I'VE SEEN dangerous people, places and things. After braving holiday crowds to get a last minute gift, however, I'm pretty sure that I've never seen anything as deadly as Christmas Eve shopping.

I don't care what street corner you represent, what gang you're from or which trailer park you survived. If you've never faced down an 80-year-old grandmother in Walmart for the last Zhu Zhu Pet on Christmas Eve, you don't know danger.

Me? I've faced that lady. Well, sort of. But it wasn't at Walmart over Zhu Zhu Pets. We squared off in the customer-service line at Home Depot. Before I tell you what happened, though, you need to know how it came to that.

It all started two weeks ago, when my wife said that she didn't want me to buy her a Christmas gift. She said that I should instead buy myself some desperately needed clothes. That was nice of her, but here's the reality. No husband who wants to live in peace skips the wife's Christmas gift, no matter what she says. With that in mind, I set out to get her something on Christmas Eve.

It was already early afternoon when I began my dangerous drive to Willow Grove Park Mall. Whipping down snow-covered streets without regard for my own safety, I dodged kamikaze street-crossers, navigated mounds of dirty snow, and avoided a careless fool who backed his car all the way across a major street near Cheltenham Mall.

When I got to Willow Grove Park, fate smiled on me. The women doing makeup and texting while speeding toward the store didn't crash into me. The wimpy parents negotiating with bratty kids were out of earshot. And though several cars swerved in front of mine, nobody gave me the finger.

By the time I ran into the mall, grabbed the gift and left, the last-minute crazies were out in force, doing 60 on residential streets. I was cut off so many times I needed stitches. When I got home safely, I kissed the floor.

But just when I thought I was out of the woods, I realized that I needed to exchange a part for a doorknob I was trying to fix. That's when I did the unthinkable. I went out to Home Depot.

As soon as I entered the store and felt the winter air whistling through the aisles, I had a feeling that this was no ordinary home-repair trip. And when I hit the customer-service line, I knew that my hunch was right.

At first, I couldn't tell that there was a line at customer service, because there was a space between the first customer and the couple standing behind her. When I realized that the couple was waiting, I got in line. A moment later, the old woman arrived.

Gray hair, a cane, a wool coat, a tightly tied scarf, glasses. She could've been my grandmother. That is, until she brazenly stepped in front of the couple that was next.

None of us wanted to believe it. Yet there she was, standing between us and customer service on the most dangerous shopping day of the year. Because she had such gumption, I thought she might be a gray-haired ancient warrior, like Yoda. The couple seemed to think so, too. But after a few minutes, they exchanged a glance that said, "We can take her." They looked at me and I nodded my agreement. We'd wrestle her to the ground if we had to.

The seconds ticked by. The man tightened his jaw as his wife clenched her fists. The old woman lifted her walking stick, as if she was literally preparing to raise cane. Muscles twitched. Nerves frayed. Then, just as suddenly as she had appeared, the old woman walked away.

Frankly, I was glad. On the most dangerous shopping day of the year, I really wasn't sure we could take her.

Solomon Jones' column appears every Saturday. He can be reached at