The man was outraged.
He had a business meeting back in his office in 15 minutes and he'd already used up most of his lunch hour standing in line in front of the Ticketron office. Finally, he stepped out of the line and glared at the office.
"What are you doing?" he yelled at the manager, who wasn't selling tickets. "If you're not going to work, why don't you get out of here?"
Without waiting for a reply, he whirled around and stormed off, ticketless, to his meeting.
It's a scene that is replayed thousands of times a day as Americans are brought up full halt against a line of people.The quick dash into the grocery for a six-pack that ends in the not-so-express express lane. The trip to the bank, with the car double-parked by a fire hydrant, where one is faced with the backs of people in a velvet rope maze that is supposed to speed things up at the teller. The half-hour wait for those 8 o'clock dinner reservations.
At the ticket counter, the museum, the movies, in restaurants, paying one's parking tickets, a screeching stop is mage against the march of progress by The Line. Being in line or "on" line as New Yorkers like to say is a traumatic experience for most Americans. Unlike the British, who got considerable aquaintance with queuing up during the war, Americans don't suffer lines lightly.
"I refuse to stand in line," says one famous lady. "They're boring. If I chose to go home and lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and let my mind drift, that's one thing. But I can't lie down in a line or in my car when there is a traffic jam."
Boredom or apoplexy. With lines there seems to be no middle ground because, as psychiatrist Dr. Arnold Namrow says, "Standing in a line gives rise to a range of emotional responses. It's an arena for a free play of emotions from dominance-submission, passivity-activity, dependence-independence."
Nowhere is the range as full as when a line is confronted by an interloper. Frustrated by a traffic jam on his way from Boston to the Cape, a man in a Volkswagen drove his car onto the curb strip and swiftly passed the back up of cars . . . until the curb strip abruptly ended at a concrete abutment. He was stuck and no one would let him back in the line. Coming abreast of the Volkswagen, the other cars closed ranks, bumper to bumper, refusing to let the line breaker back on the freeway.
More often, lines are a test of endurance. During the Tutankhameh Exhibit at the National Gallery, some 900,000 people stood for two or three hours in lines and sometimes five or six hours. There were so many people that the affair took on the atmosphere of a carnival. Bridge players, armed with cards, found other bridge players whose neighbors in line would save their places while they sat out for a rubber. People balanced chess boards between them, making about the same progress in the game as they did up the steps leading to the museum entrance.
But there still were those who thought they could beat the waiting game.
"People get very ingenious under these circumstances," says Joe English, the gallery's administrator. "They'd go to the head of the line and say they'd lost their wives inside. But we'd arrange an escort, and they were hustled through so fast that they wouldn't get a change to see much. In a number of cases, they'd back down before the escort arrived."
While English was surprised and pleased by the amiability of most of the people in the line, he remembers that the lengthly queues brought out bizarre behavior in one couple on the last day of the exhibit.
"This couple from New Jersey tried to be the very last people in the line because there was going to be press and television coverage," recalls English. "They kept getting out of the line. At one point they sat on the side and let the line pass them, but wed already identified our last visitor themselves. I think they wanted to see themselves on television and decided that this was the way to get it done."
Surprisingly - or perhaps not so surprisingly since they have less to do - teen-agers turn out to be more relaxed about being in line.
According to Tickertron's John Pagenstecher: "The rock 'n' roll crowd is quiet and very easy to deal with. It's the older, more mature crowd, people between 25 and 50, who are the hardest to handle. They scream and complain like they're the only people who want to see a show.
"A couple of years ago, Katharine Hepburn was in a play at the National Theater and I thought one man would have a heart attach he was so upset about the line."
The same reaction carries over for people who are queued up at a restaurant, leading one restaurant owner to cite what he calls "the Sinatra syndrome."
"There are two types of people who come out of restaurants," he says. "Those who go out frequently and are accustomed to a short wait and those who rarely go out to eat anywhere except fast food joints. The second type feel that there's something personal in their not getting a table right away, so they start talking loud and complaining about the service. They're the kind that think bribing the maitre d' is a sophisticated move."
But in most situations, the territorial instinct of lines controls such actions. The group sticks together.
"My wife and another couple were standing in line at a suburban showing of 'Star Wars' near the beginning of the line when a couple of teenagers just strolled right inside," says on frequent movie-goer. "You could feel the animosity in the air as everyone tried to see if they were going to slip into the line. But a couple of minutes later, four or five guys who had been standing in line inside carried them out bodily. Everybody appaulded. There was a feeling that justice had been done."
For many men, the interloper is seen as a challenger to one's manhood, according to Dr. Namrow, "Women when confronted with someone slipping into line will become outraged, but their sense of feminity is not involved women have a sense of rivalry about the territory, but some men feel they've been stripped down when someone cuts in front of them."
Perhaps the greatest imposition when standing in line, especially at a movie or play, is hearing someone else criticize or explain the performance.
In the movie "Annie Hall," Woody Allen, tried to the pompous pronouncements of a fellow linesman about Marshall McLuhan's philosophy, snatches the real McLuhan from behind a theater billboard to do combat. It is everyone's fantasy come true, and "Annie Hall" audiences often applaud when McLuhan proceeds to demolish the offender.