I visited Wal-Mart on Friday, November 7 and was shocked to discover that even though Halloween just ended and we haven’t even yet overdosed on turkey, apparently it is already Christmas!

I actually went into two separate stores in Santa Clarita: the one at 25450 The Old Road near Stevenson Ranch and the one near Valencia at 27931 Kelly Johnson Parkway, just off of Copper Hill/Rye Canyon.

Both stores had associates setting up the Christmas displays and making related preparations.  Photos from each store are provided below — the first photo is from the store on Kelly Johnson Parkway and the second is from the store on The Old Road:

Wal-Mart 2008 Christmas Decorations

Wal-Mart Christmas Decorations 2008

Apparently, I am a bit late in realizing Wal-Mart’s early push: An October 1, 2008  story that aired on the CBS station in Los Angeles highlighted the retailer’s plans to get a head start on the Christmas shopping season.

I suppose I was more surprised than shocked to see Christmas trees already. The first week of November seems a bit early for Christmas, but I recall seeing Valentine’s Day items in my local Rite Aide just after Christmas last year. It seems every year the time betwen each major holiday shopping periods grows shorter as retailers try to capitalize on early-birds and those easily influenced by holiday “sales.”

Given the current state of the economy I am curious to see what happens this holiday season. Traditionally, the Friday after Thanksgiving is referred to as “Black Friday” by most retailers — meaning that on that day they finally transition from operating at a loss (in the red) to operating at a profit (in the black). Yet, given the tremendous economic upheaval and uncertainty going on, I wonder if this day will ever come for any retailer.

Still, there are reports of Wal-Mart experiencing a surge in sales, even as other retailers struggle.  Wal-Mart reported that same-store sales in October were up 2.4 percent as compared with October 2007, not including fuel sales. Including fuel sales the increase was 2.5 percent. Comparatively, Target reported sales of 0.7 percent lower for this October 2008 compared with 2007.

A Los Angeles news station even featured a segment in which a reporter interviewed shoppers at al-Mart demonstrated that even those who drive a Mercedes were driven to save money at the popular discounter. All were focused on saving money and getting the best possible deal.

I wonder how many people are getting coal in their stockings this year — assuming, of course, that coal is still affordable!

On Saturday, June 14, 2008 my family and I decided to visit the incredible Travel Town Museumin Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. We headed out at approximately 10:00 a.m., but once we left the house realized we needed to get gas. So, we stopped at a Shell station on The Old Road, near Rye Canyon and a stone’s throw away from the Southbound 5 Freeway.

When I got out of the car to gas it up, I nearly fell over when I saw that the cost per gallon of 87 octane fuel (the “cheap stuff”) was an astonishing $4.65! I could barely believe my eyes and had to check again to make sure I had read the numbers correctly. Yep, $4.65 a gallon!

 I was in shock and quickly cycled through the five stages of grief:

  • Denial: There is no way gas costs this much!
  • Anger: This is outrageous, I am being robbed!
  • Bargaining: Well, maybe if I just get $10 worth the prices will drop and I can fill up the rest of the tank later at a lower price?
  • Depression: I can’t believe this, I will never be able to afford to drive anywhere again….the world is conspiring against me!
  • Acceptance:It will be ok, gas prices will eventually even out – I have no control over the prices so why get riled up by them?

I filled up the tank with 9.123 gallons, resulting in a grand total of $42.50!

A few days earlier, on May 31 through June 3 (the last two days I filled up) the per gallon cost of 87 octane fuel was $4.23 at a Mobile and 7-11 down the street from my house — which was bad enough, but crossing $4.50 a gallon seemed like an entirely different level of extortion.

I’ve often heard the argument made that in some European countries gas can cost $8 to $10 a gallon, so we should be grateful that our prices are so much less. However, this argument is a fallacy, because these same European countries that have gas prices double our currently ridiculous rates are socialist — meaning that the additional cost of the fuel is intended to cover any number of social programs designed to benefit citizens of that country.

Therefore, in those cases, it makes sense that gas would cost so much more. But America, being a capitalist economy, the additional cost we are now paying for fuel does not result in any equivalent increase in services made available to the citizens of the country.

So, until I get free healthcare — that I would likely not want anyway, given the propencity of anything run by a government agency to foul things up — I will fail to feel “grateful” that we don’t have it any worse.

Although, there is a chance I qualify for dual Italian/American citizenship — so I might just ride out this “oil storm” living with my family in a Tuscan villa zipping around on a Vespa and exclaiming “Ciao!” to everyone (props to Eddie Izzard!)! I think I am liking the sound of this!