Sometimes you need a sign in your most difficult moments – something to tell you that you’re on the right path when you find yourself in doubt. You need that push to keep on going. That reaffirmation that your decision was the right one, and that things are going to work out. Sometimes that sign can come in the most unexpected form.
Sometimes it comes in the shape of a man in his late 30s wearing ravaged steel toe boots, dirty jeans, a pale blue shirt, and a worn out ball cap walking up to a bunch of strangers in a Toys R Us parking lot, looking to the heavens and yelling, “Listen to how I FUCKED Walmart!”
Chapter 1: How did it come to this?
Last year I had my soul ripped out of my body as I failed once again in my lifelong pursuit of a Millennium Falcon at the midnight openings of Toys R Us and Target for Force Friday – the day the toys for The Force Awakens launched. It was a harrowing experience that showed me my nerdiness may have gone way too far. So of course I eased up on the nerdiness by ordering a Falcon online, purchasing many other toys, getting the Lego Millennium Falcon, and seeing The Force Awakens seven times in theaters.
When it was announced earlier this year that there would be another Force Friday for the release of the merchandise for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first standalone Star Wars flick, I knew I had to attend. Last year was fun, so I wanted get the whole crew from that night back together. It would be great.
However, things didn’t start out great at all. Since Rogue One isn’t an entry in the normal series, hype was significantly lower for Force Friday – or Rogue Friday this time around. So much so, in fact, that I called Toys R Us a week in advance to see if they would be doing a midnight opening. The embarrassment of talking to a stranger about it was killer. The further embarrassment when I realized there was an entire section about it on their website I could have just checked first hurt even more. I tried not to dwell on that though as it was sure to be a good time.
I was to be joined once more by Bill, Jeff, Sean and Travis, and we would meet up with Andy, our former teacher and dear friend. Andy is the biggest Star Wars fan we know and the only reason it is worth going to things like this. But as the midnight hour drew near, everything started to fall apart.
Bill was only going to grab dinner with us then leave. Sean and Travis had to back out as real life things required their attention. Poor Jeff drove an hour to meet up with us all, but it was looking like he’d just be standing outside in the cold with me and Andy for hours.
We went to Hooters for unlimited boneless wings and waited for Andy to say he was at Toys R Us up the street. We were waiting and waiting, then finally went over to TRU around 9 and saw there was not a single person in the parking lot. As it got closer to 10 we realized how preposterous this was and went up the road to another restaurant to kill time.
Then I got the text from Andy. Real world responsibilities meant he too was out. Jeff had a long drive home ahead of him, and I was so concerned about the absurdity of possibly being the only people at this thing, we contemplated calling it off. To his credit, Bill decided he’d stick with us for however long we stayed out, but the Rogue Friday celebration was looking like a dud.
As the clock hit 11, I said I would stay if there was just one other person in line. When we got back to TRU, there were four people in line. These fucking assholes. Two straight years we could’ve been the first ones in line. However, the first guy in line was right behind us last year, so it was nice to see he made the return. A few minutes later another guy rolls in driving an obnoxious Hummer and gets in line behind us.
Waiting around with just five other people was really making me feel like a loser. Little did we know everything was about to change.
Chapter 2: Enter Ralph
A big pickup truck pulls up and two guys get out. One shorter, wearing a hoodie and shorts, already bored. The other had fire in his eyes and was the aforementioned man who we’d soon find out had screwed the big W.
He stormed over to us and told us we should all go to Walmart after this and load up since they had some exclusive figures that looked great. We nodded and thanked him for the tip.
Then he threw his arms out, looked up at the sky, and very loudly yelled, “Listen to how I FUCKED Walmart.”
They had laid out the new toys early, including some two-packs that cost about $15 a pop. As he was checking out the cashier couldn’t find them in the system. He told her they only cost $8, so he got them on the cheap. Showed those bastards!
Very satisfied, he loaded up with a mouthful of chew and pulled out his phone to show me and Jeff pictures of his Star Wars collection. This guy was a whirlwind and we had no idea how to react.
“I got a whole fuckin’ wall,” he told us. Turns out it was actually two walls! He had dedicated bookcases for the Rebels, Sith and other groups. It was an impressive collection.
He then started grilling us about what figures we had and if we wanted to trade. I’m not that serious about this stuff, and my friends certainly are not, so we had to tell him we didn’t have some obscure figure he was after. That was the cue for guy who had been silently waiting in line behind us.
“I’ve got that. I gotta find him, though. He’s probably at my parent’s house,” he said. Walmart Guy’s eyes lit up. He was going to start negotiating a trade when the dude at the front of the line suddenly called out to start working his own deals with Walmart Guy.
As I listened to their conversation, I found out our buddy from last year is named Kyle, and our new player is known to the world as Ralph. They showed each other pictures of their collections and seemed to really bond.
Ralph walked back over to the guy behind us, who eventually introduced himself as Sean, and said, “That young man has an impressive collection. Dude, mind if I get your text? I’m not a crazy person. I just want to make some trades. I want to start a whole group to get people trading.”
Sean was so into what Ralph was saying that he took a huge wad of chew as well to celebrate.
Ralph was in heaven. He continued, “I know you’re busy so I don’t wanna be weird. I’m gonna send you some pictures of stuff I got, and if you wanna trade or sell or anything…do you have the cantina band?”
“I got two or three full sets of them,” Sean replied.
“Two or three?! Duuuude! We gotta hook up.”
At this point a group of Toys R Us workers came out to take our picture (fucking kill me) and tell us that they only had five of the store-exclusive Imperial Hovertank Pilot. I had no idea what that meant. Since there were only five, they were giving out tickets to get one. Anybody who wanted a ticket just had to raise their hand.
