By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
October 14, 2011

Life-lessons learned on the sidewalks of New York City

Want to know what it’s like to spend two and a half weeks in an iPhone line?

If you’ve ever considered such a thing, Keenen Thompson, 21, and Jessica Mellow, 26, have done you — and the rest of the iPhone-lovin’ world — a favor: they have teamed up to record their experiences for posterity, Keenen on Twitter (@iPhoneWhatever) and Jessica in a sprightly, funny, clever and occasionally heartfelt blog by roughly the same name (

We’ve had Apple line-sitters before. Greg Packer, a semi-professional “man-on-the-street,” was first in line at Apple’s flagship Fifth Avenue store for the original iPhone, the iPad and the iPhone 4 (he’s No. 4 in this line). A group called the WhoFarm camped out for a week to get the iPhone 3G (but mostly to draw attention to their environmental causes, including a scheme to turn the White House’s 17-acre lawn into an organic farm.)

But we’ve never had observers as sharp-eyed and generous as these two. Jessica, especially, is a joy to read as she experiences (and describes in detail) the effects of wind, rain, sleep deprivation, Cheeto-flavored body odor and a painful crack on the skull. (“Ugh! Leave it to me to get through 17 days of camping on the streets of NYC only to slip in the bathroom and hit my head off the corner of the wall? It does make sense…I tend to get injured in the dumbest ways possible.  Somebody bring me a Vicoden, or better yet, cut off my head.”)

The two are not a couple, but they have been best of friends since they met three years ago doing promotions for movie screenings (Ironman 1 and 2, Transformers 2 and 3, Kickass, Jackass 3D, etc.). Keenen worked two and half years for Apple (AAPL) in retail, both in Queens and in this store. Jessica does various kinds of freelance promotion tasks, but her real love is body art, both as a model and as an artist. Her ambition is to do the kind of work that put Demi Moore in her birthday suit on the cover of Vanity Fair. You can see Jessica’s art (and body) on Facebook, if she deigns to friend you.

Things were pretty quiet for Keenen and Jessica for the first week or so. Then, on day 9, Steve Jobs died. Jessica’s account of what happened next follows below the fold.

Last night is a bit of a blur…I got a text from Keenen (who was grabbing something to eat) saying he was on his way back, and that Steve Jobs was dead. I thought he was joking, though if I’d thought about it I’d know Keenen, being a die-hard Apple fan, would never joke about that. There were also rumors of his death a few weeks ago, but after checking up on the news online, I realized it was true. Keenen and I were both pretty shocked by the news. Not 10 minutes later, the media started to arrive and before we knew it, there were dozens of reporters representing countries all over the world asking us for interviews…cameras flashing, videos rolling, and people gathering to pay their respects. We were pretty caught off guard, and a little shell-shocked. I can’t even count the number of people who came up to us, both together and individually. They were mostly gathering thoughts on Steve Jobs, what he meant to Apple, to the technology world, and to society as a whole. He was an amazing, brilliant man, who changed the world of technology and inspired people to think for themselves.

Here is a brilliant quote making it’s rounds on Facebook right now, straight from the mouth of Mr. Jobs himself:

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Whether or not you are a fan of Apple, there is no denying his determination, intelligence, influence, and compassion. He was the heart and soul of a company that values each and every customer. When you walk into an Apple Store, you encounter not only a virtual playground of electronics, but a place where you feel welcome. You are free to browse and test the merchandise, and even use the computers for personal use (a valuable tool for many people who do not have their own wifi). Even more important to me, however, is the positive, upbeat atmosphere. The employees are genuinely excited to help, to share their products and knowledge with the consumer, and seem to truly love what they do instead of just putting on an act. That in itself is a gift to be around, and why I am continuously drawn to the Apple Store despite the fact that I’m normally drawn to places that are filled with bright colors instead of the pristine white found at Apple. A real smile goes a long way and can make a difference in a customer’s day, and smiles are plentiful in every branch I’ve visited. Having friends who work and have worked for Apple, it appears (simply from observation, as I haven’t worked there myself) that there is a sense of community among them, almost like an “Apple family”, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Cancer is, pardon my French, a real bitch. It is a terrible, devastating thing to go through for the sufferer, not to mention their family and friends. This is true whether you are Steve Jobs or Jane Doe. Rich, poor, male, female, old, young, gay, straight, famous, unknown…it doesn’t discriminate. Everyone feels pain. One reporter asked me if I think Steve Jobs was an irreplaceable human being. I answered that yes, EVERY person is an irreplaceable human being. One person is not superior to another. We place people on pedestals and create the illusion that they are immortal, and although i did not personally know him, it pains me to think he had to suffer so much. He was as mortal as anyone. I am truly sad for the loss to society, but even more sad for his family and those who were close to him, though I am happy he had such an incredible support system. Steve Jobs will not be forgotten, and I am sure his legacy will carry on. RIP.

The iPhone 4S is scheduled to go on sale at 8 a.m. Friday local time. As of 2 p.m. Thursday, the line at the Fifth Avenue store was 12 people long.

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