Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is The Wait Worth It?

The phenomenon of camping out in line in anticipation of being among the first to (insert action here) is a fun one. Do I scoff, or participate? Both. It really depends on my interest, passion and energy for the subject at hand. While I might think that someone willing to stand in line for two days for X is lame with misdirected priorities, I might think that waiting in line for X is a brilliant idea.

A couple of weeks ago when Clifton and I went to Best Buy to get a cable for my computer, there stood a really long line of people in front of the store. You could tell these were diehards because there were pup tents, sleeping bags, coolers and lawn chairs. Who knows how long they had been there, but they were waiting for the store’s Sunday opening (we were there on a Saturday afternoon) to get the new Nintendo game system. The week, or so, prior there were similar lines for those waiting to get the new Xbox.

Clifton almost convinced me that we should join these people in line so that we could each buy one of the systems, then sell them on Ebay for a substantial profit. But therein lies my point…I just didn’t have the interest, passion and energy to sit on the curb for 24 hours, get no sleep, figure out how to sell and get paid on Ebay, then actually set everything up, sell the thing and get it shipped. Ultimately, too little return on my investment.

Earlier this month I was reading an article about the grand opening of the IKEA store in Austin and how people started getting in line 4 DAYS early so they could be among the first 2,500 people in the store who would get “prizes ranging from free yogurt snacks to a $250 gift certificate.” Hmmm…. 4 days equals 96 hours, which means that if I had won the $250 gift certificate that would be valuing my time invested in the project at about $2.60 an hour, not factoring in the couple of days off of work I was burning through. 4 days of losing vacation hours, getting bad sleep, not having any good bathroom facilities, having to figure out a food plan, and having to interact nicely with strangers would not be worth a $250 gift certificate for me. But maybe it would be worth it for the “free yogurt snacks”…

I am always amazed at those shoppers who, the day after Thanksgiving, will hit the stores for the 5:00 a.m. early bird sales specials. And 5:00 is just when the doors open – many queue up for hours beforehand. I have mixed feelings about this one. Most of the come-ons would not be worth me leaving the warm sanctuary of my bed at that ungodly hour - $10 off coupons, $20 microwaves, $100 off bicycles just aren’t that enticing. But there were some of those come-ons this year that were amazing deals, but usually limited to the first relatively few in line - $200 laptops, 1G computers for $500, $150 flat screened TVs. If I was in the market for one of those things, I think I might brave the elements and stake my place in line.

Because I understand that drive – that need really – to get want you want to get and to get a great deal. Nothing beats the great deal. But even great pre-dawn deals come with a cost, and that cost might be dealing with a few elbows from line cutters, excessive waits at the registers or watching as the last widget that you waited so patiently for gets snatched up by a mouthy little woman who looks at you with pure evil glee in her eyes when she feigns surprise and says “Oh…did you want this too? Sorry.” before pushing her way forward to grab a $20 microwave. (But I’m not bitter about my 2003, 5:00 a.m. shopping experience).

Working during Austin City Limits tapings taught me a little bit about line management because there were always those shows where people would begin lining up in the morning for the taping that night. The lines would get so long they would wrap around the building. And the ultimate rub was, it was all a crap shoot for these people, and they knew it. The studio could only hold 350 people. Once the sponsors, donors and band people got their seats, there were only a small number of places left open for the public and it was a first come, first served situation to see who got in. It was genuinely heartbreaking to have to tell that one person – and all of those behind them – that we had reached the limit and they weren’t getting in. I always felt sorriest for that first person in the turn away line because they had waited so long, and they had come sooooo close.

Sometimes the ACL lines would begin forming days before the show – mainly the fans of jam bands like Phish and Widespread Panic. Those dirty little hippies were always nice and polite and more than willing to bake out there in the sun for a few days. We’d feel sorry for them and lug out jugs of water and tell them where the public restrooms were around campus. I was fortunate to see hundreds of great ACL tapings, but the energy was never as high as it was on those nights when those uber fans who had waited in line for days got to get in and see their band. There was one of these shows - I think it was a Panic taping – and the fans were so excited and so pumped up and so full of whatever drugs had been passed around for three days that the floor was literally shaking with their jumping. Most of the camera shots during that shoot are shaking, too, because there was no way to keep them still. Amazing.

When I was 16 years old, we had just moved to Denver and had only been there for a short time when I heard on the radio that Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” tour was coming to town. WHAT? I actually now lived in a city where MTV megastars like Michael Jackson came to perform? NO WAY! Remember, having come from Helena, up until that moment the only live concerts I’d ever been to were Captain and Tenille playing at the Montana State Fair and the Up With People Concert at the Civic Center! Montana wasn’t exactly a hot spot on the rock and roll summer tour circuit. It was beyond my comprehension that these fancy-schmancy Denverites could just waltz in to a MICHAEL JACKSON concert like it was no big thing!

Tickets were going on sale the next day at all TicketMaster outlets. I got up my nerve and asked mom and dad if I they would let me go get in line RIGHT NOW. To the end of time, when I am old and toothless and rocking on the front porch of the old folks home, I will always be appreciative that, without hesitation, they said “yes”. They knew that this was way too cool for a 16 year old small town girl to pass up. Of course there were hundreds of rules and regulations about who I could talk to and what I was supposed to do if I needed help (back in the days before cell phones, you know), what exactly I could and couldn’t bring with me, and so on. I was so excited that I just took a blanket and my hard-earned moolah and the folks dropped me off outside of Westgate Mall where I took my place in line and proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait.

Because I didn’t know anyone yet, I didn’t have anyone to bring with me, so I was on a solo adventure to secure Michael Jackson tickets. Mom and dad drove by and checked on my about 95 times that day and night and next morning. They’d bring me food and sodas, hold my place in line while I searched out a bathroom, and made sure I was safe, but usually I’d just seem them watching me as they slowly cruised through the mall parking lot. That was a pretty long and chilly night, but at long last 10:00 a.m. rolled around and the tickets went on sale. The line started moving. I had no idea what to expect given that tickets were selling at locations all across the state. I finally made it to the ticket agent and was over-animated when I blurted out “2 seats, please, best available”. That guy poked around on his computer and finally very nonchalantly said “8th Row, Center Stage is the best I got”.



So, do I scoff at those who camp out in lines, or do I participate? Definitely both. It all depends on the deal…


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