The 9:09 Metro-North to Grand Central seldom departs from Fleetwood before 9:13, but I still ran to the station this morning as if it might.
I was afraid that if I missed it I would be later-than-usual to my internship, that I would have to tell my boss “Oh, you know how those trains are” while knowing that the true cause of my tardiness had been the five minutes I’d risked dilly-dallying in my bedroom, changing my outfit or straightening my hair.
More than that, though I was afraid I would be stuck, for a whole half an hour, at the station, waiting.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Waiting for the subway, the bus, the LIRR. The page to load, the wi-fi to connect, the coffee to brew, the order to arrive. Waiting, waiting, waiting, sometimes more than doing, is what makes up the fabric of our city days.
Waiting for Thanksgiving last month and for Christmas this one, for every next season, summer, spring, or fall. For that new job, that vacation, that trip home, that message back. That number on the scale to go down or in your bank account to go up. For whatever we think will make everything different, better, oh so much better.
But it’s the waits we take on willingly, maybe, that truly define us. What is it we stand for when we stand in a line?
Maybe anticipation is part of the appeal. Pleasure is drawn out over the hours until, a non-sexual foreplay of sorts. You revel in how badly you want it, yourself as committed, yourself as hip and carefree enough to steadfastly stand.
Yourself, mayhaps, as the kind of person who would willingly fester outside in the summery Central Park heat indefinitely for tickets to a Shakespeare play.
I’m a die-hard theatre geek and no stranger to more traditional rush lines, but what I witnessed in the quest to get tickets to The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this past July was a whole different animal.
Unfortunately, I’d waited until closing weekend to make my move, when the desire to see the show was at its peak and arrived fairly late in the morning.
I grew increasingly pessimistic as I passed multitudes of people and their elaborate setups of snacks, board games, and sleeping bags strung out about the sprawling park path before finally meeting my friend at the line’s far-flung end.
Yet even when a monitor came by and informed us that our chances to receive one of an allotted amount of free tickets were indeed slim to none, we remained motionless as the hordes around us departed, victim to a curious inertia. We stayed to chat and to absorb the scenery, lingering even long enough to hear about standby line procedure. Even without something to wait for, we waited still.
The next morning, I ended up back at the Delacorte Theatre at another obscene hour, this time for my part-time job as a street team member for start-up app Placer- which allows “Jumpers” to pay for a “Placer” to reserve them a spot in crowded NYC lines.
We were given the thankless task of passing out flyers and explaining the app’s purpose to largely disinterested crowds gathered outside trendy NYC locations. Most people I approached and tried to give my spiel to didn’t risk a listen; even standing in a line, they had someone to text, something to read. The Shakespearean waiters, however, are somewhat more responsive- many had been there since the preceding nightfall.
A few seemed intrigued by our concept, and some found it funny, but most were skeptical. To them, waiting was more than even a point of pride; it was part of the experience, part of the fun. Others reacted with hostility, warning me that New Yorkers wouldn’t stand for it.
The conceit does smack of a certain elitism, especially in this case; there did seem to be something wrong with ostensibly free tickets being snatched up by the ranks of those privileged enough to pay for line-sitters.
Afterwards, my fellow street team member and I traversed Manhattan, peddling our bright purple flyers at Katz Deli, The Black Tap, Do. Eateries with expansive reputations, that, we think, must reflect a culinary excellence. It becomes a syllogism; why would so many people be out front, waiting, if something weren’t worth waiting for?
This syllogism calls to mind my experiments with yet another app—Surkus, which pays users for their attendance at events, providing hip and attractive faces to bolster a brand. But it was the ego boost of being “cast” and the opportunity to socialize that motivated me more than the small bribes I would get for attending, more than even occasional perks like free food and drinks. In the end, it came down to what it always came down to. Other people.
When we pass by Do, blood sugar plummeting after such an early morning, I fall victim to the hype and hop in the line myself. The dough I sample tastes good, but no different than what you’d find in a typical grocery store package; I tell myself that the calories in the overpriced, sludgy, chocolate shake I end up ordering were worth consuming because my Instagram shot of it got 44 likes.
I’ve been to the Black Tap, too, on one of my first summer adventures. My cousin and I split a shake so monstrous and excessive it would’ve given any sane person a stomach ache; It was too sickeningly sweet and over the top to actually hit the spot.
The point is, people don’t go to trending shops like those because of the physical dopamine rush, the taste of the goods, is that much different from the taste of a more pedestrian sweet; you go there to be part of the hype, get a shot for your Snapchat, your Facebook. You go there to say you did, you’ve been. You go there to share the experience of having gone not just with your current companions but with the thousands of others who’ve done the same.
When it comes down to it, food is usually just food, drinks nothing more than drinks. The importance we give different ones is largely illusory, is a narcissism of small differences. All meaning is reducible, in the end, to the social. Often, being among those who waited is what matters more than what you waited for.
Though I’ve now been on my feet for a whole 8 hours, I finish my day back where I started it; at the Delacorte Theatre, this time to brave the standby line with another friend. Why not? After all, once encased in, committed to your time in a line, you no longer need to wonder what to do or where to go; a task like that is pleasant insulation from the noise of the world.
When we’ve all but lost hope, the line starts moving. The tickets released now are those held in case of a request from VIP sponsors, only available to the public at the last minute. And there seems to be a fair number of them; there are only two people ahead of us when we get the news that we’re out of luck.
So close and yet so far! We drown our sorrows in cocktails and enjoy dinner at nearby restaurant Fred’s.
But our failure may have been for the best. We were both, by that time, starving and tired- and conversation over a meal proved more engaging than a stint in the audience. Half the time, an event like a trip to the theatre is more of an excuse than anything for the togetherness we find before and after. With the right company, you can have as much fun watching a bad movie as a good one. Who we are is not who we are in the middle of a play but what we have to say about it after the curtain falls. Waiting can become an end unto itself.
This revelation, though, doesn’t stop me from trying my luck again, from arriving at the Delacorte at around 5 on the Sunday before Labor Day to seek tickets to a musical version of As You Like It, especially given that I’d just performed in the play at the end of my last semester of undergrad.
I’m by myself this time. I bring a book but spend more of my time eavesdropping on the patrons behind me or enjoying pleasant conversation with another lone wolf. I end up not even having to stick out the full few hours; someone comes by with an extra ticket, looking for a singleton in need to hand it off to. It seems to be that anti-social had its benefits! Now I had a few minutes to sprint to Starbucks for a chai tea and to recharge the phone battery I’d spent my afternoon’s wait depleting.
The production was part the Public Works series, meaning that it incorporated community groups from across all 5 boroughs as well as professional actors. This lent the joyful tale an expansive, inclusive tone. The laughs are plentiful, the Shakespearean dialogue liberally interspersed with modern flourishes, dance numbers, and an electric, contemporary score.
I’m still, ostensibly, alone, but I’m not, really; I’m Snapchatting the playbill and send pics to my former castmates, messaging back and forth afterward about the hilarious audacity of the alterations to the script. It all added up to a moving, innovative night at the theatre that was more than worth the hassle. During my long, grueling trek towards the train home, I find myself not annoyed, not tense, not counting up the minutes, but humming, cheerfully, “All the world’s a sta----age….”
So next time you find yourself waiting; for your plane or cab home for the holidays mayhaps, or your Christmas dinner to cook; try not to spaz out. Instead, take a look around and appreciate the scenery, or take a moment to reflect on everything wonderful about the present moment. Start a conversation with a friend or a stranger; just let go and feel the fullness of the now. Trust me; the time will go by soon enough.
[Feature Image Courtesy via Instagram ]