Queueing Up in the Zigzag

Patience is a virtue. How is yours? “Road rage” problem? Or perhaps you can’t stand being on hold with the insurance company—despite the soothing, distorted pop-cover blaring out your phone. Waiting (i.e., experiencing the perceptively slowing passage of time while neither in control nor accomplishing anything meaningful)—such as waiting for what would at last follow that unnecessary parenthetical definition, and then realizing that even the part outside the parentheses had yet another clause and didn’t finish the sentence—is not enjoyable for anyone.

I’m pretty patient, yet for me it’s not so much a virtue as a personality trait. Everybody has a naturally strong suit in something, so be thankful about that, and pursue actual virtue in the other areas where you suck but are improving.  Okay, enough inspirational talk.  What I am getting to is that although I’m patient, super long lines do cause me some distress. It always helps, however, if they are at least moving along. For example, at the bank or DMV when the line is stretched to the door, but three stations are working it, I do the math and figure that the line is effectively one-third the length it appears, right?

At the airport TSA, they do that thing where the line gets folded into a massive zigzag using stretchy fabric dividers, because if it was straight, it would go out to the freeway. It’s a practical use of space and should be psychologically better. The ones I’ve gone through in Salt Lake City and Denver airports really zip along, due to an amped-up application of the multiple station principle. But there are physical, emotional, and relational costs to the zigzag design, which I will attempt to illustrate.

In the zigzag, I see ahead of me a beautiful family of four, with a cute toddler sporting his tiny knapsack, coming at me on my right, and so I smile at the parents, because he’s adorable and they are doing the family travel thing. Then twenty seconds later I again encounter knapsack-kid, and acknowledge his people. Since there is no socially appropriate way to smile at these same individuals a third time, I ultimately try to ignore the whole brood, which now feels rude.

Meanwhile, I also made a connection with the rock-climber dude who sports a sweet hat and cool hair, and his knapsack is a gorgeous, waterproof, Osprey pack-suitcase hybrid. I give him the head tilt, which is cooler and more subdued than a smile (or the goofy thumbs-up I resisted). And he passes me by again, and again, and I can’t help but to gawk at him or his gear, and so now I’m either stalking him or casing his goods.

So alternately, I revert my gaze left, assessing the masses coming toward me from behind. And whether interesting or not, they have human eyeballs, and so instinctive eye contact occurs over and over, or conversely, the painstaking effort to avoid it.

So eventually, and ironically, it’s like I’m in a long single-file line anyway, because I have determined it now best to simply look forward, as if I brought horse blinders to go with my fabric mask. The difference, though, between this scenario and a traditional straight queue is that this has brought relational angst, plus a whole mess of pivot turns. Ultimately, I emerge from the screening just needing to be alone, with aching knees. Good thing I’ll sit next to a big talker when crammed into economy class.

Copyright © 2022 Richard Berndt – All Rights Reserved.

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