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First in line for iPad? Long Island's own media hound

Greg Packer of Huntington, N.Y., left, the first

Greg Packer of Huntington, N.Y., left, the first in line, waits near the 59th Street Apple store in New York for the release of the first iPads to the public Saturday morning. He started his vigil Tuesday. Credit: NEWSDAY/CRAIG RUTTLE

When Apple's flagship Fifth Avenue store opened its doors this morning at 9 a.m., a familiar face was first in line.

Greg Packer, the infamous Huntington line-sitter who achieved fame in 2007 for being the first person to get an iPhone at the  store, is back at it again - this time, for Apple's new iPad.

Packer, 46, took the Long Island Rail Road early Tuesday so he could be the first outside the store at 7 a.m. Four days later, only five other people had joined him.

Compared to waiting for the iPhone, "this one is a little quieter, a little more relaxed," Packer said Friday from his perch on a lawn chair. "When the iPhone came out, there was a lot of people waiting all week."

But Packer is staying committed, leaving only for brief periods to use the computers and bathrooms in the Apple store or grab a bite at Pop Burger across the street. His fellow Apple fans watch his belongings: the chair and a change of clothes.

When the store opened its doors, Packer planned to purchase the iPad's Wi-Fi model (without the 3G connection from AT&T) for $499, although he says he might upgrade if he likes what he sees.

Packer has his own devotees. "I'm a huge fan," said Patrick Calderone, 37, of Santa Monica, Calif., a fellow line-sitter who posed for pictures with Packer outside the store Friday.

Calderone, who flew across the country so he could get his iPad three hours earlier than his friends, has read about Packer on tech sites such as TechCrunch and Gizmodo.

Several other passersby stopped to talk to Packer and snap photos as well.

"My family and friends think I'm crazy for doing this," said Packer, a retired highway maintenance worker. "Once it's in my hands, it will be all worth it."

The touch-screen iPad lets users surf the Web, read books, watch videos and play games.

California-based researcher iSuppli Corp. predicts Apple could sell 7.1 million iPads this year, driven by early adopters and users attracted by its "touch-screen-based interface."

To news outlets, Packer has become a professional "man on the street." He often is conveniently found in the crowd at high-profile gatherings, sticking close to TV cameras and reporters.

He's been frequently quoted in The New York Times and The Associated Press, in publications as far away as Australia, and, of course, in Newsday.

Packer said in a 2004 interview that about 5 percent of the time, "I'm making stuff up to get in the paper."

"At times, the media can be gullible," he said in the interview.

Packer is a regular at so many news conferences and events he frequently is recognized by celebrities. At a book signing years ago, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton greeted him with "Hello, Mr. Packer," he said in the interview. He couldn't believe that "she knew me on a formal basis," he said.

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