Paradoxically enough, I have found that if so many people simultaneously decide to do something that they are forced to stand or drive in a queue to do it, there’s a good chance it is something that is not worth doing.
How can I dismiss the desires of the millions of line-waiting humans as just wasteful folly? It is because in our natural state, we are supposed to be a diverse and individualistic species. At any given moment, you might choose to be walking in the woods while I’m at home cooking some dinner. Later, we might get together with some of our other friends for a party on my back patio, but we would not expect everyone else in town to suddenly mob into the yard as we did that. If we turned around and saw a lineup of people stretching around the block, we’d know something fishy was afoot.
So the sort of mass behavior that causes lineups tends to occur only in special situations:
- When there is some central authority planning or advertising it
- When herd mentality has taken over, turning People into Sheeple
Marketing causes crowds of people to want each new Apple phone on its release day, so those suckers end up in the silly all-night lineups you hear about every year. Black Friday sales are a similar phenomenon. The 9-5 workday, (combined with poor choices of home and work locations) causes hordes of people to want to drive cars just before nine and just after five every weekday. And thus, these people end up in lines as well.
Herd mentality also makes certain people love certain bands and sports teams, for no better reason than the fact that they are already popular with other people. And thus they line up to get tickets and parking spaces at the crowded stadiums.
Knowing all this, it should not surprise you to learn that as a general policy, Mr. Money Mustache Does Not Do Lineups.
If I’m planning a car trip through a big city, I’ll plan around the rush hour traffic jams, no matter what. Back where I grew up, some of the biggest traffic jams on Earth would form on a daily basis across the megacity of Toronto. To traverse that expanse, you need to plow through over 60 miles of the sixteen-lane-wide highway 401, a road so busy that the daily traffic jam lasts about 18 hours. The only sane conditions are found between 10:00PM and 4:00AM – and so that is when I make my stealthy crossing.
In Colorado, the ski resorts have become so popular that a spectacular lineup forms around each lift chair. A 500-person mob of people waiting and shuffling instead of skiing and snowboarding, is your reward for trying to visit one of these places on the weekend. On top of that, the traffic jam that forms on Interstate 70 on weekend afternoons can turn a one-hour descent back down from the mountains into a six-hour ordeal. But if you stop by on a Tuesday, both conditions are cured.
As a lifelong music-lover, I love to go out and see live music as well. But this doesn’t mean staying up all night to buy tickets for a sold-out arena to hear the world’s biggest pop stars repeat their radio hits. The best music experience for me is seeing insanely talented young musicians play the music they just invented, in a small venue, where you can shake their hands, say thanks, and buy a T-shirt and an old-school CD from them directly after the show.
And during my recent stay in downtown Las Vegas, I found people queuing up for everything, with no apparent benefit to themselves. There are lines to get drinks at the bars. Lines to check into the hotels. Lines of cars everywhere. Lines waiting for the elevators that extend almost to the doorway to the empty staircases.
It’s all a bunch of nonsense. As explained in last summer’s post about reaching the top 5%, most people spend most of their time doing what everyone else does, without giving it much thought. And thus, it is usually very profitable to avoid doing what everyone else is doing.
On the trip, we did a little experiment: Mrs. MM and I wanted to get away for a few minutes. So we decided to go down to the hotel lobby and get some fancy coffees at the Starbucks, which we would sit peacefully together to enjoy. Already I can see your eyebrows raising, but try to stay calm and remember this is just an experiment.
When we got to the coffee stand, I was dismayed to see that everyone else had had the same idea. There was a line of at least 10 people snaking out from the cash register, including two formidably proportioned gentlemen sitting on electric scooters and towing life support equipment. My first instinct was to chuckle out a few new curses towards the overcrowded venue and keep walking. But we persisted.
After sufficient waiting, we finally earned the privilege of forking over $8.11 for two grande lattes. This is roughly the same amount I normally pay for two pounds of organic fair-trade espresso beans at Costco, which makes over 100 cups of fancy coffee at the MMM Homebrew Cafe, but again, we wanted to see what everyone else likes to do. The cafe tables were all full and people were awkwardly leaning on the noisy slot machines or enduring the Beyonce-blaring lobby nearby in order to drink their coffee.
At last, we decided to end the experiment, satisfied that the behavior of the masses was not for us. We found a quiet-looking staircase and walked up three flights to an abandoned conference center area. There was nothing to buy up here, and no automatic conveyances to carry your body here, and thus it was completely empty. We sat down on a comfortable little couch and drank our incredibly pricey coffees with no sounds beyond those of our own conversing voices. It was blissful.
Other parts of the vacation reinforced this pattern: In Moab, Utah, we usually stay in one of the little campgrounds in the canyon along the Colorado river. This year, I was surprised to find them all full, and we had to give up our first two nights of camping and stay at a hotel instead.
The hotel manager informed me that we picked one of the peak times to be in Moab – an event called “Jeep Week”. In this tragic comedy of an event, people from all over the country tow their ridiculous motorized La-Z-Boys with knobby tires from the comfort of their enormous 20,000 pound motorized RV homes. Once in Moab, they detach the smaller recliners and sit in them, pressing pedals and burning gas to bump around on the red rocks for a while. All apparently oblivious to the Muscle over Motor principle, which explains that greater fun could be had by simply riding a 25-pound mountain bike on the same trail.
To get back to the point, by unwittingly arriving at this peak time, the MMM family ruined its own fun and missed out on two nights of camping, because the campgrounds were full.
Although we tried our best to obey the Off-Peak principle, we also made another major stumble: touring the Hoover Dam. To understand the error, check out this quote directly from the visitor’s brochure:
“Although several modern dams are higher, wider, and produce more electricity, the Hoover Dam remains the most popular for visitors, hosting millions of visitors every year”.
Translation: “We have no idea why so many people are lining up to tour this old thing, but shit, we’ll keep taking the money if you keep giving it to us”.
The pamphlet went on to explain that the popularity is continually reinforced by major movies that feature action at the Hoover Dam as part of their plots (Superman 1 being my favorite).
Sure enough, we took the tour, and it was over an hour of lineups and crowding just to see a turbine room briefly and hear a guide squawk out a few memorized facts. There was even a lineup to get into the parking garage.
Meanwhile, a much better experience can be had with no waiting: park in one of the free pullouts on the Arizona side of the dam. Hike down the hill and walk over the entire length of the dam to explore the stunning scene with your own eyes. Then hike back up and climb another 200 feet, to the astounding new Colorado River Bridge (built between 2005 and 2010), where you are so high that the dam looks like a little toy in the canyon far below you.
You can use this general principle to end up with a better life in all areas. If you find any part of your life subject to overcrowding, consider whether there is another way it can be handled. Crowded roads are eliminated by biking, replanning, or even moving. Crowds at Disneyland and National Parks are avoided by visiting areas where there is no RV parking or gift shops. Crowding at venues is eliminated by being a producer of entertainment, food, sports, or music, rather than just a consumer of it. Lineups at shopping malls are easily avoided by not going to shopping malls.
The off-peak life works perfectly for working people, since it frees up some of your limited time and money. And it takes on a new dimension once you gain the flexibility to escape the 9-5 work schedule. Suddenly you can do everything when everyone else is at work, from renting vacation homes down to visiting the grocery store. This saves you even more, and frees your mind from some of the overhead of dealing with constant crowding.
So from now on, if you ever find yourself amid a crowd of running sheep, just turn around and run the other way.
It can take a bit of dodging at first, but it’s worth it for the much better view.