Times Insider

Reading Between the Lines and Talking to People in Them, Too

In a series of long queues at restaurants and retail stores across New York City, one Metro writer discovered an unexpected thing: pure, unadulterated joy.

In New York City, some people are willing to line up for eggs, a commodity in today’s times.
Credit...Yuvraj Khanna for The New York Times

Dodai Stewart, a writer on the Metro desk, spent nine hours in the cold over the span of four days to report on New York City’s enduring lines.

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What is worth standing outside in the cold on Christmas Day? That question came up while I was having brunch with my family at Lafayette Grand Café and Bakery in Manhattan and noticed a line forming outside the window of the restaurant.

In New York City, the holiday was frigid, with a predicted high of 27 degrees, and yet the queue of people continued to grow. The server informed us that the line was for the restaurant’s biggest draw: a Suprême, a spiraling, cream-filled, round croissant that I realized I had seen on social media. And no, we couldn’t order one for the table. If we wanted one, we’d have to join the line. We declined, but I thought about some other lines I’d seen recently, such as the one in front of the bakery L’Appartement 4F in Brooklyn Heights.

Credit...Yuvraj Khanna for The New York Times

Unlike the long lines for Covid-19 testing, and the long processions for vaccinations, the ones for these bakeries were filled with people eager and excited to wait for their prize. A few days later, I made a pitch to my editor: What are people in New York lining up for now? I tried to answer that question in a Metro article published this week.

Before the on-the-ground reporting began, I created a spreadsheet with input from friends and colleagues. It detailed a variety of lines, their locations in the city and the best days of the week and times of day for line encounters. The editors on Metro and I decided to focus on just the newest-formed lines (which meant skipping those at New York favorites, such as Joe’s Pizza or Prince Street Pizza) and to limit ourselves to five locations. The photographer Yuvraj Khanna joined me for all of the outings.

We visited our first line on a Wednesday outside the New York Theater Workshop, where hopeful attendees of “Merrily We Roll Along” were waiting to purchase possible last-minute tickets for the musical. I asked some of the people at the end of the line what they thought their chances were of getting one, and three of them replied “zero,” in unison. But people were still generally happy to chat with me, perhaps because it gave them something to do. One person was crocheting, one was working on a laptop and a few people were wearing headphones. Others simply chose to stand there.

Credit...Yuvraj Khanna for The New York Times

While some people in the line expected to go home without seeing the musical, Friday’s line at Lafayette Grand Café and Bakery was different; everyone left happy. All those who lined up for a Suprême were able to get one — and put it on Instagram immediately, if they wanted to.

When my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, I was not in the mood to stand outside a bakery in Brooklyn Heights. The weather was bleak and cold with flurries. Once I got there, though, the bleary-eyed and bundled-up fans of the baked goods were friendly and funny. One man was wearing shorts, and explained that he had just finished his morning run and was visiting Brooklyn from Minneapolis.

Another man, who said he lived five blocks away from the bakery, shared that getting croissants for his family had become part of his Saturday routine; his wife likes chocolate, his son likes almond, his daughter likes plain. “But the prize is the bread,” he said. “The boules are fabulous.”

On Sunday, a line for eggs on the Upper West Side was full of locals who greeted the seller warmly. Some had arrived with empty egg cartons for the vendor to refill. I thought about what Benton McClintock, a TikTok comedian who hates lines, said in my interview with him. His theory was that some of the queues created a perpetual loop. By waiting in line, he said, people are “not developing a relationship with those businesses. You’re just creating more clout for them to create longer lines and perpetuate this kind of weird cycle.”

But for me, the lines were not just about pastries or brunch. Queuing up provides a built-in optimism, in which we pause instead of rush and chat with people on the sidewalk instead of passing them by. Those are radical breaks from the norm in the city. And though I personally don’t like waiting in line, I admired the patience and calm of those who lined up.

Almost everyone waiting was hoping for the best. And as they say, good things can come to those who wait.