Did you know a new iPhone is slated for release Thursday? Did you know it packs a powerhouse of a processor, a jacked-up battery and a design that gives ’70s-era Braun a run for its money? Did you know Apple sold 600,000 pre-orders for it in a single day? Six-hundred thousand people plunked down a minimum of $199 for something they have seen only in photos and experienced only through reading other people’s experiences.
Sadly, I am not one of these 600,000 people. So will I be camped out at the Walt Whitman Apple store in the wee hours of Thursday morning? Maybe, but not to buy anything.
You see, I jumped ship to the S.S. Verizon last November. Maybe you recall a column I wrote describing the breaking point of my relationship with my iPhone and the subsequent exhilaration of hurling it at the ground like a football after scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl. That exhilaration was short lived, as I was left with a shattered screen and totally unusable phone. It was misplaced anger—my iPhone was pure joy to use, while AT&T caused me to invent new curse words to express my grief after nine—nine—dropped calls in a row.
I’ve been using a Motorola Droid ever since. I think I can count on one hand the number of dropped calls I’ve had—no question Verizon trumps AT&T around here. But Android—the mobile operating system Google bought in 2005 and brought to the market in 2007 to combat Apple’s wonderphone—sucks. I willingly switched from AT&T to Verizon; I reluctantly switched from an iPhone to the Droid.
As much as I’d love to be walking out of the Apple store a few hundred dollars poorer, I won’t be. Chalk it up to AT&T’s reception being so poor Apple designed their new phone with that in mind and Verizon’s painful early termination fees. But the launching of such a high-profile device brings to mind my first days with the original iPhone. Is it weird to reminisce about a device? Probably, but I have fond memories of the first-generation toy. It’s a lot like your first baseball mitt or stuffed animal, but from the perspective of someone who is up at 2 a.m. on Wednesday writing a column mocking Google Trends.
So while I will be sitting on the sidelines Thursday morning, I was on the front lines—literally on a line—storming the beach and taking bullets for the original iPhone.
It was three years ago I flew to California to see my good friend from college. I had just turned 21 and planned to spend the first days of my manhood paying for $10 Heinekens with throngs of plastic, designer-clad “people.” And on day nine of my 10-day stay—June 29—I planned to camp out at the Irvine Apple store and become one of the few, the proud, the owners of a $600 phone.
My friend drove me to the Irvine Spectrum, parking on the opposite side from the store. I jumped out of the car and made my way through the labyrinth of stores and restaurants. Banana Republic. California Pizza Kitchen. Sunglass Hut. Wolfgang Puck. These places do not sell iPhones. Have you ever wondered how a mouse feels when it smells cheese, but can’t navigate the maze to find it? I knew.
Finally, I found the bright white Apple logo hovering above the glass storefront. And with it, a line. Single-file, shaped like an “L” around the storefronts, it measured 72 people. This was at noon, a full six hours before the iPhone went on sale.
I set up camp in spot No. 73 and made friends with some locals: No. 71, a pudgy blond-haired kid lying on some steps; No. 66, a 30-something guy whose wife was joining him in line later to buy four iPhones with the intent of selling two on eBay; Nos. 68 and 69, two girls (I was just as surprised) watching movies on their MacBook.
We waited. And waited. And waited. The excitement was palpable. Feet were tapping. Speech was sped up. At one point, an Apple store employee came down the line, handing out bottles of water. I feel bad for him, because at no point in the remainder of his life—even the day he’s married—will he be so revered and lusted after.
At 6 p.m. sharp, shouts of joy and ecstasy trickled down the line as the first campers were allowed in to make their purchase. By 6:10, I had turned the corner. By 6:20, I could see where the line entered the Apple store. The closer I got, the louder it got. Constant chatter so loud I couldn’t converse with the formerly step-dwelling No. 71. Every few minutes, a massive uproar of applause and cheers exploded from the shop.
Thirty minutes after iPhones began being sold to the Pacific Coast, I could see into the store. My heart was beating faster and my hands were getting sweaty. At this point, I realized what the sporadic cheering was—the entire store of customers and staff, erupting in elation each time an iPhone bag-toting customer exited the store. The grin on every face was exactly the same.
At 6:37, I crossed the threshold—the next time sunlight hit my skin, I would have an iPhone in my hand. Standing inside the store and looking aroud felt like standing in the center of a hurricane. I saw No. 66 with his wife, walking out of the store with four bags in hand. We nodded, a nod only we line people could understand.
One of the employees was shepherding a phone through the in-store line, like when the cutters at Katz’s Deli give you samples of meat before they make your sandwich.
I touched the iPhone. It touched me back.
Passing off the demo device to scraggly haired No. 74 behind me wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. Moments later, I was ushered to a corral made from those elastic bands that make lines at movie theaters. An employee asked me what I wanted.
I threw my credit card at him and he began to ring up the sale. At one point, he procured a box containing what would be my iPhone. He tore off the plastic wrap, pulled the top of the box off and stretched his hand out towards me.
“Here, why don’t you give it a try?”
I took the phone in my hand and knew immediately, this was worth the wait—the wait since the iPhone was announced that January, the wait since my plane touched down at John Wayne Airport, the wait since I became lucky No. 73. I signed my name, took my receipt, shoved it in my bag and turned to leave the store.
Then came the cheers. Shouts of joy. Congratulatory high-fives. Fist pumps mere inches from the ceiling. The widest grin I can remember feeling.
I DID IT.
I BOUGHT AN iPHONE.
Reminiscing about that adventure, those six hours in line that felt like days and the 10 minutes inside the Apple store that felt like seconds, I get almost as big a grin. On the surface, to anybody else, it’s a ridiculous and sad story about a nerd who wasted a day of his vacation waiting to spend $600 on a phone. But to me, it’s a hilarious and wonderful story about being passionate about something and diving head-first into an experience I’ll never forget.
To anyone camping out Thursday for the new iPhone, and to anyone intending on doing so at a later date—the ship-by date on Apple’s website has slipped to July 14 as of this writing—I salute you. You’re in for one hell of a good time.
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Keep in mind in 2007 Twitter was a tiny fraction of the annoying, pointless, ADHD-fueling website it is today. How did I keep in touch with my friend in California? I called him once. It was the last call I made on my old phone before The Purchase.