Four other people did so, and since nobody wanted it the workers were going to hold onto the fifth when Jeff yelled, “Joe will take one!”
I thought it would make a better story probably, so I accepted the last ticket. Turned out the damn thing cost $20 because it is part of the super serious collectors set, The Black Series. They are going for a pretty penny on eBay, so this figure’s fate has been decided.
Ralph eagerly took a ticket, but upon realizing it was for one of the Black Series figures – which are six inches rather than the usual 3.75” figures that he likes – he started having second thoughts. A heavier man was walking toward the line and Ralph decided this was the moment to strike.
“Hey big guy,” Ralph shouted to him across the parking lot, “You here for the six inch?”
He was not.
Sean had mentioned that he is a cop, so Ralph asked his thoughts on the recent shootings. Sean said that Black Lives Matter is actually controlled by rich white people, and then never finished what he was saying since Ralph was in the zone.
Sean told us, “I was in Iraq…”
“Oh jeez,” Ralph cut in. “Thank you for your sacrifice.”
Not giving Sean the chance to respond, Ralph kept right on rambling, saying, “I don’t know, man. I get the anger. But it’s like, the guys that got shot weren’t good people. They were criminals. Whatever. There’s no politics in Star Wars.”
“Except the prequels,” I said.
This kicked off a prequel discussion which led to this nugget from Sean:
“I was in Iraq right before Revenge of the Sith came out. All I could think was, ‘I hope I don’t die before this movie.’”
A soldier after my own heart.
Since this seemed like the proper time to do so, Ralph then addressed the recent clown sightings, saying, “I don’t like that, man. If I saw a clown I would beat him. Some cops are cool with that. We’re in for a bad winter.”
We were still 20 minutes from midnight, giving Ralph plenty of time to throw out some more random musings.
“I saw this big box set. It was like Jabba and Leia with the Rancor and the Gamorrean guard. Somebody had ripped the box open and pulled Leia out,” Ralph told us with great concern. “I went and got a manager and pointed at this thing. I was like, ‘Look, you got robbed. Who is gonna buy this?’ I kicked the box, too. ‘Who is gonna buy this now? Who would buy this?’”
He paused for a moment, surveyed the beautiful evening sky, then gave a wry smile and said, “Me. For 40 bucks.”
I assumed that was a nice discount.
The conversation turned to comic movies and other nerdy things, and Ralph called out to his friend with great pride.
“Hey Willie, I’m not the only one.”
Willie threw the thumbs up Ralph’s way without taking his eyes off his phone.
“Hey Willie, what are you buying tonight?”
Willie looked up at that and said, “Dude I’m here for moral support. I’m not fuckin’ buyin’ shit. That new FIFA is out. I should be home rocking that.”
Jeff and Bill talked about FIFA with Willie for a bit as the clock drew ever closer to midnight. With only a couple minutes to go, Ralph left us with one final nugget.
“I make custom figures. I took Ki-Adi-Mundi’s head and put him on this GI Joe body. Gave him a red lightsaber and painted the body black. He had spikes and stuff; it was armor. I put these robes on him too. He looks really cool. I want to get him a pet dragon.”
Chapter 3: Into the lion’s den
The doors opened a little after midnight. As we stepped inside we got two free posters, a free t-shirt, and a warm handshake from Geoffrey the Giraffe. I booked right back to where the figures were and started grabbing stuff. Ralph was there encouraging everybody’s selections, telling people how cool their choices were.
Because I am an overgrown child, I enjoy the Rebels cartoon, so I grabbed a few figures from that. Since we were celebrating Rogue One I got Jyn Erso, the new protagonist, as well as K-2SO, the droid played by Alan Tudyk. Strangely, they aren’t selling many characters from Rogue One in this first wave of figures. Just the two I got, and I think some Stormtroopers, which could be from any movie basically. Either way, I got what I was after.
Things were very calm this year. Last year people were ripping things off shelves and going nuts. Everybody had time to peacefully look this year. The fact it was a small crowd and there were no big new releases helped. I was very disappointed when I saw multiple Millennium Falcons on the shelf. A year removed from my agonizing defeat, it hurt to see so many readily available now. I took a deep breath, thought of my own waiting at home, reached inner peace, and decided to buy more stuff.
One of the more disturbing moments of my life happened moments later as I walked to the WWE aisle with Jeff. I contemplated spending $70 on the authentic, to-scale ring complete with the Hell in a Cell playset. Why? Because wrestling is awesome, wrestling toys are awesome, and a big ass wrestling ring for the wrestling toys would be awesome. I had it in my hands and ready to go. I was going to do it, but realized I’m a grown man and resisted the urge. I mean, come on. Had to show some maturity and just stick to Star Wars toys.
And that was it, really. All that waiting, all that build, just to walk around Toys R Us for 15-20 minutes, buy some stuff and go home. With my arms full of shit I don’t need, I walked to the customer service desk to pay and claim the final Hovertank Pilot figure.
As I was checking out, the maniac that is Ralph paid for his figures and yelled to the workers and the other people in line as he was walking out, “Thank you. Have a good night!”
Ralph walked out of the store just as quickly as he had walked into our lives.
With such a brief, stress-free experience in the store, you may be wondering: Was it worth it?
Sure, I could have stayed home and ordered everything online. I could’ve killed time by sitting around playing Doom or something. It would have been much simpler, and nowhere near as boring during the wait. But then I never would have met Ralph.
So was it worth it? Probably not. Though every now and then it is nice to be reminded of just how big of a nerd you truly are, and even better to be reminded that there are bigger ones out there.
As it stands now, I’m auctioning off the Hovertank Pilot on eBay, so I have that going for me.
This Force Friday was a nice change from the heartache and misery of last year. Hopefully Rogue One turns out to be good so I don’t come to deeply regret going to the midnight opening for the toys.