This morning, as the fog obscured sunrise, Apple PR staged its latest Be-In at the company’s flagship Stockton street store near Market Street. Though the tech giant encouraged customers to place orders online for the feverishly anticipated iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, that couldn’t deter the truly bored and craven from lining up as much as two days in advance to play extras in the newest Apple ad. So, naturally, we were there too.
As usual, the media lent Tim Cook and the gang an assist: Cameras from local and national stations took in the ur-San Francisco line as it wrapped, overnight, around the entire block… and then around two more. Picture the kind of queue once reserved for a Harry Potter book stretching from Stockton to O’Farrell to Powell to Ellis. A second line for reserved pick-ups formed on Ellis to complete the circle, and a third short line at the Verizon store on Market proved a ruse as frustrated customers learned the 6 Plus was not yet in stock.
The intersection of conspicuous consumption and early adoption was lined with chairs, sleeping bags, and plenty of devices soon to be obsolete. San Franciscans, thinking differently in the exact same way, giddily gossiped about their prospective purchases. Some customers, sleeping in makeshift nests of blankets and pillows or looking particularly haggard were superficially indistinguishable from the areas homeless men and women. A “robot” pieced together with cardboard with an iPad for a face held one spot in line. In a way, it stood for the entire affair: automatic, trite, but not without whimsy.
An army of nametag dangling blue shirt wearing genius bartenders was cracking the whip all morning. "Stand against the wall!” an Apple employee shouted at a European man about a hundred people away from his newest pocket toy. Finally at 8 am they escorted buyers into the glass cube of innovation in groups of ten at a time.
When, loitering with camera in hand, a line-waiter offered to buy us a phone during his turn in the store for about $900 in cash, we briefly considered it. Could we flip it to someone at the end of the line to create an Apple Ouroboros? Others told me of similar plans, but police officers and Apple employees at every turn dissuaded us. Also, how were we going to get the money for the phone in the first place?
What drives a line like this? Is it just San Francisco's collective desire to be exactly where everyone else is? Just a civic FOMO moment? Or more? Something of the appeal, judging who we talked to this morning, seems to be in the excuse to do something out of the ordinary. Besides, went the common refrain, we weren’t doing anything else.