Sep 022012

Patience is not a virtue of mine. I really don’t like waiting in long lines.

In many ways, much of life represents one long queue.

As an elementary school student, I waited in line for my yellow plastic cafeteria tray and glass milk bottle.

When I started going to rock concerts,  rowdy teens lined up before the doors opened. The former Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne had huge doors that opened outward caused people rush forward and endanger others trapped behind the doors.  Fortunately, no one was hurt, but  imagine being that eager to hear Seals and Croft with John Ford Coley and England Dan as openers.

In August 1974, I waited an hour for a glass-enclosed black and white dial Bell pay phone in Manhattan, Kansas. Having heard that President Richard M. Nixon might resign, about fifty anxious teenagers waiting to call home.  Farm kids and 4-Hers from all over the country were attending a conference at Kansas State University, which felt very far from Indiana that day.

We were all afraid.  Still in the Cold War era, we wondered what this turmoil at the top of government meant for our future? I called my parents —  collect —  and discovered that they knew no more than I did.

I waited in line to graduate from high school, to buy overpriced textbooks at the college bookstore, to walk up the steps of the Arts Terrace at my school for graduation.

All my life, there has been one line after another….

  • At the Orwellian-named Indiana Work Force One office, to file for unemployment benefits
  • Behind my closest friends, who dressed in puffy peach taffeta gowns,  as we waited for my cue in Wagner’s “Lohengrin.”
  • At Cape Canaveral  to board the wrong bus while on a tour, and almost causing an international security incident.
  • At the White House in 1966 when average people could still tour the famous rooms. The line formed at the crack of dawn and wound around for blocks.  My dad wore plaid shorts, wingtips and black socks.  When we came out of the same building that Dolley Madison ran out of with the famous painting of George Washington nearly two centuries ago, we took pictures at the door free of today’s security police.

Standing in line causes people to act strangely.

Engineers who plan theme parks get it right. They mist you with cold water in line and move you through a maze so you are slightly off-kilter about the length of your wait.

Several fast food restaurants have adopted this approach, and I wish others would.  I’m not a fan anymore of fast food in general, but there are times when there’s no alternative.

When I make the 250-trip to my dad’s, my choices are slim, and I usually end up at the Most Well Known Junk Food Place.  This particular place, let’s call it “Ron’s” has no queuing strategy at all.

Or if they do, it is every woman for herself.

The lobby features four or five registers, but they are rarely fully staffed.  It’s like playing Whack a Mole as team members go back and forth from the drive-up (which always takes precedence.)

Even worse than Ron’s, is the national chain pharmacy in my neighborhood.

I’ll call it Greenwall’s,

Greenwall’s has two staffed registers for “pick up”. In front of the counter is a large square open area.  Beyond this open space are the rows of products with narrow aisles.

Customers refuse to stand up close to the registers.  They wait and see which register will open first.  Standing back far enough means they aren’t committed in either direction, thus having first dibs at the open counter.

This drives me crazy, because often the line goes back to the dairy section halfway across the store with  twenty feet of open space in front of the registers.

I’m trying out a new strategy to change behavior.

Say I’m the second person behind someone betting on  which register will open first. She is standing about fifteen feet in front of the registers, smack dab in the middle of the open area.  Behind me is a line of 12 or 15 people, all waiting for an open register.

I get as close to her as I can, so close behind her that we are almost touching. I am totally invading her personal space.

What happens next?

She moves up a foot to get away from me.

So then I move closer again.

And she moves again.

This strategy has worked for me several times.  No one has challenged me.  It’s possible I could make someone so uncomfortable that they will punch me in the face, but that hasn’t happened yet.  If the clerks take long enough at the registers, I move the entire line ahead.

In this small and strange way, I cope with my impatience.  Are you impatient? How do you deal with it?

Published September 2, 2012 in “The Raven Lunatic” newspaper column.

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