When I drove up to my nearest AT&T store at 11:45 p.m. last night, I saw three lawn chairs, two of them occupied, and one person standing. The wait had already begun.
The distinction of being the first person to get his hands on a shiny new iPhone 5s at that store would be Adam Pascual's. He saved an empty lawn chair for his girlfriend (thus making her #2 in line), who was at their nearby abode showering and taking a quick cat nap. This isn't his first time at the iPhone wait rodeo, evidenced by his well-stocked cooler of drinks and full rotisserie chicken from the Publix a few doors down.
Adam confirmed my suspicions: it was actually his fourth iPhone wait, and the third at this particular location. He likes to remain loyal to the store, as they'd treated them well in years past.
A couple of hours later, Tessa, a German Spitz, showed up with her human, Eddie, in tow. Tessa would be #6 or #5.5, depending on who you asked. Tessa became the official mascot for the line, boosting morale by offering a belly to anyone who'd rub it and performing a series of tricks.
It was not until 4 a.m. that the line became more than a mere handful of people, engaging in discussions ranging from childhood fruit drinks of choice over a shared six-pack of Capri-Suns to next-gen gaming consoles. I even learned a valuable lesson -- turn the Capri-Sun upside down and punch the straw through the bottom for easier beverage access. It was as if a veil had lifted and I could see clearly for the first time.
Regardless of their stances on Xbox vs. PlayStation or Hi-C vs. Sunny D, the residents of Camp iPhone5s all agreed on one thing: they were more than happy to be here and not at an Apple store, regardless of how long the wait was. When asked to offer up a reason, the chorus shouted:
"Smaller lines!" "Less headaches!" "Are you fucking kidding me?!" "The cops were kind of dicks last year when I went." "We have a DOG!"
This particular location was also perfectly well-suited for a camp-out, as we were flanked by an open-late Ernesto's and a 24-hour CVS. The core group (the first ten people in line) shared snacks and gum, and when one person went to CVS, they'd offer to grab things for anyone that needed them. It was getting pretty kumbaya all up in this strip mall.
By about 6:30 a.m., though, spirits began to waver. Even our littlest cheerleader looked positively pooped.
Around 7 a.m., the sky gradually turned from black, to navy, to purple, to blue. The harvest moon would soon give way to the sun, and we would reap our sweet rewards in little more than an hour. One by one, AT&T employees started entering the store. After a pause, a couple of associates exited with iPads and official instructions for the assembled.
#1 Adam ran into an issue where it he was told he could not buy the amount of phones he wanted out of contract. So much for loyalty. It appeared to be fixed with enough hemming and hawing and threats to call corporate. "The rules are the rules, until they're no longer the rules," a bystander observed.
Activity began at 7:45, when associates broke the news. Only black (I mean, "space gray") phones were in stock. No gold, no silver. Just the mythical space gray. If your bill isn't paid up, you're SOL. If you're not an authorized user on the account, you're SOL, unless you can get it fixed before you walk through the door.
The sound of laughter that accompanied a fresh colada making its way down the line with its little plastic cups was replaced with the tense din of people checking account balances and upgrade statuses. Some reluctant calls were made to loved ones: "They don't have the gold, sweetie. Do you still want one?"
Just like that, 8 a.m. appeared, and we were let in. The once cohesive group separated to get one-on-one time with an associate. I heard Adam continuing to negotiate with an employee, and I saw Eddie (sans Tessa) on the other side of the store, but it was all a blur from there. In a combination of sleep deprived delirium and shiny new electronic euphoria, I somehow blinked and ended up in my bed, one space gray iPhone 5s richer...and realizing that the pictures that were supposed to accompany the latter half of this blog were wiped with the memory of my traded-in iPhone 4s. D'oh.
Why do people do it? What would possess people to camp out? It's the rush of being an early adopter. It's a new beginning with new tech. It's tradition for Adam and others in line. It's better than being at the Apple Store. It's better than missing out. It's actually pretty fun!
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...And we had a DOG.