By Alissa Lawton Special to Published Dec 03, 2010 at 9:59 AM

I love shopping, and for the most part, I'm pretty frugal about spending. I'm always looking for a deal. So it might be a bit surprising that I've never dared to venture out on Black Friday. Until this year. Gulp!

I need my space when I shop. I don't like pressure from sales people and I hate feeling like I'm racing through a store, competing with other shoppers to find the best item for the best price. Not to mention, I've never had a desire to be that bug-eyed, sleep-deprived person that bursts through the door at Walmart at 4 a.m. only to be trampled by the masses behind me. It's just not how I picture my 15 minutes of fame playing out on the news. But, this year my boyfriend's sister decided she wanted to go and she bribed me with a latte to go along.

About 11 Thanksgiving night, as we drove home past tons of stores, I was awestruck to see people lined around the block to get into places like Best Buy and Toys 'R' Us. What is so good that it's worth camping outside in the freezing cold with a bunch of other insane shoppers, possibly not using a bathroom for 12 hours or so, just to be the first weirdo in the door? There's nothing I'm willing to get up for at 3 a.m.

Thankfully, she agreed to a 7 a.m. wake time and, again, with the promise of a Starbucks latte, I agreed to risk being trodden by a bunch of sales-crazed, over-caffeinated cheapskates to see what all the hype was about. We arrived at the mall at close to 7:30 and, to my amazement, found a parking spot relatively quickly.

Our adventure was nearly cut short when she managed to find the only frozen puddle in the entire lot and, had it not been for my cat-like reflexes (espresso to the rescue!), would've broken something and we'd have spent the next several hours in the urgent care.

Through the doors I expected to find utter mayhem. It was busy for sure and I was definitely feeling claustrophobic the minute we hit the main floor, but, so far, no one was screaming profanities or trying to stab one another with a 40 percent-off fillet knife. We maneuvered through the crowds to the housewares department only to find the one item we'd both really set out for was all gone. Go figure.

You cannot get up at 7 and expect to get 1,000 thread count sheets for 40 bucks. Not today! The lovely, middle aged woman who got the last set had no qualms about informing us that she indeed had the last set and that she'd already asked if there were more, but alas, she reiterated, she had the last set. I found this to be a gutsy move on her part considering there were two of us and only one, very uncoordinated looking her. Had we been up since 3 in the hopes of getting those sheets, she very well may have found herself bound and gagged in the bedding department while we made off with the goods.

Instead, in the spirit of the holiday, we both smiled at her and moved on. Again, I was expecting far more ruckus, but the best we got were some obnoxious teenagers with volume control problems and a few nasty looks from some older ladies who seemed to think, if they looked at an item; it was officially off limits to anyone else. My favorite part of the morning, however, was finding men, from ages 20-65, sleeping in various parts of the stores.

Obviously these poor souls had been bullied by their girlfriends and wives into coming along as nothing more than pack animals. The first few I found I legitimately thought were mannequins.

About two and half hours later, we were both fatigued and burdened with shopping bags. I was done with this process. I could say I'd been shopping on Black Friday. However, there was one more stop we had to make: The Disney Store.

This time of year is usually cold enough that it's difficult to run from your car to the mall door without a coat. But when you're inside the stores on Black Friday, frantic and overwhelmed, a winter coat is the last thing you want to be wearing. There is nothing like standing in a line for half an hour, overheated, holding a huge stuffed animal, listening to "It's A Small World
After All" and feeling like you're going to barf. Sure, the employees in The Disney Store are probably used to snot and barf and tears, but not from adults! Just when I thought I couldn't take it anymore, we were to the front of the line.

I don't know if I'll ever attempt this again. I know the deals are insane, but as I said, I'm a calculated, savvy shopper and I need my personal space to think through what's a value and what's just cheap junk. Some day I'll learn to start holiday shopping months in advance, but until then, at least I've learned a few things about this unofficial holiday for the thrifty masses.

A few words to the wise if you EVER plan to go shopping on Black Friday:

  • Don't force your boyfriend or husband to go with you unless you're willing to give a big reward for this sacrifice.
  • Risk hypothermia and do not bring your winter coat in with you. It will only slow you down.
  • DO NOT bring your children. I cannot tell you how many parents we saw trying to drag their exhausted kids through the mall. This is not a family-friendly event people.
  • Schedule serious nap time afterward. If you have big plans for the rest of the day, forget about it. You'll be begging for mercy by 4 p.m.
  • Don't punch any sweet, tiny centenarians at Walmart for just doing their jobs. Unless you want an unflattering mug shot on the news and everyone in your city hating you.
  • Espresso is your friend. Embrace the love.
Alissa Lawton Special to

Alissa grew up on the near west side of Madison and had childhood dreams of being a veterinarian. Instead she moved to Milwaukee to attend college and attained a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from UW-Milwaukee. Previously an advertising copywriter and a marketing specialist, Alissa always preferred the writing aspect of her career.

An animal lover, a shoe lover and a white wine lover, she now resides on the much beloved East Side of Milwaukee in what she describes as an ancient apartment building full of character, but lacking sufficient electrical outlets and the convenience of an elevator.

To some she comes across as a shy wall flower, to those that know her much better she is a social butterfly, usually overdressed and wearing inappropriately uncomfortable shoes for nearly every occasion. Either way you choose to see her, Alissa has a strong desire to bring awareness to the social issues in our city while maintaining a sense of humor about herself and surroundings.