The Five Longest Lines I Have Waited In
Because somebody needed to write this story.
When I first moved to New York City as a transfer college student, standing in lines seemed to be a cultural rite of passage for any broke young person who wanted a little taste of luxury. Sometimes the lines were for free food at various campus events. Sometimes the lines were at the box office for cheap Broadway tickets. I didn’t necessarily like the practice of waiting in lines, but I was also a college kid with little disposable income who wanted to experience as much of my new city as possible. I had some time and not a lot of dollars, so I always took the stance of “why not” over “hell no.”
This all changed when I graduated and found myself working two jobs, seven days a week.
Suddenly time was in short supply, and while I was still broke, I realized that I would gladly pay a little more to avoid twiddling my thumbs in a lengthy line.
In New York City, there seems to be a belief that the longer the line, the more coveted the thing at the front of it is. People line up daily for Cronuts, ignoring dead bodies that might stand in the way. People even pay other people to wait for them in line, and camping out for the latest tech or product has gone from newsworthy to expected.
In my lifetime, I’ve stood in some pretty long lines in hopes of snagging something precious. When I look back on the experiences, was it worth it? I decided to review my five longest waits to see:
Black Friday outside of Best Buy
Yes, I took part in the annual “Running of the Bulls: Retail Version,” though I did it during those pre-Cyber Monday years, when Black Friday was still on the cusp of becoming the monster it is today. I was in high school, so I had very little money to get the digital camera I really wanted, but my dad loved bargain hunting. We were staying in Florida for the long holiday weekend, and Dad decided that if we wanted the door buster deals we had seen in Best Buy’s weekly ad, we should head over to the store at midnight. It was early, he reasoned, but we could sleep in the car in the parking lot and queue up when people started forming a line.
Joke was on us. When we got there at midnight, the line was already the length of the strip mall store front, snaking around the Barnes & Noble on the corner.
We ended up joining the line because we had a sense of humor and were open to adventure. We chatted with fellow line-sitters, many who were perfectly sweet suburban people who, like us, didn’t really know why they were doing this either. The chaos didn’t start until shortly before the doors opened, when Best Buy employees started handing out vouchers to some of the most coveted discounted items. People at the front of the line were greedy and took vouchers for things they didn’t even want. Some people tried to sell the vouchers to those farther back in line. Other people used their kids to run up and cut in line to try to get vouchers. No vouchers made it back to our end of the line, and it became evident that I would not be getting my camera.
When the doors opened, everyone took off sprinting in a way that I have rarely seen adults do outside of the Olympics. My dad and I just headed to the car.
Funny follow-up: later that day, we ended up strolling into an Office Max that was completely empty. They had an advertisement for the same camera I had planned to get at Best Buy, although it was an older model and it cost $10 more. I walked up to the counter, asked if they maybe had any in stock, and the guy reached into the display, took one off a giant pile of them, and handed it to me.
Was it worth it? Not then, and certainly not now.
Esprit New York flagship store opening
When I got my first full-time job, I lived on one end of Manhattan near 34th Street, and my job was on the other end. Often, I would walk to work. That’s how I learned that they were putting in an Esprit flagship store somewhere between my apartment and work, which made me excited because 1) I like those clothes and 2) someday I might be able to afford to buy them.
To commemorate the store opening, they had a promotion where they were giving away $150 worth of free clothes to the first people in line at both 9 a.m. and noon. My roommate and I showed up at 8 a.m. and were dismayed—but not entirely surprised—to find that the 9 a.m. line was already full. The Esprit people suggested we get in the line for the noon group. My roommate bowed out, but I stayed strong, standing for the next three hours shivering and making small talk with my line neighbors.
I ended up getting in but was a bit disappointed with how little $150 bought me. I ended up getting a nice pencil skirt for work, a pink blouse, and a blue tunic, all of which no longer fit me. I think I found the skirt in a recent closet clean out, saw it was a size two and laughed a lot before putting it in the giveaway pile. The Esprit also closed up shop pretty quickly, becoming a Uniqlo. Thus is New York, I guess.
Was it worth it? Considering I had the time and was otherwise broke, it was worth it for the experience and a solid work outfit. There’s a reason I hardly ever buy clothes for full price, and seeing how little $150 got me just hammered that home.
