For a Phone
Somewhere on the Web, I have no doubt, some guy is writing or has written or will be writing in his blog about the dick in line at the Apple store on Stockton in San Francisco who was Mr. Goody-Goody Tattletale and refused to keep his mouth shut when all he wanted to do was sneak into the iPhone line inside the store instead of wait outside on the street for three-and-a-half hours like everyone else wanting to get a stupid iPhone that doesn’t even have a keyboard and fuck them!
Friends, I am that dick.
I love my old iPhone, but it was slow as molasses in January, as me old mother used to say. I use it primarily as a hand-held Internet appliance that happens to have a phone in it. The phone piece is probably the part I use least, but the phone part also has the SMS part, and the voicemail part, so from a business perspective it was an important part of the package. And I occasionally called people on it when I wasn’t looking at maps, searching Google, listening to music or watching movies I ripped from my extensive DVD collection.
I didn’t really want to wait in line. I didn’t really need a new one, yet. But I happened to be downtown, I happened (just happened) to pass the Apple flagship store and I happened to note that the line wasn’t around the block, it was only a couple hundred people long. So short! And I have some time. Why not?
Waiting in line wasn’t the party they portray. Downtown San Francisco is many things, but a holiday in paradise while standing on its streets is not one of them. I did converse with those around me — against character, to be sure, but what else was there to do once the battery on my existing iPhone died and I could no longer play Scrabble against it? The woman ahead of me had a Sprint smartphone, but after playing with an iPhone at another Apple store she was hooked and she had to have one. She was probably my age, but wore dark glasses the entire time so talking to her was a bit like talking to a nice, polite, slightly amusing robot. No eyes = no person.
The woman behind me was a young Asian who, like me, was there to upgrade her iPhone to the latest and greatest. We both stood there for the most part with our phones drawn passing the time with messaging or gaming or musicking until the batteries died and we were forced into the world of personal contact. She was animated and talkative and excited. She had been looking forward to getting the new iPhone ever since Sir Steve announced it and was happy to answer every “is this the line for the iPhone?” question (tinged either with regret or attempted condescension) with a smile and a nod and a “Yeah, we’ve been here three hours!”
Apple did its best at crowd control, keeping two lines outside the store. One for iPhones, and a much shorter one for “everything else.” People in the everything else line were allowed in much more often, obviously, and I’m presuming that every one of the people in the iPhone line with me was thinking the same thing I was thinking: “How are they keeping them separate from us?”
The line moved incredibly slowly. I started imagining all sorts of line-cutters inside the hollowed grounds. There were plenty of Appleites in orange and blue shirts, and even two burly, bulky Apple Security guards trying to enforce the rules, but it’s only a store and we’re only customers and it’s not like we’re in line for food in the middle of a plague. We’re well-off nerds wanting the newest expensive toy. All in all, it’s not such an important thing.
But three hours in, your brain gets skewed and you start bargaining with yourself regarding just how much you’re willing to go through to get something that will surely be readily available sans line in a couple of weeks, if not sooner. Maybe the original iPhone was worth this. It was groundbreaking, it had definite panache and the nerd factor of product jealousy was eclipsing anything else you could pull from your messenger bag.
You start getting paranoid and scared. Scared that you’re an idiot for not figuring out a way around the line. My comrades and I commiserated about that often. “What about that other line?” “Yeah! How are they policing that?” “Yeah! And what if they go in and like, say, ‘I just want an iPod,’ and then, like, get to the counter and go, ‘Can I throw in an iPhone?’ Like, what are they gonna say at that point? ‘No, you can’t?'” “I’ve been watching, and I can’t tell if the people coming out with iPhones are from this line or that one. I wish they’d give us poker chips or something so they can keep track.”
The other pressure cooker adding to the paranoia and defensiveness is an unending litany of jokes at our expense pointing out how stupid we were to be standing in line, “for a phone! It’s just a phone! Don’t you have better ways to spend your time?”
