It’s Wednesday evening and I’m at the Meadowlands State Fair next to Giants Stadium. Its “cheap night” and the thirty-dollar unlimited ride pass had been slashed to eighteen bucks. As a result the place is mobbed. But I don’t mind.
When I came here last year I was astounded to see how well behaved everyone was. Despite the size and socio-economic diversity of the crowd, not a single person started trouble, at least while I was there. There was no cutting in line, no fights and little if any cursing. People were just there to spend time with their kids, ride the rides and stuff themselves with fat soaked cardiac numbing greasy treats. The fair made me proud to be a New Jerseyite. And this year, as my girlfriend and I weave through the crowds, the same civil behavior seems to be holding fast.
“Isn’t this great?” I say to my girlfriend. “Everyone is nice. No pushing. No shoving.”
“Just compare and contrast this to events in New York,” she says. “I’ve seen people duke it out over a picnic spot at a Central Park concert.”
“Remember when Pacino did Merchant of Venice?” I say. “Some people were so arrogant that they paid people to wait for them to get them free tickets. Entitlement gone haywire.”
“And the pushing and shoving to get into a restaurant or a club.”
“Or jockeying for seats at Whole Foods. Guy yelled at me once there.”
“Manhattan has that kind of energy,” my girlfriend says. “Makes it the greatest city in the world, but also a tough place to live.”
Then I wave my hands. “No mas. I don’t want to talk about people behaving badly. I’m having a nice zen moment here. Let’s just enjoy the fair.”
After eating some zeppole, my girlfriend and I head over to the Space Coaster. It’s my favorite ride in the place. Designed to hit you with negative gees from every direction, it’s a stomach churner. Maybe I should have passed on the zeppole.
Since the Space Coaster is so awesome, the line to get on it is long. That’s okay. That will give my stomach a chance to settle. But then, as we wait on line, someone just has to go and fuck up my zen.
A girl in her late teens slips into the queue and joins her boyfriend near the entrance to the ride. I know what’s happening. The boy was holding a place for her so she could ride another ride and hop on this one without waiting. But the ride operator immediately sees this and tells her she has to wait on line like everybody else.
“But my boyfriend is here,” she whines.
“Don’t care,” the carny says. “Get on the back of the line.”
Then the boyfriend starts getting into it with the carny. He doesn’t yell, but he acts indignant and gesticulates wildly. As he does so I notice his girlfriend watching him with a spoiled brat pout.
“Rules the rules, man,” the carny says.
“That’s not fair,” the boyfriend, says, his voice rising.
“Hey man,” says a bystander. “Be cool bro.”
“Not worth it brother.”
Then a loud voice booms, “What the hell is going on here?” Turning to the source of the noise, I see a fat man in a white polo shirt standing near the edge of the line. I don’t know who he is, but I know what he is. Years of waiting tables taught me to recognize arrogant, entitled assholes instantly.
“Why won’t you let them on the ride?” the man yells
“The guy can go on the ride,” the carny says. “Girl’s got to go to the back.”
“What the fuck?” the man says loudly. “Her boyfriend was holding her place in line.”
“Don’t work that way, mister.”
“What the hell is your problem?” the man yells back. Now the carny is pissed.
“This is my ride!” he says. “I’m in charge here! Girl has to go to the back of the line. No exceptions.”
“What the fuck do you mean ‘I’m in charge?’” The man says. “What the hell are you in charge of?”
My blood boils. Judging from the watch on his hand, I figure fat guy is wealthy. He probably isn’t used to hearing no, especially from a guy he obviously thinks is his social inferior. As my breathing quickens, posttraumatic flashbacks from my restaurant days spark though my brain. But, to my satisfaction, the girl and her paramour walk out of the line.
“Asshole!” the man yells. “Look what you did.”
“Watch you mouth,” someone in the crowd says.
“Yeah, there are children here!” another voice calls out.
“This guy’s in charge of what?” the man says with an arrogant smirk on his face. “Give me a break.” It’s time for me to do something.
I look at the man and when our eyes meet I blast him with my thousand-yard stare, causing the man to flinch and look away. But when he looks back I’m still staring at him, channeling an image of what he’d look like in the zeppole fryer into his soul. The man’s face turns red and he walks away. Maybe he’s ashamed. I hope so.
“Must be from Manhattan,” my girlfriend says.
“Could be,” I say. “But when I was at the Bistro I dealt with people like him three times a day.” My girlfriend shudders.
Before you accuse me of class warfare, I have always maintained that money does not make people jerks. Poor people are jerks too. Being an asshole is equal opportunity. But in commercial settings wealthy jerks always feel entitled to what they want, when they want it. And they’ll step on people to get it. Think of the people paying others to wait for them on line. That’s the difference. Fat Guy will put his daughter into therapy if he doesn’t change his ways.
Luckily for me, the Space Coaster expunges my angry feelings and replaces them with little boy glee. I’ve always loved rides. The scarier the better. Besides, it’s fun to listen to your girlfriend scream like a banshee. And for the rest of the night, peace reigns at the fair.
At closing time, stuffed full and happy, my girlfriend and I head for the exit. But we have to take a leak and walk over to the restroom. There are two bathroom attendants outside the entrances with a tip jar in front of them.
“You have a dollar?” I ask my girlfriend.
I fish a bill out of my pocket. “You’ll need this.”
“Oh yes, mighty guru.”
I go inside and, just as I let my urine start to flow, the guy next to me says, “I can’t believe these people want a tip. What? I have to pay to pee? This place has taken enough money out of me.”
“A huge part of their income is tips,” I say. “Sometimes all of it.”
After I do the shake and wash my hands I head out the door. To my delight the guy I spoke to drops a dollar into the attendant’s basket. I drop in a dollar too.
“Thank you, sir,” the attendant says. “You have a nice evening.”
“You too, sir.”
As I walk to my car I have a big smile on my face. Another convert. And, despite jerks like that fat guy, the folks in New Jersey are still basically good. Maybe people can learn a lesson from us.