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Kamloops News

THOMPSON: We spend a lot of our lives in a queue

June 19, 2017 - 12:19 PM



I figure I’ve spent about four years of my life standing in lines. That’s roughly 1,461 days…or 35,064 hours. This is a sobering thought…regardless of how you count it. Most of us - unless you’re a member of royalty or incredibly wealthy - line up an alarming number of times during our day-to-day lives.

Think about it. Coffee shops. Banks. Restaurants. Doctors. Service BC. Border crossings. We all wait in lots of lines. Some places are especially insidious…like airports. Flying is a metaphorical belt-line of lines…a line to enter the parking lot, a line for tickets, a line for checking luggage, a line for security, and a line for boarding.

Those of us who spent time in the military know lines really well. I lived with “Hurry up and wait,” for four years in the U.S. Air Force. Waiting lines are such a thorn in our sides at popular destinations - Disney World, the Empire State Building, the Louvre Museum - that many of us are wiling to pay $25 to $40 per person to avoid lines…sort of. At least looking at the ridiculous waiting line - in sight of your variously named “VIP, Fast Track or Fast Pass” line - gives you that fleeting, “Gee, I’m glad I’m not you,” feeling.

Of course, waiting in line is more uncomfortable for some than others. Who reading this doesn’t have a brother-in-law, sister, spouse or uncle who has the come-a-parts waiting in line to clear airport security? If you don’t recognize this relative…it’s probably you.

Culture, too, has much to do with how we handle waiting lines. The British - by far - are the best people in the world at waiting in lines…or as it is widely known there and here in Canada…queues. I’ve never seen a people less concerned with lines than the British.

If you’ve been to Wimbledon you know what I mean. There are no online ticket sales for this heralded fortnight of tennis…you queue up for hours, often a half-day or more with 8,000 others on a golf course near the stadium, suffering whatever rain, wind or sun might be on hand.

It is an unwritten but nonetheless ever present rule at Wimbledon that you NEVER talk about or even admit that the queue exists. You’ll hear and participate in every conversation imaginable while waiting…some have even met future spouses there. The British are famous for that stiff-upper-lip stuff, but nowhere is their intrepid discipline more evident than in queues. There is even a documentary film of a riot in England where participants are queued outside a shop’s broken window…politely waiting their turn to loot. 

It’s not really possible to jump or break-in a queue at Wimbledon because of the stewards and the time-dated stamps they hand out, but it’s considered bad form anywhere by the British. That said, Brits usually will allow break-ins or queue jumpers, if only begrudgingly.

Do that in America and a fight will likely break out…or at the very least you’ll be berated by a hostile crowd. Canada is somewhere in between the States and Britain in reactions to queue jumpers…a raised eyebrow at least…with a polite reprimand more likely.

There are other cultures and locations where most Canadians and Americans would be shocked at what are considered lines or queues. Try catching a public conveyance - train or bus - in Mumbai during rush hour. Mumbai and its environs are home to 25 million people…roughly two-thirds of Canada’s population…and you’ll swear they all take the same trains. It’s more crowd than queue and unless you’ve played Rugby, you’ll lose to a woman half your size trying to board a train…and somehow find yourself still on the platform as the train pulls away.

Some places - restaurants - here in Canada and in the States are getting wise. The host or hostess greets you, and says almost apologetically, “Sorry, but it will be about 45 minutes!” Almost invariably you’ll be seated in just 20 to 30 minutes. It’s called managing expectations. But, now you’re so happy you actually boast to your spouse as if you had something to do with getting a table earlier.

Ultimately, technology promises to save some queuing time for all of us. In the years ahead, retail stores - even in small towns - will do away with tills and adopt Apple’s methods…with every salesperson capable of taking payments. Voila…disappearing lines. Of course, I might be so old and moving slowly by then that lines won’t matter…just another naptime.

With age, perhaps, comes wisdom. I try to avoid pursuits where queues are most prevalent…I haven’t been to a rock concert in decades. It’s not always easy but with some planning…you can chip away and win the waiting game. I underwent the extensive background checks and paid the $50 for five years membership in the Nexus-Global Entry program, which saves hours of waiting lines in airports and border crossings. I bank and shop at off-peak times. I do what I can.

But you can’t always avoid lines, so I make the best of them. I usually start conversations with total strangers in a queue…at the very least you open yourself up to an opportunity for an engaging conversation. Once, while waiting in a line in New York City for Broadway theatre tickets, I met someone who became a long-time friend. Queues like life…have a lot to do with attitude. Still, wouldn’t it be nice to be a member of royalty…you never see them in a queue?

– Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.

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