A Noble Quest

The idea of a quest is appealing: overcoming obstacles, fighting foes (real or imagined), emerging victorious. It’s a noble prospect, this idea of seeking that which is difficult or fraught with danger. I am, however, more Don Quixote-like than King Arthur-esque, so any form of actual questing is somewhat foreign to me. Until recently.

To fulfill a promise to my daughter, I went on a quest to obtain a prerelease order for a small action-figure doohickey. I understand that these figurines fetch an attractive sum on eBay, and I had heard that the method of releasing them was creating a buyers’ frenzy of sorts. Not to worry, I assured her, mom is on the job.

I learned from previous stories of prereleases gone sour that one should arrive well before the store opening. I thought it would be sufficient – more than sufficient, actually – if I got to the store three hours before it opened. Based on the information we had from other prereleases, this was probably optimistic, but like all good Don Quixotes, I was ever hopeful.

On questing day, I packed the car with a folding chair, charged my e-reader and phone, filled a thermos with coffee, and rode (okay, drove) out in search of windmills to fight – I mean, action figures to preorder. I expected to be alone by my big girl self when I arrived. I was wrong. A trio of early-bird enthusiasts was comfortably ensconced in their chairs, typing away on their tablets. I greeted them with a perky, “Hello!” That might not have been correct questing etiquette, but they all offered, grumbled, or otherwise muttered their return greetings. By 7:00, there were 10 of us in line. By 8:00, the line had doubled. By 9:00, the line had doubled again, and our souls had been saved by a cheerful Jehovah’s Witness who was as interested in our quest as in the potential of our eternal spirits.

At 9:30, the penultimate moment, a disgruntled member of the toy emporium came out with the preorder slips – a noticeably thin stack. She passed out her entire stack of 10, only 10, slips. I was shocked. Less than a third of the line received this most precious paper slip. I began to fret; visions of Black Friday stampedes ran through my head as I held my preorder slip tighter in my grip. Memories of fistfights in parking lots during the holiday season flashed in my mind, the time of year and the behavior of otherwise well-mannered adults standing in stark contrast to each other. Still, I held on to that preorder slip.

I watched many of my line companions trudge away. A confused grandma’s shoulders sagged as she hoisted her bag, muttering that she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about anyway. The gentlemen ahead of me in line boasted to each other about how they had the whole collection and were planning on making a mint on eBay. I decided I didn’t like them much. The girl behind me had been waiting all this time for her brother. I decided she was my questing partner.

When the doors to the store opened, I got in line to pay for my preorder. When it was my turn, the computer crashed. Quests, in case you haven’t heard, are not for the weak of heart. I wasn’t out on some fantastic imaginary battlefield swiping at windmills; I was in line getting ready to swipe my charge card. Access denied? Oh. My. After at least an eternity (or five minutes, take your pick), the red-faced clerk resuscitated the machine. I paid for the preorder, and walked quickly out of the store before some cranky computer entity could change its mind and undo my order.

I was ebullient, truly joyful. Not only had I managed to do a kindness for my daughter, I had achieved a specific goal. Passing time with a group of strangers who had a likeminded goal was, I admit, kind of fun. I was not part of the “in-group” who actually understood the value of the object, but I was part of the spirit of the moment. I could have failed in my quest, I could have become like the bucketheads in front of me and been all arrogant, but mostly I was just grateful. I texted my daughter with an update, and she responded WITH JOY AND EFFUSIVE CAPITALIZATION. I then went to work and returned Don Quixote to the land of imagination and fable.

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