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!

ampm_logoLast night I had an unexpected experience at the AM/PM on Ming Avenue near the 99 Freeway in Bakersfield while getting coffee for my drive home: comped coffee!

That’s right, a whole $1.39 of coffee for free! Who says good things never happen to nice people? I had just left the DeVry Center where I had stayed late to grade assignments for the two classes I am now teaching — COMP-100 (Computer Applications for Business with Lab) and BUSN-115 (Introduction to Business and Technology) — and was “filling up” with caffeine for the 75 mile drive south.

As I was mixing plenty of creamer and sugar into my coffee the lights went out on the entire corner and nearby areas. At that point the clerk and I were the only people inside the building — which suddenly became eerily quiet without the constant humming of equipment that normally permeates the store.

I was unsure what to do. Despite it being dark outside and very late, I felt no great sense of urgency or panic. The clerk was busy looking for a flashlight and didn’t give me any instructions either. So, I continued making my coffee! Of course, since it was dark I had to use my cell phone as a flashlight while I mixed and stirred my drink, but all things considered it worked out well.

Of course, when I was done and asked the clerk how to pay him, he admitted that, given the circumstances there was really no way he could charge me for the coffee (the register and everything else was locked and had no power). So, I thanked him and graciously accepted my “comped coffee!”

I wonder if a free lunch is next?

On March 5th of this year I posted photos I took while traversing the Grapevine portion of Interstate 5 in California on the morning of January 23, 2008 to the DeVry University Center in Bakersfield where I have been teaching since October 2007.

As I mentioned, due to the snow that began to fall that morning, as of 3 p.m. that day the California Highway Patrol (CHP) decided to close the 5 between Castaic and the base of the Grapevine and it remained closed through a good portion of the following day.

Due to my teaching schedule at DeVry I had already planned to stay over in Bakersfield that night, but the continued closure of the 5 the following day, Thursday, January 24, 2008, necessitated my taking the “long way” home on Higway 58 East through Tehachapi to the 14 Freeway South.

This was  a route which, at that time, I was driving on Monday afternoons to get to a class I was teaching in Palmdale once I finished my classes in Bakersfield. From the 14 South I made my way to Interstate 5 North and home to Santa Clarita (though this post does not include photos of that leg of the journey).

With Southern California currently sweltering under a relentless heatwave, today seemed like a perfect time to share some photos I took of that snowbound adventure.

Note that the photos below were taken roughly between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. and are only from the portion of the trip on Highway 58 and do not include much less interesting shots I took while driving south on the 14.

Although it was not heavily snowing, though there was an intermittent dusting. Overall it was an enjoyable drive and was especially interesting once I got to the portion of the highway where the windmills are visible.

Hopefully the photos of this trip will provide some kind of relief for those of you who are now contending with temperatures in the 90s and 100s.

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East

Photo Taken January 24, 2008 on Highway 58 East