By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
October 14, 2011

A soggy tale of queue-sitting entrepreneurship gone sour

The skies opened up at about 1:00 a.m. Thursday night, dumping torrential rain on the customers camped out in front of the Fifth Avenue Apple (AAPL) Store to buy the new iPhone 4S.

Which makes this story all the more poignant.

The couple occupying the first two spots had been there for more than two weeks (see 17 days in the iPhone line: Wet, cold and smelling like Cheetos.) They plan to buy iPhones with money supplied by their sponsor, a buyer of used iPhones called Gazelle.

Spots 3, 4 and 5 were occupied by the three gentleman shown here, Tristan Pope, 28, Hans Mai, 27, and Greg Packer 47.

They’re not here to buy an iPhone. Pope is here to film the event. Mai and Packer’s plan was to sell their spots to a well-heeled latecomer with cash to burn. They were cagy about the price (“What are you offering?” Packer answered), but a friend suggested $50 would probably do the trick.

Here’s the problem: As of 6:30 a.m. — 90 minutes before the store was scheduled to open — the queue that snaked down 58th Street was 261 customers long — considerably shorter than the lines in Europe and Asia, and a number this flagship Apple store can easily accommodate.

What will they do if they can’t find a buyer? “I’m going home,” says Mai, an actor from Manhattan. “I’ve been here 9 days and I’m soaked through.”

[UPDATE: By 7:40 the line had swelled to more than 350, and there were still no takers. At 8:00 a.m., the trio marched into the store along with the paying customers. “At least I’ll get inside the store,” Packer had said, putting the best possible spin on the four days he spent in line.]

Acting is the kind of profession that gives a person the free time to try a ploy like this. Likewise shooting photographs and directing animated cartoons, which is what Pope does (he won an Emmy a few years ago for an episode of South Park). Packer, a retired highway maintenance worker from Huntington, L.I., is basically a full-time line sitter and generator of man-on-the-street-quotes. Mention Occupy Wall Street — the bigger story this Friday morning — and he’ll rattle one off on the spot.

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