by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & o this is hunting and gathering, 21st-century style. That's what I'm thinking as I race down to Fred Meyer, well before the crack of dawn. In our era, there's no need to fight for food -- instead, I'm on the hunt for the must-have toy of the holiday season. My caveman ancestors had spears and clubs; all I've got is caffeine, a debit card and Dwight Yoakam providing the soundtrack for my Wii-quest: "Only you / can make my dreams come true."
Well, not my dreams -- my kids'. Like millions of others this Christmas, they want a Wii under the tree.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & fter dilly-dallying through October and November, I started getting serious a few weeks back by thumbing through the Sunday ads.
Look, I thought, there are Wiis on sale all over. So I pick up the phone.
"So do you have Wiis on sale today?" I ask at 9:30-ish.
On the other end of the phone, there's a laugh, and finally, "Yeah, but we sold them all first thing this morning."
A few more calls, some Web surfing, and I learn that the pursuit of Nintendo's Wii has become a national sport. With the supply so tight and the demand so high, only a few are trickling out every week, and you have to be there before the doors open if you want a chance at the prize.
During the week, just in case, I checked in at the Game Stop in River Park Square.
"Got any Wiis?" I ask, already knowing the answer.
"No, but we might get some later, when the UPS guy gets here." (The clerk goes on to describe how some days they get four Wiis, some days they get none -- and the UPS guy arrives between 1 pm and 4 pm.)
"So what -- do you have to camp out or something?"
"Yeah," he says, "like those guys" -- pointing to two people on the bench outside the door.
I size them up -- sweats, pale skin, idle during work hours. Yep, eBayers.
Out on the hunt, eBay resellers compete with actual parents, snapping up Wiis so they can sell them on line. Lately, Wiis on eBay have been selling for at least $100 over the $250 retail price.
"It's getting pretty crazy," the clerk added, "like, they're stalking the UPS guy now. Following him around, like, 'Hey, where are you going, man? What do you have there?'"
So this is what I'm up against, I thought. It's a powerful human impulse -- a Wii-flex, if you will. Not being able to have something makes me want it even more. So from that moment, I was like, "Game on!"
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & y prey is in sight as I angle my car into the parking lot at 6:30 am Sunday, sizing up the field of battle. A lone shopper waits at the front door, but as I park, I see several cars running, huddled figures inside all watching the door.
My journey began the night before; I started making calls around 9 pm.
Toys R Us: Wouldn't have any for Sunday. Best Buy: Nope, none. Sears: "I haven't seen a Wii in three weeks." Fred Meyer on Thor: Details were sketchy, as in, "We have a truck here, but we're not sure what's on it." Circuit City: "We're expecting to have some, yes." Target: Another definite maybe.
Fred Meyer seemed my best bet, so I called the Francis store: "We know, but I can't tell you," the guy in electronics said.
"Well, should I make the drive?"
"I can't tell you."
"It's kind of a long way up there -- can't you just give me a little hint?"
"OK, yes, you should come."
Then Fred Meyer at Wandermere: "We'll have 17 here tomorrow," he offered, apparently unaware of the "I-can't-tell-you-until-you-ask-three-times" policy in effect over at Francis.
So Fred Meyer it is. I decided to start at the Thor store. If I struck out there, I'd head up to Target before their 8 am opening, then to Circuit City before they open at 10 am. If I whiff all morning, it's back to Square One.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s I wander up to the front door of Fred Meyer, I'm greeted by a cheery "Mornin'!" from the other diehard. I'm quickly up to speed on his personal Wii path. My new best friend tells me how he was at these very doors the week before, when only four Wiis were available; today there are 21 (according to the note on the door), and he's giddy -- even thinking of calling his buddy to come down for the easy pickings. We spend about five minutes, just the two of us bonding over our Wii stories.
Perhaps to avoid the spectacle of freezing patrons lined up outside their door overnight every Saturday, Fred Meyer has adopted a lottery system. Most places sell Wiis first come, first served, but at Freddie's, if you get there before 7 am, you get a number and they choose winners.
Soon, a young associate comes out and hands us each a number -- he's 17 and I'm 18. Then another man joins us; he'd been there last week, too, and he could recite the winning numbers from memory -- none of them his. The crowd grows, and next a woman shares a fresh Wii-port: She was No. 13 at Shopko just a few minutes ago -- "and they only had 12. I knew I shouldn't have hit snooze...."
Another guy grabs a ticket, holds it up and says, "I'm 24." Suddenly there are more tickets than Wiis, and we all know what that means: Some of us have got lumps of coal coming.
At five minutes before 7, an SUV barrels up and three groggy teenage boys pile out, soon followed by mom and dad after they park. Then, the last woman jogs up and grabs the final ticket -- No. 36.
With no fanfare, the store manager grabs the first winning number out of a paper Fred Meyer bag -- No. 36.
"You have got to be kidding," the woman says, visibly dumbfounded.
"That's the way," a guy next to me mumbles, "just walk right up and get your Wii."
Within the first dozen picks, every member of the SUV family has already won, claiming nearly a quarter of the store's allocation -- $1,300 worth of Wiis -- and prompting grumblings from the crowd: Is that the odor of eBay? Winners walk into the warm glow of the store, leaving the rest of us, literally, out in the bone-chilling cold.
"You guys don't need to worry about me," I tell a couple next to me, as the skies start turning Santa-suit red, mocking me as my chances dwindle. "I've never won anything."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & U & lt;/span & ntil now. Yeah, they called my number. Once inside, waiting to claim my prize, I look back to see if my new best friend is going to make it. I finally see him, unlucky No. 17, walking by without looking over at the winning queue, perhaps in search of a maple bar or two to take the edge off another near-miss.
As I drive home, I can't forget him as the rest of that Dwight Yoakam song plays, capturing perfectly the ennui of a Christmas without this year's It Gift: "Only you / can break my heart."