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Pining for PS3 on streets of N.Y.

Fans in Manhattan show up to wait in line 80 hours in advance, only to be told they'll have to come back later. Photos: PS3 mania in Manhattan

NEW YORK--It was a dark and rainy night in Manhattan, but that wasn't going to get in the way of PlayStation 3 mania.

There were still a full 72 hours before the uber-hyped game console's release when I arrived outside the Circuit City in New York City's Union Square on Monday night. But some people were more than willing to brave the rain, less-than-balmy temperatures, hard sidewalks and shouts of "Get a life!" from passersby.

PS3 line in Manhattan

Huddled beneath umbrellas, tents, sheets and cardboard boxes were the die-hardest of New York's video game die-hards. These are the ones who, much like those in Tokyo earlier this week, couldn't wait a second longer for Sony's new system.

"I'm first in line!" one 20-something man said excitedly, waving to me and introducing himself as Sergio. Anywhere else, he'd look a tad intimidating, dressed head to toe in black and accessorizing his outfit with a skull-print ski cap and multiple facial piercings.

But Sergio, like the rest of the pack at the head of the line, was grinning ear-to-ear as though he were a 7-year-old kid and this rainy night in Union Square were a sunny day in Disneyland. A computer graphics animator from Manhattan offshoot Roosevelt Island, Sergio is a lifelong video game fan. "My dad bought me a Nintendo system the first time it came to the U.S.," he explained.

Now, years later, he had been trying to find out how to be one of the first to get his hands on a PS3 "ever since it was announced." He talked about how he'd cut short a trip to Florida to get back to New York City for the game system, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, who was "kind of annoyed."

Sergio had arrived in Union Square at 5 a.m. Sunday, prepared to wait in line until the store would sell him a console. He said his brother, who was currently at work, had agreed to alternate shifts with him.

Underdressed and under-packed
Behind Sergio was George, a used car dealer in his 30s who lives in New Jersey. He had also shown up in the early hours of Sunday morning, about a half hour after Sergio. George brought a full-out tent with him, but most of the other fans waiting in line weren't quite as well-prepared. Many were noticeably underdressed; they all had umbrellas, but their hoodies and thin windbreakers looked insufficient even for this unseasonably warm spell in November.

Farther down the line--which I estimated to include maybe 50 or 60 people in total--I spoke to three engineering students from nearby Cooper Union college. Taking a break from their textbooks to talk, they cheerily explained to me that if one of them needed food or extra layers, there would be two others to hold his place. "Besides, we have to go to class this week," one of them said.

It was rainy. The fans in line were underdressed, under-packed, and soaking wet. I started hedging my bets: which would actually make it to Friday morning?

Unfortunately, I wouldn't have an opportunity to find out. On Tuesday afternoon, the Circuit City line was completely gone, replaced by signs that said hopeful buyers would be allowed to line up at midnight on Thursday, 24 hours before the console would go on sale. The store would be holding an event from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Thursday, during which visitors could enter to win one of 100 PS3s, or keep waiting to purchase one when the clock struck midnight.

I went inside to find out what had happened to the dozens of people who had been waiting with couches, tents and umbrellas the night before.

A Circuit City customer service representative explained to me that it'd be hazardous to crowd the streets with camped-out PS3 fans for so long--not to mention irritating to the residents of the many apartment buildings that dot the side streets of Union Square. Sergio, George and the rest of the early crowd were given numbered wristbands that would allow them to return to the 9-to-midnight event.

But shooing the queue away hadn't stopped the PS3 madness. To my left, another customer service representative was busy answering phone call after phone call. And they were all asking about the same thing, judging from what I could hear her say: "Yes, ma'am...9 p.m. till midnight."