Next Please!

It occurred to me the other night as I stood outside waiting to get in to see one of my fav singer/songwriters that I spend a lot of time standing in lines. Some times for an hour. Sometimes more. Which made me think. If everybody just agreed to show up 45 minutes later we would all be standing here for much less time. And then I just started thinking about lines.

We’ve all been in them. Some short. Some long. Some excruciating. At the grocery store, the movie theatre, the bank, restaurants. And it’s not just the being there. It’s the getting there too.. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time in a traffic line trying to get to wherever it is you are going only to find a throng of people waiting to do the very same thing you want to do. Most often you wait. Outwardly calm, inwardly seething, until you hear someone say “next please” and realize that the mother with the rather exuberant toddler you mercifully let in front of you an eternity ago, is no longer there and it is, in fact, your turn to finally move forward and do whatever it is you came to do. And you hope against hope you can remember what that is.

Like you, I’ve been in my share of lines. All kinds of them. Anyone who knows anything knows there are lines that are well worth the wait and others that are not. There are lines that are fun and others that are not. And there are lines we want to be in and others that we would rather not. 

Like the line I stand in to pay my property taxes. Once a year, every year, I trapse down to City Hall, papers in hand, signed and ready to submit, imagining that I’ll be in and out having paid my dues (literally) in no time. And every year I arrive to find multitudes of like-minded citizens lined up to do the very same thing that I have decided to do. I mean what are the chances? It’s not like we called each other up and made a plan. How could we? Until this very moment I can honestly say that I didn’t even know these people existed, nor they I. So how is it that with all of us strangers heading to the same place at the same time, two of three cashiers have decided they no longer want to be where we are, leaving one lonely soul to work her way through, what at this point has become by anyone’s standards, a very long line. And to what end do we stand patiently waiting our turn? To hand over some very hard earned cash to a group of people who may, or may not, do with it what we think is reasonable to do. There’s no fun, no frivolity in this line. No friends to be made. It’s just a line one has to be, but doesn’t really want to be, in. But trust me. Not all lines are alike.

I’ve honed my line skills at some of the best. Like boxing day. What could be better than waking up long before the sun, piling on all (and I mean ALL) of your warmest clothing, jumping into your best friend’s car and plowing (again, literally) through the snow and ice to your nearest electronics store where you join what by this time is a very long line of people waiting in anticipation for the doors to open so they can possibly (depending on how close to those doors they managed to get) snag a deal on an item or two they failed to find under their tree. Did I mention that it’s also -30 degrees celsius? In case you don’t know, that’s the kind of cold that makes you forget you have fingers and toes. If you still do.  Surprisingly, this is a line-up you want to be in. People joking with each other, laughing (mostly at themselves for being there), sharing their hopes and dreams (as in “I’ve always dreamed of having an 40” TV (Come on! It was the 90s.) and I sure hope I”m close enough to get one”). Coffee and donuts being bought and shared among people who were complete strangers only moments ago. Stories told and retold. It truly is a wonderful bonding experience. Just thinking about it makes my toes start to tingle.

But even that pales beside the Mother of all lines. The one that will remain burned in my memory until I no longer have one. The Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Talk about lines. Honestly. I have taken trips that are shorter than the lines for the EFMF. Not only will you find yourself in an extraordinary line just to get tickets, you will also find yourself in a line that gets you a spot in another line. That’s right. You’re going to line-up to line-up. Now you would think this would be one of those laid back, folksy kind of lines, not unlike that one on boxing day, what with all the peace signs, tie-dye and flowers in the hair. Don’t kid yourself. There will be some bantering and bonding over your shared love of music. Maybe the sharing of a little something that makes the time seem to fly by. But after waiting 5 hours in the scorching sun for those gates to open nothing will stop your new found “friends” from bulldozing over everything in sight (including you) to secure their coveted spot on the hill. This line is not for the faint of heart. 

Now I know. Many of you are thinking “what decade is she from”? Who doesn’t pay their taxes online? And who in their right mind would line up to buy something? And what exactly were you sharing in that line anyway? More importantly, why would anyone line-up for anything? So the other day, finding myself in need of some assistance with my household electronics, I decided that rather than make my way to the bricks and mortar where I knew I would become one among many technically inept folks, I would ditch the line and give my service provider a call. A very nice lady with a rather calming voice answered and let me know a technician would be with me as soon as possible. To reassure me, she kindly mentioned that I was 57th in line and the wait would be a little more or less than 60 minutes. Just one question. Anyone got a little something to help me pass the time?

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