as the sign in the top right reminds you, "We Accept Food Stamps", now families on welfare can feed their children 3 year old Marshmallow Peeps on a budget!

A week ago I got a flier in the mail advertising the grand opening of a 99 Cent Store in Sacramento.  This is a crazy place full of all kinds of crap that is all priced at, you guessed it, 99 CENTS!  To help kick off the Thursday debut of the place, they were going to sell 19" Sharp color TVs for just 99 cents to the first 9 people in line, the next 99 people (notice the clever 99 motif they're sticking with), would get a crappy scooter for 99 cents.

I thought it'd be a fun experience to try and get one of these TVs.  I mean, staying up all night to get a 99 cent TV seemed like it was worth it.  Hell, I figured with all the TV hoopla of our first strike against Iraq, and the cold rain going on, nobody in their right mind would be there, anyway.  I was right, nobody there was in their right mind.

My friend Randy accompanied me there as we drove off at 11PM.  I figured getting there 9 hours early was good, and though I didn't count on being the first in line, I thought I still had a good shot to be one of the first 9.  As we drove up in the rainy parking lot, I was amazed to see no less than 30 people already there.  And a more scraggly crew you never did see.  Litter was everywhere, and the smell of piss and shit hung in the air like a brown fog.  It reminded me of that Travis Bickle quote in Taxi Driver, "Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk."  God would need a fucking tidal wave to clean up this place.

"Sloth" from The Goonies is quite the fashion role model in Sacramento

These two folks had been waiting here at the front of the line Monday morning, 3 full days.  I've got no problem with that.  The TV is worth more than $100, and might be a nice way for someone to get one that otherwise couldn't afford it.  But the lady (yes lady) on the left lost her place in the Top 9 because she vacated her spot more than 15 minutes during one of the store's periodic roll calls.  No more TV for her.  Now, at best she can get a scooter for 99 cents that can't be worth more than $10.  When asked why she was staying in line, she replied happily, "I got nothing better to do, and at least this helps me save money, cause I can't go anywhere now!"

"must say awake...chocolate bunnies will eat me"

Spots 3 and 4 in the line were friends of the aforementioned folks, while 5-9 were taken by homeless people who are shown in sleeping bags in this photo.  The guy in the middle got up after I took the photo and started screaming at me that he was all out of Thorazine!   And the dude in the blue sleeping bag called me some name I couldn't make out and gave me an evil glare.   

"In soviet RUSSIA...99 cent TVs stand in line to buy YOU! WHAT A COUNTRY!"

These dudes were just hanging out.  They were NOT in the top 9, so they were camping out overnight to get 99 cent scooters.  The thought of these elderly Russian dudes skating down the street on their imitation Razor knock-offs is pretty funny.  What's even funnier is wondering what the hell the guy in the wheelchair is going to do with his scooter!

It was certainly a surreal experience.  I talked to the two folks at the front of the line in detail about their ordeal so far.  Some kind soul brought incense to help cut down on the odor, as 3 days worth of no showering body aroma was getting a bit overpowering in the area.  I even met a nice young couple who showed up at 7PM, who decided to tough it out, just in case everyone else in the line died and they could take their spot, again citing "we had nothing better to do."

It's kind of a funny comment on America.  While untold millions stay at home tonight watching the latest developments of the Iraq war, those who can't are waiting in the rain in a bizarre methadone clinic line of TVs cheaper than a dollar.

It's not so amazing to see someone waiting more than 80 hours in a line to get a 99 cent TV, times are tough.  What blows my mind are the folks waiting just as long, happy to get a cheap scooter. 

Of course, just showing up to laugh about it all in hopes of getting a story out of it all is even more pathetic.

But at least I still have 99 cents in my pocket.

-Robert Berry