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Minding manners in line at Gino's

Since it opened last week, marking the comeback of a regional fast-food chain associated with the golden days of the Baltimore Colts, the new Gino's in Towson has been drawing long lines of customers who crave nostalgia with an order of fries. As of Tuesday at noon, the wait to get in the door was 25 minutes, the wait to order another five minutes, and the wait for your food — delivered to your table — another 25.

So that's pushing an hour for a hamburger and fries.

Some people give up and walk to the nearby Applebee's for lunch, figuring they'll return for a Gino's Giant after all the initial excitement dies down.

But most others wait and shuffle, even as their stomachs growl and their faces take on a mildly grumpy countenance.

In this atmosphere, I can't imagine that anyone would try the chat-and-cut.

The chat-and-cut is defined by Larry David, the creator and star of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on HBO, as "feigning familiarity with someone you vaguely know for the sole purpose of cutting in line."

Those who attempt the chat-and-cut usually speak with overwrought sincerity as they try to schmooze their way into line.

Mr. David's eye (and ear) for such smarmy, annoying and manipulative behavior — appreciating and emulating humans at their worst — is at the root of his comedy.

So, in an episode of "CYE" this month, Mr. David catches a woman in the act of chat-and-cut. The scene is a buffet line in a Los Angeles restaurant. The woman approaches a man in front of Mr. David and presents herself as an old flame. After she reaches nimbly for a dinner plate to establish her place in line, Mr. David intervenes.

"I know a chat-and-cut when I see one," he tells the woman. "You used this fellow, this poor innocent fellow, to sneak into the line."

Questioning the man, Mr. David establishes that, despite having played along with the woman, he has no memory of her whatsoever.

Her ruse revealed, the woman moves down the line, incredulous that the smug Mr. David would "bust people" who try the chat-and-cut.

Later in the same episode, Mr. David finds himself accused of trying to execute a chat-and-cut while speaking to his manager, Jeff. Jeff is in line at a busy L.A. frozen yogurt shop. Mr. David merely wants to ask his advice for a moment, but the other customers will have none of it. They jeer Mr. David and demand that he retreat. It's a hilarious scene.

Mr. David shouts back: "Please, don't insult me, OK? I invented the chat-and-cut. This is amateur hour. If I was going to do it, you wouldn't even notice." Nonetheless, he gets shouted off and out of the store.

The etiquette of standing in line is delicate.

My friends and I came close to violating the rules the other day at Gino's — not with chat-and-cut, but with something I'm sure Mr. David would find almost as bad: hold-a-place.

I always thought holding a place for someone was legal, but in practice, it doesn't feel that way.

The way it worked Tuesday was, two of us arrived early and got in line, then two others showed up separately during the next 15 minutes, and we invited them to join our forward position. They had to walk past 30 people to get to there.

I don't think those 30 people were crazy about this, but they didn't say anything.

"They can't say anything," insisted Marcus Butler, who was on his lunch break from a medical testing lab and directly behind us in line. "Your friends didn't get in line with chat-and-cut. You were expecting them and holding a space — that's very different."

So the generous Mr. Butler didn't mind that two more people got to step ahead of him.

Others in line at Gino's might have been annoyed — there was a woman in a black dress three steps back who seemed to be — but they didn't speak up.

Everybody was nice, even if their stomachs were growling, and it was a pleasant day, with lots of enthusiasm for a Gino's Giant, even with the long wait.

Lots of enthusiasm, lack of annoyance, willingness to wait. Larry David would die here.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR 88.1 FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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