It’s Friday, November 25. 5:00 A.M.
Carl had done this every Black Friday since he graduated from Purdue Technical College with a diploma in video reporting. He was on his own personal career track and things were going well. He’d been working at the regional for three years now. He had started in production but six months into his new job, his persistence, reasonably straight teeth, and the unfortunate incident in which his predecessor Wayne Pikering had been clobbered in the back of the head by the mirror of a speeding 18 wheeler while doing a remote report on littering on the highways and had been rendered, as his station manager Clive “The Big Man” Johnston, but better known as “Fatty” or “Manboobies” to his diffident employees, as useless as a fur lined toilet.
But this was new to Carl. He’d never witnessed such a haunting scene. Nothing in his sixteen month accelerated program had prepared him for this.
“This is Carl Donaldson reporting for WPTA. It’s Black Friday, and I’m coming to you live from outside the Target Super Store in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and I can’t believe the scene that is unfolding behind me.” The camera pulls back, and pans to the left, showing the doorway of the megastore. In the far distance, a lone employee is pushing open the door. The camera widens to reveal an empty parking lot, slick and shining with the rain from the night before. A flyer tumbles through the view. The only sound is the wind and the clink of the line against the flag pole. The camera moves back to the reporter. “Back to you Jim.”
There’s pandemonium in the booth. The producer, a fast thinking veteran, picks up the phone and gets his aunt Mavis on the phone. “Aunty M, why aren’t you down at the Target Super Store this morning? It’s Black Friday? You always go. Will you go on a video chat and help me with my newscast this morning?
“Well sugar, that sounds like fun. I’ll just slap on some lipstick.”
By the time the producer gets off the phone with his aunt, the director has filled in several other live feeds from other regional affiliates and the national morning show as well. The scene is the same all across the country. Empty parking lots. The director tells Carl to find the store manager, and gets Aunt Mavis on the phone with the anchor Kitty Wells in a split screen.
“Mavis, this is Kitty Wells. We interviewed you last year about this time standing in the crushing lineup at the Target store over by Butcher’s Hollow. Can you tell me why you’re not there this morning.” Mavis looks over her glasses her computer, trying to remember what her nephew had told her about looking at the camera and not at the screen.
“Well Kitty, do you mind if I call you Kitty. I just love your new hair, by the way. All the girls at my bridge club were talking about it last week. It’s so much more flattering than the bob you wore last year. I’m sorry, I’m just so excited to talk to you. Umm, what was the questions again, honey?”
“ Mavis, that’s okay. My question was just this... Why aren’t you shopping?”
“ Oh that’s simple, honey. I don’t need anything.”
Camera two lights up. Kitty swings in her chair, pauses for effect, looks directly into the camera. In the two seconds it takes to switch around Kitty’s mind is racing. How do you sum up something as absurd as this story. Does she do humor, or gravity. Think. Think. It’s no use. Her mind seizes up. “ In all my years as a reporter I’ve never seen anything like this. Let’s check in with traffic.”
Kitty pulls the directors feed from her ear. She stares are her hands. Wrinkled. Another new age spot. Terrific. Her hands always betray her age. The plastic surgeon has kept her in the game as anchor for longer than she expected. Nothing major, just little tweaks to keep her looking professional and alert. Every March she went on holidays to Belize and came back looking “refreshed and relaxed”, which everyone on the team used as code on her first day back. ‘Kitty, you’re back from holidays looking refreshed and relaxed. Thanks Tad, I had great time in the Ecovillage in Belize working with orphans and endangered species.’
She never thought it would end like this. Her ideas of the way the world worked had been fed by a misspent youth as a Baptist in a small farming town. Sitting in church, listening to the preacher admonish them all for there sins, she could believe that the end of the world would end in fire as the bible said. Mixing theology and what little modern science her education afforded, she imagined the fire would be nuclear war, or drought fed wildfires, or maybe a mega volcano, or even a meteor the size of Rhode Island obviating the earth. She half believed in the rapture, but when she moved out of Tanner, Ind, population 1786, and into the big city of Fort Wayne, she began to doubt the literal bible, and settled for a broader world view.
But she never saw this coming.
The feeds from around the world were all the same, massive selloffs in stocks; first in retail, then as the realization that without retail, the next to suffer would be trucking and warehousing. Dominos started falling. Without trucking, container ships and ports would be idled. Massive layoffs in Asian factories, followed by riots. Oil prices plummeted. Mall developers evaporated. Banking collapsed. Impassioned pleas from world leaders for people to head back to the stores, get more debt, and prop up the world were ignored. The sales were attractive, but something had changed.
It was the end of more.