Tuesday, January 10, 2006


I have been meaning to write about this, but things just kept coming up, or I forgot, or I was lazy. Whatever.

I couple months ago I was at the clinic, on one of my many trips with my clients. The line was particularly long that morning, and people were agitated. Now, I don't usually let things like that upset me, because there is nothing I can do about it anyway, so I just decided to stand back and people watch.

Here was a man shuffling impatiently, looking at his watch, then throwing stares at anyone who would make eye contact. As if they could somehow alter time, or as if his time had more meaning then everyone around him. Neither, I decided, was the case. There was an old lady, making jokes about the situation, or rather, making the SAME joke to everyone she saw that she knew. And then it happened.

One of the previously closed reception desks opened. The front half of the line all sort of looked at each other, no one willing to make the first move. It was as if it was recess, but the teacher had not dismissed them. They had to wait in line until called upon. Except for one guy behind me. He looked left, then right. No one moved. So he just walked right up to the desk. A quiet awe fell. Some people were thinking "why didn't I do that, first" and others "someone should do something." I thought, "good for him." Really. I get paid by the hour. And some grey panther, easily 80 years old, walked right up and told him "you were not next in line, sir!" and demanded he get back. He laughed and did so, and didn't seem any worse the wear for it. He had been "caught" and would probably try it again, given the chance.

Of course, he was not given the chance. With the respect now won form the crowd, this old lady became a traffic cop. She left her place in line to direct everyone who was next. At first, everyone was pleased with the efficiency. The line moved, and there was no argument. But these were adults, and it was only so long before they started feeling a little sheepish (at best). The uncomfortable postures returned, and people started acting oppressed. Hateful glares were shot at our new warden. All the while, she kept on directing.

When it got to my turn, I decided to run my own little social experiment. She ushered me to the front, and I told her she had been waiting long enough, and deserved to go ahead of me. She protested, but I would not let up. Chivalry may be dead, but its posturing cousin was alive and well. She was trapped in her own vice. Reluctantly, she gave up her authority.

For a moment I stood in the spot where we had talked, not really sure of how to feel about myself. The others must have thought I was taking over, because both desks were open, and no one moved. I went back into my place in line (really, a few places back, I was not done) and someone ACTUALLY asked who was next. I said "we are all adults, I don't think we need anyone telling us when to go." Several people laughed, and the line started moving. Still, others thought the old system was working, perhaps, or didn't like me pointing it out so brash, more likely, because they favored me with none to pleasant glances.

The line, though, moved easily, and soon I was through it. I would say it was just as flowing as when it was directed, but I was not there long enough to see it dissolve. Still, something about that stuck with me. So much so, I had to write it down.

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