December 11, 2006 7:53 AM PST

Desperately seeking Zune

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I hopped off the BART train in the heart of the Mission District, a neighborhood home to a cross-section of people, from immigrants to young groovy types who might rush out to buy a new digital music player because the iPod was oh-so-2004.

I checked for Zunes frequently as I headed down busy Valencia Street, passing thrift stores and tragically hip coffee shops. I was searching for a particular spot, recommended as the "in" coffee joint.

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It was called Ritual Coffee Roasters, and it seemed almost to require a laptop for entry. There was a decidedly Mac bent to the ultrahip crowd, however. There were 19 Mac laptops, along with nine Windows machines. An iPod or two could be spotted, though most of the white headphones were plugged directly into the Macs.

I immediately realized this was probably not where Zunes come to meet. Alas, after a fruitless search, I was right. Still thirsty for some tunes, but refreshed after a spicy chai, I trekked onward.

I made a final stop for the day, passing by a similarly hip place called 12 Galaxies on nearby Mission Street. No signs of Zune life there either.

Exhausted and songless, I decided to call it a night. I hopped on a bus, walked past several iPod-wearing teens, and found a seat. I turned on the Zune, put on some music and closed my eyes.

Second round
Daunted, but unwilling to concede defeat, I tried another neighborhood a few days later. The Fillmore, known for its music club of the same name, is also home to an upscale collection of restaurants and shops. I ducked into a Marc Jacobs store and passed by Betsey Johnson. Plenty of fashion, but no Zune.

I ducked inside a nice cafe. A warm fireplace offered an inviting atmosphere, but a quick check of the Zune, and I was again left with a cold loneliness.

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At the office, Microsoft called to say that it expects to have sold 1 million Zunes by the end of June.

"That's great," I thought. "But what about me, now?"

It is a problem for early buyers, an analyst agreed.

"It's tough right now, because there aren't other Zune users to play with, or they are few and far between," IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian said, commiserating with my plight.

I didn't give up. Two days later and with my deadline for this article approaching, I was getting worried. It had been a week since my quest had begun, and I had yet to see another Zune.

I hopped on the subway to head into the office and went through the familiar Zune routine. Menu...Community...nearby.

This time, I did not see the familiar rejection notice. Was I dreaming?

Nearby: "I am a Lengend."

There was another Zune. "I should send them a song," I thought. But what? I quickly settled on R.E.M's "Begin the Begin."

"Lost connection," my Zune reported. "0 of 1 songs sent to I Am a Lengend."

"This can't be," I thought. I'd come too far, pounded too much pavement, had too much chai to get this close and not find a Zunemate.

I decided to pace the aisle of the subway car and try and find this other Zune. At the very end of the car, I saw it. A man had his Zune on end and was watching a video.

Awkward moment.

"I notice you have a Zune," I said. The man looked up from his episode of the Family Guy and nodded.

"Well, I have one too. And I've been going all over town and, well, you're the first one I've found," I said.

The man, a business center manager named Bernardo Lebron, said he hadn't seen any others either. It was kind of a bummer, he said, since the wireless feature was a key reason he bought the device, along with its bigger-than-iPod-size screen.

He had expected it to be more of an instant hit. "I was kind of surprised," he said later of the Zune encounter. "I haven't seen anybody with it."

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