in the kind of small talk — “Have you finished your Christmas shopping?” “How are you doing today?” — that I actaully enjoy. No Bah! Humbug from me this time, or my cashier.

As I grabbed my bag and receipt, I glanced over at the man who had cut me off.  He was still waiting in that same line he’d shoved me aside for, and it wasn’t moving all that quickly, because the two people in front of him had a lot to buy.  And did he see me?  Oh yes he did, for a brief second. Then he quickly turned away, as if the irony of our situation – I was about to walk out the door, he was waiting impatiently – hadn’t grasped him.

Poetic justice indeed.

And did I flash a big happy grin as I caught his eye?

What do you think?

If shopping doesn’t always lend itself to the spirit of the season, it can be a lot more fun to hit the mall just to see what the owners have done in terms of holiday decorating. This year, I think the Mall of Millennia went all out, setting up sky high trees, beautifully decorated, that make it hard not to feel swept up into the mood of Christmas.

Some mall decorations are great fun to check out.

And for once, it’s fun to see massive crowds milling past you, because you’re not competing against them in the check out lines, you’re marveling at how these decorations bring people out and about, like a big family. Suddenly there’s so much life in the malls. It’s all hustle and bustle around you.

There are plenty of things to be worried about when you hit the shopping centers these days – will thieves target you at night when you walk back to your car in a spacious, dimly lit parking lot? Will you forget how much you’re spending and then get sticker shock when you open your credit card bill in January?  Will your gifts bomb and will the recipients give you that Wow what in the world was he thinking look once the wrapping paper comes off? And how do you look pleased when you open your own gift and think, This is the worst thing I’ve gotten since last Christmas, as you look up and say, “This is wonderful!”

The holidays don’t get any easier.

But at least those mall decorations make me feel like a kid again, as I glance up at the tree and think, I wish it was Christmas every day.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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