SAN FRANCISCO – No true fans of the coveted iPhone could be found standing in line outside Apple's (AAPL) flagship store here a full day before the gadgets go on sale. There were just exploiters, exploited and a few clowns.
The handful of opportunists who have camped out until the iPhone goes on sale on Friday at 6 p.m. say their motivations range from selling their spot in line, to selling just-bought phones online, to simply participating in the spectacle.
But so far the holders of the real-world equivalent of a Willy Wonka golden ticket say they would struggle to afford the iPhone's $500-$600 sticker price and two-year service commitment that amounts to at least another $1,400.
Initially, each customer can buy no more than two phones at Apple stores. AT&T Inc. (T), the network operator with an exclusive contract to supply U.S. service for the iPhone, has said it will sell only one per customer at its outlets.
The two first spots in line outside the San Francisco Apple store are held by two buddies who vaguely describe schemes to use their spots to finance the purchase of iPhones. Rather than keep the phones, they are looking to resell them quickly.
"I might sell my spot in order to afford an iPhone," said Jerry Taylor, 54, who held the No. 1 spot in line.
"I don't know what I am going to do," said Mark Baik, 31, a local barber who had rolled out a rug to mark his No. 2 spot. "I could sell it online. It's like a valuable baseball card."
These street-smart capitalists were joined by Eric Eisher, 23, who ambled into line toting a skateboard, a MacBook and a Casio keyboard synthesizer. "I'm holding a place in line for my boss. He's paying me. I can't afford one of my own," he said.
Eisher, a Web designer, plans to fill his time productively with a variety of art projects. He says he will paint the skateboard he is carrying to give to a friend as a birthday present. And he plans to compose what he calls "weird jazz" on his keyboard, influenced by Frank Zappa.
"It is going to be an artistic day on the street," he said as the hot midday sun beat down, while a cold fog threatened to quickly transform the San Francisco summer into a wintry day.
Two street performers named Allen Scott, 40, and Aaron Levkoff, 41, are attracted solely by spectacle, saying they are there to entertain the crowd and have no plans themselves to buy an iPhone. They are part of a theater group called Peepshow Minigolf.
Scott said they plan to perform carnival stunts for visitors going in and out of the Apple store and people wandering through the city's main shopping district. "It is going to be a circus out here."
Their act, which they regularly perform at corporate parties, including some thrown by Apple Inc., culminates by allowing spectators to putt a golf ball down a mobile miniature golf course they roll out for such occasions.
"I saw all these people online, on blogs and on Flickr and stuff, and they all look bored. I said, this is San Francisco, we have to do this right!" says Levkoff, who sports an upturned waxed moustache in the style of Salvador Dali.