When a hot new item drops, like the new iPhone or popular concert tickets, the most stressful part of the process is often waiting in line in hopes of scoring that impossible to get ticket or item.
But did you know there are professionals who can wait in line for you?
They're known as "professional line sitters," and Robert Samuel built his own company based off the practice.
Samuel is the founder and owner of Same Ole Line Dudes, a professional line sitting company based in New York City. He started his businesses almost 10 years ago, on accident.
“In 2012 after I lost my job as a mobile salesman for being late. I spent most of the year being depressed and decided to post an ad on Craigslist when the new iPhone came out. I decided to wait in line to be on the flipside of the iPhone experience. The guy who hired me ended up getting his order online, and he still paid me $100 just for waiting a couple of hours, and he encouraged me to sell my spot,” Samuel said.
“I ended up making $325 that one night just selling my spot. I decided that maybe this could be something long term and beneficial, and here we are nine and a half years later, and we're still going strong.”
With years of experience, Samuel says his crew of line sitters are pros when it comes to waiting.
“We get to have a rhythm, and we know how many hours it takes for certain lines.” For a popular event on Broadway for instance, like the current run of the Music Man starring Hugh Jackman, Samuel says he’ll start waiting in line at 5 a.m. and wait until rush tickets go on sale at 10 a.m.
“During the final days of the original cast of Hamilton, that was our lengthiest wait,” he said. “We were waiting upwards of four days. So it was a lot of sleeping bags, a lot of phone chargers, a lot of Uber Eats, ‘where's the restrooms?’ and that kind of thing.”
“Some of the other lines that we've waited for in New York City include Shakespeare in the Park, a lot of sample sales, autographs, bars, concerts. We've done the Macy's Day Parade, restaurants. We've actually even waited for a free picnic table to let somebody watch the fireworks.”
Samuel says word of mouth has been a major boost for his business, with repeat customers referring his services to friends or family members. In order to stand out, he also has a quasi-company uniform: recognizable black and yellow branded hats and signs with the Same Ole Line Dudes logo. Chances are, if you’ve stood in a popular New York City line over the years, you’ve noticed the #LineDudes hats and selfie-style photos Samuel takes after every line sitting job he completes.
“When people see us in line, the majority of the response is mostly positive; 'Oh, my God, why didn't I think about that? I didn't know you even existed. Oh, I'm going to call you next time.’ You do get some people that they feel there's a little bit of unfairness to it, but if I'm physically in front of you, and I'm not skipping you — I literally got here before you did — then what's the issue?” he said.
“One of the major misconceptions that people have about line sitters is that especially when we wait in line for tickets, that we're scalpers. But the main difference is that we're not selling tickets. We are actually purchasing tickets on behalf of a customer that has booked us in advance and paid in advance,” he said. “So you'll never see us on a corner, you know, trying to scout tickets, trying to sell them or unload them. We only show up to a place when we have a specific order and a request.”
For customers who do seek his services, he’s also upfront about the nonrefundable costs.
“With regards to our pricing, it’s twenty-five dollars an hour. We charge extra for rush, and we charge extra for inclement weather — and tips are appreciated.”
Over the years, Samuel says he’s noticed other line sitting services pop up but isn’t fazed or worried. Because Same Ole Line Dudes has nearly a decade run of experience, he says because they’ve been doing this so long and experience, we “rarely [don’t] get what we're waiting for.”
In terms of their most difficult line sitting job? It’s not actually a line for a major concert or big Broadway production.
“The toughest line we have encountered is Hudson River Park. They have free tennis courts,” he said. “We're just waiting for our party, and I think the anger is more directed at maybe the customers, like, 'How dare they hire someone to do their wait?' But because the customer is not there — we're there for two, sometimes three hours for courts — then they take it out on us.”
Over the last few years, like most small businesses, Samuel said the line sitting industry also took a big hit during the pandemic. Before COVID in 2020, he says they were working jobs nearly 95 percent of the month but that number dropped drastically over the last two years. Now, he says they’re back to steady bookings nearly five days a week, but the type of jobs they field requests for has changed.
“Originally when we started, it was more entertainment-related things, but as the world evolved and viruses came into play, we were doing things [that were] more meaningful: COVID vaccines, COVID testing. I once was a medical escort for someone; not something that we expected to do, but it was during COVID, and this one particular customer had nobody to pick her up from a medical appointment. People find inventive and creative ways to use us,” he said.
“The most memorable job that we as line sitters have done, I would have to say [was when] we were hired by two artists in Paris to go and represent a euthanasia patient who was waiting to die. So their theme of their works are the passage of time,” he said.
“I wasn't waiting in line. I was waiting just sitting in a chair. I was in a 14th or 15th century church during an art festival, and I was there to represent them through their final days. So it was really emotional, and I didn't think it would affect me because I didn't know them, but [it was] very powerful. Will never forget it. Never thought line sitting would take us halfway around the world.”
After starting his company on a whim nearly ten years ago, Samuel says he loves his work as a professional line sitter and that it’s taught him the importance of “punctuality.”
There have also been some pretty nice perks along the way.
“Because we do this so much, we become fans of what we're waiting for. So I've seen a heck of a lot of shows. I've seen Music Man twice, and actually it was a customer who tipped me with a free ticket,” he said.
As someone who’s made a career out of waiting in lines, though, Samuel also feels the same way about it as his customers do — especially when he’s off the clock.
“Oddly enough, I don't like waiting in line when I have to wait for myself and I don’t get paid because I'm so used to, after all this time, getting paid for waiting. When I have to go to the post office, when I have to go, you know, get tested for COVID or whatever and there's a line, I'm like, 'Oh God,'” he said. “ I almost think I want to hire one of my guys or one of my team members to do it so I don't [have to], but it hasn't gotten to that point. But it's close.”