Please excuse my absence for the past 24 hours. I am still basking in iPhone afterglow, having spent most of my time heavily engaged in taste testing the Jesus phone, putting it through its paces. Before I get into my impressions of the device (spoiler: It is AMAZING!) I thought I would share my experiences that led up to actually getting the phone. Some of the things I discovered from my adventure were just as enlightening, and entertaining, as the iPhone itself.

I started out yesterday, the holy day of iPhone sacrament, by breaking off early around noon and headed off to my nearest AT&T corporate store in Fort Wayne Indiana. There are actually two such stores in this big Midwestern town masquerading as a city. The first is located in a small plaza tucked away adjacent to Best Buy. I scoped out this store first only to see what, if any, activity was taking place. When I arrived no one was there, save for the store manager dressed spit and polish in a business suit pacing outside the store, talking on his cell phone, like a nervous host waiting for party guests to arrive. But the guests were a no show. This lulled me into a false sense of security. I thought perhaps the iPhone launch might be a bust in my locale, with no lines and no waiting. Great! Sort of.

The thought of sitting in my truck for the next six hours, looking like an iStalker , didn’t appeal to me so I decided to break for lunch before heading over to the second AT&T store located within an indoor mall at Glenbrook Square. That was a mistake, because I foolishly washed down my Quarter pounder (made with real Afghanistan Beef) with a half-liter of Coke. Pee Pee time.

I arrived at Glenbrook Mall around 1:00, heading straight for the AT&T Store, located next to a J.C Penny…and a massive decorative water fountain (remember that Coke I drank? Yeah). Whoa! What’s this? A line! A line of iCampers in its early stages had begun to form outside the store behind a prearranged section of stantions. Show time!

I immediately went back to my truck, grabbed my folding chair and MacBook and proceeded to join the great iWait. Fortunately for me the line was very small. I was actually sixth, but a kid at the very front had been there since early morning. Apparently his Dad had agreed to purchase an iPhone for him and he waited anxiously for this moment since January. The mood was very festive and everyone enjoyed the comradery, sharing stories and tidbits of information about iPhone. I met a guy who runs a popular Ford Focus street modding enthusiast site called FocalJet. We had a great time discussing all the iPhone hoo-ha and shared our opinions on mobile technology and computing in general.

Now I’m not one to pass compliments upon a wireless carrier because frankly they are all demonic institutions whose goal is to pick our pockets every time we press a button on our phone, but in this case I really have to give kudos to AT&T for handling this product launch in a very professional, enthusiastic, and almost Apple-like fashion. The store manager and employees came out to greet each of us who were part of the early crowd. Shook hands. Questioned us about our interest in the phone. Handed us rate plan fliers and iPhone product FAQ sheets. Made certain that we understood the plans and contact terms to ensure no surprises. She seemed to actually grasp the significance of this product launch and enjoyed being part of it. That is a rare quality.

The line quickly evolved as the 4:30pm store closing milestone approached. As more people came in line I noticed a trend – lots of Smartphone users, almost universally a BlackBerry of some form. Analysts who predict that iPhone won’t impact RIM sales my be proven wrong. That’s going to be true for corporate and government sales, but consumer BlackBerry users are going to upgrade.

Another interesting revelation - I spotted a handful of Treos as well, but all except one were Windows Mobile 700w models carried by Verizon users about to switch to AT&T.– most of the BlackBerry users I chatted with had upgraded FROM a Treo and they hated PalmOS. Most were actually surprised that I “still” use a Treo. Palm is in serious trouble, and I don’t mean from iPhone. They aren’t going to survive because the perception is that Palm is an old platform (and brand) that was given up long ago, supplanted by Blackberry. After what I witnessed yesterday, I doubt even Palm’s adoption of Windows Mobile to can reverse that image. Palm is the Sony Walkman of mobile platforms. It’s what we all started out with and then moved on to something better. That perception is the kiss of death.

At 4:30 the store closed its doors as promised, and momentum picked up and enthusiasm began to build. Store employees ate pizza, drank soda, and worked busily taking down existing iPhone banners that boasted iPhone’s upcoming arrival date, and replaced them with even larger banners that read “iPhone has Arrived!”. Employees also setup a giant iPhone kiosk display, and in one light hearted moment, the store manager knocked on the window from within the store and flaunted the iPhone in front of the kid who was first in line. Everyone laughed. Good times.

By 5:30 things began getting a bit more serious. People getting off work were quickly filling the back rolls forming a winding snake-like line growing beyond the pre-configured stantions. I don’t know how many customers AT&T was expecting for this specific location, but the fact the line extended well beyond the stantions and required crowd herding by mall security guards was an indication they exceeded those expectations.

By 5:50pm those that were sitting on the floor were now on their feet. Those of us who brought chairs and laptops quickly packed our gear in preparation for the blessed moment. At 5:59pm the store manager was outside chatting up the crowd, jokingly taunting the us that her watch showed only 5:55. It’s a rare moment to see adults behave like giddy school children, but we were all pumped. When the clock struck 6:00, we were allowed in by allotments of six persons. Luckily I was in the first wave, being sixth in line.

I didn’t even look at the demo iPhone unit prominently on display. Instead I bolted straight for the first available salesperson. The transaction was short and sweet. I gave him my name, mobile phone number, and social. Told him what phone I wanted. He went to the stock room to get my 8GB iPhone (aside: NO ONE in line wanted the 4GB model) - rang up my order. I paid - he placed my iPhone in a sealed AT&T bag (which was a bit strange). I left, returned home 35 minutes later (it’s a 45 mile drive between Fort Wayne and my home) and ripped the package apart like a 10 year old child on Christmas morning.

Part deux; my iPhone impressions. Coming next.