WASHINGTON--In a city where line-standing at Capitol Hill events is an occupation unto itself, I was halfway expecting to see hordes of seasoned lackeys holding spots for high-powered lobbyists during my Friday afternoon circuit of AT&T stores boasting the iPhone.
But alas, instead of the usual guys in bike messenger garb holding up cardboard signs bearing their clients' handwritten names, I found relatively short lines of mostly earnest Applephiles, many still donning their buttoned-up office attire and ID card lanyards (among those I spotted: U.S. Department of State, DC government). Many of those who actually agreed to talk to me (remember, this is a city where people like to avoid going "on the record" whenever possible) admitted to being line-standing newbies who had gone starry-eyed over the the sleek gadget.
And there wasn't much of Camp iPhone mentality around these parts, either: With only one exception--an unnamed guy who showed up at the New York Avenue AT&T store at 6:30 a.m.--none of the lines began forming before about noon on Friday.
Line leaders willing to share their stories pretty much fit the typical Apple fanboy/girl profile. At a store near Dupont Circle, a self-employed Web developer who lives nearby had been sneaking peaks at the storefront throughout the morning and admitted to feeling a little sheepish about coming out first. "Every time they release a product, the lines get earlier and earlier," Jon Reiling told me. "I don't want to contribute to an excessive amount of waiting."
At an AT&T store in the city center, 22-year-old Jessica Lamb, who just started a job as an intelligence analyst with a federal law enforcement agency that shall not be named, said she couldn't wait to blow some of her first paycheck--which conveniently arrived today--on the $500-plus gadget. "If Steve Jobs told me to give him my right arm, I would probably do it," she said gleefully. She had managed to snag the fourth spot in line even though she said she didn't cut out of work until about 1 p.m. Friday.
At the five AT&T stores I visited downtown, the lines I encountered never numbered more than 50 or so people, even within a half hour of the launch. But the scene was drastically different at an Apple store in Arlington, Va. At least 200 people, some with now-folded camp chairs slung on their shoulders, snaked from the store's entrance around the well-manicured outdoor shopping center in which it is situated. About 20 minutes before the store reopened its doors, at least half a dozen video cameras manned by local and international media encircled the entrance.
The final seconds to launch brought a chanted countdown from the front of the line and sporting event-like cheers of "i-Phone! i-Phone!" Within a few minutes of the doors' reopening, a silver-haired man named Stephen Easley--who did, in fact, set up camp outside the store at around 10 p.m. Thursday to be the first in line--emerged to cheers with a pair of iPhones nestled in special black shopping bags, which he displayed for the photographers.
A bit later, I crossed paths with someone who hadn't staked out a spot only because of unbridled Apple love. Glenn Sparico, an enterprising 25-year-old consultant with a finance degree, said he wasn't content to arrive at 9:30 a.m. Friday to procure his two-iPhone quota. He had also paid $50 each to two guys found through Craigslist to do the same, ostensibly leaving him with one phone to keep and five to list on eBay.
"Tonight's going to be a free-for-all," he said as he glanced around, perhaps with a tinge of apprehension, to see if he could pick out his line-standers. When I left him to his gadgets, there was no word yet on whether the hired help had come through or, well, simply run off with the goods.