(New York Jewish Week) — There are few things in the world that famously impatient New Yorkers will line up for: theater tickets, hot nightclubs and really good food — even more so if it is free.
So it was on Thursday morning, when several hundred people stood on line near Bryant Park in Midtown to celebrate National Bagels and Lox Day, which falls every year on Feb. 9. There, Whitestone, Queens’ Utopia Bagels and Greenpoint’s Acme Smoked Fish teamed up to hand out free bagels-and-lox sandwiches from a pop-up food truck.
The weather Thursday morning was gray but mild, and people had started to queue on the corner of 42nd Street and 5th Avenue at 8:00 a.m., one hour before the bagel bonanza was set to begin. By 8:30, the line stretched to two dozen people — arms crossed and earbuds in, scrolling on their phones or craning their necks to see when the windows would open.
The line quickly took on a life of its own. Every five minutes, it seemed to double, then double again. By 9:25, it was snaking around the block, folding over itself two or three times. The NYPD was called in to help reroute the crowd. People began running to save their spots.
Those who got on line — and yes, according to Paul Brian’s “Common Errors in English Usage,” Americans typically wait in line, while New Yorkers and Bostonians wait on line — early were able to smugly enjoy their bagels and lox on their way to work. Anyone who got there after the food truck close to when it opened officially at 9:00 a.m. risked having to call in late — maybe very late.
“Are you in line for a bagel? Seriously, is it that good?” a passerby shouted at the line.
“Well, it’s free!” came a response just as quickly.
The onlooker simply shrugged and kept walking. “Have a good day, I guess,” she called out behind her shoulder.
Donovan, a 51-year-old from Brooklyn, joined the throng after his nearby workout class. “I really don’t want to wait, but it’s free — and free is better than cheap,” he told the New York Jewish Week, adding that he had a Zoom meeting at 11 a.m. and he was worried he wouldn’t make it.
The time was 9:21, and Donovan was near the middle of the line, with some 50-plus people behind him. “Time is money, too, but I wanted to get myself a treat,” he said, adding that he was eager to try Utopia Bagels — considered by many to be among the best, if not the best — bagel in the city. Even with the long wait, this was quite possibly quicker than schlepping to Queens from his Manhattan home.
Near the front of the queue were Eric and Angelica, who live in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, respectively. They’d been on line for 15 minutes and in that time it had grown considerably behind them.
“We’re questioning if it’s worth it, but now the line is so long we feel like we have to stay,” Angelica said, illustrating what an economist might call the “sunk cost fallacy.” She’d grown up near Utopia Bagels, she said, and loves to get their bagels when she visits her parents. The opportunity to get one on the way to work is rare, she added, so she was willing to wait.
The reward at the end was a freshly made “Super Nova” sandwich, which included Acme nova salmon, cucumbers, tomato, onion, capers and cream cheese on a plain bagel. On a regular day, the sandwich runs $14.25, plus a trip out to Whitestone.
Of course, even if New Yorkers are willing to wait a while for something tasty and free, many will still have an attitude about it — efficiency being the biggest gripe. Toward the very end of the line at about 9:30 was a woman who heard about the giveaway from a colleague and really wanted to nab a bagel. “I’m about to give up,” she said. “I don’t understand why they need to make every bagel [sandwich] fresh. They should have prepared some in advance!”
By 11:40 a.m. — 400 bagels and 30 pounds of nova later — supplies had run out. But those with time to spare tomorrow morning can grab a freebie at Acme’s “Fish Fridays” at their headquarters at 30 Gem Street in Greenpoint. There, each week, New Yorkers in-the-know line up to get Acme’s iconic smoked fish at wholesale prices. In addition to giving away the Super Nova sandwich, they are offering whitefish salad sandwiches and, in honor of the Super Bowl, specialty Buffalo-glazed hot smoked-salmon sandwiches.
“Just looking at all these people, I feel so much pride in what my great-grandfather and grandfather started, and what my father and brothers and I have continued,” said Emily Caslow, a fourth-generation co-owner of Acme Smoked Fish.
Caslow wasn’t surprised at the length of the line. “New Yorkers are not known for their patience, but they will wait when something is worth it,” she said. “And they always show up for us.”
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