Capitalist queuers from Lodz make money from loitering

Four Lodz men have registered as a business a company whose work is to stand in lines so others don’t have to. Piotr Krysinski, Jarek Kozibura, Arkadiusz Pierzynski and Tomek Mackowiak have listed their company with the city as a professional queuing enterprise. That simply makes it official. Krysinski and Pierzynski have been receiving money to stand in lines for five years and Kozibura and Mackowiak for four, according to reporters Marcin Kwintkiewicz and Marcin Maslowski of the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.

During Communist times their mothers spent hours standing in line for toilet paper and months in line for furniture. The women probably never imagined that lines would some day be a blessing, providing work for their sons.

Krysinski began work as a line stand-in after he lost his job at a textile warehouse. “I had no idea what to do,” he said. “I had a wife and two children at home. We lived with Jarek next to a government office. Every day we saw thousands of people waiting their turn in a giant tail.” The two thought they might be able to make money out of other peoples’ misery.

Kozibura began standing in lines for money because he had no job skills to fall back on once he quit playing soccer as a professional four years ago. Nor did he have any money saved from his soccer days because he was only a substitute and never a star. “I also had a family, and it was necessary to do something,” he said.

Fourteen years ago Kozibura began playing for the Lodz soccer team Widzew, one of the clubs in the new Polish Premier Football League. He had a lot of raw talent, but instead of training, he preferred to party. That meant he never developed into a top player. In fact, he played in games only twice, although he was with Widzew for years. Today, at 32, he sometimes plays matches in the fifth league. But it’s just to keep in shape because players at that level get no money.

Pierzynski doesn’t have a family. Although he could stay with his parents without finding a steady job, “you can’t stay a boy all your life – you have to become an adult some day.” So when Krysinski and Kozibura asked him to work with them, he took them up on their offer.

Mackowiak once worked in construction. But it was demanding and, in the days before Poland’s current building boom, jobs were sporadic. “At this time nobody thought about construction” as they do today, he said.

One of the men’s first opportunities evolved out of the fact that the number of Poles owning cars and trucks has skyrocketed since the end of communism. Each of those vehicles in the region must be registered with a government office in Lodz. The same office issues first-time driver’s licenses to new drivers and renewals to those who have been driving awhile. So many people need the registration and license services that the line outside the office stretches for a kilometer.

At first the four friends thought of earning money by offering to watch the cars of those who parked in front of the office to get their registrations or licenses. But a number of drunks were already doing that. The ne’er-do-wells asked only 2 to 3 zloty – the price of a quarter of a liter of vodka – to watch a car. But what the drunks were doing amounted to extortion, those leaving their cars knew. If a driver refused to pay, he might return to find his car damaged. Thus drivers detested the car watchers.

“People didn’t recognize that we were different” from the drunks, Mackowiak said. So “we left the parking” to become line stand-ins. To make sure they had a place in front of the line when the office opened, one of them would show up at 10 p.m. with a mattress to sleep on, Pierzynski said. In spring and summer only one of them would take the “night shift.” But in winter, to keep from freezing, the four would take turns on the mattress during the night. In the morning they watched for people who seemed to be in a hurry, then offered them their place in line – for a fee.

“It was simple psychology,” Pierzynski said. “For a businessman who drives the newest model of Jeep, worth 200,000 zloty (around $75,000), 100 zloty extra ($35) for a good place in the line was nothing.” If all four worked, they could earn a combined 400 zloty ($150) per day, minimum.

The only problem was the local drunks, who saw what they were doing and began offering the same service for less money. A conflict started. The tension between the four friends and the drunks became so bad that customers of the office complained to the mayor. He ordered city officials to move the office to a new, larger location. The city rented and renovated an old bus station, then hired additional workers to handle the registrations and licenses. So the dispute between the two queuing groups for hire actually ended up helping the public. As the lines at the new office shrank, the problem between the two line stand-in groups disappeared as well. But things never stay the same.

After Poland joined the EU in May of 2004, thousand of second-hand cars flooded into the country from other places in Europe. “It was Eldorado!” Pierzynski said. “Every day a hundred customers were coming not knowing how to register” their cars. “They were coming and asking for help. We were useful and needed once again.”

“The business started to turn,” but it was still an unregistered black-market operation, Krysinski said. One of the problems with that was that there was no health insurance. The men decided they needed to make the company legal by registering it. The question was how to register it.

“Would it be a company of line stand-ins or specialists in car registration?” Krysinski asked rhetorically. He and the others were afraid no company-registration office in Poland would agree to register their operation. “None of the offices in Lodz, even more, none of the offices in the whole of Poland would agree to register such a company,” added Krysinski, the actual chairman of company employing 4 people.

Lodz officials told them, however, that if the Statistics Office could find a category for their operation, they could be registered. The local Statistic Office looked into the matter for days without finding a suitable category. Then the phone rang. The office had found a category – “other commercial activity” – that doesn’t fall into any other classification. The company could be legal.

“At the moment we don’t need any advertising,” Krysinski said. “Customers come as soon as they notice several men holding blank forms and frames for registration plates.” He said the men’s prices are reasonable. They charge 25 zloty (about $10) for installing new plates, 100 zloty ($40) for registering a new car and 80 zloty ($30) for re-registering a car that has been sold to a new owner.

“Customers come in the morning, leave all the documents and the plates, give us a full power of attorney and go back to work,” Krysinski said. “At noon everything is ready, and the car waits for the new owner. Each side is happy. People do not lose their time and the line stand-ins earn 100 zloty. Ten clients per day and the company could earn 1,000 zloty.”

The service has developed such a good reputation that car dealers and car sales operations have begun using it. Joanna Pelc, owner of the Forum auto sales operation, was one of the first to sign up. “A year ago I used to stand in line,” Pelc said, but “it is waste of time for me if there is a company which specializes in it.”

Rajmund Kadziela, deputy chief of Lodz’s car-registation and driver’s-license office, said he thought at one time that line stand-ins were gone with the end of communism. The lines during that era were so ever-present that people then would stand in lines for others for money. But of course the Communists would never have registered such an operation. Maybe lines – and thus the line stand-in business – will never disappear in Poland, Kadziela said. In fact, there may be more demand for the stand-ins, he said. Polish regulations are changing and many of the changes lead to lines. “Each system causes queues,” Kadziela shrugged.

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