The line stretched down the block at a little past 9 p.m. on a Monday night. The rest of the boutiques on Santa Monica Boulevard had lowered their gilded shutters hours ago. The occasional car passed by with its driver peering curiously at this peculiar line of pilgrims laughing, smiling, and waiting. Some of the more observant drivers may have been baffled as they realized that these people were lined up outside a Sprinkles cupcake shop. Others who had glanced at the news over their morning coffee would have understood the particularly vapid cause of this line. They were lined at a vending machine. A cupcake vending machine.
I found myself waiting near the front of this line with my wife and two friends, Jennie and Ben, shortly after the vending machine’s debut. It had run out of stock moments before we had arrived, and the staff was furiously shoving 600 individually boxed cupcakes into it as quickly as they could. We were told that the restocking would take a half hour. The line was full of the types of people you might expect to be die-hard cupcake enthusiasts. Small groups of yuppie folk (my group included), tweens (sometimes with parental supervision), and couples on dates were all killing time as they eyed the machine.
The machine itself was the size of a storefront and sported the Candy-Land aesthetic with its series of pastel mesh stripes half-obscuring the sucrose treasure trove within. The pink stripe housed a pink console that looked roughly like an ATM that Barbie might visit. I had seen photos of it before, but they hadn’t prepared me for the ludicrousness of this machine.
As I stood in this line, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What am I doing here?” After all, I would never stand in a half-hour line for a cupcake. Perhaps more important, I started to wonder, “What is everyone doing here?” As I looked down the line of eager cupcake-consumers-to-be, it was difficult not to wonder what it was about this simple device that made it such a hit. After all, the only thing it allowed you to do was select a cupcake and have it delivered down a chute without any human interaction. Replace the word cupcake with Coca-Cola and you have a machine that everyone ignores on a daily basis.