By Robert Lalah
We're only hours away from Christmas and you can feel it in the air. Emotions are high. Little children are waiting impatiently to rip into their gifts, while adults are trying hard to forget how much they all cost. It's about perspective, really.
It was late last week that it hit me how close Christmas Day actually was. The roads started getting more congested, shopping malls opened later and the air got chilly - Christmas-breeze chilly. There were also nonstop promos on the radio for upcoming parties and every other commercial on television was some sort of subtly erotic enticement to buy overpriced perfume.
A fine time of year this is. People generally have some extra money in their pockets, families spend more time together, and who doesn't enjoy a good Christmas carol and a swig of the old sorrel flask?
There are some things that happen during this season each year that aren't so much fun though. Like that timeless, nerve-frying battle for parking spaces you inevitably face when you go shopping. What a challenge this has become, in recent years particularly.
You try to plan for it, telling yourself that you won't get upset today no matter what happens, but by the third time you make a full circle of the parking lot, with nary a space for a unicycle in sight, you're just about ready to break down sobbing.
There's high drama involved in this search for parking spaces. The second an unsuspecting shopper approaches a vehicle, he or she becomes the target of a handful of weary, battle-ravaged drivers.
Everyone gets tense and time stands still for just a moment. Is this person leaving, or just putting some bags in the car before getting back to shopping? You wait nervously. Sometimes you'll be disappointed, getting the polite wave away from the shopper as they mouth the words 'not leaving'.
But other times you strike gold. The shopper gets in the car and in a few seconds, the glorious, all-telling brake lights appear. This space is about to open up and everyone within range starts getting ready to pull in. Drivers who already passed by the spot put their vehicles in reverse. Those approaching put their indicators (that they probably don't use on the roadways) on, to mark their territory.
When the leaving vehicle pulls out, it's a frantic, no-holds-barred race to make it in. There's simply no room for hesitation. It's like a game of chicken, the first to flinch loses the space. In the end, the victor often chuckles with vindictive glee, while the driver left out in the cold curses his wretched luck.
Sometimes, it gets even uglier, though. I've seen a few of these scenarios result in heated verbal clashes, even as other drivers wish they'd both just shut up and get on with shopping so the spaces could be freed up sooner rather than later.
By Saturday evening, sidewalks, bus lanes and dirt patches were all filling in as parking spaces and you have to think that this was not going to end well for everyone.
Many of these vehicles would have been loaded with shopping bags full of expensive, sought-after goodies and the Grinches of Kingston would no doubt have taken notice.
The police announced that they'd be out in crowded areas making sure there was no hanky panky going on. I didn't see them, though. Maybe they got lost in the crowd.
Despite all the madness, it was good to see crowds out in the shopping areas. Times are hard, but it seems many are still able to spend a little extra this time of year. This is good news for business owners and the hundreds they employ. The tax man, I'm sure, is also counting his blessings.
Kudos to those who did all their preparations early, and my sympathies to everyone who will be out in the madness tonight. To everyone, have a safe and happy Christmas.
Robert Lalah is assistant editor - features, and author of the popular Tuesday feature, 'Roving with Lalah'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com