$1.10, payable every twenty minutes.
Waiting in lines is a chore whose cost I reflexively discount. In my head, the cost of my time is trivially small relative to the cost of actual things I seek to buy with money. That is, until today, when I stood in line for nearly an hour to try the SF branch of Salt & Straw, a Portland-based ice cream purveyor that prides itself on fanciful flavors that “reek of [insert city here].” Hyper-locality, churned into chilled, smooth custard. Yep, I hopped on that bandwagon of frozen dessert groupies, waiting for their turn to taste some deliciously creamy treats at the reclaimed-wood trough.
The line, it should be said, was not actually that long. I have stared down longer lines at Bi-Rite, my nose intermittently tickled by a chilly wind carrying the unmistakable scent of those quintessential Dolores Park landmarks, urine and pot smoke. And yet, the line inched forward, at a pace I in retrospect have to believe is actually enforced as part of a follow-on study to Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment. Don’t worry — everyone in the line passed, and will no doubt go on to get great SAT scores and make large sums of money.
I mention the opportunity cost of waiting because, in this instance, I had to pay for parking. In that ‘hood of Pacific Heights, the going rate at 2 pm on a Saturday (the rate varies depending on the day and time) was $5.50 per hour. I returned to the meter twice to add more time, while my friends kept my place in the queue. I am acutely aware that a simpler course of action would have been to add enough money to cover the time required to get the ice cream and eat it, and then some. But, strangely enough, the act of paying a real amount for “waiting time” also made me far more aware of the fact that I was simultaneously paying an opportunity cost for waiting — the value of my time, on top of the parking fee. Having already shelled out quite a bit in the wait, I was disinclined to spend any more money at the meter than I absolutely needed to.
This partly explains why, to at least some degree, I wasn’t quite as impressed by S&S as I might have been, had I tried their product under different circumstances. Objectively, my scoop of Sightglass Coffee & Dandelion Chocolate (hyper-locality, remember?) checked all the boxes: it had the right consistency (no ice!), paired two foods I like very much, and pulled no punches in the flavor department. But I saw flaws, too, upon a deeper-than-usual examination: it was slightly too sweet, more chocolate than coffee, a twee bit monotonous. The quality firmly established S&S’s bona fides as a top ice cream player in SF. But my tastebuds soured once I realized how much it really cost me.
I had to wonder, “How much is forever?”