Dozens of people – for the purposes of this column, anyway – have asked me precisely how famous I am. I’ve just pulled down my much-beloved copy of the MacMillan Dictionary of Measurement and while the book advises that if you empty your pockets at the end of the day and find yourself with a big fistful of ribonuclease, and you want to brag to your spouse about its concentration relative to the coins and pocket fluff, the unit you’re groping for is “Kunitz Units,” there’s no listing at all for Fabulosity.
But recently, the precise parameters of my fame and prestige were defined with digital precision. It’s like this:
I am so famous that when Apple opens its first retail store in Great Britain, I can fire off an email a day before the big event and I’ll be immediately placed on the VIP list. So instead of camping out on the sidewalk overnight in 2-degree cold,
I turned up fifteen minutes before the doors opened, followed the dense line of people all the way around to the back of the building, and walked straight in through the service entrance.
That’s the lower parameter of my Fabulousness. The upper limit is defined by the fact that just inside the door, a man with a clipboard asked me to spell my name three times and then I had to wait for ten or fifteen minutes while he fetched somebody who could confirm that I had any business being there. So if I were to posit a unit of measure of fame – the Bradpitt, say – the customs agent would probably have to dial the device down to the Centibradpitt or even the Millibradpitt setting to get a reading off of me.
By now, you know about all of the shortcuts and building-code violations that were committed to get the Regent Street building renovated in time for the Christmas season, and why that section of the top floor collapsed into the office, maiming four job applicants. But as I write this, my visit is still fresh in my mind and I want to get a few last thoughts into print because I lose the ability to convert them into spendable cash.
First – inevitably, when discussing Apple Store openings – comes The Line to get in. Online sources claim that 1,175 people were waiting outside before the doors opened at 10am, and Apple says that it grew to 2,500 people total before it was possible to simply walk in like a normal person. I was cheered to find the line snaking all through the neighbourhood, but somewhat disappointed to later learn that the first few people in line were fellow Americans.
I’m sure that you feel the same way. Here in the States, professional soccer leagues are finally starting to become successful enough that the sport’s top stars can consider maybe quitting their night jobs, but then you look more carefully and realize that the only way we could staff a halfway-decent team was to mail-order some aged professionals
It just seems unnecessary. Yours is the nation that invented trainspotting, after all, so there’s already a proud tradition of hanging around in bad weather, working interminably towards no productive goal whatsoever. It seems like with a little determination and some taxpayer support, your national team could take the World Cup by 2006.
As for the Store itself, it’s head-and-shoulders above the others I’ve visited. If you ever visit the landmark Store in New York’s Soho district, you’ll see familiarities in the design, though the addition of the two-story open area behind Regent Street’s archways define it as a true plaza of technocracy.
They share the exact same staircase made out of floating panes of glass. Two days after the London Store opened, I had the honour of becoming the first author to speak there. On opening day, however, I entered the record books as the first customer to trip over the invisible staircase (pictured below). The Commissioner Of Such Things is looking into whether I’m the first to do so on two separate continents.
The other key advantage of Regent Street over New York is that your store refuses to accept American money, which is just plain good business. Having spent a week in your lovely island nation, I’ve come to understand that overseas, American dollars have only marginally greater buying power than Good Intentions. Back home, the unfortunates of our society stand on street corners holding bits of cardboard reading “Homeless… Hungry… Help.” On Oxford Street, I found that by silently holding a ten-dollar bill up in the air, I could attract identical waves of pity and sympathy from passers-by.
I confess that when Steve Jobs announced that he’d be opening a chain of company-owned “Apple Stores” all across America, I thought they’d be his Waterloo. I’d seen that sort of Company Store before. The first ones open to great optimism, but within three months they’re shabby and undertrafficked. Within five, they start selling other manufacturer’s merchandise, and three months after that it’s a place where you can get the smutty saying of your choice embroidered on a baseball cap or sweatshirt.
But, boy, was I wrong. The Stores have all achieved a purpose that I couldn’t have guessed at two years ago: they’re embassies for Macintosh users. In one or two-floor parcels scattered all across the globe, there are pockets of real estate in which the world makes sense; where everybody uses Macs, where the shelves are sagging under the weight of Mac-compatible product, where, incidentally, my books are shelved in an entire department of Apple-related titles, where the air is crisp and clean and cartoon birds land on your shoulder and drop individually-wrapped Cadbury chocolates into your hand before singing about $200 rebates on selected iMac G5s.
I want you to visit the Regent Street store. Ask questions of the Geniuses. Sit in the theatre and take a lesson. Or just pop in to use the free WiFi access points and grab your email. And I want you to buy an exclusive leather iPod case emblazoned with the cross of St George, available only at the one store for a limited time. What better way to celebrate the first Apple Store in Britain? And the sooner the things sell out, the sooner I can put mine on eBay and hopefully make back some of the money I lost this week, thanks to the weakness of my quaint local currency against your own. Have a heart, OK? MW