It’s a cool autumn day in K-ville. The cloudless sky is a rich Duke blue and a slight breeze tosses a few browning leaves down the sidewalk. A large crowd of students has gathered here today for an important announcement from their tenting overlords. Framed against the noonday sun stand two co-head line monitors. (Why are there two? No one knows for sure, but maybe it’s because their mascot is redundancy).
“We have an announcement,” they announce, speaking in a deep baritone. Murmurs among the assembled students. What could this be? Another line? A surprise tent check? “The walk-up line is dead,” they shout. “And you all killed him!” Gasp! Everyone quickly looks around for a drunken frat boy to blame, but they’re all off playing spikeball somewhere.
“In its place, we have a new idea.” The co-head line monitors begin to laugh, quietly at first, but quickly building to a manic crescendo. “More tents!” they scream. “You get a tent, you get a tent, YOU GET A TENT!” The Oprah reference is well-received. Everyone is cheering. Tears of joy glisten on every cheek. So. Many. Tents.
You look down. The once-pristine grass of K-ville is gone, replaced by the black mud of spring rains and trampling feet. Thrusting up through the muck are bony, grasping hands. They claw at your boots, trying to drag you down. These are the ghosts of tenters past, unfortunate souls who died while waiting in line for a Duke basketball game. They’re grabbing you, dragging you down into the ground where you’ll join them in the soil. You missed a tent check, they whisper. Now you belong to us. A cold hand wraps around your throat and dirt fills your mouth as you scream.
You wake up in a cold sweat. You’re in a tent. Somewhere in the distance, the mournful air-raid siren of a tent check wails. You breathe a relieved sigh. It was just a dream. Right?
If you’ve ever wanted anything at Duke, chances are good that you’ve waited in an obnoxiously long line for it. Why? Some people are addicted to lines of cocaine, but we’re just addicted to … lines. The regular ones. Big lines, thin lines, long lines, short lines. To each their own, right? But every question demands an answer, so I set out to discover the truth: why do Duke students wait in lines? What hidden desire moves them to wake up at ungodly times in the early morning just so they can go stand around and wait for someone to give them something that they’ll probably just turn around and sell to someone else? There’s only one place I could go. So Thursday morning I rolled out of bed and set out. My destination? Countdown to Craziness.
The first rule of a Duke line is this: no matter how early you get there, people will always be there first. When I arrived in K-ville at 3 a.m., a sizable line had already formed. A gaggle of first-years lay sprawled on the sidewalk, nothing but a Hello Kitty blanket between them and the wet pavement. I asked a young woman how she and her friends got to K-ville so early.
“We slept in Perkins,” she murmured. “Everyone else wanted to go back to Trinity, but I made them stay. I figured, it’s gotta be worth it if everyone’s waiting, right?” I asked her why she thought it was important to attend Countdown to Craziness.
Her brow furrowed. “So,” she began hesitantly. “We have a very good basketball team.” I nodded. “And we need to go support them when they play.” I motioned her on. “And even though I need sleep, it doesn’t matter.” Yes, almost there! “Because in the end, we’re all just slaves to the system.” I was practically jumping with excitement. “This isn’t a school. This is a basketball program in university clothing.” Bingo! She rolled over and returned to sleep.
By then, more people had showed up. It was only 4:30, but now the line wound down the entire length of Wilson Gym and curled back into the trees. My next interview subjects were farther back in the line. They wore neon colored tank tops and athletic shorts. Aha, the Greek contingent arrives at last. One of them lay sprawled in the grass listening to music, while the other Juuled quietly in a lawn chair. I asked Chad (for that must’ve been his name) what he thought of this year’s line monitors, who were circling the line like vultures in blue jackets.
“Look man,” he said, exhaling a huge cloud of mango-flavored smoke. “These line monitors, they think they like, own the place or some sh*t. They keep coming up to me all, ‘Dude, stop Juuling in the line, you’re bothering everyone,’ and I’m like why don’t you mind your own f***ing business!” Yikes, Chad.
Just then, a Line Monitor approached us and pointed at the empty Chick-fil-A bags at Chad’s feet. “What are you, some kind of environmentalist?” Chad asked. “Maybe they should call you guys litter monitors!” He burst out laughing, and the line monitor just shook his head and walked off. Chad just took another long drag on his Juul.
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I caught up with the Line Monitor as he surveyed the tail section of the line. I asked him why, of all the times to choose for releasing Countdown tickets, Thursday morning at 6 a.m. was the best option. “It’s probably not,” he said with a shrug. “But it’s basically our job to be as inconvenient as possible, so we’re honestly just doing our best here.” He looked out over the line, a hint of wistful nostalgia in his eyes. “All these lines and checks and tickets,” he said with a sigh. “I feel like we’ve forgotten about the basketball. No one’s hyped up—they’re just exhausted.” He sat down in the grass. “I’m exhausted.”
Well ain’t that just the way.
Monday Monday wonders why, if we need an effective tool to stop people from cutting in line and maintain order in K-ville, we don’t just use something like, I dunno, metal barricades. Or maybe some traffic cones? At least traffic cones wouldn’t be so condescending.