Take a number and wait in line

When I was a kid, I saw a sign hanging from the bathroom door at a friend’s house that read “patience is a virtue.” I suppose if there’s one sign to hang from a bathroom door, and it doesn’t say “men” or “women,” one that preaches the importance of patience is the most appropriate. Most of us are taught from a young age that patience is an invaluable characteristic. It’s proven to lower stress levels and conditions people to better work with others; not to mention, we all have to face the fact that things don’t always happen at our whim.

But despite my best efforts to always be patient, there’s still one thing I hate – really, truly hate. That’s waiting in lines. Nothing tests the limits of patience like having to wait in a long line. Let’s face it, of all the current political, environmental and financial burdens afflicting Chenango County, none of it amounts to the level of aggravation brought about by standing in a long line. It seems everywhere I go, there’s always a line with a special place with my name on it – in the very back. If you’re like me, you go the extra mile, just to avoid lengthy lines. You’ll go to the more expensive drugstores, put off going to the bank, drive across town to get gas at a less busy gas station – even decide you can make food in the pantry stretch another day, just to avoid waiting in line at the grocery store.

What’s worse, most times I’m waiting in line just to spend money, which can either have a happy ending (as is the case when waiting to buy a treat at the ice cream stand) or a not so happy ending (waiting for your turn at the customer service desk). Either way, I’ve found that ironically, both scenarios burn up about the same amount of time. In a perfect world, lines I don’t want to stand in would take up less of my time (then again, in a perfect world, there wouldn’t be a line in the first place). Maybe if someone handed me a Bomb Pop at the end of every line, I wouldn’t be so whiny about the long, boring wait.

I’d like to think most people agree that grocery store lines are by far the worst. No matter which open lane I choose to checkout, I inevitably pick the wrong one. By natural law, the line next to me moves quicker. So to kill the boredom, I fill my head with the useless information on the covers of tabloids, arrange produce in the shape of a smiley face in the bottom of the shopping cart, and – ever so patiently – hold back any sour comments for the person in front of me, who exceeds the 15-item limit for the express lane. The gurus of customer service tried to correct line dilemma years ago, when stores introduced self-checkout, the fast and easy way of getting what you need and getting out quickly. Good idea in theory, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve waited for people to scan a full cart of groceries. I wish instead of waiting in line, I could leave my phone number and someone could text me when it’s my turn.

Luckily, standing in line becomes a little easier when I realize that I’m surrounded by people who hate waiting in line for the same reasons. It’s like I’m amongst friends, comrades, and it becomes like a sad little support group of people, all of them letting out an occasional heavy sigh because they have other places to be – and all of them scratching tally marks on the wall to keep track of how many days they’ve been waiting.

A recent piece written for The New York Times addresses our inherent hatred of lines and even delves in to some of the psychological aspects of it. I’ve never given it much thought but apparently, there’s a psychology to long-line animosity. For example, studies show that if given the choice between a quick moving long line and a slow moving short line, people tend to pick the latter, even though both lines take approximately the same amount of time to get through. The study also reveals that Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year just waiting in line and ultimately, the author concludes that while lines will always be around, the best way to beat the “I’ve been waiting in line forever” feeling is by keeping the mind busy. Hence this week’s column.

Unfortunately, there’s never going to be a surefire way to eliminate standing in line so for me, it’s back to plan A: Saying my wife is having a baby in hopes that people will let me in front of them.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunshawn.

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