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Proxies clog iPhone lines

Being among the first to get the latest gadget is cool, but waiting around to buy one is not. Cue the stand-ins.

June 30, 2007|Thomas S. Mulligan, Alana Semuels and Andrea Chang | Times Staff Writers

Even his magic couldn't get Marco Tempest to the front of the iPhone line. So he had his assistant materialize there for him.

Scoring an iPhone on Day One was a coup for the status-conscious. But how much sweeter it was to have it delivered by a subordinate.

Tempest, who calls himself the Virtual Magician, hoped to be the first to post a clip of himself on YouTube doing illusions with the iPhone. So, like many bosses around the country who had to have one Friday, he dispatched an underling to stand in line for him.

"I work for him, so I can't really say no," Monica Muller, 28, explained Friday as she waited outside the Apple store in Manhattan's trendy SoHo district.

Three thousand miles west, Nathan Alford, 23, queued up outside Westfield Century City mall.

As a runner for Village Recorder, a Los Angeles music studio that has recorded the likes of Alanis Morissette, Alford cleans floors, carries chairs and does whatever else his bosses ask. On Friday, the chief executive, Jeff Greenberg, asked for an iPhone, so Alford got in line.

"I'm trying to win some brownie points," he said.

Bruce Bimber, a political science professor at UC Santa Barbara, said Apple had shrewdly figured out how "to tie into the impulse and excitement" that are typically created by ephemeral cultural events rather than hardware.

"It's like seeing a hit movie on the first day it comes out," he said.

Indeed, media companies seemed heavily represented among the stand-ins, especially in New York and Los Angeles.

Dan Zabar, 23, a production assistant in the New York office of Moxie Pictures, which specializes in TV commercials, said the top brass there wanted iPhones "for the prestige of being in on the trend. It has very little to do with the performance of the phone."

Zabar knew he'd be in for a long day outside Apple's flagship Manhattan store on Fifth Avenue, so he brought along novels by Michael Chabon and Clive Cussler.

"My bosses are going to have fun with their phones," he said, "and I guess my fun is going to be bringing them to them."

A little farther ahead in line stood grumpy-looking Tom, 18, who wouldn't give his last name for fear of repercussions from his boss, who works in "wealth management."

The boss "loves gadgets" and didn't want to miss out on this one so, just to be sure, he had his intern get in line Thursday night. Thundershowers were expected, so Tom camped out on the sidewalk in a flimsy but colorful children's pup tent purchased at a nearby Disney store. The boss promised Tom an unspecified "bonus" above his usual pay if he brought home the goods.

Michelle MacLachlan and Caroline Singleton, unpaid summer interns at Stuff magazine, also received very specific instructions. "Come back with four iPhones," MacLachlan recalled her bosses saying. "Failure is not an option."

In Washington, with her umbrella at the ready, legal secretary Nancy Ciffolilli, claimed the eighth spot in a line outside an AT&T store to score an iPhone at her boss' request. His son turned 18 Thursday. "He really wanted it, so I'm here," she said.

In Los Angeles, Jordan Ender, an aspiring actor who has been in a few commercials, joined the line at an AT&T store on Beverly Boulevard around 7 a.m. Friday. AT&T Inc. is Apple's wireless partner on the iPhone.

Ender was dispatched by his boss, whom he wouldn't name but described as "a mover and shaker in film and TV." She thought line sitting would be good for Ender because he would be able to meet people in the industry. And naturally -- this being L.A. -- the guy next to him in line worked for a talent agency.

Ender said his boss planned to join him in line for the last hour and then take him out for sushi.

"She said, 'I'll pay you good money,' " Ender said. "That piques my interest."

Outside the same store, Johnny Mendoca, 22, stood in line with a group of co-workers from a Hollywood nightclub. His friends all wanted iPhones for themselves, but Mendoca was trying to please his boss, the club's general manager, who was returning from vacation Friday night.

"He wants to come back from Cancun with a phone on his desk, and he's getting that," Mendoca said.

Mendoca said that he wouldn't wait in line so long to buy an iPhone for himself, but that he knew it would make the boss happy. Then he thought for a moment.

"I feel kind of lame," he said. "I hate the iPhone right now."


Mulligan reported from New York, Semuels and Chang from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Jim Puzzanghera in Washington contributed to this report.

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