New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, leaving office as the most hated state executive in the country, had only warm words for the constituents who despised him. Barely a day afterward, he was back in pitbull mode, all but accusing the media of a “fake news” campaign against him. Apparently he was mad about reports that he had tried (and failed) to skip the TSA line at Newark’s airport by way of a “special access” route.
Between this two-part denial and indications that Christie “did not object or make a scene” when sent to the back of the line for civilian travelers, it felt like he was doing his very best to undercut the impression that he’s a line-cutter — far outpacing his efforts to convince anyone that he’s not a beach-closing, bridge-fucking asshole who enjoys being humiliated by Daddy Trump. (In fact, there’s speculation that the Port Authority denied him the usual airport privileges as an act of revenge for Bridgegate.) Why, now that we know a million loathsome things about him, would he care about this story? I’m guessing it’s since this is the one way he could possibly sink lower in the public’s eye.
I’m from New Jersey myself, and I can confirm that we’d think higher of an ex-governor who got caught molesting Atlantic City seagulls than one who was busted cutting in line. My position has softened a bit since I moved to the terminally chill wonderland known as California, though I still get a twinge of East-Coast queuing apoplexy when I witness such a transgression — either way, I never manage to do anything about it. I behave as though at any moment, a uniformed person will notice and upbraid the cutter. To date, I recall just one instance of this: When my brother and I were waiting to board a roller coaster at Six Flags, two people lunged to steal our place so they could ride with their friends; the operators saw this and kicked them out. Reader, our joy was immeasurable.
In a way, that moment was more gratifying than the trip when a few high school classmates and I got to skip lines at Disney World because my friend was on crutches with a broken toe. We did this knowing it was basically abusing a system intended for the disabled, and the cutter’s guilt has never left me. I knew that my true place was in the snaking, interminable procession of sunburned parents and screaming children who made up hour-long waits for the lamest attractions. The thrill of shirking that drudgery was overmatched by the conviction that there is no legitimate excuse for doing so.
Excuses do tend to work for the cutter, no matter how poorly crafted, yet in the context of theme parks, you rarely get that much courtesy. For some reason, people who want to get on a water slide first have no compunction about squeezing past you to get to the front without explanation, and nobody bothers to stop it. (Supposedly the first person cut bears the responsibility of calling it out, otherwise the cutter gains unstoppable momentum.) At least in airport security, people stampede over you with heavy luggage yelling about how their flight is boarding; I’m tempted to reply that their tardiness is not my problem, but I let them go because what if I find myself in the same rushed predicament one day? Then it occurs to me that, in 20 years of flying, I NEVER HAVE.
It’s incredibly telling, too, that right-wing weenies condemn the undocumented immigrants now routinely torn from their families by ICE as line-cutters: Since the people arrested are by no legitimate definition “criminal,” and a portion of the racist fringe can’t or won’t admit that darker skin is their sole criterion for deportation, it’s the worst label they can come up with. It also happens to reinforce a metaphor for the white privilege they claim to not enjoy — being born at the head of the line. What kind of monster, enjoying first service through no patience, manners, or decency of their own, would have the gall to slam someone a thousand yards back for muscling up a few spots? These same people worship Trump, a guy who’d shit his pants in anger if made to stand around five seconds to order a breakfast sundae at Cold Stone Creamery.
The criticism fails because Americans are all line-cutters at heart. We want our turn now, immediately following the countless turns we’ve already had. We pretend to look down on cutters but tolerate it the same way we allow petty billionaires to despoil the country for profit — with the expectation that one day we will have that pleasure. If you’re still in doubt, picture an event where attendees have to queue without guide rails or velvet ropes. Where, say, the Brits have no trouble with orderly entrance to a sold-out show, Brooklynites will try to rush the venue without tickets. Let’s admit it: line etiquette may as well be a foreign language to us. It’s a free-for-all out there. And if even a single disgraced politician can be forced to follow the flimsy “rules,” that’s incredible progress.