So I had to wait in line at the post office because the package I wanted to mail (two copies of a play) was too heavy, too airmail and too overseas for the do-it-yourself mail machine. Unfortunately, the post office at 9th & Market in San Francisco is notorious for extremely long lines and long waits. This time, I had to wait 47 minutes to mail my package because they only had two clerks working (out of four possible stations). It wasn’t too bad; I had my iPhone with me to surf the web, check audition listings, kick my butt at chess, et cetera.
I also had Hollywood.
Hollywood is one of San Francisco’s Official Characters, a street musician and performer who always wears a top hat and tails, plus large costume jewelry that manages to be both glitzy and tasteful. He stood behind me. I didn’t understand why he chose to wait in line; he had two thin 9×12 envelopes which each contained his head shot and resume–I didn’t need to sneak a peek inside, trust me on this, I’m an actor, I know these things. He could have used the do-it-yourself machine and been gone in 5 minutes.
So why didn’t he use the machine?
The manager of the station, to his credit, came out of his office to apologize to the customers for the long wait, explain the lack of staff (you guessed it, budget cuts), and assist in any way he could. He even advised Hollywood that he could use the machine, but Hollywood politely declined. It wasn’t until I was 2nd from the front that Hollywood (3rd from the front) revealed his reason for waiting in line.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Ten dollars gets you my place in line! No waiting! Only ten dollars gets you your lunch hour back! Look! The gentleman in front of me is now at the front of the line! You can have my second place in line for TEN DOLLARS!”
He had no takers, so he reduced his price to five dollars, and then found a customer, a man of about thirty whose scraggly beard was stylish back in 1998. Hollywood tried to get the guy to pay his original price of ten dollars, but his customer was a tough customer, and purchased The Sacred Second Place In Line for five bucks.
But the story doesn’t end there. After I forked over my $22.12 to mail the scripts to England, I walked past Hollywood as he stood quietly with a loud smile at the end of an extremely long line, waiting to mail his envelopes again. And that’s when it hit me. Hollywood was going to sell The Sacred Second Place In Line again. And again. And again…
Vonn Scott Bair
PS–When I first sent my friends this story, one of them wrote back to tell me about a friend of his who did the exact same thing but in a very different context. The context was Honolulu during World War II, which during those years experienced a severe shortage of bordellos to service the servicemen. This produced lines originating at the entrances to these houses of ill-repute and going around the block, and my friend’s friend made more money selling his place in line than he would have spent if he ever actually went inside.