HOUSTON -- On the sidewalk outside a Target store in Meyerland Plaza, the Capps family sat down to Thanksgiving dinner.
A mother and her two daughters dined at a card table decorated with flowers and a small centerpiece, something that looked like a turkey with Tootsie Pops for feathers. For a main course, they had a choice of turkey or ham, complete with side dishes of corn casserole, green bean casserole, cornbread stuffing and pumpkin pie for dessert. Beside their dinner table, a small tent cluttered with toys had been converted into a playroom for one of the girls bundled up against the cold weather.
"We have a full turkey dinner in front of Target," said Mary Capps, the mother of the clan. "Doesn't everyone do that on Thanksgiving?"
Few shoppers take their commitment to that extreme. But outside stores opening on Thanksgiving night, a new holiday tradition is dawning, a tableau Norman Rockwell could never have imagined. Anxious American consumers -- many of them young people just looking to do something unusual -- are spending their Thanksgiving holidays on customer camping trips, waiting in line outside retailers offering bargains to early Christmas shoppers.
Many of them stake out their places in line days in advance, bringing food and bedding, waiting behind bicycle racks stores deploy as barriers to help control crowds. Before dawn on a cold Thanksgiving morning outside a Best Buy store in Webster, a crew of young men sat huddled in a tent playing video games. They laid down several layers of blankets as bedding and somehow wired the tent with electricity for a television set. Jacked up on junk food and Mountain Dew, they laughed and joked with each other and waited for the store to open.
"Some of the guys are getting TVs, some of them are getting laptops," said one of the men in the tent. "Some of them are getting other things. I think I might personally get a TV. But we mostly just come here to hang out."
Outside the Best Buy store in Gulfgate Mall, Christian Moreno showed up days in advance but discovered several shoppers had already come before him.
"I got here Saturday night," he said. "It's my third year of camping out here."
Bargains aren't the only attraction for many of these shoppers. Some of them are just here for the scene, hanging out with the crowds around the stores, tossing balls and playing games in the parking lot.
"It's pretty awesome," Moreno said. "It's kind of like an adventure."
Like many other camping shoppers, Mayra Perales and her family brought food, water and soda pop.
"We're here with our cousins," Perales said. "We get to spend time with them. Just have fun. Usually we don't get to do this. We don't get bonding time, so it's good for bonding."
For the Capps family, this marks the second Thanksgiving dinner outside a Meyerland store.
"My father passed away a couple of years ago, two years ago, and we were looking for something different to do," Capps said. "And I knew that this was something Daddy would never want to do with us."
Her daughter, Leah, is about to move into an apartment, so she hoped to score some bargains on Target's housewares.
"It's still Thanksgiving," she said. "It's just not at home around our own table."