Zach recalls how he got his Wii back in 2006.
I've bought several Nintendo systems at launch: GameCube, GBA, GBA SP, Wii, DS Lite, DSi, 3DS, and 3DS XL. Of those, I've only sat outside for hours for the consoles in that list. The GameCube experience was the less exciting of the two, and I've told that story before. The Wii launch, however, was fraught with peril, and with the ominous launch of the Wii U just two months away, I thought it might be a good time to relive that horrible, but ultimately very exciting experience. Maybe I'll learn my lesson, but probably not.
The date was November 18, 2006. I drove my Toyota Corolla to the Fred Meyer on Abbot road. I knew it would be a long night, so I packed appropriately: North Slope winter gear, including long johns, a coat so thick it was good for -40 F temperatures. I brought my snowpants, sock liners, and wool socks. I brought a wool hat and a facewarmer. I brought my thickest mittens and my snow boots. I brought a lawn chair. The clock hit 7 p.m. as I pulled into the parking lot. I put on my outerwear and marched to the building. A hand-written sign said "Wii line starts here" with an arrow pointing down. I was the only person there. This is good--I would be guaranteed a system in only five short hours. I didn't actually bring anything to DO, however, since November temperatures and my inability to use my hands (in giant mittens) necessitated that all of my gadgets stayed home. Besides, I didn't want my iPod or GBA SP to freeze in the less-than-temperate Alaskan winter.
I should mention here that I actually pre-ordered my Wii from a local, now defunct, gaming store. I had pre-ordered it weeks in advance, but the day before launch, they called me up and said they were only getting four units, and my name was too far down the list. So Plan B was hatched: like I had with the GameCube so many years before, I would brave the weather and sit in front of a store for hours to procure my system on launch day.
I set up my lawn chair and sat down. The temperature hovered around 15 F. A handy outdoor thermometer within eyesight tracked the ever-downward slant of the ambient temperature. People walked in and walked out of the Fred Meyer, giving me the occasional glance, knowing I was a crazy person. About an hour later, some other people finally started lining up. It was dark now, at 8 p.m., and the temperature began to slowly decline. By 8:30, a small line had formed. Most people had chairs. One small group had a card table between them. Nobody was really talking to anyone else. My brother came by. He was wildly underdressed--basically wearing sweat pants, a hat, and a sweater. He didn't have a chair. But it was nice to have somebody to talk to. We actually took turns going into Fred Meyer to buy things like food and hand/foot warmers.
There's a Carl's Jr. in the Fred Meyer parking lot. People had been leaving the line, asking others to "save my spot," and coming back with massive burgers, dripping with flavor. My own hunger, ballooned by the bottoming temperature (which was below zero at 9 p.m.), demanded that I make the walk over there. My brother took my spot in the seat, and I began trudging toward the restaurant. When you're wearing this much padded Arctic gear, you walk a bit like the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man. It's quite a sight. Everything you do is slow. I got myself two burgers and one for my brother. By the time I lurched back to the Fred Meyer, the burgers were half-frozen, but we didn't care. They were delicious.
By 10:30, the line wound around the building's northeast corner. Few people were as dressed for the event as I was, but then again, they hadn't arrived five hours early. The cold was beginning to really set in now. In another hour, that outdoor thermometer would read -22 F. My brother spent most of his time in the Fred Meyer, and I couldn't blame him. But at 11 p.m., the store closed. He was forced back into the cold, but he had bought another pack of hand warmers. He'd only need to survive for an hour. But even I was feeling it--especially my feet and hands, which have poor circulation. The line fell silent. People were conserving energy. A truck, filled with jocks (I assume), drove past the line while the passenger told us all, in no uncertain terms, that we were losers. I gave him a thumb's up.
About a half hour before the midnight opening, the store manager came outside and announced that the store only had 100 units, and they'd be handing out numbers for everybody. About half the line groaned audibly and shuffled back to their cars--their time had been wasted, and they would probably not get a Wii for months to come (remember the infamous shortages?). I got my piece of paper with #1 proudly, and hurriedly, written upon it. Once the doors opened, I stomped my way inside, handed my slip of paper to the person at the door, and marched to the electronics department.
It was a glorious day. I picked up my Wii, Twilight Princess, and a Classic Controller. I'm glad I did that, because Classic Controllers, like the Wii itself, also became notoriously hard to find in the coming months. I took my system to the one open register and paid down the balance--something like $320--and walked out the store, past the line, which had now moved inside. People cheered. I'm not even kidding. I held the system aloft as I walked out, feeling something like a rockstar.
My brother and I got in my Corolla. I turned the heat on and began the tedious process of scraping the iced-over windows. After about ten minutes, we took off for home. Somewhere around 12:45, we got to my apartment. I immediately went to bed, but my brother stayed up to hook up the system and play Zelda. He was asleep on the couch the next morning, but after I did my meds and ate breakfast, he showed me how to make a Mii, and I began my tumultuous relationship with my Wii.
And history will repeat itself once more this year. Whether or not I'm completely sold on the system, I will doubtlessly find myself sitting outside that same Fred Meyer for probably the same amount of time, wearing the same Arctic gear. The difference is that this time I'll be bringing a propane heater.