a long night in line for the ipad

The Apple Store at University Square is an open-air mall of highbrow retailers in Seattle. I arrived there late on the eve of the release of Apple's latest technical contrivance: the iPad.

The Apple Store at University Square is an open-air mall of highbrow retailers in Seattle.

I arrived there late on the eve of the release of Apple’s latest technical contrivance: the iPad. I hauled a plastic chair over to the glass store-front and prepared to settle in for a long night.

There was a handful of people there with me.

Inside we could hear Apple Store employees working. Every once in a while they’d peek out to measure our numbers or take our picture to send back to Apple HQ.

Around 6 a.m. the action began. More people arrived. Lots more people. They gazed/smirked/giggled at those of us who had been there all night.

Just after 7 a.m. some Apple Store employees in blue T-shirts began to emerge and chat with us. They placed a supply of coffee and water on a nearby table.

The blue shirts set up some ropes and signs to segregate those of us who had reserved an iPad from those who had not.

The lines were long. At least 300 people populated the reserve line behind me; another 100 or so kept their fingers crossed in the other one.

Inside the Apple Store, behind the black curtain, we could hear employees rallying with cheers and howls. The crowd inside sounded as large as the one outside.

Then suddenly, from somewhere around the back of the building, a war-cry erupted and a line of blue-shirted Apple staff stormed our scene. They ran, single-file, in a seemingly endless line past us, cheering and slapping our hands.

I asked the blue shirt guarding the door how many people were working at the store that day.

“I don’t know for sure,” he said. “But it’s at least a hundred.”

Some of the blue shirts stayed outside with us, but most went back inside to continue preparing.

Just after 8 a.m. they pulled the curtain down. And there it was behind the glass: an iPad, suspended between the ceiling and the floor by wires, like a torture victim on a gilded rack. It displayed an endless video loop of sales propaganda.

The collective drool of the crowd dripped down the window pane and froze on the cold pavement below as we gazed upon its Jobsian splendor. It was so close…

We could see a mass of blue shirts at the back of the store. They cheered loudly as they watched some sort of motivational video on several large screens.

Then they turned to face us, battle-ready. They waved, smiled, and clapped their hands at us through the glass.

By this point, I was freezing. I couldn’t feel my feet anymore. My back ached from shivering. I could feel my eyes puffing from lack of sleep. I was hungry.

Inside, the blue shirts began to form two lines that led from the door all the way to the back of the store: a long hallway of clapping, cheering, smiling bodies.

“It’s almost time,” the blue shirt guarding the door told me, smiling a bit.

Suddenly, I really had to pee.

Then the glass doors opened. Noise and a warm wind wafted out, sort of like when you’ve been underwater for a long time and you spring above the surface to catch a breath.

The blue shirts were cheering, waving me in, smiling, hooting, yelling.

It seemed that the blue shirts expected me to charge down the line like a steroid-frenzied linebacker. But, c’mon, I’m Canadian.

I stepped gingerly along, gazing into the wild eyes of these people who had suddenly turned into an ebbing, flowing wallpaper of blue noise.

Then one blue shirt raised his hand to high-five me. Then they all did. And I walked down the row of them, to a constantly repeated refrain of “all right!”, “congratulations!” and “right on!”

It seemed to go on forever.

I was paired up with one blue shirt as a “guide.” He was a young man who admitted he didn’t know anything about the iPad. He’d only first seen it about half an hour ago, and only been allowed to play with it for about 10 minutes.

He led me to the long desk at the back of the store, and there they were behind it: boxes of iPads stacked against the wall.

My blue shirt told another blue shirt which model I wanted. The second blue shirt nodded, looked at his watch, and then smiled apologetically at me.

“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t give it to you for another three minutes.”

My blue shirt led me away from the iPads to a rack of accessories. “Let’s see if we can find a case for your iPad.”

Andrew Robulack is a Whitehorse-based freelance writer and communications technology consultant specializing in the internet and mobile devices. Read his blog online at www.geeklife.ca.