A funny thing happened at WWDC 2019


Photo of the entrance to WWDC 2019

(Alternative title: concurrency and queueing is hard)

Cold pizzas at 4AM, so many queues, dirty cheats, jumping over seats, a touch of chaos and… some famous blood.

WWDC 2019 was great fun for me, make no mistake, and it was my first (and perhaps last)? I made new friends, met people in real life that I had only known online previously, and got to experience something entirely new.

This however is a tale of the weird evening I had on the second day. It’s funny in hindsight but also not the greatest memory to turn over in my mind. It seems timely to go over this again a year later, and let’s face it we all need a little entertainment right now. If you like stories that make you cringe…

It was Tuesday evening at The Talk Show Live

The expensive chairs were on stage and we’re in our seats in the California Theatre waiting for John Gruber and guests to start The Talk Show Live. About six rows from the back of the orchestra level, we have pretty good seats, but we should have been a few rows from the front. A couple of seats to my left there’s a rather annoyed guy telling his companion how some jerk made him spill his red wine on himself. Gruber is late onto the stage, and I am probably one of the only people in the room who knows the reason why.

The evening started very differently. I was something like 6th from the front of the queue to get in to the theatre. I’d been told earlier by a friend that the seating was not allocated for The Talk Show and that we should queue early for a good seat. So I met up with a friend I’d just connected with in real life and we queued for two hours to get good seats for The Talk Show. Right now you should be thinking “if you were that close to the front of the queue why are you so far back in the theatre?”.

My recollection is hazy because the night before I’d had about three hours sleep so I could get up to queue for the WWDC Keynote at 3AM, with that first very long day at WWDC that followed, plus a dose of UK to USA jet lag. That’s my excuse anyway.

Queuing all night and morning for the keynote the day before this, the Apple staff were telling us throughout “We really appreciate that you all stayed out all night to get in here early. There is no need to run when we open the doors to the keynote hall, we will ensure that you get the best seats. That was really great and we appreciated it.

Photo of queue to get into the keynote hall

Sadly though, after patiently waiting for many hours, just minutes before opening the door, we had dozens of people pushing through the sides of our orderly queue, pushing all the way to the front to get a better place than they deserved. I challenged one about this and he said some bullshit about not pushing in.

The moment Apple staff finally opened the central doors to the hall we saw many hundreds of people had already been let in from the sides and everyone was just running to get the best seats. So undignified and unnecessary! Apple did not hold any spaces for us as they implied, and it was a crazy free-for-all. People who try to do the right thing get screwed. As we will see, this is a recurring theme.

Back to the main event…

Photo of California Theatre atrium

We are finally allowed in to the California Theatre atrium and given our investment in time, we forego the free drinks everybody else is heading for. We calmly try to work out the best place to queue yet again in the wings for when the staff open the doors to the theatre itself. The staff at the theatre are very nice, but ill-equipped to deal with what I had come to discover was a pretty selfish bunch of WWDC attendees from all over the world. We British are internationally renowned for queueing and don’t run. There’s no pushing in. You wait your turn.

We end up very close to the front of the queue again and wait patiently in the hallway that it turns out later opens on to one of the wings about six rows from the front of the theatre. However as the queue starts to grow the staff move us into a tributary hallway off to the side. So far so orderly, almost British.

Then we see that the staff are now filling the other area where we were queueing previously with yet more people and not sending them down to the end of our queue. OK… this is unlikely to work out well, we muse – there are now two queues for the same door. I meet a nice couple of young developers who are at AltConf and I offer to buy one of them a WWDC shirt from the conference and give it to them the next day. You will see I mention this now to reinforce that I’m not an asshole in what follows.

Eventually the doors open and these two queues funnel into one wing of the theatre near the front. The theatre is already something like 30% full which is confusing given we were right at the front of the queue for hours.

This is a common theme of WWDC as you can see. We look to our right at the frontmost rows of about 8 seats each. Only the row immediately to the right of this wing aisle has space — four or so seats — as the others are rapidly filling with people who seemingly got in before us. Did I mention we were at the front for hours?

