Inside the iPad launch-day hoopla

Even if you’ve seen it all before, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement

The double gauntlet. Photo: PED

A few minutes before the doors of Apple’s (AAPL) Fifth Avenue store are scheduled to open, weird noises — hoarse shouts and rebel yells — emerge from the big glass cube.

At the sound, hands holding LCD screens pop like dandelions out of the waiting throng, which by now must have swelled to at least 500 or 600.

Someone starts a countdown, a big cheer erupts, and suddenly we’re moving forward, headed toward a double gauntlet: Blue-shirted Apple employees on the right, clapping and cheering. Grim-faced camera crews on the left, trying to capture the madness on videotape.

And then we’re in, stumbling down the famous glass spiral staircase, greeted by a sea of blue shirts and still more cameras.

The actual purchase of the iPad couldn’t have been more efficient.

Down the spiral staircase. Photo: PED

9:05: I’m ushered to a station at the Genius Bar, where a friendly face asks me what model I want (16GB, $499). I’m handed a box from a big stack.

9:06: A second face, this one on a guy named Arlo, takes me aside, accepts my credit card and asks  a few questions. (Accessories? No, thanks. $30 off on a two-year extension of my MobileMe account? Sure, why not. AppleCare protection plan? Not until I clear it with the powers that be.)

9:08: Arlo hands me his tricked-up iPod touch so I can scratch something resembling my signature with a blunt forefinger. He shows me the total: $618.41 for iPad, MobileMe and tax.

Gulp. OK.

Camcorders at the ready. Photo: PED

9:09: I have my iPad — or rather, Henry Luce’s — and a printed receipt for my expense report. A quick pit stop, and I’m on my way.

Outside, anybody with a white Apple bag is getting ambushed by the media. It’s a feeding frenzy. I do my bit for CNNMoney and head as quickly as I can for the nearest Starbucks.

Soon, but not until after I’ve filed this, I’ll get to crack open the shrink wrap and play with my — or rather, Time Inc.’s — iPad.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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