August 24, 1999
A version of this article first appeared in The Newspaper, a publication of the University of Toronto, on Sep. 6, 1995, under the name, “Lines Are Ohhhhh Soooo Lonnng.” The author retains all copyrights.
A study done by some think-tank a while back reported that many of us will have spent several years in line by the end of our lifetimes. This is comparable to some other useless figures: if we live to be 90, we’ll have spent 30 years asleep and four years in the bathroom. (Jay Leno once said that most men will have spent two minutes in an actual fist fight and 12.6 years pushing one another and saying, “Oh yeah?!”)
But sleeping, going to the can and, some might argue, macho posturing are all aspects of life over which we as a society have little control. Line-ups, on the other hand, are a self-administered bane to happy human co-existence brought upon this Earth by infernal forces indeed!
Scene one: trapped in the ticket-buyers line at the local railway station, my train about to leave. The old lady in front of me insists on comparing the menus for all available voyages before deciding to which city she wishes to travel.
I missed my train.
Scene two: entangled within the check-out line at the local Value-Mart, three shoppers deep in the so-called “express” lane. The problem? The lonely (or lecherous) fellow in front is chatting up the check-out girl. Memories of Apu’s advice to Marge Simpson flood over me then; “Express lane is not always fastest, Mrs. Simpson,” the Wise One had decreed, pushing his cart to the longer line. “Look here! All pathetic single men –always pay in cash, no chit-chat.”
Scene three: waiting to use the bank machine, my lunch hour having dwindled to mere minutes. Quick and easy, right? Put the card in, type some stuff, grab the dough and scram. Except that, without fail, I always end up behind the one guy who’s trying to engineer a corporate take-over through the ATM.
Either that, or some timid technophobe has decided to venture forth into the universe of automated banking, having ineptly chosen the weekday noon-hour as his time of self-education. Ass-wipe.
Scene four: pick one –registration at the post-secondary institution of your choice, an attempt to view that oh-so-popular movie everyone’s talking about, waiting to get onto a bus on the slushiest winter morning on record, or foolishly lining up to get into a night club that probably won’t let your ugly ass in anyway. These scenarios have one common element besides the obvious linear formation of the individuals involved: predation.
Being in a line-up is like wandering the savannah with a herd of dumb herbivores. Eventually the hyenas are going to come looking for prey, and the best you can do is avert your eyes and hope that they get the dull wildebeest next to you. In a line-up scenario, the predators are usually people asking for your money in return for various services: signing up for yet another credit card, donating to the [insert wretched underdeveloped country name here] relief fund, listening to yet one more talentless John Cougar Mellencamp wannabe. And sometimes, thankfully, they ask for your money in exchange for nothing more than their quiet departure.
Sure, the situation here isn’t nearly as bad as in other parts of the world where people join line-ups instinctively, without even asking what they’re lining up for. But if things moved better and faster, think of all the more time you could spend sleeping, using the can or getting into fist fights.
Ray Deonandan is an owner of The Podium and a freelance journalist. His personal website is at www.deonandan.com.