When I worked behind the Genius Bar in 2003 there was no Concierge, no booking system, no appointments, and no Genius Bar assistant to help people get in line. Instead there was a sea of faces, impatient customers waiting to be assisted. In the old first come first serve model for Genius Bar management, it was not uncommon for a Mac Genius to help three people at once while trying to hold down a conversation with several onlookers. People used to race to the Bar when the Store’s doors first opened, playing musical chairs with the bar stools, fighting for their place in line. I will admit after leaving Apple in 2006 I would have nightmares about the faces staring back at me across the bar, and the stress that came from managing the queue.
As one might expect the first come first serve method of Genius Bar management was not well liked among customers and Mac Genius alike. At some stores a Genius would maintain a paper list of the people waiting in line. At others a limit of how many customers could be helped in an hour was enforced. We tried calling people on their cell phones when a appointment was available, and handing out buzzers that would ring when it was time to return to the bar. As the Genius Bar’s popularity grew it became harder to manage the flow of people gathered around the Apple Store’s primary attraction. My Store manager insisted we help everyone, but sometimes there wasn’t enough time in the day. Because we were one of the first Apple Store’s in the North East with a free parking lot people came from as far away as Upstate New York to see us. It was sometimes impossible to help everyone.
One day during a busy Saturday morning at the Genius Bar, a customer came in complaining his 17 inch PowerBook G4 would not boot. He was too impatient to wait in line, and wanted to leave it with me so I could take a look at it. With very few exceptions we never took in a machine without first reproducing the problem in front of the customer. There are just two many open ended interpretations to computer problems, and in order to know what is really going on, a Mac Genius needs to confirm the issue with the customer first. Because he was unwilling to wait, and because I was unwilling to take his computer from him without a diagnosis, he purchased a brand new 17 inch PowerBook G4 instead. While he was leaving he asked me what I wanted to do with it.
“What do I want to do with what” I asked.
“My old computer” he replied.”
“If you don’t take it, I am just going to throw it in the trash.”
I didn’t believe he was serious, and I still had a long line of customers in front of me. So I just shrugged, and told him maybe he could bring it in another day.
On his way out I watched in horror as he shoved his old 17 inch PowerBook G4 into the mall garbage can just outside of the Apple Store. When I found a free minute, I excused myself from the bar, and quickly chased after him to retrieve the PowerBook and see which way he had gone. By the time I had his 17 inch PowerBook G4 safely in my hands he was gone.
At the end of the day, after my shift was over, I went back to the 17 inch PowerBook G4 to diagnose what was wrong. It was a second generation model with a 1.33 GHz processor, 512 MBs of RAM, a 80 GB hard drive, and a slot-loading 2X “SuperDrive.” At almost $3,000 new, it was a not a machine to be left in a mall trashcan. The only thing I could find wrong with it was bad stick of memory, and a quirky optical drive that required cleaning. It booted immediately after the RAM was replaced.
Using the receipt from his recent computer purchase I contacted the customer several times, letting him know his computer had been fixed, and was ready for pickup. He informed me he lived several states away and was not interested in picking it up. When I told him I could mail it, he declined saying he didn’t want it back. For a couple of months it sat in the Genius Room waiting for a pickup that would never come. I eventually took it home.