Column 131: In the iQueue
Is the iPhone worth the wait?“Imagine what it must have been like in the Soviet Union, waiting in line all day for a scrap of stale bread. After hours and hours, finally getting to the front of the line only to have the door slammed in your face because they were all out, and that was all you had for dinner.”Teresa’s story, while poignant and touching, seemed strangely inappropriate. The line we were waiting in wasn’t for bread or free cheese, but to purchase a $600 iPhone. Teresa promised to buy me one for my birthday, a month earlier. I’d never owned a cell phone before. Never understood why anyone needed one. The iPhone would be my first, and would also replace my dying Palm Tungsten as well as my white Third Generation iPod. That is, if we could actually get our hands on one.The hype machine behind the iPhone’s June 29 release was nothing short of a proclamation of the Second Coming of Christ. With the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Congress and the White House locked in a stalemate and the never-ending violence growing in Iraq, the national news media had chosen to focus its entire resources on covering the latest overpriced high-tech fashion accessory, coveted by greedy yuppies who mistake shopping for creativity. And we were among them.Rather than go to the Apple Store way out at Village Pointe, we chose to get in line at the AT&T store located next to the Bag N Save on Dodge St. I’d driven by over lunch earlier that day and noticed only four or five lunatics sitting in lawn chairs outside the door.The store was closed when we got there at 5. Along with every other AT&T and Apple store in the Midwest, it would reopen at 6 to what I assumed would be a feeding frenzy unrivaled since the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of the ’80s — a mania I had witnessed first-hand while working at Kmart. I remember being in the store’s stock room, soberly stacking dolls three-high onto a flatbed cart while outside, drooling mothers waited with claws drawn. The manager told us to push the cart out into the open and get out of the way. The resulting melee resembled a piranha feeding — women physically fighting and scratching each other, trying desperately to score a doll. Boxes were ripped apart. Children stole dolls out of other people’s carts. It was madness. Within two minutes, it was all over. Nothing was left but a couple black Cabbage Patch dolls and a pile of tattered cardboard.
We would see nothing like that this day. In fact, the line was a bit of a downer. I’d hoped for an atmosphere similar to a Star Wars movie premiere, with people dressed as iPods or wearing Steve Jobs-style black turtlenecks and blue jeans. Instead, about 50 drowsy people stood along the sidewalk, looking bored and annoyed.We sat on the curb outside of the grocery store and played hangman while people drove by in SUVs and stared. An elderly woman walked up and asked about all the hub-bub. “We’re all waiting in line to sign up for the Army,” I said, pointing at an Army recruiting office a few feet away. She lit up, excited, until I told her it was really for the iPhone.Ten minutes into our wait and a cheerful AT&T representative bound out of the store, clipboard in hand. Resembling a young Doogie Howser in his powder blue AT&T polo, black khakis and enormous cell phone holster, he explained the line policy while wrapping orange wristbands around our wrists. No one would be admitted without one. “If you have to go to the bathroom, there’s a Subway shop just a few doors down,” he said, officiously. “Ask someone to hold your spot.”Time crawled. Small talk in line involved cell calling plans and gaming. I wondered what was happening at The Apple Store. I imagined an entirely different, more exciting atmosphere, where black-shirted Apple clerks made their way through the line, telling people it was almost time, that Steve Jobs was just spotted flying over North Platte with a bag filled with iPhones, the crowd clapping their hands in glee. Back at our store, angry-looking people forced their way through the line to get inside the Cash Advance place, glowering at the idiots.One woman drove by in a dirty white sedan, leaned out her window with her little black-and-white dog by her side, and said loudly, “Oh, it’s that fucking phone.“Finally, at 6, the store manager popped out the door and yelled the rules of the game. One in, one out. There would be no turmoil, the armed sheriff would see to that. “Are you excited?” he shouted. “We’re excited, too!“A camera crew from one of the local TV stations was on-hand to film the first lucky shopper to emerge victorious with an iPhone. Strangely, no one in line clapped.It took an hour, but we finally made it just outside the door. Inside, we could see excited customers watching hands-on demos of the iPhone. They looked happy. In just a moment, we would be happy, too.But before that would happen, out came the store manager along with Doogie and the sheriff. “Sorry, folks, we just ran out.” The crowd exhaled with loud groans and a hidden, yelped “fuck you.” Turns out the AT&T store only had 40 of the 8-gig iPhones on hand before they opened their doors. We’d wasted our time.Suddenly, amidst my angst, Teresa’s story made sense. No, we didn’t have an iPhone, but at least we would not go hungry that evening. At least we had food.Epilogue: The next morning I drove out to The Apple Store, walked right in (no lines) and bought an iPhone. I’m still waiting for my first phone call.
There are a handful of good shows going on tonight, the biggest being Har Mar Superstar down at Slowdown. It’s being promoted as a “GOO” event, which would imply that Sean Tillmann will be spinning discs all night from stage. Not likely. I have to assume that we’ll also get plenty of Har Mar sexiness in the form of a performance. Tillmann has adopted Omaha as a second home, and the Saddle Creek crew as a second family. I suspect this will be a huge show. $5, 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it’s Fort Worth band Black Tie Dynasty, a group of guys who dress in black dress shirts and play music drenched in their influences, which include The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, The Smiths, etc. Opening is Civic Minded and Sleep Said the Monster. $7, 9 p.m.
Finally, at O’Leaver’s it’s Thunder Power!!! featuring new members Alex Boardman and Kacynna Tompsett. The gig is a warm-up for the band’s mini Midwest tour that will take them to Lawrence, Chicago, St. Peters, Minneapolis and Des Moines, winding up at The Saddle Creek Bar July 13. Opening are Jon Crocker and It’s True. $5, 9 p.m.
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