[Note: Consider this a rolling post, as news items will keep coming all day, I’m sure. Particularly as the media outside of Richmond gets a hold of this.]
We went down to the RIR at about 6:30 this morning to get in line for one of those $50 iBooks. We weren’t really even sure we were going to go until late last night, but we decided it would be fun to take the morning off together and hang out. I now wish I’d just gone running and come to work like any other Tuesday. The thing that describes the whole scene down there was chaos; chaos with periods of calm caused by being baked in the hot Richmond sun.
[How things happened (or didn’t happen) from my point of view.]
We left the house around dawn and headed to get some breakfast, stopping by the ATM on the way. We drove down Laburnum, Angela commenting that all the other cars on the street might be headed to where we were going. I didn’t think much about it then, but it turns out she was right. We came to a dead stop about a mile from the RIR. I noticed people parking at one of the apartment complexes nearby and walking the rest of the way. It looked like some sort of huge sporting event was about to go on, which pretty sums up what happened right there.
We agreed I’d drop Angela off and then go park the vehicle, as people were already parking nearly a mile away and walking. We finally got through the intersection at Laburnum and Meadowbridge, which had three traffic cops. She walked up to the front gate (still locked at this point) and I drove on. As I was still looking for a spot, she called me to tell me they had unlocked the gates and people were just rushing in on foot and in cars. That’s never a good mix. Angela said she wasn’t planning on dashing off like a fool, and I told her that sounded smart. I could hear loads of shouting over the phone, so I told her I’d get there as soon as I could.
By the time I got up to the gate, it had cooled off somewhat. Angela had gotten in before the trampling, and I got there shortly after it had happened. The line was ridiculous already, and people were still lining up. I found Angela, who had secured a reasonably good spot. Of course, the line was more of a long, narrow mob; about 8–10 people wide. It was pretty obvious that there were several thousand people there already. Shortly after 8:00 (over an hour after the panic at the gates) fire, rescue, and some more police started showing up. They began by just shouting into a bullhorn at the front of the line. We couldn’t really hear them, and I’m pretty sure the people about 2,000 back in the line were completely oblivious. Next, the police started driving a cruiser along side the line telling people to back-up. Back up? Where? I’m crowded like this was the pit at a 80’s metal concert. We couldn’t go anywhere.
Eventually, about 6 or so officers on foot began walking along the line, moving them backward one small segment at a time. We eventually walked about a quarter mile backwards before the police seemed satisfied the line was thin enough. What we didn’t know was that they had simply changed tactics. They had erected a sort three-part system to get the crowd into two lines. First, they simply barricaded off the line. They would let through a sizable section of people at one time through this barricade, only to be stopped at another in what was sort of a make-shift corral. Then, they had put-together a Z‑type maze (like at a theme park, but one that you’d find in hell) to funnel the people to the doors. Now, all of this is going on in the hot Richmond sun on the tarmac at the raceway parking lot. “Hot and humid” really doesn’t do it justice. Some of the raceway staff (well, we guessed they were staff) started selling Pepsi products and bottled water for $2 each. That kind of added to the Disney World feeling, what with the lines and heat.
I began walking around as Angela kept her spot in line (we were only planning on getting one anyway, since she was the Henrico resident). I spoke to the fellow from NBC12, who thought they had at that point sold around 500 or so laptops. I tried to report some of this back to Angela (and all the others who looked so pathetically anxious when I returned to my spot). Sunburnt, exhausted, and angry, we decided to call it quits. In the four hours we spent, we could have combined bought a far nicer iBook off of eBay from the comfort of our home. Lesson learned.
On our way out, we noticed what looked like about 1/2 of the Henrico police department lined up where the lucky few iBook purchasers where leaving the building. This included the SWAT team. Hours too late, and then in overkill force, they had finally arrived to make sure a scene that had already gotten way out of control didn’t do it again.
I imagine someone’s going to pay hell for this mess. The county board thought they must have had a sure fire win in their pockets when they decided to limit this to residents only. We’ll see how they feel when what happened hits the news. The county really bumbled this one up and is very lucky no one was seriously injured today.
Lot’s of media coverage using the word “riot.” I saw nothing that resembled a riot this morning. The surge of people that resulted in some folks getting trampled was in the first few moments of the gates being opened. While horrible, that was the really bad behavior of the day. Afterwards it was relatively calm, although tempers were certainly flaring at times. Lot’s of shouting at the police for not knowing what was going on (hell, no one knew what was going on) and for not letting people move ahead when they thought they should.
There is also a story about someone getting beaten with a folding chair. I never saw or heard anything about this. If it was a beating like the description I read online, then the person would have been taken away in handcuffs. The people were getting the police to even prevent line-jumpers, who believes they’d just let a beating go on? I imagine this was some guy whacking a line-jumper with his canvas sports-chair , but not some sort of wrestling cage-match move. I doubt anyone was hurt, other than their pride. Mostly just someone bragging about cool they were in line and not letting anyone get in front of them.
The good Apple-lovin’ people over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog linked to my site after e‑mailing them about them mayhem. They’ve done a really good job of reporting on the story since day one and keeping everyone informed of the local developments. Thanks TUAW!
NBC 12 has some video of the event, and you can see the guy (Aaron Gilchrist) I talked to around 10:30 this morning.
2:30 — It’s already made it’s way to the L.A. Times and further, via the A.P., with a crowd estimate of 5,500 now.
You have to watch the Richmond Times Dispatch slideshow of the gates opening. You can just see the momentum building to the climax of people just getting mowed down. Thank God Angela was no where near all this, although we both wish we weren’t even there at all today. Credit goes to Times Dispatch photographer Dean Hoffmeyer for these excellent photos.
Wired News has the A.P. story as well, now.
Engadget has a post about the story, as well as some of the most offensive comments I’ve ever read there. I guess it was becuase I was there, but these guys (the readers, not Engadget staff) make me sick blaming this on the fact that they think it was mostly African-Americans to blame for the incident. Of course, the posters who were there only drove by. The crowd was a relatively good cross-section of Henrico County, minus the well-to-do West-Enders (who probably don’t send their kids to public school, anyway): blacks, whites, Indians, asians, college students, retired people, and so on. Is that a suprise, that the people coming to buy laptops from the county would reflect the county make-up? Further, these folks were there for the laptops to keep, not for trying to make a fast buck.
This story is on Wonkette. Why is Wonkette even talking about this? Oh, apparently someone wet themselves in line. All I had to put up with was people smoking around me. How bad is your day when the best part is no one pissed near you?
Some other photos on Flickr.
And we have at least one on eBay already! Perhaps I’ll just buy this one…
Wow, the story has now even landed in the online comics section.