It’s 7.45pm on a Friday in a busy inner-city Sydney pub and the end-of-week high infuses with the excitement of reaching – who knows how long for – Covid-normal times to create a unique buzz.
Things are almost back to normal but I can’t help feeling something’s missing. Something that used to provoke my cantankerousness.
The usual delicious irritations are there: the smell of cold beer combines with body odours, I mishear every other word of my friend’s anecdote amid the cacophony.
The missing activity reveals itself to me as our drinks are ordered and served: no more queuing at the bar. The QR code on the table, ubiquitous in the era of Covid, has killed that off.
On the one hand, fewer queues are a boon for short folk like me. But as I thought about it, it’s also a curse for singles like me whose chance to fill their dance card occurred in the he-was-first chivalry and etiquette such bar queue interactions uniquely offered.
Like everyone I like to complain about queues. But more and more, I have realised I secretly love them, and everything they represent.
Until recently, Covid killed the establishment queue, replacing it with the need to book ahead everywhere; killing the joy of spontaneity.
It replaced it with the small but infuriating queue for the QR check-in code. You do not know the limits of your own patience till you’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to crane your go-go-gadget arm around someone creating a WHOLLY UNNECESSARY queue by blocking access to the QR code while trying to locate – at a glacial pace – the camera app on their smartphone.
Once I saw past my own irritations, I realised how grateful I am for regular queues; the single best marketing tool of the 21st century.
The first weekend nightclubs reopened after the easing of restrictions in Sydney, the queue outside my favourite gay nightclub, Universal – according to my borderline devastated source on Oxford Street – was lengthy. Police disbanded it, he told me.
I hadn’t been in that particular queue. But I suddenly, bewilderingly, wished I was.
That’s because queues appeal to those two most seductive of human traits: peer proofing and cat-like curiosity.
“It must be really good in there tonight,” I thought, as my bereft Oxford Street friend – who, alas, didn’t make the reduced capacity cut to the dancefloor – informed me that the queue preceded the nightclub’s opening time by a full hour.
If I see a queue, I’m always incurably intrigued to know what’s at the end of it. What am I missing out on? Something incredible must be at the end of that, for these resigned-faced humans to endure the ennui of this odd ritual. Once they reach the end, that resignation will surely enliven.
It’s often worth it. In Sydney, that pot of gold is the saccharine-savoury fluff of the practically perfect pistachio praline ice-cream of Messina; it’s the first snap of the burnt crispy-topped creme brulee tart of the Bourke Street Bakery; it’s the falling apart of the pinky-brown shreds of the handmade Xinjiang beef stir-fried noodles at the Haymarket’s grapes-on-the-roof Chinese Noodle Restaurant.
There’s a social contract which, to me, indicates a courteousness of those assembled.
Queuing is such an art form in Japan, the Japan Times has a section dedicated to it.
Yuko Sato, who queued for 90 minutes, told the newspaper: “I feel so happy to get doughnuts that you cannot easily get.”
Another piece mentions benriyas – Japanese companies which employ people to queue on behalf of customers for up to 72 hours, crouched with umbrella in hand all night if it’s raining. They also occasionally provide “stoolies” to line up outside and make shops and restaurants look popular.
The animal kingdom may march single file or avoid being savaged by waiting their turn according to size at a feed, but there aren’t many – or perhaps any – animals who queue with strangers outside their pack or hierarchy for something desirable. It’s uniquely human.
It’s said you don’t truly know someone till you’ve seen how they deal with slow wifi. I’d say you don’t really know someone till you see how they respond when someone sneaks in front of them in a queue.
The myriad of ethical conundrums this ignites is mind-boggling: it affords the opportunity for having your mate’s back, turning a blind eye to cheekiness, or reading the riot act to the queue-jumper with a robust lecture on fairness.
The very thing that makes the queue frustrating is what makes it essential: delayed gratification. Queuing is family-friendly edging.
My patience needs testing, or it’ll never improve. Queues encourage me to savour the moment and relish the reward.