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What an odd job: Standing in line for Apple's iPhone 5

September 20, 2012|By Jessica Guynn
  • Charlie Hufnagel is first in line to buy the iPhone 5 at Apple's store on Friday in San Francisco's Union Square. He's being paid $1,500 to camp out for four nights. He got the gig on TaskRabbit.
Charlie Hufnagel is first in line to buy the iPhone 5 at Apple's store…

SAN FRANCISCO — Charlie Hufnagel, 24, has done a lot of odd jobs over the last couple of months.

He serenaded someone’s sick boyfriend (Prince’s "Let’s Go Crazy"), pulled an all-nighter making 12 alligator piñatas out of papier-mâché, and fetches limited releases of 1980s punk-rock records at secret Fat Wreck Chords parties.

But his latest gig is the one getting him the most attention: Camping out for five days in front of the Apple store in San Francisco's Union Square.

Someone hired him on TaskRabbit to be first in line for the new iPhone 5 that goes on sale Friday morning. He’s getting paid $1,500, which seems like a decent wage for a week’s work, if not for the working conditions: drunk people singing Weezer songs outside his tent at night, the bone-jarring sounds of street construction that kick into high gear at 7 a.m. and, the worst yet, his iPhone 4 being stolen while he was making a run to the 24-hour Denny’s.

"I don't think I would do it for less," said Hufnagel, an unemployed digital-media specialist who lives in San Francisco’s Mission district. "I have some dignity."

For now he's the only one in line. His companions are the endless stream of shoppers heading in and out of the Apple store and the construction workers digging up the streets right next to his green REI tent.

He also gets regular visits from TaskRabbit, which has given him a small budget for food deliveries through Deliver Now (mostly burritos from Chipotle) in exchange for wearing company swag and putting up signs promoting that you can hire a TaskRabbit to stand in line for your iPhone 5 on Friday morning.

Hufnagel came prepared. Inside his cramped, disheveled tent, he has a portable lantern, a stack of books (and a Kindle but he doesn’t feel right using it outside the Apple store) and ample food supplies: ramen (that he boils on a Sterno grill), apple sauce, canned pineapple, a big sack of granola from Rainbow Grocery, a box of cool mint chocolate Clif Bars (with caffeine), one mason jar filled with water and another filled with tea and nutritional yeast flakes to sprinkle on his food for added protein.

He charges his laptop and phone (before it was stolen) in the Apple store, and also uses the bathroom there, or hikes over to one of two nearby Starbucks or the aforementioned Denny’s.

During the day, he sets up a small chair and table in front of the Apple store that he mans with his MacBook. At night, he puts on earplugs and leans the chair and table against the inside of the tent so he'll wake up if someone unzips it.

Passersby gawk and stop to snap pictures of him and his tent, making him feel a bit like a zoo animal, he said. Every person asks the same question: How long have you been here? (That may be because he has a sign that encourages people to ask him).

"The hours are weird but I get to meet a lot of interesting people and I am getting paid to do it," Hufnagel said.

Hufnagel won't be alone for long. Soon he will be joined by hordes of iPhone 5 groupies — and all the other working stiffs hired to stand in line through services such as TaskRabbit and Exec.

Hufnagel says he had been thinking about buying and then selling the iPhone 5 to make some extra cash. Now he’s thinking about keeping it to replace his iPhone 4 if the cops don’t track it down. After all, the screen was already cracked.

"It seems pretty snazzy, and if it turns out I need a new phone, I would definitely upgrade," he said. "If by some miracle I get my iPhone 4 back, I may stick with that for now."

ALSO:

Apple seeks to raise the bar with the iPhone 5

After iPhone 5, can Tim Cook make Apple his own?

For many lining up for Apple's iPhone, a payoff worth the wait

Follow me on Twitter @jguynn

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