A walking tour of D.C., iPhone-style

How is a city of professional line-standers and BlackBerry addicts responding to the much-hyped new gadget?

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."

Undeterred by drizzle, about two dozen people lined up Friday afternoon outside the Dupont Circle AT&T store. Anne Broache

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.

This AT&T store in central D.C. had a line around the block just before launch, but it didn't get started until lunchtime on Friday. Anne Broache

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.

Cheers and applause greet the 6 p.m. EDT reopening of an Apple store in a Washington suburb. Anne Broache

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.

 

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