Greg Packer is a shirtless footnote in the history of the iPhone. The retired highway maintenance worker from Long Island made a name for himself as the first person to line up for the sale of the first iPhone in 2007.
During his nearly weeklong stint sitting outside the Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City, scores of reporters came by to interview him as he sat in a lawn chair, at times not bothering to put on a shirt during his many closeups.
Some wrote of him as the ultimate Apple fanboy while others snarkily dubbed him iLoser — not an Apple devotee, but a “professional line-sitter” known for getting his face on camera or a quote in the paper.
Being first has its perks
Packer, 52, quibbles with the word “professional” since he is not on anyone’s payroll to go to events. But he does admit to liking some of the perks, which over the years have included three free iPhones, mostly paid for by a sponsor or website who will ask him to line up early and wear their logo on a shirt.
To Packer, no line is too long, especially when you are at the front of it.
“I made it fashionable,” Packer said about lining up early outside Apple stores. “I’ve been in line for pretty much every iPhone except last year (for the iPhone 6s) when the pope came to the U.S. I wanted to see the pope.”
There are Apple fans who do what Packer does, but out of a pure obsession for any new product that comes out of Cupertino. Sam Shaikh has been a news story in the United Kingdom for the last two iPhones, having been the first to buy both an iPhone 6 and the 6s. Others are celebrated more for their creativity, like the late Gary Allen, who visited seven continents just to be in line when a new Apple Store opened.
In Sydney, Lucy Kelly stood in line for a new iPhone 6s without leaving her home. Her face appeared live on an iPad attached to a telepresence robot that rolled up to the Apple Store. Workers tied a bag with her purchase securely around the neck of the robot and off she went, raising the bar for creative line-sitting.
Loves the line light
Packer is, by his own admission, an old-school publicity hound. He has lined up for World Series and Super Bowl tickets, book signings, met or seen four presidents and two popes. He goes early, dresses warm and if he can’t get the attention of a reporter, he knows how to get in the background of a television reporter’s interview or stand-up.
When Packer was first quoted in a major newspaper, during a visit by Pope John Paul II, he said it made him feel like he had accomplished something. No event is off-limits. He was at Whitney Houston’s funeral and later in the Los Angeles Times was quoted as a representative fan.
Some news outlets, including the Associated Press, have ordered its reporters to avoid Packer, the ubiquitous “man on the street.”
“I guess I want to witness everything in life,” Packer said. I want to witness history, a concert, a game or seeing something new.”
You’re just jealous
No, he is not a geeky Apple fan, per se. But he has been among the first in line for every iPhone. For the first iPad, he was first until he learned he would be bumped to second because one fan had the first reservation.
But it worked out for Packer. He still got plenty of pub for being so close to the front.
“I’d say that ranks just past me for waiting for Yankees World Series tickets in 1996, where I was second in line,” he said. “Even though I was second, I still had my own press conference and I made the cover of Long Island Newsday to show the people that I was first on Long Island.”
He has been quoted in publications more than 100 times, but not all the publicity is positive. Some of the comments are mean-spirited, but he dismisses them as jealousy.
Hey, the guy used to pave roads, cut grass and rake leaves for a living. If he can find somebody willing to talk to him, let him have it.