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Buying last-minute Snapchat Spectacles for Christmas? Here’s what it’s like now

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A calm, orderly, and very long adventure

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I am a legitimately egregious last-minute Christmas shopper. But this year, I have an excuse. I’ve been carefully biding my time to pick up one of the weirdest, most difficult-to-obtain gadgets of the season: Snap Spectacles, otherwise known as “the recording peripheral from the company formerly known as Snapchat” or “the less creepy Google Glass.”

Last Friday, I finally bit the bullet and headed up to the southeast corner of Central Park, home of the world’s only Spectacles store. (Outside New York, you can sometimes catch them at pop-up vending machines.) Early reports described people waiting in line for hours in freezing weather, but weeks later, I had no idea what to expect. And since (spoiler alert) I managed to get my hands on two pairs, I’ve gotten some questions about the process — which is quite different from the day-one lines. So in case you’re hoping to get magic recording sunglasses for somebody in your life — including yourself — here’s what it was like for me.

Friday, December 16th, 8AM: the preparations

After weeks of vacillating on my purchase, I decide that I’m serious about this whole Spectacles thing, so I look up one of the many guides to buying them circa November 2016. I follow some of the tips: call my bank beforehand to warn them about the purchase, make sure my phone is fully charged, and swaddle my body in warm winter clothing. This all turns out to be solid advice, so I highly recommend it.

The Spectacles store will stay in New York until the end of December, and it’s open for business every day except Christmas and Christmas Eve. On weekdays, it runs from 4PM to 10PM; on Saturdays and Sundays, it’s 6AM until noon.

[Update December 22nd: A reader who’s since tried the line notes that Snap is posting updated hours on its Spectacles site. Currently, the store is open 10AM to 5PM Monday through Friday, and 8AM to 4PM on the last day of service, December 31st. As mentioned above, it’s closed the 24th and 25th.]

4:45PM: the wristband

I show up at 5 East 59th Street, a brightly marked storefront on the corner of 5th Ave. I’m grimly preparing for a line around the block, but secretly hoping that everyone will have lost interest, and I’ll breeze through in 20 minutes. Both these expectations are wrong.

Snapchat no longer has a single queue for Spectacles. Instead, there’s a line for wristbands, which are marked with a half-hour time slot. Once you get a wristband, you can go your own way and come back at the designated time, at which point you’ll line up for the actual glasses.

I’m not sure what the average length is, but I get my wristband within 10 minutes, with under a dozen people ahead of me. The very friendly attendants are offering bands that tell people to come back between 7 and 7:30PM, a gap of approximately two and a half hours. If the timing isn’t quite right, you can get one for later in the day — I pushed my slot back to accommodate a movie screening. A colleague who went on Monday around 4:15PM tells me that he was waiting barely a minute to get his band, for a slot at 7:30PM.

If you get a wristband and show up during the right slot, you seem more or less guaranteed a chance to get some Spectacles. While I’m not sure at what point the store stopped handing out wristbands that night, it’s probably advisable to show up early in the day. On the bright side, it doesn’t seem to take long to find out if you’ve made the cut.

7:50pm: the real line

The film runs late, so I squeak into the last ten minutes of my time slot, which turns out to be fine. An attendant snips my wristband and presses a big cursive “Spectacles” stamp to the back of my hand. I step inside the store, which looks like a brightly-lit airport security checkpoint, with three big yellow boxes at the far side instead of metal detectors. On the walls, big rotating screens show people who are far younger and better-dressed than me using their Spectacles. I’m at the end of the marked line, but safely out of the cold. A few people in a later slot seem to get stuck waiting outside, but the attendant tells us all to squeeze together and ushers them in.

I carefully ponder which color to get — teal, pink, or classic black — while reading a chapter of Andrea Dworkin’s autobiography. If I’m going to feel uncool, I might as well go all the way.

8:15PM: the suspense

After about half an hour, I’m in the front row, and I can see how the machines actually work. To pick a color, you press one of three large half-spheres on the front, which superimposes a pair of glasses on your face in a mirror-like circular screen. (The line would probably run 20 percent faster if everyone didn’t stop to take a picture of this.) Then you enter your credit or debit card — no cash — and a cylinder holding your spectacles drops into the vending machine’s lower tray. You’re allowed to do this twice, before an attendant ushers you out and calls up the next buyer.

8:30PM: the payoff

A Snapchat employee gestures toward an unoccupied vending machine, and I press the black button with all the care of a bomb defusal expert. I am going to do this right, by gods. Like everyone else, I take a selfie, because the feeling of achievement is irresistible — bucking the trend would be like not planting a flag at the top of Mt. Everest, if Mt. Everest were a 40-minute line in a warm Manhattan boutique. I slide my card, wait for a rainbow-colored receipt, and repeat the process. Clumsily, I stuff both cylinders into my bag and hurry back to the doors, where I pick up a Snapchat business card and a little book of suggested shooting locations in New York. This is moot, since the coral pair is going to my colleague Casey in San Francisco, and the black pair is going... elsewhere.

I effectively spent a whole Friday evening on these Spectacles, but only in the most technical sense: about ten minutes of waiting for my wristband, three hours of down time at the movies, and another 40 minutes in the store that evening. It’s hard to say how typical my experience was, especially compared to a weekend. But for a person in New York, it’s far from the insurmountable task I expected, and I’m someone who was too lazy to ever buy a Cronut.

Granted, I could always have just paid the markup and bought them on eBay, which is probably where most of my fellow customers’ Spectacles ended up anyway. But I like to think the effort gives them a nice, homemade touch — enough to make up for possibly just spoiling the surprise with this article.