Minding your Ps and Queues

Our rush to be first in line for everything has birthed a new job listing -- queue holder.

Recently in Vancouver a “wine snob” paid $500 to have someone  hold  spots #10 and #11 at the head of a lengthy lineup waiting to buy bottles of limited edition 2009 vintage Bordeaux, to assure himself he would get at least two bottles.

Previously priced at $3,000 a bottle when the Petrus Bordeaux was released in 2005, hype boosted the price to $3,800 per bottle .

Though the store wasn’t due to open until 9:30 Saturday morning, a queue to buy Bordeaux began building at 2:30 Friday afternoon, led by an international student intent on purchasing a  bottle or two for his family in China. Province wide, 60,000 bottles of Bordeaux went on sale Sept. 28. Within ten minutes of the Vancouver  government liquor store opening, 16 brands had sold out.

Our rush to be first in line to sign up for a private school, buy the latest product like Apple’s iPhone5, or secure tickets to the hottest entertainment  has birthed a new job listing — queue holder.

Beginning with the ancient Chinese who hired  funeral procession stand-ins to walk along with the body  looking mournful, we’ve moved on to paying someone to do nothing more than  hold a space  for us through hours of waiting as a penguin  line inches its way toward  the ticket wicket.

Without blinking an eye, we listen to media reports of block-long queues to buy tickets for a season playoff, an annual film festival, or to enrol our youngsters in a French Immersion school.

We expect to line up for Boxing Day bargains at electronics stores, if we hope to score tickets  for Madonna or Rolling Stones concerts, and even to slot our car on a ferry  to Vancouver Island any holiday long weekend.

So long as lineups  don’t involve us we pay little attention to where they’re happening. Not so the Vancouver manager of  a Canadian passport office. Bothered by complaints from applicants who waited hours in the rain to be issued passports in 2007 when  the U.S. demanded anyone flying to America must carry a passport, he set up a two-ticket solution — a red ticket to get you inside Sinclair Centre out of the elements, then a white ticket with a call-back time.

Until their callback time, passport seekers were free to go elsewhere and do other things rather than fuming in line, getting sore feet.

At first glance, the task of queue holding looks simple.   Stand still (or sit  on the pavement), listen to chatter around you from people becoming more agitated as the wait drags on, read a book standing up, or play cards on the floor with the guy behind you. But while the job may be simple,  it can’t be a treat. It lacks the safeguards of a real job — retirement plan, unemployment benefits between jobs, health insurance coverage, seniority, opportunities for advancement and a snack room.

At first glance the job of queue holding looks simple: stay put for a tour of duty ranging from a few hours to overnight or  longer, close your ears   to pointless chatter from those around you becoming more agitated as the wait drags on, read a book while white sunshine gives you a headache, or play small stakes poker with the guy behind you.

The venue for lineups is usually outdoors, devoid of any protection from rain or snow,  often on a tunnel-like  city street where winds scud along peppering your face and eyes with grit.

Equipment for the job can be gathered up from odds and ends you already possess: an umbrella to ward off moisture from above, waterproof galoshes,  trail mix and dried fruits, a large bottle of drinking water, sunscreen, Visine, and a sleeping bag and tent or tarp if warranted.

You need only be immune to boredom, able to function on little sleep and have the bladder control of a toddler who  balks at potty training.