Grandfathered In

The Critic's Notebook: Say No to Lines

Whether you're type A or just entitled, those guys don't need you.

By Alice Levitt November 6, 2017

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I guarantee you, there's a better bowl of pho somewhere else.

Image: Shutterstock

My maternal grandfather was not a nice person, but he was an accomplished person. He founded and led the copier company, Savin, and was doing the same for the drug company Hemispherx Biopharma when he died in 1991. He was a private pilot who got kicked out of his country club for flying his plane too low over the golf course. He was known in his New York suburban neighborhood in the 1970s as "the crazy old bald man in the white jumpsuit on the skateboard."

Paul, as all his grandchildren called him, knew how to get what he wanted. He used to fly my eldest brother, now a chef, to Paris just for dinner. But that meant also meant wanting it now. My mother remembers him banging his knife and fork on the table like a prisoner until the kitchen hurried up and delivered his chicken Parm. He was banned from at least one pizzeria. Sometimes, he combated this by ordering before he left for the restaurant, so the food would be ready when he arrived. This has carried on to the rest of my family. Wait 10 minutes in a restaurant with my mother or grandmother and they will be in a panic about whether the food is coming or not. "Maybe they forgot us!" they posit with clear anxiety.

If you haven't guessed yet, my family is composed of exactly the kind of neurotic New York Jews you meet in an a Woody Allen movie, except now living inexplicably in east Tennessee. My mother and I recently realized that I'm the only one without an undiagnosed (or diagnosed) case of OCD. But that's not to say Paul's influence hasn't made its way down the family tree to me. I don't do lines. Ever.

Here's why: I don't have to, and neither do you. My personal creed is, "There is always something, not far away, that is just as good and doesn't have a line." Maybe it's because I read Charles Mackay's 1841 classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds at an early age, but I have zero trust for the preferences of the majority. I mean, look at Underbelly.

My favorite example takes place every time I go to New World Mall in Flushing. The best Asian food court in the United States, like Asian food courts everywhere, has long lines at some stalls, none at others. It's up to you to look at the food, even smell it, for yourself before deciding where you'll pick up your xiaolongbao or dapanji. Hint: It's probably not where Yelpers are directing you. And if it is, it's up to you to make the decision: Is it worth my time to stand in line for an item that is likely comparable in quality to one that's feet away and has no line?

That's your problem. What I can tell you is that every time I dine out (or do much of anything) there is a mathematical equation at work. It's not conscious, so I've never plotted it out before, but it goes something like (Quality of food - distance)/expense=Do I go? But the mathemagic is that it's relative. If you think the beers in line and brisket at Killen's Barbecue make it worth driving from the Heights when Pinkerton's is right in the neighborhood, with a full bar, that's your individual logic. In this case, I'm staying in the Loop and having a chopped beef sandwich and a cocktail. Other times, I'll drive an hour with no qualms for a piece of pie, like the chocolate-raspberry one at Old Moon Deli & Pie. But then again, their lines aren't prohibitively long. 

Ultimately, it's all about choice. And I'm choosing to say no to the madness of crowds.

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