Well, yes Mr. Overweight biker dude with your earpods stuck in your ears and a Super Gulp hanging from your slack lips. Yes, I do. But I’ve elected to do this instead, so that I may provide for people like yourself some manner of elevating your little lackluster life, to imagine yourself as someone better than me, because I am wasting my time standing in line for the iPhone (and I even already have an iPhone) and you’re not. Better now?
So, the interminable line outside comes at last to an end, the Apple Security guard walks over and counts “One, two, three, four, five,” and I am lucky Number Five, allowed access at last to the inside of the store. I have been imagining that I will now walk up to a special glittery counter with spotlights and angelic music and be allowed to touch the object of my desire at last.
Instead, I am now at the end of another line. Much shorter, certainly, but also much crueler, for now I can see others getting their phones (including that fucking couple of Yuppie slackers who joined their friend at the front of the line at the last minute after, no doubt, hanging out at Citizen Cupcake gobbling chocolate frosted baked goods while laughing and pointing at us) and my feet hurt and my shoulders are aching and even now, so near the end, I’m asking myself, why did I do this? Is it all worth it? Am I the idiot, now?
I am contemplating this, sinking into a sudden round of pre-buyer’s regret or something like that, when I turn around and find a stranger standing behind me. Certain, he is nothing at all like the young Asian girl I was joking with for precious hours of my life. And the game commences.
“Are you standing in line?”
“Were you standing in line behind me outside for three and a half hours.”
“Yeah, I was.” Grin.
He stares at me. I instantly hate him. A lot. I hate everything about his self-congratulatory smart-assed grin and his cheating little heart and his idea of how life should work for him, where he can outsmart us all and get what he wants and get away with it. “No, you weren’t.”
“Yeah, I was.”
I point out to the front of the store. “She was behind me in line. You weren’t.”
“Are you gonna tell on me?” He asks this while still grinning that grin. I want nothing more than to kill him with something sharp.
“I am.” I start looking for someone to tell.
“How does it hurt you?”
I look at him like he’s insane. “I waited for hours. You didn’t. If you want one, that’s what you have to do. You don’t wander into the front of the line.”
“How does it hurt you?”
He’s trying to show that I shouldn’t care about anyone else. Like he does. “It hurts her. It hurts everyone behind her. Look at her. Turn around and look at her. She’s the one standing outside with her arms folded across her chest.”
He doesn’t turn around. He’s still grinning. I’m feeling adrenaline pumping through me. I feel shaky and hot and angrier than I have in, like, ever. She’s standing out in the line frowning as I argue with him. I start waving my arms to get someone’s attention. Where are all the blue shirts now? Why does no one see what’s happened? My God, this is important! Someone pay attention!
“So, you’re really going to tell on me.” He says it like I’m the dick. He says it like we’re in this together, him and me, like we’re suddenly pals and this is like school and he’s the cool crowd and I’m the little fat nerd all over again. God, it’s infuriating!
“You bet your ass I am.”
He shakes his head, grinning still, and turns around and leaves the line. I watch him like a hawk as he saunters across the blonde wood floors and exits the store.
I should feel victorious and redeemed, but I still feel angry. How did he do that? Make me feel like the bad guy. I think about the people outside. Did it make any difference, really? Is the line suddenly moving faster, like he was the only bowel blockage? There’s no one, now, to point all this rage at anymore. He’s gone.
I message Robert to tell him what happened. He tells me he loves me even more for doing it. I realize it was against type, for me to stand up to someone, but it was also exactly within my demeanor, because I am nothing if not a stickler for rules.
Another 30 minutes and I managed to get my new iPhone 3G. It’s black. It’s warm in my touch. The Apple employee who helped me was charming and funny and nice and I was surly and tired and just wanted to get the hell out of there. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t rewarding, and after all was said and done, the 3G doesn’t even work in my own apartment.
But at least I spoiled someone else’s fun! Vindication!
July 15, 2008