News / City Life

Picking the right line in New York is almost always an impossible task

Picking the right line in New York is almost always an impossible task
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Aaron Williamson

Whether you're navigating the mazelike hellscape of your neighborhood Key Food or pulling up to pay the toll before the midtown tunnel, choosing the fastest line is a sick game of chance that almost never ends in your favor. There are 8.5 million people, plus commuters, plus tourists crammed into the city’s 304 miles, so New Yorkers are more familiar with this particular form of low-stakes gambling than most people. Whether at busy bodegas or blockbuster art exhibitions, lines rule the city.

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Picture yourself at Gristedes, a supermarket where you can buy run-of-the-mill products for double the price. In front of you are six registers. Human instinct dictates that you get in the line with a single person, compared to the other lines, which are all more packed than a 4 train after a Yankees game. Smugly, you quietly congratulate yourself. Good going, you think.

A couple minutes go by, then five, then 10, and you realize the person ahead of you is drowning in a sea of coupons and price checks. Meanwhile, the former losers who were waiting at the other registers have long gone, having happily danced out like they were in a conga line at a particularly lively and efficient wedding.

This unfortunate phenomenon is in no way confined to overpriced grocery stores across the five boroughs. Did you manage to make it into the shortest line of people waiting to get through the turnstiles at the subway station? Get ready for that single person ahead of you to be asked to “Please swipe again” 20 times. Did you just choose what appeared to be the fastest of four food carts on the same busy midtown intersection? Sorry, but that guy in front of you is definitely ordering for his
entire office.

The line always wins.

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