Carl Bidleman made his first attempt at buying insurance under the new health-care law at midnight Tuesday, the moment the marketplaces opened, but couldn't get the website to load. He called a customer service center, where a representative suggested trying again in the morning.
So he did, at 8 a.m., after walking his dog and brewing a cup of coffee. And again that afternoon. And that evening.
Twenty-one attempts and 36 hours later, Bidleman managed to buy a health insurance policy.
"I went out right after and got some beer at the store before going back to work," said Bidleman, a 63-year-old video editor from San Francisco. "I had to take a moment and celebrate finally getting this done."
Since the health insurance marketplaces launched Oct. 1, long waits and frozen computer screens have plagued shoppers trying to get a first glimpse of the new options. The Department of Health and Human Services says the websites are overloaded and that it has scrambled to increase capacity by adding servers and assigning additional engineers to the project.
Many shoppers have thrown in the towel -- at least for the foreseeable future.
But then there are the marathon shoppers, who have made more than a dozen attempts to buy coverage and have no intention of stopping until they succeed.
"Morning, afternoon, evening," said Brian Morgan, a 31-year-old IT manager from outside St. Louis, of the times he has tried the marketplace. "I've tried a few times and gotten to different stages. I'll probably try to keep doing it once a day."
"I usually try and log on before bed and it will say the site is overloaded, but it will save your place in line," said Shara Connors, a 44-year-old Pennsylvania woman who estimates that she has made 25 attempts to sign up. "So I leave my computer on overnight, get up at 6 a.m. and see if I've gotten any further.
"I'm nothing," Connors said, "if not persistent."
The dogged efforts to sign up quickly are unnecessary: Any coverage purchased on the marketplace will not take effect until Jan. 1. Practically speaking, there's no difference between buying a health plan on Oct. 1 or Dec. 1.
But as with the launch of any new gadget or movie, there is always a small crowd that sees value in being first.
"If you're first in line, you're trying a product where the value isn't totally clear," said Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "Contagious: Why Things Catch On." "At the same time, you seem cool to have access to something no one else has. It's just like when a new restaurant opens. There's a social cachet to be someone who navigated the exchanges."
Some, like Bidleman, consider themselves strong supporters of the health-care law. They see an early purchase as partially ideological, a way to show the world that people want to enroll in the hotly disputed Affordable Care Act programs.
"We were involved in the Kerry campaign," Bidleman said of himself and his wife, to describe his politics. "I've been waiting for this, and once I sign up, the numbers will start to add up. People will start seeing there's a demand for this."
Bidleman completed the process Wednesday afternoon. He bought a health plan that he estimates is about $700 cheaper than the product he bought on the individual market.
"You see this again and again, and you're sort of like Pavlov's dog, expecting the same thing to happen," he said. "Then the page loads and you can celebrate, you actually bought this."
Others, like Jon Tucci, wanted to get the shopping squared away as soon as possible.
"I'm an advance guy," said the 60-year-old West Virginia resident who logged onto healthcare.gov at midnight Tuesday. "I like to get things done early."
Tucci spent about an hour trying to enroll but couldn't get past a log-in screen, and gave up around 1 a.m. He was back at it at 6 a.m. to try and sign up before work. After a 45-minute call to the customer service center got disconnected, he gave up and headed to work.
On Wednesday, Tucci was back at it. "I tried yesterday about 10 a.m. and then I tried about 2 p.m. and then about 8 p.m.," he said. "I get the message that everybody else gets: Please be patient."
Opponents of the health law also found themselves playing the waiting game, including Anthony Wilson, a self-described conservative who says there isn't much that government can do better than private industry.
Still, he figured that "the government doesn't undo much once they jump into something. We have to live with it and make the best of it, what we can."
So early Tuesday, the 55-year-old engineer from Indiana logged on to healthcare.gov in hopes of finding out what he might have to pay next year under the law. No luck. He tried again every few hours Tuesday, and again Wednesday morning after checking his email, and again later when he had a break in the work day.
Each time, he got hung up when the system said to hold tight and keep the page open, lest he lose his place in line. He kept the page open for more than two hours before getting an error message indicating that the attempt had failed.
Wilson estimated that he tried getting on about 20 times since Tuesday morning, including at least twice Wednesday. He isn't frustrated -- yet. "It's kind of comical at this point. I just try it and laugh and go on.