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I Camped Out in the iPhone 5S Line

I embedded in the iPhone line just for fun.
Photo by Brian Ceballo

9:40AM — This is what it all comes down to. This is what dreams are made of.

This is why I came here, and it was totally worth it.

If anyone left the Apple store empty handed today, it's the media that amounted to mundane, nauseating questions, like "Where are you from? What kind of phone are you getting? Who will you call first? Where'd you get this crazy idea? You're crazy." And so forth.

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Duh. Of course all these people can think about are gigs, carriers, and the difference between silver and gray (which in Apple's case—this time—is actually the difference between black and white). But there's something else to it. In the iPhone line, there's a closeness that momentarily subverts the idea of telecom, a respect for each other's space and decency. A passion for patience brews in that line. And while I may have only spent a single night, shivering on the concrete, I didn't really do it for a phone. I did it for this.

This wacky moment between sheer ecstasy and sobering fright.

This inconceivable moment in which the 5th avenue Apple store actually got me to tear up.

In the end, I surrogate-purchased Jon's third phone (he'd already bought his limit of two). Sure, I walked away empty handed. But as is said: 'Whatever gives you that little smile.'

6:55AM — Huddled for warmth, Jon and I talked about 2014, and the iPhone 6. He told me he'd do it again. "I've had fun here. It's a good way to break up the routine, and get out of the office. Why not?" As media correspondents arrived to conduct pre-interviews with the Sell Your Mac crew, I tried to decide what I'd be getting, since I never struck a deal that held up. Maybe an iTunes gift card?

As we got up close, and into our final position at the front of the line, we could finally catch a glimpse of the 5Cs and 5Ss waiting for us below in the store. As the sun came up, some Apple corporate personnel greeted us. For Joe, Brian, Jon and Justin, who had been here for 14 and 15 days, the next hour would probably seem like a minute. For me, it'd probably just feel like another hour.

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5:26AM — The iPhone line has grown to approximately 1,000 people.

4:55AM — I went with Joseph and Jon on their final bathroom break. At such a late hour, the guys, and rest of the line, must inconveniently trek over to the nearest public restroom at a McDonald's nearly half a mile away. After more than 14 days of waiting in line, these two were happier than all hell to be done doing their late night business here.

Photo by the author

3:15AM — Another length of fence has been added and a private security detail has appeared at the new front of the line. They won't allow us to plug into a group of four power outlets we've gained proximity to, which is a shame. It has caused a lot of grief, and could be the end of this live blog.

Photo by the author

2:03AM — I was trying to take a nap when I was woken for two different reasons:

  • The manager of the store has confirmed that factory-unlocked phones will be available for purchase (these units aren't typically available immediately). Already, the first in line, Brian Ceballo, says a man has offered $2,000 to buy one of these for him. (See my note below about deals.)
  • Justin was going to McDonald's, so I gave him some money to grab me a snack.

1:05AM — The line slinked forward after yet another section of fences were added on to the front. (Some speculate that this is done to compensate for newcomers at the back of the line.) Tonight is the first time I've understood the power of the tablet. That is, I understood it as something other than a giant iPhone, or a touchable screen for infants and old people to stare at. Tristan, a member of my immediate camp near the front, invited me to play 'Fingle'—a game you could never play on an iPhone.

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Photo by Jessica Mellow

11:45PM — The store has closed for the night and won't reopen until 8AM tomorrow morning.

11:22PM — It's been reported that the 5C will be available for $79 pre-order at Target and Walmart. But it seems unlikely that most of this line has any interest in the lower-grade phone. For $50, I've offered to buy a phone as a surrogate for a guy behind me in line. He's already planning on getting his limit of two phones. Many deals of this kind are taking place here tonight, but it still feels impossible to know how things will end up in the morning. As soon as a deal is struck, it tends to crumble as a million different questions are then asked about purchasing methods. It's straight out of Beckett. Oh looky here, someone just brought us a ton of Dunkin' Donuts!

10:04PM — More pieces of fence have been added to the line which at this point has become more of a village. Off-contract prices for the 5C still haven't been officially announced by Apple, a nearby genius confirms.

Photo by the author

9:15PM — An Apple genius just walked along the line, surveying the line for color preferences. Arousing controversy amongst the people in line, he explained that quantities of the gold 5S are going to be severely limited. It seems almost everyone here plans on getting at least one golden iPhone.

Image: Apple

8:50PM — After assembling the classic zig zag of fences, the geniuses have had us file into the cage line. Up until this point, Brian Ceballo, Joseph Cruz, Jon Murphy, and Justin Lockhart have occupied the marble slab along the 5th avenue sidewalk. The fencing hasn't been fully assembled, but the quarters have shrunk, and now we're in it for good. Only bathroom breaks are allowed from here on out.

Photo by Brian Ceballo

Original Post — Soon after I met the front runners in the iPhone 5S/5C line last Sunday, we became friends. I visited them multiple times in the past two weeks, listened to their stories of being drenched by the rain, having change thrown on them, having Twinkies left for them, and having cigarettes put out on them while they slept. They were holding a spot for me the whole time. So tonight, without the means or intentions to get my own phone, I decided to camp out with them.

What inclined me to do this? The mere fun of it. For years, the iPhone line has become a media spectacle, and often a condescending tone has been taken toward these line-sitters' motives. But what's so crazy about sleeping in the middle of a city with your friend for days, or weeks? To sit alongside the fan bois, business promoters, and line celebrities like Greg Packer, seemed fun enough in itself. So I'm here now, I'm the fifth person in line, and I'm probably not going to get a phone.

@danstuckey