The art of butting into line (not necessarily an endorsement)

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For many Canadians, the expectation is that there'll be a lineup if there’s a crowd of people wanting to get something or wanting to enter an event. Even if there are just three people, there should be a line. We're shocked, annoyed, angry when people don't form a line, or if they are brazen enough to line jump.

I’m in favour of lining up; I like orderliness. From the bus to the baker, people should line up. For some folks, though, queuing is seen as a sure way to lose out; you need a little aggression in life if you’re going to get what you want, especially if what you’re after is in short supply. If you meekly stand at the back of a line, you won’t get that special cake, a seat on a bus, or the last spot on a lifeboat.

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Sometimes it makes sense to butt in, and sometimes there are formal mechanisms to do it. You can pay to jump some lines, for example. Or there are sanctioned ways to skip ahead, such as by buying tickets in advance or making a reservation. Here are some of my more memorable lineup moments, and ways that I've skipped ahead — without breaking any rules, of course.

Scene: Bridgeport Canada Line station in Metro Vancouver, lineup for Route 620 bus to Tsawwassen ferry terminal. Temporary fencing encourages people to form a line, and they do.
Technique: We are at the front of the line, arriving about 20 minutes before bus time because we misjudged how long it would take to get there. Shortly before the bus is due, a woman walks up to the bus stop pole next to us and “studies” the schedule posted on the pole. She then beckons her husband, who says in a weary way, “Yes dear.” Then they huddle around the pole for several minutes, “studying”. The bus arrives. They get on first. We say nothing and get on behind them. I stew a little.

Scene: Tsawwassen ferry terminal during the Vancouver Olympics. The walk-on lineup is longer than I’ve ever seen, stretching far into the parking lot. There is serious danger of missing the ferry because the line is so long.
Technique: As the line moves slowly into the terminal, a fellow with a rolling suitcase nonchalantly joins the front of the line, as if that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. No one stops him, no one protests.

Scene: Disneyland in Anaheim, California, at the popular Space Mountain ride.
Technique: Our family got FastPasses with a ride time stamped on them; there was no extra cost. We arrive at the FastPass line shortly before the appointed moment, bypassing the very long line of people who didn’t get FastPasses. We’re on the ride minutes later.

Scene: Musée du Louvre in Paris.
Technique: Following the advice of travel guru Rick Steves, we bought the Paris Museum Pass at the train station when we arrived from London on the Eurostar train. As a result, we didn’t have to line up to buy tickets at places like Arc de Triomphe, Centre Pompidou, and Musée du Louvre. We went directly to the entry gate, showed our passes, and entered. This was especially a time saver at the Louvre, where the line to pay and get in was mindbogglingly long. The price of the pass depends on the number of days you want it to be active. With proper ambition and planning, it can be cheaper than paying individual admissions.

Scene: Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, waiting to board the Canadian, for a train trip to Toronto.
Technique: Some people are beckoned out of the crowd and invited for golf cart rides to their sleeping cars. About 15 minutes later, the rest of us board. I later discovered that the early boarders were people who had paid about $7,000 for a two-person sleeper compartment. We didn’t pay nearly that much for our much more modest sleepers. During the 15-minute wait for our turn, I ate Peek Frean fruit creme cookies supplied by Via Rail and chatted with strangers.

Scene: Construction zone on the Patricia Pat Highway
Technique: Almost everyone has moved into the left lane, leaving a largely vacant right lane, where a brave few zip by. Times Colonist columnist and driving instructor Steve Wallace assures us that using both left and right lanes is proper etiquette, and we should take turns getting through when we arrive at the obstruction. Using just one lane when two are available is inefficient and can cause gridlock.

Scene: Midway at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver
Technique: The PNE, Aug. 22 to Sept. 7, is offering something new this year: the Fair Ride Rapid Pass. You buy your Fair Ride pass for $39.75 to $42.75, and then you pay an extra $20 for your Rapid Pass which, according to the PNE website: “Provides access to an expedited line for 10 rides.”

Scene: SilverCity movie theatre in Saanich
Technique: We bought our tickets online and printed them at home, collecting a few extra Scene points for doing so. At the theatre, we bypass lineups for cashiers and ticket machines and go directly to the ticket taker.

Scene: Pearson International Airport in Toronto, waiting to board a non-stop Air Canada flight to Victoria
Technique: Air Canada boards its planes by “zone.” The zone that’s assigned to you should be printed on your boarding pass. A blue sign points to Zones 1 and 2, a red one to Zones 3, 4 and 5. The blue sign is for people in the better seats; they board first. The people in Zone 5 typically board last. With airlines charging to check luggage, more people are taking carry-ons; if you board last, there might not be room for your carry-on. So people are more aggressive about getting on sooner. Some of the people waiting with me are annoyed that they are in Zone 5. One woman decides to ignore the zone designations and lines up with the blue sign people even though her boarding pass is for a red zone. The agent blocks her and orders her to stand aside. She complains loudly. The agent does not relent. The woman stands next to the agent until her zone is called, and is the first one through for her zone.

Scene: Along the Johnson Street wall of Metro Studio, waiting for a Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival show.
Technique: Lining up is one of the pleasures of attending Fringe. It’s a tradition to chat with strangers, comparing show experiences, sharing tips on where to eat nearby, and where the bathrooms are. You can ease anxiety about getting a seat by buying tickets in advance, instead of at the door. But I prefer to show up a little early, buy at the door, and gossip in line. At busier shows, there are two lines, one for buying tickets, and another for people who already have tickets. This year’s festival runs Aug. 27 to Sept. 6.

Scene: Ribfest at Bullen Park in Esquimalt.
Technique: The lineups were amazing last year. As soon as we arrived and my companion caught sight of the long lines, he wanted to leave. I talked him out of it. The longest line was for a BBQ ribs seller who won a bunch of awards at the previous year’s Ribfest; the wait was around 45 minutes. We explored other booths and got into the shortest line; the wait was 20 minutes. After ordering and paying, it took under a minute for our food to be handed over. These folks are fast. The pork and beef ribs we bought were terrific. I didn’t see any line jumping. The people in line with us were chatty, making the 20-minute wait zip by. This year’s Ribfest is Sept. 11 to 13.

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