You know the nightmares of holiday shopping as well as anyone:
* Nasty traffic snarls as you drive into, out of or anywhere near a mall.
* Endless waiting in line as you wonder whether your harried salesclerk might return one day or has suddenly bolted for the beach.
* Self-imposed threats to deprive yourself of the Neiman Marcus Last Call Sale if you resort to giving "The Clapper"--or McDonald's gift certificates--again this year.
Many of us just accept this sort of hysteria accompanying the annual hunt for holiday gifts. In fact, not only do we accept it, we've turned it into a religion. We practice it together.
The basic ritual goes like this: First, we take a day off to give thanks that we have so much and consume far more food than we can comfortably digest. Then we take a second day off to buy more stuff for which we can be grateful. We roam the covered malls and outdoor plazas en masse for this sacred shopping feast. As a result, many retailers now claim the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year.
There are, however, a few souls who refuse to be sucked into the game. They have found salvation from this perennial retail madness.
You won't find them complaining about how many whiny toddlers they had to listen to while spending two hours in the gift-wrap line. Their cars don't stand a chance of disappearing into that Twilight Zone known as the parking structure.
What's more, they will not return to work Monday suffering from Shoppers' Arm (the painful condition caused by clutching too many packages tightly to the body for extended periods of time).
Amazingly, these folks will still get all their Christmas and Hanukkah shopping done--and have enough energy left to actually have fun during the holidays.
How do they perform this miracle?
How do they manage to enjoy the spirit that was intended to be celebrated during the final month of the year?
To find out, Hot to Shop interviewed seven creative, resourceful Southern Californians:
Estele Lopez, the businesswoman who runs Miracle on Broadway, which has revitalized Broadway downtown; Ed Krupp, the showman/scientist who serves as director of Griffith Observatory; DeWain Valentine, the internationally acclaimed sculptor and painter; Marlene Stewart, the costume designer who creates stage wardrobes for such performers as Madonna and Paula Abdul; Howard Bragman, the marketing and public relations consultant who frequently represents AIDS organizations; George Wallace, the stand-up comic who appears frequently on "The Arsenio Hall Show" and "The Tonight Show," and Judy Chu, a Monterey Park city councilwoman and former mayor who is also a psychology professor.
As it turns out, they are all Ninja Shoppers of the first order. They knuckle down, make a plan and execute it--with martial-arts-style focus and finesse. Some of them enjoy shopping more than others and build that factor into their strategies. But none of them finds selecting and purchasing holiday gifts to be a grim ordeal they wouldn't even wish on Uncle Scrooge.
One Gift Fits All
Marlene Stewart offers the simplest plan of attack. The woman who outfitted Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton in "Terminator 2" gives everyone on her list the same thing: trees planted in their names by TreePeople, the Studio City-based, nonprofit environmental organization. (TreePeople will plant a tree in someone's name for $10 each, $50 for a grove of five or $100 for a grove of 10. The trees are planted in mountain areas surrounding Los Angeles.)
"I like to give gifts that make people's lives better instead of fantasy toys," Stewart says. "Everyone feels good about this gift and it will certainly help all of us in Los Angeles to feel better. Everybody already has enough toys for now, at least most of my friends do. This kind of gift is important to me. I wish I could be out there planting the trees myself."
Part of Stewart's one-gift-benefits-all philosophy is inspired by the fact that she shops for a living and doesn't really like to do more of it during the holidays--especially when the stores are overrun with amateurs.
3 Ironclad Rules
Ed Krupp, who runs Griffith Observatory, traditionally observes three ironclad, time-crunching rules:
* "Don't go to any mall on a weekend."
* "Don't go to any mall after dark."
* "Don't shop anywhere that requires you to park in a parking structure."
As Krupp is well aware, malls are likely to be overrun with crowds on weekends and weeknights during December. Weekday mornings provide the best opportunities for at least a modicum of shopping serenity.
And by nixing parking structures, Krupp believes he's pretty much eighty-sixed the possibility of that supreme shopping embarrassment: wandering rat-like, burdened with packages, from floor to floor in a concrete maze in search of a lost car.