Line Up

There is a white mazda doubles van on Lady Hailes Avenue in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago, just outside the Cross Crossing Shopping Centre. Soft and succulent doubles are made and fried on the spot by three women in deliciously pink aprons. Every morning I witness persons lining up for their morning fix of channa and assorted sauces sandwiched between two barra hot out the pot, rendered even hotter with pepper. (Remember there will be pepper even if you don’t request it).

But yes you read correctly….lining up!

The first time I saw it I was fixated by the scene, taken aback even. It was curious and outlandish for its solemnity and organization. Trinidadians lining up, voluntarily? For doubles? Nah! It couldn’t be!

Lining up is not something we did. Typically the purchase of doubles would take place in a mob -like crowd standing randomly around the vendor. Dollar bills would be waving and hands will be outstretched like those of the many women standing stage side in any Machel Monday concert.

Now think about Sauce, the celebrated doubles vendor from Curepe, or any less famous but equally lucrative doubles van where the vendor and his/her assistant are perched on a platform. This helps the seller buyer relationship as the seller would be looking down (never condescendingly) and calculating the order in which each buyer needs to be served. This perceived order is aligned to the order of arrival of each buyer. This holds true except that when buying doubles the buyers are in two categories: eating on the spot and the take away buyers. Maybe that distinction has in many cases underscored the rationale for the absence of lines.

But then those two categories of buyers are also found at KFC, Japs or any other fast food operation.

The unassailable fact is that as a people we are hesitant even opposed to the need to line up. That is not we culture. We line up when there are structures that mandate that our behavior conform to the shape of the maze. So we line up in banks. However outside the bank is where the melee used to be demonstrated. Back in the mid 1980s when banks reopened at 3.00 p.m. on a Friday for the evening shift, the crowd would have started getting into position perhaps one hour earlier. One Friday I stood with my cousin at the National Commercial Bank on the corner of High and Penitence Streets waiting on the reopening at the duly appointed hour. As the clock ticked away and H-hour drew closer, he advised me to stay close to him. He said, ‘Lancie, yuh ha to move fast when de doors open.’

As the security guard opened the doors what unfolded was unexpected as it was unprecedented. With his arms outstretched as if being called upon to enter the Holy Kingdom, my cousin surged forward galvanized by the force of the crowd behind him. His outstretched arms took whoever was within his wingspan as would occur in fish trawling, and he catapulted through the doors of the Promised Land….eh…bank.

Then he used his remarkable athletic prowess as a sprinter and vaulted the rope that formed the barricade for the queue three times before stopping on a dime at the head of the line.

Where was I?

I stood outside the bank in awe! My body was built more for the hoist of a shot put than for vaulting so in an effort not to hurt anyone, I waited for the Olympic Trials to end, but found myself closer the said door that was opened just a few seconds earlier standing behind about forty persons or so.

The mad scramble in the scene described above used to find application with passengers trying to board a bus, or get on the Coastal Steamer (the boat!) to go to Tobago, almost any roti shop or entry to Brass Festival on the PSA Grounds on Long Circular Road.

Maybe banks and the people at Airports Authority know our innate nature and have successfully poka yoked the systems forcing us to stay in lines to be served. Poka yoking is a Japanese quality concept that means designing an operation literally so that it cannot be performed incorrectly. That means when you want persons to line up then place structures that force them to adhere to the need to line up.

So why have people started calmly lining up in front of a doubles van where no such structures exist? Where did that discipline arise? Is the lure and desire for doubles so powerful so as to instill a new cultural practice such as forming a line? Are we growing as a people? In Hong Kong McDonalds found a culture quite similar to that which was the norm in Trinidad and Tobago – simple put it was chaos! In the mid-1970s the scene at any Hong Kong McDonalds’ cash register was crowded, wild, and coloured with dollar bills waving as orders came rushing in from everyone at the same time. McDonalds sought to change the culture by introducing queue monitors who ushered people in orderly lines to make their purchase. Over time it worked!

I never see anybody in a pink apron asking people to line up by that doubles van!

With no clear answers to this mystery a boots on the ground approach may be required by me as social scientist to bring clarity.

Meanwhile in neighboring Venezuela it is no mystery that people are lining up for subsidized food which, from all reports is scarce. But now there is a new profession: standing in line. There are persons who will stand in line for hours for others who would have contracted them and are willing to pay for it. In Trinidad this practice once occurred in front of the US Embassy on Marli Street in Port of Spain in the days when the line was horrendously long and waiting began in the wee hours of the morning.

It is only a matter of time before some grassroots entrepreneur with time as his major investment, sees what I am seeing and begins to stand in line at the white mazda doubles van, shuffling forward and then slipping back in the line repeatedly just missing the lady serving doubles in that pink apron. By offering his space at a price, he presents the unique value proposition of hot doubles, no waiting time and elimination of the need to adopt the new cultural norm of forming a line for doubles.

Let’s face it, lining up comes at a price.

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One thought on “Line Up

  1. Lancie if you don’t line up you will be ignored unless you eating on the spot. Being an amateur social scientist I’d walk right up to the front and boldly place an order to see the reaction when this phenomenon was new in the East a few years ago. If I wasn’t ignored by the man collecting money, the angry mob of buyers was enough to make him tell me get in de line… and of course then I’d just eat my doubles on the spot. hehehe

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