Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday

I was never much of a shopper. My favorite stores are bookstores, hardware stores and stationery stores, in that order.

I'm not a sale-chaser or coupon clipper. And I'm certainly not one to get up and line up in front of a store in the predawn hours, waiting for the store to open, because of some spectacular sale. I'll do it for my kids — to get that Wii, for instance. But to score some hot deal? Nah.

One of my relatives told me yesterday that she and her sister were planning to be at some store (I forget which) this morning at 5 a.m. She loves Black Friday. Not so much for the sales, but for, as she put it, "the thrill of the shop." I can't relate. I dread shopping, unless it involves browsing around a bookstore, a hardware store or a stationery store.

This morning, I glanced at some newspaper inserts as I sipped my first cup of coffee. I noticed Best Buy has a big sale going on. A 32-inch LCD HDTV for $479. Hmm. We're in the market for a TV, so I decided to stop at Best Buy on my way to the gym. It was a casual, spur-of-the-moment decision. At 5 a.m., how many people would be at Best Buy in Riverhead? I'd breeze in and out and go work out.

I am so naive. You'd think after my Wii experience last weekend I'd know better.

At 5:30, a half hour after Best Buy opened, there was a line of people, 3 and 4 abreast, waiting to get IN to the store! The parking lot was jammed. The line went all the way around the corner of the building, past where the people had been camping out in the hopes of scoring a PlayStation 3 or a Wii last week! And it was still dark out! Amazing!

I went directly to the gym. As I pulled into the parking lot, I was shocked to see a line of people waiting for Staples to open at 6! Holy cow!

I went into the gym, feeling like an alien creature. (And grateful for it.) I climbed aboard the Cross-Ramp and ran my butt off for 30 minutes. On the way home, dawn had broken. Every parking lot on Route 58 was jam-packed. Target. Toys R Us. Filled to the brim. Amazing! I guess there are a lot of folks around who love the "thrill of the shop."

What time does Borders open today?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wii for people like mii

We have a Wii. Procurement was not easy. Getting up and out at dawn wasn't enough. It took a lot of luck.

But our Wii, whose name is George, now lives in our TV room, where my children can be found, even as I write this, standing in front of (rather than sitting upon) the couch, flailing their arms about wildly.

The Wii (pronounced "we") is Nintendo's new video game system, replacing the Game Cube, which sits, cast aside, passé, in the corner of our TV room. You can play Game Cube games on the Wii, you see. It is that clever.

The distinguishing feature of the Wii, the one that sets it apart from Sony's PlayStation 3, is its wireless game controller that detects motion and rotation in three dimensions. The really neat thing about that, gushed my 14-year-old daughter a year ago, when she first started talking (incessantly) about Wii, is that it allows "old people like you, Mom" to play video games with ease.

"You know how you're so spastic operating the controller?" she asked me excitedly. Like I'm going to admit to being spastic at anything.

"No," I insisted. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, come on, Mom," she insisted, laughing hard. "You can't play Tony Hawk. All you do is crash. And you can't get Dash past the first intersection in The Incredibles without getting creamed. You can't even play Klax."

She was right. It is true. When it comes to video game controllers, I'm hopelessly, totally spastic. There were no video games when I was a kid. I didn't touch a controller until adulthood. That makes all the difference. At least that's how I explain my spasticity to my kids. They find it entertaining. Sometimes they ask me to play with them just so they could get a good laugh and make fun of me.

"Nintendo made Wii for people like you," Katie giggled. "You don't have to push buttons. You just move the controller around." Wii would be such a hit, my daughter predicted, Sony (maker of PlayStation) will go out of business. If I owned Sony stock, I'd sell it.

Revolution. They code named it Revolution while it was in development. That's how significantly different it is, my daughter advised solemnly.

While Katie was counting down the days till Nov. 19, the day Wii would go on sale in North America, I didn't think much about Wii until I saw a tent city sprout up around Best Buy last week, where people camped out for days hoping to buy PlayStation 3 on Nov. 17.

As the big day for Wii approached, the frequency and urgency of my daughter's reminders about Wii increased.

