I’d been waiting on line at the souvlaki cart on 31st Ave in Astoria, Queens for something like fifteen minutes. It was over ninety degrees out. Everyone was sweating: the three guys inside the food truck had wet rags draped over the back of their necks, the customers baked in the noonday sun as they waited patiently for their turn to order.
It was lunchtime, and there were a lot of people. There are always a ton of people waiting at the souvlaki cart. It’s the best souvlaki in town. Despite the heat, despite the ice or the snow or the rain, there’s always a line snaking down the block, a testament to the food, that it’s worth the wait.
Yesterday it was very hot and everyone was obviously hungry and yet no one seemed to need any directions on how to form a single line outside the rectangular window on the side of the cart. Even though there’s a printed-out sign taped on top of the window that reads, “Form one line, do not cut other customers,” it’s not like these things need instructions. People just naturally respect the social order of things. They see others waiting, and they take a spot at the end.
Well, most people. When I first got on line, there were maybe eleven or twelve people in front of me. After fifteen minutes I was next in line. It’s like anything else, when you’re waiting patiently, it feels like the closer you get, the longer it seems to take, like time slows down, like the last minute is somehow equal in length to the preceding fourteen.
And just as I saw the guy in front of me take out his money to pay for his food, just as I took a step forward, getting ready for my call to come up to the window, a silver Audi pulled up to the edge of the curb, mostly blocking the pedestrian crosswalk. The engine cut out, the doors opened up simultaneously, and there you were. As you stood up and closed the driver’s side door, as your friends exited the passengers’ seats and fell behind you as you made your way to the cart, you had the swagger of a king returning to his castle.
“Yannis!” you opened your arms wide and yelled out toward the window, all but ignoring the line of people to your side. You started talking to the souvlaki guy in what I can only assume had to have been Greek. Yannis spoke back. I don’t know even a single word in Greek, but in my mind, your words translated to, “Hey Yannis, look at all of these dumb people waiting in line! I’m not going to wait in line, OK? And neither are my friends. Here, make us some food.”
Like I said, I was kind of halfway toward the window already, and when it became clear that I wasn’t getting called up to the cart next, that I’d been cut, I backpedaled, tried to reclaim my on-deck position at the head of the single line in between the two windows. But people had already shifted spots, someone was standing where I just was, and everyone seemed mildly annoyed as they shuffled around to let me back in.
I tried not to pay attention to you, I tried not to let the fact that you cut the whole line get under my skin. But it was hard to look away. The way you were dressed, long white pants perfectly creased, and on such a hot day. Weren’t your gold chains making your neck sweat? How did you manage to stay so dry while everyone else was dripping?
You were waving a wad of cash at Yannis, the bills all folded vertically in your hand, like a knife, like you were punctuating everything you said with sharp little money gestures. When he handed you your food, you immediately shook your no and said something in a disapproving tone. Did you want more tzatziki? Some better looking souvlaki? I couldn’t be sure. Yannis took your food back and started making you and your crew new plates.
I had no idea what was going on, but all I knew is that ever since you and your friends invaded the front of the window, the line had come to a complete standstill. And all I could do was stand there and try not to make my frustration visible. Because what could I have done, should I have said something? Nobody else was saying anything. What would have been your reaction if I pointed out the fact that you’d cut everyone in line? Would you have even entertained my protest? Would you have laughed at me before dismissing me entirely? Would Yannis have had my back? I doubt it. I don’t think my complaints would have fallen on sympathetic ears.
I didn’t say it yesterday, but I’m saying it now, on the Internet: man, that wasn’t cool. You have to respect the line. You can’t just park your Audi in the middle of the crosswalk and cut a dozen people waiting for souvlaki in ninety-degree heat. That was dick move dude, not cool at all.