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Another Portland Blog

Monday, December 04, 2006


Black Friday in Seattle

I spent Thanksgiving weekend wandering around downtown Seattle. On Black Friday the streets exploded with a predictable slew of bored cops, panhandlers and shoppers totting Nordstrom bags. It's the same scene you can find in malls and city centers across the country. But I wonder if everywhere else attracts the same brand of rebel rouser that Seattle does on this day of the year. Sure, there was the ongoing power struggle between protesters and Schumacher Furs but did any of them run around in prison jumpsuits as part of a presidential chain gang? And on Black Friday for that matter?

I'm almost always in Seattle during the holiday weekend. One year a small army of protesters stormed into the Bon Marche (now a Macy's) and staged a sit-in up in the fur department. "Buy Nothing Day" once attracted a large crowd of demonstrators crossing no less than two generational gaps, along with them a cluster of grandmothers who sang rewritten Christmas carols. Black Friday '99 was pretty quiet, maybe because everyone was saving their energy for the WTO riots that would follow a few days later.

From what I observed, Black Friday '06 was pretty quiet. Although the protesters that did roll out were weirder than I've seen in past years. First off, this guy spent the morning holding a "Free Hugs" sign near the Qwest carousel. By the afternoon he had recruited a dozen others to help him spread awkward good cheer. At least one passerby took them up on their offer. I initially figured this was a "Seattle thing" but, nope, it's national. I wonder what would happen if a crowd of "Free Hug" people encountered a pillow-fight flash mob. Or Santacon (FYI: this year it's slated for Saturday the 9th here in Portland). Or Wolverine. Or all three. That would be something to see.

I guess this is all the remains of Seattle's annual "Buy Nothing" brigade. This guy stuck it out all afternoon, enduring the indifference and avoided eye contact of people passing by with overstuffed shopping bags. Based on the smiles on their faces, their Old Navy bags chock full of $8 t-shirts were bringing them at least a little bit of joy. And what exactly does he expect a few bucks worth of cotton to do anyway? Dance? Develop the ability to love unconditionally? Some of us are just happy to have something to keep our bloated American guts out of sight and soak up the occasional bit of drool that escapes from our maws while gobbling down a half-pound burger, a basket of cheese fries and a 24 ounce Coors. On the other hand, maybe a t-shirt once broke his heart and he hasn't quite recovered. Maybe it was this one. Poor guy.

This guitarist wasn't protesting anything. If I'm mistaken though, he must have been engaged in a one man demonstration against unenthusiastic street musicians. This guy had more panned expressions and "hell yeah" grimaces than a dozen bluesmen or a few hundred Eric Claptons, depending on your point of view. He started a guitar solo around 10 AM and didn't finish until 3 PM. There might have been a break or two in there but that's still pretty damn impressive, especially while standing on an amp in the freezing cold.

OK, have a look at these two. What sort of people do you think are under those costumes? If you guessed a middle-aged mother and her own 60-something mother, you would be right. I was chugging a cappuccino in a coffee shop when their Suburu Outback pulled up outside. Out popped the grandmother, the mother and a 14-old son that looked embarrassed to be there. After an argument, the mother balked. He took off his prison duds and (probably) wandered off to spend the afternoon at the Game Works a few blocks away.

To be honest, I can't blame him. Initially, the matriarchs tried to get him to play the Condoleezza role in their White House chain gang. They managed to get the mask on him for roughly 30 seconds before he tore it off in disgust. Rumsfeld didn't show, apparently. They set up shop near the carousel and made the best of things. Later in the day, I spotted a couple struggling to get the Condi head on their six year old daughter for a photo. I wish I had gotten a shot of that for the cover of my Christmas cards.

But the real missed Xmas card opp. of the day came when a burly Santa Claus/prison warden wandered down the street leading eight "reindeer" dressed in Guantanamo Bay garb. Unfotunately, my batteries had run out of juice by that point. A damn shame. I could have put the photo on a t-shirt, not that it would have made me happy or anything.

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