Everyone knows that Americans hate to stand in line. It’s contrary to the basic American values of independence and self-determination. While standing in line may not threaten life, it certain threatens liberty and the pursuit of happiness. With the possible exception of a couple of guys waiting for some Grateful Dead tickets, I have never seen anyone pursue happiness while waiting in a line. Lines are communistic eastern bloc phenomena. It’s what you expect to see inWarsaw–long lines of people waiting to buy toilet paper with splintery chunks of wood embedded in it.
American’s greatest inventions were devised specifically to decreased the time we wait in lines. Fast food, the drive-in window, the automated teller, the bar code scanner, the take-a-number machine, and the illiterate-friendly cash register were all created to speed things up. To obtain a synergistic effect we even combine these advances so that you get fast food from a drive-in window while the cashier uses a scanner and illiterate-friendly cash register. And you pay with an ATM card. The service is so fast, you actually go back in time.
Some people go a little crazy while waiting in line, a sort of claustrophobic panic. Typically this occurs to the person standing in front of you. Then you have to wait for an involuntarily commitment or anti-anxiety medication to be administered. Fortunately, in the state ofFlorida, convenience store clerks are granted both commitment and prescription privileges.
In an unscientific poll, people say the five worse lines are:
1. The bank drive-in window: Each person in front of you will have a unique banking problem more appropriately resolved at a meeting of the Federal Reserve Board than a drive-in window. I ask you, is it really wise to apply for a home mortgage at the drive-in window? I usually end up behind a pickup truck full of sinister looking guys who speak some unknown language and are trying to cash a third party counter check from the First National Bank of Croatia. Or I get behind someone who seems mystified by the pneumatic tube device and is unable to grasp the meaning of the flashing red light that says, “Press for return”.
2. The grocery store line is my favorite. At least you get to look at the tic tacs and tabloids catching up on the national and sometimes interplanetary news. “Hmm, JFK and Elvis seen having breakfast together at the International House of Pancakes, while UFO squadron hovers overhead.” Those UFO’s were probably just Elvis’s Belgian waffles. They also have these little bitty booklets with weird titles like: “Teach Your Cat to Invest in the Stock Market”, “Biblical Cures for Hemorrhoids”, and “One Hundred and One Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar”. I think they have these books on word processors and they occasionally use the “find and substitute” command to reprint new versions. For example the “One Hundred and One Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar” book is exactly the same as the “One Hundred and One Uses for Baking Soda” book. Evidently you can brush your teeth, clean your coffeepot, or clear up your prickly heat with either substance.
I also like to watch the territorial disputes erupt on the conveyor belt. UN peacekeepers couldn’t secure these borders. People freak out when Charmin bathroom tissue makes an incursion into their territorial space. And the cashiers get a kick out of stopping the conveyor belt abruptly so that your 2 liter coke bottles are hurled across the plastic divider into someone else’s space.
Finally there’s the interminable fresh produce transaction. “What are these, pears? Bosco,Bartlett, or Hemlock? Are these pole or wax beans? Is this a turnip or a parsnip? Is this a banana or a planaria? Finally it’s your turn and you hear the two most consoling words in the English language– “Paper or plastic?”
3. The vehicle tag office and it’s kissing cousin the driver’s license bureau are thankfully being replaced by mail renewals. But for those idiots like me who wait to the last possible second, this line is a nightmare. I go early but there’s always a line. It’s interesting to watch the employees totally ignore you as they wait that final five seconds before they open the door. It seems that man was created for the bureaucracy. The usual catch in this line is some crucial bit of information you’re missing: like your insurance policy number, your spouse’s driver’s license number, your vehicles’s mileage in 1987, or the serial number of the first car you ever drove. They also register motorcycles, boats, hunting vehicles, trailers, and RV’s in this office so be careful. Never get behind a guy wearing a sweaty camouflage baseball cap. You’d be amazed how many bass boats, hummers, and dirt bikes one person can own. I once made the mistake of standing behind a guy with nautical headgear and had to wait for him to register the entire Mrs. Paul’s trawler fleet.
4. The hospital emergency room is possibly the most tense of all lines. You’re in pain, you’re worried about your insurance coverage, unspeakable things are occurring behind the curtains, and the place smells like a pine tree dipped in alcohol. I once went into an emergency room with an abscessed tooth and was in the most excruciating pain of my life. I looked at those feverish infants and afflicted geriatrics waiting in front of me and was quite prepared to flatten them if necessary to get in. As far as I was concerned this was festival seating of the fittest and if Mother Teresa got in front of me, she was going to have Reebok tracks on her face.
5. Waiting lines at fast food restaurants are somewhat paradoxical. Actually the term “fast food restaurant” is an oxymoron. The pubescent work force takes the brunt of the criticism in this industry. I almost witnessed a full fledged riot once in a fast food line when a brand new employee (excuse me, associate) was assigned to the cash register, thirty minutes before the annual town Christmas parade. The place was packed and people were real antsy. After she goofed up one order after another, the crowd got ugly and this associate was in real danger of being pulled from behind the register, blanched in the deep fryer, and covered with sweet and sour sauce. Since they pay these kids in Clearasil, you really can’t say much.
If you disagree with my survey results all I can say is, “Hey buddy, take a number!”