queuemanship (noun): the exercise of ploys and tactics in order to minimize time spent waiting in a queue
You see folk lined up by the side of the bank building on Blythswood Street, some of them just standing but others with wee camping chairs or sleeping bags to lay out on the pavement. So you go up to the group at the back, three young lassies, and you wait for a gap in their conversation so you can ask what they’re waiting for. Only there is no gap – they gulp in breaths only when they drop a t or miss out an h – so you never get the chance. Maybe if you hadn’t had a drink – if you weren’t holding down a belch, holding back from swaying – then you’d interrupt, but as it is the moment passes. There are two or three others behind you now, more arriving, and you’re part of the queue.
No harm in that, you decide. It’s a summer’s night – not warm but not baltic either – and you’ve not got work in the morning. Stay for a while, see where this all leads. From the next street comes a throb of bass and there’s a wee cheer that drifts around the corner too. So there’s bound to be something worthwhile at the front: concert or footy tickets, the latest gadget or phone, some massive discount on a telly or holiday or car or whatever. You’ve only got that pittance left on your credit card, right enough, but if it’s something you can turn a profit on then it’ll be worth the wait.
The smart thing to do, you realise, would be to step out of line and go onto Sauchiehall Street, to see what shop or sign-up sheet or superstar is at the end of it all, but there’s already a couple of dozen behind you and so it becomes vital that you don’t lose your place. Stay in the game until you reach the corner, at least.
In front, the three girls are looking at something on a phone so you reach out a hand to the man beyond, as if you know him, and step around them. You clap the man on the shoulder, smiling as he frowns, and then muttering that you thought he was someone else. By that time, though, you’re next to him and the three girls are left behind.
You stay there for a couple of minutes, not wanting to draw attention to yourself, but there’s a hip-flask doing the rounds a wee bit further on and you like the look of that group – young students with checked shirts and piercings – so you take a cigarette from your pocket and you stretch through to ask them for a light. A wee nod and a shrug to the folk you’re stepping past, then offer the cigarettes around the students. Two of them take one and you take a swallow of their whisky in return, and you’ve jumped another couple of places in the queue.
It should be a given that they’re talking about whatever it is they’re waiting for, but two of them are on about coursework and the rest are listening to this sob-story about how someone called Andrea broke up with someone called Carl. And you have this wee panic, then, that this might all be a big mistake – this might be the queue for a taxi-rank or to get into a club. You don’t need a taxi to get home – the distance isn’t worth the fare – and you’ve not been in a club since your second kid was born.
The corner is close now, though, and you spot a cash machine in the wall which gives you the chance to elbow through. Take out forty, just in case it’s needed, and then nestle back into line. Up in front, there’s a small stooshie about someone cutting in, so you reach forward and take a fistful of their jacket so you can join in with throwing them out of the queue and, at the same time, bring yourself forward just that little bit more.
Then, just like that, you’re round the corner. You look at the faces around you. There’s excitement on them, right enough. And you’re feeling it too, because there’s big spotlights strobing the sky ahead and this fire-eater waving a flaming torch. He swallows the flame, big flourish, and everyone more-or-less ignores him; their eyes fixed to the front. Yours are too, but you can’t see the sign of the shop at the end.
You pretend to stumble, taking you past the couple in front. There’s a wee shout of protest, but it doesn’t matter because you’ve caught sight of the sign – Taco King – so you can step back in line and –
Fucking tacos? What in the hell are tacos, even? You’d say it’s the ones with the hard shells, because the soft shells are burritos, but there’s no difference with the tomato-mince mix, is there? Or is it to do with the extras you get – the guacamole, the jalapenos, the beans, the cheese? Before you met the missus you wouldn’t have even known what guacamole was but, even with her influence, you’ve still never had a taco in your life. Not once. And you’re about to barrel out of the queue and make for home because you know Karen will give you pelters for being even this late – even just after last orders – and the wee one has ballet in the morning. Then again, you’ve never had a taco in your life. Not once. And you’ve come this far.
So you stay. In line, in your place. Just ten minutes more, maybe fifteen, and when you reach the rush of warmth and light at the counter you smile at the young lad on the other side and you breathe deep – salt and frying fat and maybe just the hint of a mouth-watering onion – and you find yourself ordering ten of them. Ten tacos. That seems right. And the young lad doesn’t blink, just asks if you want a drink, and you nod and wish you could order more than a coke.
Outside, to the side of the queue, you unwrap the first and it’s the size of the palm of your hand, no bigger, and limp as a lettuce leaf. Maybe ten wasn’t too many, after all, and maybe the soft shell isn’t a burrito.
Three bites is all it takes, and then you eat a second in four bites. Pause for a slurp of coke, then the third in six bites. And you’re running out of steam now. You should take the rest home for Karen, for the kids, but what would they be wanting with seven tacos? Knowing Karen, she’ll have tried the bastard-things before anyway and she’ll not be keen on the wee one having hers reheated for a breakfast before ballet.
Looking about yourself, you go back to the corner and look back up Blythswood Street. The queue still goes back up a fair way. You don’t want to join it at the end, but you’d fancy being back in the middle of it, feeling that anticipation and sharing the moment with those around you. So you pick a wee group of three lads – nervous to be out so late, not old enough to be chancing their arms trying to get into bars – and you move across to them. You open the brown bag and show them the tacos – two for each of them, one for yourself – on the basis that you can cut in line, that you can wait with them for a minute. Just for a minute, mind, because the corner’s coming up soon enough and as soon as you’ve caught sight of those spotlights, of that fire-eater, of the folk entering with nothing and leaving with those brown bags, then you’ll be off home to Karen and the kids.