By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
June 22, 2010

Greg Packer — man-on-the-street and No. 1 iPhone line-sitter — has a sponsor

You meet all sorts of people in the ragged lines that form outside the big glass cube of Apple’s (AAPL) flagship Fifth Avenue store whenever the company launches a hot new mobile device.

Many are Apple devotees who truly love the company and enjoy the Woodstock-like camaraderie. Some are tourists, in town from Stockholm, Berlin or Amsterdam, hoping to get a gizmo they can’t yet buy at home — and maybe avoid their local V.A.T. Some are homeless people, accustomed to sleeping on the sidewalks of New York City and happy to make a few bucks holding a richer person’s place in line.

And then there’s Greg Packer.

Packer, for those who don’t recognize him, is the former highway maintenance guy from Huntington, Long Island, who has made a science of getting his name in the paper — usually by being first in line at events where reporters congregate looking for “man on the street” quotes.

He was first to buy the original iPhone in 2007 and the iPad last April, first to sign the condolence book at the British consulate when Princess Diana died, first in line for Bill Clinton’s book signing, and first in line for the inauguration of George W. Bush, for which he slept outside in the snow.

According to his Wikipedia entry, Packer has been quoted more than 100 times and photographed at least 16 times by the Associated Press, 14 times by Newsday, 13 times by the New York Daily News, and 12 times by the New York Post. In 2003, the AP issued a memo that read, in part: “The world is full of all kinds of interesting people. One of them is Greg Packer of Huntington, N.Y., who apparently lives to get his name on the AP wire and in other media…. Mr. Packer is clearly eager to be quoted. Let’s be eager, too — to find other people to quote.”

When we visited the glass cube on Monday, three days before the iPhone 4 was scheduled to go on sale, Packer was there — all by himself — holding his usual spot on the wall that separates the plaza from the street.

But something had changed. For the first time, he wouldn’t give an interview or agree to be photographed without clearing it first with his publicist.

Yes, Greg Packer, now wearing his sponsor’s T-shirt, has gone pro. He was cagey about what exactly he’s getting for braving the blazing midday sun and possible overnight thunderstorms, but his sponsor was willing to supply the details:

  • We’re paying Greg $250 for each day he is in line, total $1,000
  • Decked him out in Gazelle gear and some good camping gear from LL Bean to make his stay on 5th Ave a bit more comfortable
  • We gave him a runner who will bring him something if he needs it (lunch, etc.)
  • We brought him to Boston (our offices) last week — VIP treatment — to meet the team

Packer is also getting an iPhone 4 essentially for free, because he’s arranged to trade in his three-year-old model for considerably more than it’s worth.

He claims he’s eager to get the new iPhone for all the features his old one doesn’t have, but he could only name two: higher speed and satellite radio.

He apparently hadn’t heard about the front-facing camera and FaceTime video calling, the 5-megapixel camera, the LED flash, the Retina display, the 3-axis gyro, or the 40% longer talk time.

But he’s got a few days to get up to speed.

As of Tuesday morning, Packer was still first in a line that held only him.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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