I Don't Think Anything Is Worth Waiting In Line For But I Don't Want To Seem Stuck-Up Either

line of people
line of people

I consider this a pretty serious personal rule. That's not to say I'm faced with optional line-waiting every single day, but it's a foundational principle of mine, one which informs all other aspects of my life. Of course if it can't be helped, like at the DMV or something, then it can't be helped, and I don't worry or complain about it.

And certainly if I'm invited out by someone else hosting a big group of mostly new-to-me acquaintances and the consensus is, I don't know, "let's go up the Eiffel Tower" or "let's go to a really popular brunch spot without reservations at 11:30," I'm going to be gracious and go along with the popular vote; I do not mean to advocate for rudeness or unnecessary willfulness in a group setting. In my opinion, this sort of thing falls under the "can't be helped" umbrella, and I consider it my social responsibility to be a good sport (really a good sport, not just getting in line with everybody while making it clear I hate standing in line) and maybe collapsing into bed a few hours early when I get home later.

But speaking for myself, I do not believe that anything can be as good as not waiting in line feels. I saw a long line of people today, in the hot sun. They were willingly assembled, and of course I do not begrudge them their choice to wait in line, but it baffled me utterly, as if I saw a great crowd of people lining up to be embezzled.

It's not that I think I am too good to wait in line. As I said, if I must be in a line I will endure it – but to choose to be in a line is anathema to me. Whatever is on the other side of the line, be it infinitely desirable, loses all appeal for me when there is a line placed between us.

I can appreciate the concept of waiting more generally. Delayed gratification is all right by me. Tell me dinner is not yet ready, and I'll cheerfully bound off to entertain myself for another half-hour, or gnaw at an apple to take the edge off of my hunger. If I've misread the movie times and show up at 5:30 for a 6:05 showing, I'll walk up and down the block or take a look at my phone without complaint.

Walking, whether alone or in company, is lovely, whether one has an aim in mind or walks merely to feel the alternation of one's feet. Time and space are passed in the same amiable fashion; one can feel either expansive or accomplished, depending on whether one adopts the air of the flâneur or the pilgrim.

Loitering too can be grand. But waiting in line is interminable. There is nothing of the promenade about it. It robs "standing around not doing much" of its pleasurable aimlessness, since there is now a goal attached to it (getting past the front of the line, to look at or eat or buy whatever the line is dividing you from); you cannot loiter in a line. You are active, but very nearly without motion; you are almost hanging out, but with just enough of a target that you cannot truly relax and enjoy yourself. One shuffles forward for so brief a distance it feels like a joke – one stops again – one stares uncharitably at the people ahead of one to see if they are about to move again – one waits – it is like joining an army of disorganized yet alert stalkers. It spoils not only the art of walking and people-watching, it spoils friendship and conversation, even kills "the deliberately aimless pedestrian, unencumbered by any obligation or sense of urgency...who wastes nothing, including his time which he spends with the leisurely discrimination of a gourmet, savoring the multiple flavors of his city."

Waiting in line makes almost any company hateful; I could be with the oldest and dearest friend in the world, someone delightful I haven't seen in decades or some of the people I love best, and if we were made to wait in line together their presence would instantly become loathsome to me.

It is my opinion that no food, no experience, no exhibit can ever successfully compensate for the suffering and personal degradation line-waiting inflicts upon me, and therefore if a line ever gets in between myself and a desired encounter I immediately surrender and go elsewhere. I have never regretted my decision to abandon a line; go thou and do likewise.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]