The reality is that I don’t fear crowds. I just don’t happen to like what happens to certain people trapped in their hot parkas for too long, among dozens of other people trapped in their hot parkas for too long. It creates a bit of a pressure cooker effect that raises blood pressures and potentially spills over into an eruption of strong negative emotions.
When you add to the mix the ticking clock of Christmas approaching and stock flying off the shelf, it’s that wild card of not knowing when you might get caught in the crossfire of people whose attitude would get them a permanent placement (with glittering gold stars) on Santa’s naughty list, and a free gift card for anger management training.
Despite buying my first presents in August, making about a hundred lists and checking them twice, and stocking up on anything and everything that doesn’t go bad to reduce my number of store visits in December, there are still things that need to be bought at the last minute for the sake of freshness. I accept that.
But to minimize my exposure to people whose tempers need tempering requires strategy, problem-solving skills and a strong Internet connection. Not only does it demand shopping at off-peak times, but around here it also means dodging snowstorms, freezing rain and Ottawa Senators game night traffic.
To calculate the logistics of this early morning weekend run, it starts with a chart of the last minute items, the location of where I expect to find them, and Google searches to verify at what time each store opens.
I’ll then rearrange the order chronologically to try to be at each stop shortly after they open, to zip in and out before the crowds begin, and before the parking lots turn into inescapable mazes of vehicles parked in improvised spots.
And if two locations open at the same time, I’ll travel to the one with the most poorly organized parking lot first, just to get it out of the way. It’s not that I consider myself an engineer or designer of parking lots, but when you have two or three small entrances for several hundred spots, you can easily see where it’s like squeezing a massive toothpaste tube through tiny little holes. These need to be tackled as early as possible.
Plus, I need to calculate alternate routes around construction zones, shopping malls and Costcos, just to avoid the traffic vortex of impatience, honking horns and outstretched middle fingers. It doesn’t matter that I’m not actually visiting those malls and Costcos, but when they are that popular and that busy, it’s far too easy to accidentally get stuck in traffic in their vicinity.
On the morning in question, I’ll wake up early, feed the cat and moderate my coffee intake to minimize the need for bathroom breaks while on the road. Then it’s a quick shower, followed by a light but sustaining breakfast to ensure I’m not the “hangry” one.
As I leave the house, bundled up against the elements, but not too bundled up to avoid getting too hot, I embark upon my journey.
I was delighted that traffic was almost non-existent for my first stop at 8:30, and that I was in and out in a matter of minutes.
On my way to my second major stop, I filled up at a gas station that wasn’t too busy and stopped by a bank machine for a few extra dollars. I was already delighted to see three things scratched off my last-minute list.
By 9:05, I was at the next stop, which was just past a Costco where traffic mayhem hadn’t started yet. I already considered that a big win and a relief. Again, I was in and out of the store in a matter of minutes.
My last stop was at a grocery store and a pharmacy surrounded by a huge parking lot with several access points, so this one was the least of my worries. But it was inside that I had to watch myself.
At the grocery store, I spotted a fellow drive his grocery cart like a battering ram. What was more concerning was that he wasn’t even looking forward as he was doing so. At one point, he made an illegal U-turn in the dairy section, swinging around his grocery cart with the intensity of a weather vane in a tornado. He could kill someone with that move if he doesn’t look around him before doing that. I was quite glad that this was my last stop.
Yet, when I left around 9:30 to head home, I had to navigate around an accident between two cars on a road that isn’t usually busy. If it could happen here, it could happen anywhere. It was time to call it a day and to get off the roads.
I know some people who enjoy the thrill of the last-minute rush, but that’s never been my style. Year after year, I keep moving my preparations up to avoid as much of it as possible.
It doesn’t really matter how much compassion or empathy I can muster to remain balanced through it all, it’s because of my compassion and empathy that I can feel overwhelmed by too many people in panic mode.
I also know that keeping a sense of humour about it does indeed take the edge off, whether it’s from screaming kids in snowsuits yelling that they’re too hot (a sentiment to which I can wholeheartedly relate) or bumping into another uncle at the toy store taking pictures of wish list items and sending texts to the parents asking “Is this it?” We’re all in the same boat and just trying to make the season bright.
For those of us who don’t deal well with the pressure cooker and the negative energy that goes with it, all we can do is plan ahead, manage what we can, and to minimize our exposure to the more intense times of last-minute preparations.
And when those last-minute preparations are done, there is no greater reward than that feeling of “all is calm, all is bright”, and to be fully in the moment to enjoy quality time with family and good friends.
Merry Christmas dear readers! Cheers!
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Have a great day,