Shakespeare in the Park — Twelfth Night
I had never been to Shakespeare in the Park before, and my friend, who had just moved to the city, was determined to go. The show starred Anne Hathaway and Raul Esparza and was getting raves all over the place, so she didn’t need to do much convincing to get me to come along. They had just added a show on a day we had off from work, so we planned to get to the park around 4 a.m.—yes, you read that correctly—and wait for the tickets to start being distributed at noon, as is policy and tradition.
It was weird entering the park when it was so dark, but we quickly started noticing a lot of other people walking towards the ticket line. By the time we got there, there were probably already over 100 people in line and a couple of hours later, they were already starting to turn people away. The whole thing was a very well-oiled machine. A guy monitoring the line told everyone where the bathrooms were and how they could order food to be delivered to them on line. People had some swanky setups, ranging from folding chairs to inflatable mattresses.
I, on the other hand, only thought to bring a fleece throw I had at home, which was not even enough to comfortably pad the gravel path we were on. It was also unseasonably chilly most of the morning, so I spent a lot of time just lying on the blanket, drifting in and out of sleep while I thought about how cold and bored I was. My much more prepared friend read her book.
We ended up getting the tickets and the show was wonderful, but the whole process ended up being a day-long endeavor.
Was it worth it? Absolutely, but if I did it again, I would show up with a chair, a blanket, and a bestseller.
$13 ticket to a preview of Broadway’s 13
Yes, this is another theater line. Most of the things I stand in line for are either theater-related, for rush tickets and other promotions, or they’re book signings.
This particular line was for tickets to see Jason Robert Brown’s new Broadway musical 13, which I had heard selections from at his concerts and had been eagerly awaiting. The idea was that if you were one of the first people in line when the box office officially opened, you would get a $13 ticket to one of the preview shows. (Yes, this was before #Ham4Ham.)
Somehow this line wasn’t terribly obnoxious, but maybe that was just because I was so excited about the musical and had a friend in tow. It was a little weird because the Times Square area is always so crowded, which means it’s not an ideal place to be standing idle. At one point, some of the young cast members—most of whom were teenagers because this was a show about kids turning, well, thirteen—ran up and down the line, gawking excitedly at all the ticket buyers lining up. Ariana Grande, who at the time was not the pop sensation she is today, was one of the cast members, so one of those gawkers could very well have been her. All I knew was that I was very happy to have a cup of coffee with me and to emerge from the line with my ticket in hand.
Was it worth it? I’m at a stage now (pun intended) where I’d frankly rather pay a little more to have a guaranteed ticket instead of waiting on line and leaving things to chance. That said, if I really, really wanted to see something and knew that waiting was probably my only chance to go and I would have a decent shot at it if I showed up? Maybe. I’d need some coffee, though.
Getting a photo from the NXT SummerSlam panel
I have an incredibly generous friend who invited my boyfriend and me to go with her to WWE’s SummerSlam. In addition to the ringside seats she bought us for both the main event and the NXT event the night before, she also got us VIP tickets to an NXT panel earlier in the weekend, which she wasn’t even attending. She just wanted us to go.
So we showed up for the panel, not really knowing what to expect, and ended up having a great time listening to up-and-coming wrestlers talk about their experiences. After the program, we were called up to take photos with the whole panel—a dream come true for my boyfriend, who was psyched to have Triple H put his hand on his shoulder when they snapped the picture.
Then we joined a long line of people waiting for their photo to print. We started realizing early on that there was some kind of issue, since the photos didn’t seem to be coming out in order. The people in the back of the line were getting their photos before us. We had been given a digital code to find out photos online, but when we looked up our code, we were taken to someone else’s photos. Waiting half an hour turned into an hour, then another hour. The crowd thinned out considerably, and we were getting hungry and a little cranky. We had spent more time in that photo line than we had spent watching the panel. People working the event kept encouraging us to leave, telling us they’d “find us” to deliver the photos later, but we had no idea how that would happen and we didn’t even have a digital version we could print out ourselves.
Finally, our photos came out of the printer. So many, in fact, that we now have four copies sitting at home. The picture quality is grainy and it honestly looks like we just Photoshopped ourselves in, but if anyone asks, we can point to Triple H’s hand on my boyfriend’s shoulder and prove that we were there.
Was it worth it? Sure, the line was a little frustrating, but the tickets were free and now we have a NXT photo, with us in it, on the fridge.
Kimberly Lew is a writer living in New York. The last somewhat long line she waited on was for Shake Shack and she regrets nothing. www.kimberlylew.com
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