Is This Queue Taken…?

December 13, 2006 at 2:24 am (Uncategorized)

Now I’ve started to reflect on all these ‘Sydney Things to Do,’ I can’t stop. There’s just so many weird and idiosyncratic things to talk about. What is this place, anyway? What is “Sid-a-nee”? What are the things we love to do here? Well, one of them is queue. Now, I distinctly remember telling anyone in London who would listen that “the English love to queue, there’s so much queuing, around the clock, it’s like a national passtime.” Well, didn’t I get a rude comeuppance when I returned home. It seems queuing is another sport we share with that northern hemisphere island. All those London members of the Barmy Army who have flown out here for the Ashes will have no trouble adjusting to life in Sydney. No doubt it will remind them quite a lot of home. Sydney is another city where half one’s life is lost in pursuit of the perfect queue.

The perfect queue is elusive, an enigma, but you do know it instinctively when you see it because when you are standing in the perfect queue, you are the only one in it.

The chance of encountering the perfect queue is rare. Much likelier is the bastard queue, which snakes out of the store and around the block. Some of those new, nifty little health drink and sandwich outlets manage to incorporate two bastard queues in one standing: there’s a queue where you order and pay, and there’s another where you collect. Genius.

Since everyone in Sydney is heavily addicted to caffeine, the bastard queue has become the bastion of the barista, whose crema is evaluated not by beans but in units of other-bastards-waiting. Everyone has a preferred coffee vendor, and because we’re running such a tight ship here, we’re probably all standing in the same queue day after day. It’s Groundhog Day, except you can’t enjoy it by bedding beautiful women and crashing cars like Bill Murray did, because you’ll miss your place in the congo line.

Then there’s the insidious creep of the double intermission across the arts, a place where bastard queues abound. It’s always such crazy good fun spending the entire intermission, both of them, first in the queue to the toilet and then in the queue to the bar. My favourite moment inevitably arrives only once I am clutching both a full glass of champagne and an accidental handtowel memento. As if on cue (ho ho), the bell starts ringing to herd me back into a queue to retake my seat behind everyone else in my row. I’d like to meet that bell ringer. Over the years of playing cat and queue, I feel we’ve developed a special bond.

Llew and I once had lunch at the Motor Registry near Wynyard. It was a sunny day, sure, but why sit in Hyde Park when you can watch red numbers flashing and count out the difference between the number presently being served at counter 7 and your own triple digit ticket out of there? We weren’t the only ones making a day of it. There was sandwich wrap rustling, chip packets crinkling, salad boxes opening, and the unmistakable waft of Chiko roll in amongst the stench of human misery and defeat. For one terrifying moment, we thought we’d lost our ticket, and that’s when we realised what else you can smell in there: fear. Fear of the lost stub, a simple error from which there is no escape.

My personal favourite is being stuck behind that enemy of the people whose ENTIRE FINANCIAL BUSINESS is conducted by hogging a public ATM, totally at the expense of the hapless bastards waiting impatiently behind him. And you can start muttering that it’s time to give someone else a crack, can’t you see we’ve all been here half an hour, moving right along now, pal, but everyone knows how sweet it is to finally reach the head of the queue. I’ve felt that surge of adrenalin when my number’s been called, I’ve whooped when my stub matches the overhead display – I’ve even been moved to pump the air and sing Hallelujah. Because when your number’s up, it’s up. Your work back there in the trenches is done. You may advance past GO and collect $200, bank charges not included.

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