Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wining and Whining

I've discovered that Manhattanites have an unusually healthy appreciation for lines and order, which seems odd coming from a city that seems--and IS--so chaotic and nutty. Maybe it's an extension of the grid system or a need for control in the midst of insanity, but city dwellers stand in lines several times a day. And they're good at it.

Just as  upstaters lack sidewalk etiquette (i.e. Sidewalk Rule #1: If you are walking slowly or in a group or are consulting a map, STAY TO THE RIGHT!!!), they also lack line etiquette. I discovered this at the Riesling Festival today.

Get this--some brilliant individual dreamed up a giant wine tent at which you pay $10 to get a commemorative wine glass, a Wegmans (!!!) six-pack wine bag, and samples of Riesling from a host of local wineries. Is that not the most magical idea ever?! Accordingly, the tent was full and there was a line of 30 people waiting to get I.D.'ed on the way in. I was just four people away from the entrance of the tent and could already taste the ice cold white wine hitting my lips in the midst of a hot, sunny afternoon when the four people in front of me had second thoughts about paying $10 each. Now, I understand that in upstate NY, $10 goes a long way (I mean, you can buy a house--a whole HOUSE--for under $100K), and thus, paying $10 for wine is more of a commitment for an upstater than for a downstater, who may consider a $10 glass of wine a bargain. But for Pete's sake, if you're struggling with your decision, don't hold up the entire line! Step to the side and wave people past until you make a decision. Since their decision was to stand in the way and clog the I.D. process, I decided to sidestep the whole thing and thrust my license in the face of the nice volunteer who was slightly shocked at my boldness.

I must have arrived at the height of wine time because the tent was packed. The wineries were stationed at long card tables facing into the center of the tent, and there was a sizable line snaking in front of each table. They really could have used some Trader Joe's-style employees standing at the end of each line with a giant sign to direct traffic. Wanting to play by the rules, I found each winery that interested me; looked for the appropriate line; spotted the final person in line; asked her to confirm that I was, in fact, at the end of the correct line; and waited. Many others weren't quite so courteous. There were lots of line cutters.

Line cutting is quite prevalent in NYC, as you may imagine. But New York City folk don't often stand for that kind of behavior. The chain of events for NYC line cutting is as follows:
1. Someone cuts the line.
2. At least one person will passive-aggressively say just loud enough for the line cutter and select others to hear: "Can you believe da nerve o' dis guy?"
3. Line cutter will pretend he didn't hear.
4. Rumblings ensue in the surrounding crowd.
5. Someone will tap the line cutter on the shoulder and say, "Hey buddy, we bin waitin' a while. The end o' da line is back dere."
6. Surrounding crowd glares at the line cutter.
7. Line cutter either (A) slinks sheepishly to the end of the line, or (B) or spouts some choice curse words and waits for someone make him move to the back of the line. But A is often the result of this confrontation.

After waiting in several long lines in the wine tent, I was hot, slightly buzzed, and completely annoyed when a gentleman stepped in front of my line of 12 people and asked for his sample of semi-sweet Riesling, seemingly ignorant of the patient people he just trampled on. Since no one had said anything when the guy's wife did the same thing five minutes before, I decided that these upstaters needed my help. I smiled sweetly, leaned forward, and said, "Excuse me, sir, but I just thought you should know that there's a line at every table, and we've all been waiting for a while."

He gave me an I-know-what-I-did-but-I'm-going-to-smile-and-play-innocent look (which I am generally the queen of) and said, "Oh...sorry! I didn't even notice. Should I wait until you're finished?" I was six people back in line at this point and I was not at the end of the line.

I gritted my teeth, smiled generously and said, "Oh no, that's okay. You go right ahead." Which he did. And of course, the people between us in line were chatting away and missed the whole exchange. They continued chatting when it was their turn for wine, leaving me standing there--glass empty--fuming about the wait and replaying the scene in my head. Did I do the right thing by saying something? Was the line cutter at fault for cutting the line, or was I at fault for pointing it out? Do I need to have a little more patience, or does everyone else need to get with the program? Have I become one of those mean New Yorkers that are a staple on every reality television show?

Johnny Carson described a New York minute as the time it takes “From the (traffic) lights to turn green, till the guy behind you starts honking his horn.” I guess when I'm upstate, I miss the honking.

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