"We're not sleeping in the parking lot outside a big box store, absolutely not," I said firmly. "No way."

Surely, there would be plenty of opportunity to buy Wii before Christmas. Isn't that the point of timing its release in mid November? This is all hype. I reminded her how we'd spent the night in Borders last year — until midnight anyway — just so we could buy the new Harry Potter book the moment it went on sale. They would surely run out of them immediately and permanently — or so she feared. The next morning, Wal-Mart had eight-foot-tall stacks of them. We could have gotten our beauty rest.

But what if...? What if there won't be any more Wiis any time soon? That thought jarred me awake before 6 a.m. Sunday morning. I was at Wal-Mart one minute past its 7 a.m. opening. And the Wiis were all gone. People had camped out the night before, to be able to get tickets distributed by Wal-Mart an hour or so before the store would open. A ticket secured a Wii. Wal-Mart only had 20 Wiis to sell. Twenty? If Wal-Mart only had 20, this was serious.

A lady in Wal-Mart told me Kmart had them, but only the "bundle," which came with games and cost a lot more. The Wii base price is $249. The Wii "bundle" was something like $489. I went to Kmart anyway. A sign on the door said Wii tickets would be given out at 6 a.m. Too late again. I headed for Target, wondering when this ticket system thing had taken root in the American marketplace.

My heart sank when I saw the line of people outside Target. I'd missed the boat again.

The mother of one of Katie's friends was bringing up the rear. She looked as happy as she could be under the circumstances — in a line outside Target at 7:15 on a brisk Sunday morning, coming off a night shift at work, no less. But she had a ticket. And to my amazement, I would get mine. Number 61. Target had gotten a shipment of 67 Wiis to sell. I arrived in time to get ticket number 61. Five minutes later and I'd have been out of luck.

I was excited, but couldn't share the news with anyone at home. They were all still asleep.

Most of the people around me in line were parents in pursuit of Wii for their kids. The young people who'd camped out at Target all night were at the front of the line. Other parents came from Springs. And Sag Harbor. And Orient. We had one thing in common: spoiled children. We chatted about the revenge we would exact.

The best revenge, I decided, would be to actually win at Wii. So Sunday afternoon found me "boxing" with Katie, punching the air with my Wii controllers (one of them is called a Numchuk) trying to land a good punch on Katie's character on the TV.

Katie clobbered me. Knocked me out, in fact.

Turns out I'm just as spastic with the Wii as I am with a traditional video game controller. What a surprise.

© 2006 Times-Review Newspapers

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Holiday weeks

I've been distracted— so much going on. Managing a company with a staff of 60 is quite the enterprise. As former GE CEO Jack Welch, whose book, "Winning" I'm listening to right now, says (repeatedly) it's all about the people. That is just so true. Having the right people in place is what makes a business succeed or fail.

We're very fortunate at Times/Review to have so many great people. You'd be hard pressed to find people more dedicated and hard-working than the staff that produces and distributes our four newspapers. They are fantastic and I am often awed by how they do what they do. Sure, we have our ups and downs, and we make our mistakes. We're human. But as a group, we get it done and, I'm proud to say, most of the time, do it very, very well.

Thanksgiving week and the week after are a rough time for us. We're off Thursday and Friday. So that means we have two "short weeks" in a row. This week is one of the toughest of the year, because we have to produce our papers a day early. So today is Wednesday at Times/Review, even though the rest of the world thinks it's Tuesday. Getting it done this week means staying in overdrive for three straight 14-hour-plus days. Then next week, it's more of the same— somewhat easier because losing a Friday isn't as stressful as losing a Wednesday, our normal production day. Holidays take on a different meaning in this business.

But I'm not complaining. This is about as fun and exciting as work can get. Every week, every day is different. And you're doing something that makes a difference in your community. That's what inspires and infuses us with energy, feeling that what we do really matters, that people count on us to know what's going on, to help them navigate through their busy lives.

As we approach Thankgiving Day and I take time to count my blessings, I count among them working with such a fantastic group of people to contribute something meaningful to the community we call home.