Lessons Learned in Long Lines

Street Roberts ’23 takes us through the line at the Courtyard Café, learning some lessons along the way.

by Street Roberts | 9/29/21 2:25am

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by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

“Alright, you guys are dismissed. See you on Friday.” 

Our physics class rises as a collective unit. I let out a loud sigh, and my two friends next to me grin at my obvious fatigue. The three of us file out of the class, down the creaky, wooden steps of Wilder Hall and out the front door. 

“Let’s get some food,” one of them says. 

“Do you guys want to do the Hop?” I ask, “I’ve heard it’s really good.” 

They nod their heads in agreement, and the three of us begin the walk across campus, joining the hundreds of other students speed walking to their next class or club meeting or study session. When we arrive outside of the glass doors beneath the arched, modern architecture of the Hopkins Center, my stomach begins to growl: Skipping breakfast was a mistake. 

One of my friends holds her wallet up to the ID scanner, and the door clicks to unlock. We enter, and watch several students speed down the hall and bank left and out of sight. They must be picking up mail, I think to myself. 

We round the corner and see a short line of students stretching from the hall to the front of Hinman center — except the students we saw speeding ahead have not stopped. No, they pass right through it, and the cause of their hurriedness becomes clear — in front of them sits the line for the Courtyard Cafe. It starts from inside the grill and stretches all the way to the glass doors connecting the two sections of the Hop. There must be at least 50 students waiting. We hesitatingly step in line, just behind a girl with a pained look on her masked face. 

Just then, I see a friend walking out with a paper plate. On it sits a mountain of crispy-looking sweet potato fries and a grilled chicken sandwich, complete with lettuce, tomatoes and what looks like guacamole. As he comes closer, the smell of fried goodness drifts through my mask into my nostrils. My stomach growls again. 

“Took me 30 minutes to get this,” he says to us with a shake of his head. “I gotta run, but good luck.” 

He walks back down the hallway and leaves us standing there, mildly shocked. We begin contemplating our options. 

“Should we leave?” I say. 

“I mean, I’m done with classes for the day, I got time,” one of my friends says. The other nods in affirmation. 

“Yeah, let’s do it,” I say.  

We begin the wait. We curse the physics problem set that’s due in two days. We poke fun at all of our Professor’s little idiosyncrasies. We stare at the hanging menu through the glass windows, and I imagine the crunch of fries and the juicy goodness of burgers and chicken that sizzle on the grill. I feel a strange sense of optimism. After dealing with numbers and integrals and coordinate systems all morning, nothing sounds better than a delicious meal, something that I could actually hold in my hands and feel its texture and warmth. My stomach growls again. But no matter, soon I will be satisfied. 

Then, I pull out my phone and check the time. 12:57. How have only ten minutes gone by? I look back to where we entered the line – we have only moved forward five feet. The optimism begins to fade away. 

“Why can’t they figure out how to make these lines move quickly?” I say. 

By “they,” I was referring to Dartmouth Dining Services, the dining system that we love to hate. It’s easy to point out all of its flaws. I mean, we work so hard in school. We fill our schedules to the brim with classes and work and sports and concerts and clubs and everything in between. We deserve to be able to have a quick, decent meal within all of that chaos, to refuel before we rededicate ourselves to the grind. Meals are the few quiet moments within the day where we can relax, and being forced to wait in these long lines only adds stress and frustration. 

“I know, everywhere is crazy right now,” one of my friends says, “It’s so annoying.” 

We continue to wait and wait and wait. Every minute that passes feels like an eternity.  All the while, I stand there blaming the incompetence of DDS and pointing out its flaws. If only I was in charge, then things would run so much more smoothly. 

Finally, after close to thirty minutes, I reach the front of the line. Only one more person stands in front of me, taking an annoyingly long time deciding between the lunch entree or a chicken sandwich. “Just hurry up and make a decision,” I thought as I rolled my eyes at my friends. 

And then, it’s my turn. I ready myself to face this representative of DDS — this person that must be the cause of the last thirty minutes of frustrated hunger. I step up to the counter, feeling the rage simmer beneath my skin. A man, face red with exhaustion, greets me. Except under that mask is a beaming smile. 

“How’s it going? What can I get for you young man?” 

I halt. This isn’t what I expected. Where is the rude, incompetent worker who bears responsibility? Behind him, two other DDS workers scramble around trying to satisfy the demands of the students hungrily waiting for their orders. It’s chaotic, and yet they carefully check each order to make sure every student receives what they want. And in front of me, this man waits for me to order with patience and tranquility. How is that possible? How does he not snap his fingers to hurry me along? Or collapse on the ground from fatigue? He exudes positivity and care for my well-being, and I have just spent close to half an hour hating on the system he works for. Embarrassment and shame courses through me. 

I place my order, and a few minutes later, he hands me my own plate of fries and a guacamole chicken sandwich. 

“I put some extra fries on there for you, bud,” he says with a wink, “Have a great day.” 

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