When you queue in NYC, too many things can go wrong… To start with, using the word queue. New Yorkers stand in line and not just any line, but a massive one.
Every summer, NYC hosts ‘Shakespeare in the Park’, which is a play by the classic author in Central Park. Entry is free and, usually, a famous actress such as Gwyneth Paltrow features in the show. Free as it may be, nothing comes without a price.
Back in 2009, while I was wandering the streets of NYC backpacker-kind-of broke after spending my money on bagels and froyo, missing a free yet top-class play by one of the greatest writers in the English language constituted a reasonable cause to shoot myself and, penniless as I was, that seemed a bit harder to arrange. What’s more, ‘Twelfth Night’ is the first piece by Shakespeare I ever read and the actress playing Viola – Anne Hathaway – has stolen my heart more than once with her on-screen performances.
After people-watching in Times Square, enjoying a barbecue at a pink hostel- it was actually pink all over, from the walls to the bunk beds and even the toilets, you name it! Had it been red and it would have been the perfect setting for Tarantino – and after contemplating the reflection of fireworks on the Hudson River, I decided to spend my last day in Shakespeare’s castle with ‘a green and yellow melancholy’ sitting ‘like patience on a monument smiling at grief’.
I woke up at 4am determined to get a front seat in the theatre since it is first come, first served (I can hear the skeptics’ snorts from here… I used to be an early bird, thank you very much. No, seriously, stop that!). As it had been sunny the whole week in NYC and I wanted to avoid carrying a sweater around throughout the day, I decided to match my shorts with a sleeveless shirt, and once I stepped outside I blamed the cold on the pre-dawn hours convinced that it would get warmer once the sun was out. It just got colder! My trust in the weather channel had ended years ago when the forecast induced me to wear a skirt the day of the 21st-century biblical flood, but since the day in NYC when I had to sit on the ground for hours in the rain and shivering but unable to move and buy a raincoat or a lifejacket, I’m prone to taking my sweater even to the beach when it’s 40 degrees Celsius outdoors. Now you know why.
As soon as I reached Central Park, I headed to the box office with a grin on my face. Who else would be crazy enough to stand there at 5am? The guard pointed at the queue… 300 people were leading the way to the loony bin.
I told myself not to panic. The lack of breakfast and sleep had clearly blurred my vision. Disheartened and a bit upset – just like every morning before I have coffee – I wondered why these people had nothing better to do.
It dawned on me what I was up against. New Yorkers are veterans when it comes to queuing. Some of them were equipped with tents and airbeds, while most of them brought chairs, thermos, snacks, books and quilts. Yes, quilts! Somebody did check the weather channel. It wasn’t only raining, but it was freezing, and I started shivering as soon as I sat on the cold ground.
When you are cold, you get hungry and when you are both, you start hallucinating. Are they cycle riders bringing food for us? Food delivery… in the park? They actually were, they were real and not a product of my imagination sparked by cold and hunger to the point that my brain was mistaking it for something else. This is not the Sahara desert. Lack of food and a bit of rain won’t induce hallucination, you idiot! Sorry, speaking to myself here – not a sign of madness.
There was no doubt that there were cyclers carrying food and beverages and distributing them to people along the queue but only to those who phoned them and paid their bills. That was taking home delivery to a whole new level. I take my hat off to you, New Yorkers! I’m sorry I underestimated you and believed my experience as a groupie would give me an advantage over you and hence guarantee me a first row seat. I didn’t pass the test but “I will diminish and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”
Despite the cold weather, lack of preparation and loneliness, there were some cheerful moments as well. Having a troubadour playing for us was one of those pivotal moments that came second only to the moment when I was allowed to leave the queue momentarily to get a cup of coffee. That drink is by far the best you would get in New York, but the feeling I got with the first sip was worth being immortalised in the most prettily way by the famous playwright. “These violent delights have violent ends…” was spoken by the wind as I sipped my coffee and we consumed as we kissed like fire and powder. It’s been long love story between coffee and me, so when I finished drinking it, I said “Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall good night till it be morrow,” and thus once my drink was no more I took comfort in the fact that our separation would not be long and our reunion would be sweeter forevermore. Er… you get the idea.
As the queue kept growing, the tension amongst revellers grew and the security guards started walking along the queue to preserve peace. ‘Don’t cut in line,’ one of the agents said. ‘I don’t really care, but if I were you, I’d be worried about the 600 people in the back of the line who will come after you.’
What was no joke was a man who lectured us about how 9/11 was orchestrated by the Government; it’s just my luck that a modern version of Mel Gibson featuring in ‘The Patriot’ was sitting next to me. And so the fuses to a most pointless and heated argument were lit, which is increasingly annoying and infuriating when you can’t flee because you are… queueing.
At 1pm, we started collecting our tickets. My seat number was 301. Excitement built up until the opening line ‘If music be the food of love, play on’, and the magic of the words enraptured the audience. Emotion overwhelmed me as I contemplated the beautiful actress with ivory skin named after Shakespeare’s wife who brought Viola to life.
They warned us we couldn’t take any photos of the play because it was copyrighted and if we did, they would make us delete the photos or even take our cameras away. I might have overestimated New Yorker queuers, but that was before risking hypothermia so after learning that lesson, there was no way I would try to fool the security guards my getting my camera out. You don’t mess with New Yorkers, I get it! What I didn’t know is that you couldn’t take photos once the play was done. Ooops! You mean to tell me the stage is copyrighted, too. After getting into trouble for photographing the stage, I left positively ecstatic.
The alarm went off the next morning. It was time to take the bus to Washington, D.C. Sore and stiff, I turned off the alarm and decided I would catch up with good old George another time.
Eight years have passed and I still haven’t visited D.C., but I continue to keep the theatre ticket to remind me of the day that I stood in line like a New Yorker.