In a city that’s often described as fast-paced, it’s ironic how frequently people seem to be standing still. The newest cocktail bar, a spot along the route of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Saturday Night Life tickets – waiting in line is as much part of the Big Apple as the Statue of Liberty. Starting a business fuelled by this makes a whole load of sense. Meet Robert Samuel, Professional Line Sitter and founder of Same Ole Line Dudes. You can hire him, or one of his 26 Dudes, to do ALL your waiting. Can it get any more ‘New York’?
It’s 6.33am on my birthday and I get a text from Robert saying he’s ‘first in line’. A true professional at work. About two and a half hours later I buzz him into my building. When I open the door, I see a tall, bearded man in a body warmer and a company-branded hat smiling at me. He’s holding up a shiny yellow bag that reads ‘Dominique Ansel Bakery’. I can’t believe I just spent $60 on a pastry. When I take the box out of its bag I worry that I’m going to drop it. With slightly shaky hands I then unfold the box, clumsily rip the top and nearly smash the pricey contents. This is what New York’s most in demand sweet treat does to me: it’s pastry pressure. As I gaze at my purchase I feel like some enchanting tune should be playing but instead it’s just me saying ‘so…, that’s a Cronut.’ ‘Yes. I owe all my success to this’, Robert states pointing at the croissant and doughnut hybrid on my kitchen top.
Few people can say they run a profitable business because of a delicacy with identity issues which makes me love Robert’s success story even more. The Cronut was invented in May 2013 by West Village pastry chef Dominique Ansel. His indecisive attitude towards baking paid off. New Yorkers – and tourists – set their alarms to Cock-A-Doodle o’clock trying to taste his creation. It is in such high demand that there’s a purchase limit of two. Every month there’s a new flavour, never repeating – turning each Cronut into some sort of edible collector’s item: a clever strategy to keep people coming back. Robert advises me ‘to counterbalance that sugar bomb’, so when my coffee is ready it’s finally time to take a bite of this month’s Pumpkin-Cranberry.
I open my mouth for a delightful crunchy start with the smoothest landing. Seasonal spices trigger my taste buds before they cringe from the enormous sugar attack. ‘Good suggestion’, I tell Robert whilst I grab my latte for a large sip. My opinion: Mr. Ansel’s creation is good but way too sweet and certainly not worth all the fuss. This is my problem with New York lines: quite often what you’re waiting for is just more hype. Which leads me to the start of Robert’s company: the iPhone 5s. ‘I put an ad out on Craigslist and offered to wait for someone’s phone. I made $325 that day.’ His business model was born. Then came the Cronut and with it the press. ‘I got so much exposure, that’s when it really kicked off.’ Even tourists know how to find the Professional Line Sitter thanks to international features. Four years after his ad placement, Robert now employs 26 Line Sitters and 4 managers. His team members average about $2000 a week in revenue. ‘In New York, people are so accustomed to service that any solution that works for them, they’re quick to jump on it. That’s how I can make money by sitting on my ass.’
Later that morning, after Robert has rushed off to wait again and once I’ve come down from my sugar high, I put his words to the test and ask members of a local Facebook group to share their stories. Out pour the comments of service addiction and here’s just a small sample: ‘a girlfriend recently dropped a bottle of wine, which shattered and sliced her foot. She called TaskRabbit to clean up the wine and blood’; ‘I use a stroller “car wash” service’; ‘We hired someone to sit in our apartment and buzz our guests in when we had a party on our roof’. I’ve obviously gone fully native with my ‘I hired someone to get me a pastry’. My thread is the hit of the day. Followers start tagging friends because of the hilarity. Commenters admit a lot of what they hire people for is laughable, but, as they say: ’If you can spare the money, why not?’ Maybe my Dutch self has become more New York than I thought, but I agree with them. Even though I’d call the Cronut an overhyped sugar slam, I’d rather spend another $60 hiring Robert than to head to 189 Spring Street myself and pay $12. Because I dodged an enormous early morning line and it felt amazing waiting for my treat all snug and warm in bed.
A few days later my sister-in-law texts me an article from the Dutch Financial Times titled Outsource for more happiness. International research from Maastricht University shows that ‘buying time’ (or paying for a service) makes you happier than a new pair of jeans. It also says the Dutch are shit at it: only millionaires in the Netherlands spend as much on outsourcing jobs to a service as the average American. Laugh all you want about my Cronut craziness Dutchies, but the joke is on you: I, and my fellow New Yorkers, have found the key to happiness.