March 11, 2011 at 6:02 PM ET
It's about 60 degrees in Tampa, Florida right now and there are about 500 people lined up outside of an Apple store. The majority of them are complaining about the chilly weather while barely batting an eyelash at the length of the line.
Yes, it's the day of the iPad 2 release and that is reason enough for people to spend hours waiting — just for the sake of being able to say that they bought their shiny new Apple gadget on the first day.
The first person in the line at the International Plaza Apple store is a fellow named Kristopher Willis. He's been here since 9:20pm last night — and he has no regrets about that. This will be his first iPad — he chose to skip the first generation because he's under the impression that the second generation of Apple products tends to be better — and he couldn't be more excited.
Behind him is a woman who trills and cheers every time a blue-shirted Apple employee walks by. She's here because she heard that the iPad 2 is faster and more powerful than the original. When I asked what she'll do with her old iPad, she remarked that she'll hand it down to her two-year-old daughter. The younger girl already loves the device.
"She's learning the alphabet on it!" exclaimed her proud mother.
As I go through the line, the stories alternate. First time iPad owners, Apple addicts, fanboys, fangirls, people who have never owned a single Apple product in their lives — they're all in line and none of them seem to be particularly concerned about the length of it. Their only worry is about whether the store will have enough iPad 2 devices to go around.
A few minutes after 5 PM EST, the Apple store manager — a friendly-looking fellow in a black shirt — begins directing the crowd into the store. Kristopher Willis probably got his hands on his first iPad shortly after. In the meantime, the rest of us were still making friends in line.
It's as if there's a compulsion for people to bond over this experience.
The folks next to me are a husband and wife. He's been in line for just about every Apple product in recent years, and she finally decided to join him in the wait. She explained that it wasn't really such a bad idea, and if she gets bored of waiting, she can simply shop in International Plaza, the mall in which the Apple store is located. Nearby are a restaurant owner, a fellow tech writer, a guy whose name matches that of a Major League pitcher — though he assures me he isn't an athlete — and a fellow who is here because his Valentine's Day gift to his wife was the promise of an iPad 2.
They're all smiling right now, because someone just walked by with an Apple store bag. They're a bit closer to their goal.