This story was born as I took part in the most boring of all activities: standing in line. Even the errand list has the potential for drama…
Tiger Mom Scores an iPad 2
My country childhood endowed me with many useful and relevant skills. The art of standing in line is not one of them.
New movies ambled slowly into the theater in my little hometown in northwest New Jersey, months after they opened in New York and Philadelphia. Fashion trends arrived eventually, but as faint echoes of their former selves. Technology was tardy, and what we did have was unreliable. For example, the lovely trees that shaded our community hosted an abundant squirrel population. At least once a week, we’d see Darwin’s theory of natural selection at work, when an unfortunate squirrel would fry in an electric transformer and send us temporarily back to the Stone Age.
In short, I’m used to having fewer, lamer and stodgier choices. I proudly ignore new gadgets for weeks after they splash down. The prospect of standing in a snaky line that shimmies around a store or movie house repels me like the push-away side of a magnet.
So it was with the iPad 2…until last week.
I was aware of the iPad, its appeal and its features, and I must say it did intrigue me. But I followed my gadget credo: Get educated about it, do a detailed needs assessment, and prepare for a purchasing decision that arrives when hell freezes over or on my son’s birthday, whichever comes first.
The birthday bell tolled in early spring. At our pre-event co-conspirators’ meeting, the family zeroed in on the most-wanted items—a new suit and an iPad. I decided to give the latter. Then I made the classic country-girl mistake. I waited a week to obtain the gadget that he and the entire civilized world would die for.
I wasn’t totally oblivious to the deafening iPad 2 buzz. It was impossible to ignore when scrolling through Google News or working on my own Apple computer. But I naively thought that if I just went to the mall right when it opened on a weekday, I would have a good shot at a successful birthday purchase experience.
Early on a Thursday morning, the parking lot and the mall’s interior were almost empty. So far, so good. Stepping around the corner, I scoped out the Apple storefront. No snaky lines, just the usual beehive inside…OK to proceed with caution. Inside the store, a blue T-shirted employee separated himself from the organized chaos to tell me they were sold out of all except the high-endiest iPads. “We get new shipments every day, we open at 9 am and it’s first-come, first-served,” he informed me.
That night I considered the idea of standing in a snaky line. It took a while, but my mother-self trumped my no-standing-in-lines self. I decided it would be smart to get there at 8. As I stepped around the corner, the depth of my naiveté was revealed to me.
Blue T-shirted store employees with clipboards worked a crowd of about 30, taking names and shaking their heads in sympathy. I overheard one employee say “I know, but we have to be fair to the people who got here at 5 am.” With that, my no-standing-in-lines self took over and I bailed.
As I drove out of the parking garage, I knew I had a choice: to seriously play the game, or to do something I’d never done in 26 years: apologize for not having my birthday-present act together. I settled on a suburban store for my next encounter with the cult of iPad 2.
The next day dawned and a pale spring sun peeked through the trees lining the South Platte River. I changed to my sunglasses and shifted my back against the cold concrete Apple storefront. Why hadn’t I been smart like the others in the snaky line, who had thought to bring lawn chairs and blankets? I pulled up my hood and focused on the homework I’d brought, so as to use my wasted time wisely.
Around 8 am, the Apple store manager approached the group and gave us all a little sermon. He said he was inspired by our dedication, and proud to work for a company with a product that elicited such an amazing response. We smiled, nodded in appreciation, shuffled our feet, and blinked like toads in the bright sun.
I fought the urge to laugh. The whole thing reminded me of Tickle Me Elmo and rioters at Wal-Mart on Black Friday. I’m always the one who makes scornful fun of the participants in such 21st-century marketing triumphs…but there I was, one of “them.”
I decided to check the time on my phone…but wait! As the other line-standers idly texted and attended to their smart phone tasks, I couldn’t let them see my phone, which resembled theirs in the way an Airstream trailer resembles a Mazerati. Anyway, the sun was getting warmer, and lo, a blue-shirted clipboard carrier emerged! “I’ll take your information and see if we have what you want. That way you won’t have to stand in line for no reason,” she told us. The group’s collective energy surged. We scrambled to our feet and waited like gladiators for the thumbs-up or down.
I heard fragments like “32 gig” “A T & T” and such. A family with a pre-teen girl peeled out of the line several people ahead, looking deflated…thumbs down to what she wanted. A 70-ish couple in front of me was impressed with how skillfully she handled her disappointment.
Soon afterward came my moment of truth with the clipboard… and it was a thumbs-up to the lean-and-mean iPad with no accessories! Next, a dozen of us lucky ones were allowed to enter the store. How did that feel? A recent quote from a Republican congressman came to mind: “It’s a long, long road to that shining city on the hill.” There’s nothing quite like the sleek lines and hipster-spaceship feel of an Apple store…especially when you’re about to buy something from that cool candy store.
Dazzled by brushed chrome and sherbet colors, we were gently herded to another line. As the happy gladiators reached the head of the line, they were warmly congratulated, in tones resembling the announcement of an engagement or a pregnancy.
A few minutes later, I was back on the road with my purchase, feeling smug and brave. What a day…and it was only 9:12 am.
Upon leaving the house at 7, I’d received good-luck wishes from my husband. He’s going to be proud of me, I thought—even though he’s belligerently opposed to technology. And that’s the real punch line of this story. Earlier in the week, he came home from a day at work at the school where he teaches second grade. With the utmost resignation and disgust in his voice and on his face, he announced:
“They’re giving us free iPads and we have to start using them in the classroom.”
How to end this tale of technology and irony? Lewis Carroll said it best, almost 150 years ago: “Curiouser and curiouser.”