Apple Stores: The Forgotten Hell

Having to go into an Apple Store is one of the most singularly unpleasant experiences in my consumer life.

I’ve been grunted at, and waved off. I’ve been told first that my repair would be very expensive and have to be sent away for a week, then that it was cheap and done in a day or so. I’ve been ignored. I’ve stood trying to make eye contact while the staff member upon whom I pinned my feeble hope of purchasing a Shiny Thing walked past me to inquire as to whether the two girls who came in behind me needed any help. I searched fruitlessly for someone to ask, while staff in tastefully logo’d shirts and fanny packs swept around with an air of self importance that i was loath to disturb (Could I live with myself if there was an iPod emergency?)

Today was especially…intriguing.

I do need a phone. My own has decided to die in a dramatic, battery-swelling, screen-popping sort of way. And I grant you that it’s old and has earned its rest. I use my phone to track my running. I fancy that gaps between the screen and the back would probably be less than waterproof. The tiny anxiety-ghoul in the back of my mind is ever wary of potential dangers when one can easily peer into electronics against the manufacturer’s recommendations. Today was the day to bite the bullet.

At the first store there was a mysterious line running up the street. For what, I never found out, since all the staff were too busy to pause, and Apple’s dedication to uninterrupted surfaces had limited language to monosyllabic sloganeering. I drifted off to another branch, slightly less busy, and threw in. After about ten minutes I finally found someone to ask, I explained my problem (I would like a new phone, please may I give you money) and was asked to wait.

And wait I did. I waited patiently for about 40 minutes. I waited patiently because the store was busy. I waited patiently because the dude was running up and down the stairs (Hard work! Must be important!). I waited patiently while he restocked and faced the shelves. I waited while he talked to his coworkers (Is he handing me off? I’m okay with that!) I waited while he looked directly at me then ignored whatever eye contact I was sending. (Too confused? Too understanding? Too patient? Not concerned enough?)

Then I caught him in between his little errands, asked him if he’d just asked me to wait for shits and giggles, and left. 

There was a time when Apple was so different, so innovative, that a little cult coalesced around it, lingering long after the products themselves became ubiquitous. That is not why I switched. In the long ago times it was hard to find a laptop with an English operating system out in the countryside of Japan. Macs came with it! I switched because it was easier at the time. My beef has never really been with the products in any case; I’ve written seven novels on my iPad mini. I love it to bits.

But the stores! I find the physical appearance of their stores so completely off-putting, and their staff so incredibly wretched, that I never, ever want to set foot near one again. The true genius of Apple is how it still has a sense of cool, doled out in tiny drops.

For a company whose products are designed for ease of use, their stores are opaque and frustrating to the point of absurdity. In the dim vaults of my memory I recall a Genius Bar, with a screen showing appointments, easily found by even the most unwashed of the befuddled masses. At some point it was decided, it seems, that signs are for lesser beings. It’s as though they believe customers crave the confusion of an emergency evacuation, at the end of which you hand over your thousand dollars and receive a ticket out of their sleek and wordless circle of hell. As you flee, clutching your oddly sharp-edged box, the twenty-something in the tastefully logo’d T-shirt and unique hair has already rejoined their tribe, doing nothing with absolute urgency.

Today I didn’t survive the tsunami of AirPod-seekers (Is that what everyone was waiting for?) and I am left to wander phoneless into the Autumn night.

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