ST. PETERSBURG — They arrived eight days early, and dropped a tent, air mattress, and lawn chairs on the concrete sidewalk outside the Best Buy at Tyrone Square.
Joe Lallamant wanted the 50-inch flat-screen for $1,599. John Fruauff, 57, wanted one of those, and a $399 laptop computer.
Days passed before the work buddies from St. Petersburg were joined by others on the Black Friday line. Tina Thain, 41, arrived Monday. She wanted a $699 laptop. David Kalinowski, 40, got there Tuesday. His sons wanted the $299 PlayStation 3 bundle.
Early Thursday, the strain of waiting took a toll on Fruauff, who went to St. Anthony's Hospital to be checked out.
Hours passed. Brothers Duc Kieu, 16, and Tiung Kieu, 18, came. First they plopped down behind fourth-place Nicholas Stadtler, 31. All of them wanted $198 laptops. Then the Kieus joined Lallamant at the front of the line.
Finger-pointing started. Accusations of selling places in line. Someone called the St. Petersburg police. Stadtler's wife, Bonnie, called the newspaper.
"The situation was fixing to become a riot or a mutiny," said Stadtler of Indian Shores. "It was going to get ugly up in here."
The police came and went. There was not much they could do, because no laws were broken. The Kieus and Lallamant explained that they were relatives.
The waiting continued.
This was a crowd that had sat through cold, rain, hunger and boredom. Some more than others.
That was the point, said Donnieshia Corbett, 21, of St. Petersburg. She also came for the $198 laptop. She and a friend sat through rain in ponchos. They only took short breaks. Corbett called the television cameras.
They had a few questions about Black Friday etiquette. How long does one leave one's place on line? How long does one hold a place for others? How long before others in your party arrive?
"There are no rules," said Thain. She and her husband had cheeseburgers for the holiday dinner. "There is, to an extent, something of a line etiquette, if you will."
Best Buy's company Web site has a list of frequently asked questions about Black Friday, but does not address etiquette.
A cold wind blew. Everyone settled back into their places. There was talk of the camaraderie of this experience, the chess games, the shared coffee, friendships formed.
Pavel Podlipalin, 63, rode up on a mountain bike. He explained in broken English and hand gestures that he arrived four months ago from the nation of Kazakhstan. He wanted a $150 laptop.
Someone told him to go to the back of the line. He gestured that he'd come back at 4 a.m. and burst out laughing.