We think this is good enough and given the mayhem elsewhere in the theatre where people are practically running to go to good seats we decide to take these seats by the aisle. We feel annoyed about what has happened but pleased to just be sitting down without the indignity of running around.

About twenty seconds later as people are pouring into the rest of the middle of the orchestra floor, a lady next to me kindly says:

“Did you know that these are seats for disabled people?”

Of course we didn’t, and we saw no obvious markings to that effect! We are mortified that we’d done this and immediately stand up and re-enter the flow in the aisle and move up towards the back of the orchestra floor because all the front and middle is full and people are streaming into the rows at the sides. It’s chaotic.

We try to get into a side row about 10 rows from the back but someone else starts into the same row and we back out and defer to them. We carry up the aisle further to the back and see a good half row in the center and the entire row behind it are free. At this point I’m feeling pretty annoyed at peoples’ behaviour and feel somehow responsible for my companions and our collective difficulty getting a good seat after so much waiting.

Then it happens. For reasons I cannot explain, other than jet lag and the chaos, I decide to walk half way along the empty row above and then climb down over the seats on to the half full row in front to secure those middle seats for us. Feeling pretty happy I turn to my right to greet my companions from the aisle into their “reserved” seats.

But there is someone else at the end of the aisle waiting to take the seats. I, a 45 year old nerd, have climbed over chairs like a selfish teenager! I assumed my friends were right behind me. At this point I see my action for the pointless stupidity it is, and I apologize to the surprised guy profusely and walk to the aisle where they are so I can come out and allow him to walk to the center of the row. Embarrassing, but if only that was all.

Getting out of the row into the aisle is easier said than done. A torrent of people are pushing through and this guy has nowhere to go to move out of my way so he can come into the row. In hindsight I should have climbed back over the seats. Amid the chaos he steps back awkwardly on a step, and in slow motion this causes him to spill his red wine on himself. Fucking great.

I apologize profusely, and he is understandably quite pissed off at this point. I move out of the way and let him and companion into the row. My companions file in as well, and I ask them to keep a space for me while I try to go to the bar to see if I can get some napkins or something to give to this poor guy who has some of his free wine on him because of me, even if it is only a gesture. Where could this be going you wonder?

Out in the bar area I quickly realize that these… aren’t real bars. They seem to be a weird afterthought and nowhere can I find a bloody napkin to mop down my wine casualty. In the middle of my short desperate search, I see a familiar figure pass me in sandals… with a ton of blood all over what looks like a pretty mashed up big toe. John Gruber then asks one of the staff for help with his injury!

Confused and flustered I return to the theatre and take my seat, without anything to offer to the person to make amends for my stupid, but consistently well-meaning actions. I think I even offered him some old tissue from my pocket. So sad! Having seen the carnage out by the bar, I know that we’ll have to wait a while longer before the show starts. What a batshit crazy evening!

The final embarrassment is somehow I find I have ended up in a seat between my other two companions who are related to each other, and one of them asks me very nicely if they could sit together. It’s like there were a bizarre set of traps set for me throughout the evening. Short of projectile vomiting over everybody in the theatre I don’t know how it could have been much worse!

To the guy whom I made spill his wine, if you ever read this — thanks for not being more annoyed than you were. If you had any dry-cleaning to do please get in touch and I’ll happily send you the money.

Of course like a pro, John Gruber didn’t let on about his injury during the show and it can’t have been nice having a mashed toe squeezed into those fancy shoes while he interviewed Federighi and Joswiak! I imagine those shoes might have gone straight into the bin after.

The Author

Marc Palmer (Twitter, Mastodon) is a consultant and software engineer specialising in Apple platforms. He currently works on the iOS team of Concepts sketching app, as well as his own apps like video subtitle app Captionista. He created the Flint open source framework. He can also do a pretty good job of designing app products. Don't ask him to draw anything, because that's really embarrassing. You can find out more here.