From May to October 2001, Bob Pedersen fulfilled a lifelong dream: he traveled around the world, without setting foot on an airplane. Before he got back to his Eugene, Oregon home though, he had a few musings about the joy of queuing:
I’m almost home. I’m in Philadelphia now, but will begin the long train ride to Oregon on Saturday afternoon. It has been a great trip.
As my around-the-world adventure nears its final days, I am somewhat melancholy that it is ending. I have had some great experiences and met many wonderful people.
But, one thing that I will not miss is standing in lines. There are lines to board trains and ferries. Then, there are pushing and shoving lines to get off the very same. There are lines to purchase onward travel tickets, lines for information, lines to check baggage, lines for customs and immigration, and lines for passport control.
While lines in most Western European countries have a semblance of order and civility, lines in China, Russia, and Greece maintain an air of every man for himself. Often pushing and shoving is the rule, rather than the exception. In England, the opposite is true. The courtesy and politeness shown by the English almost outweighs the imposition of having to stand in line.
Lines, lines, and more lines. At times I wanted to scream, “While I’m young!”
So, imagine for a moment what it would be like if a person became one day younger for every hour spent standing in line. I know that this sounds preposterous and incomprehensible, but humor me for a moment. Imagine that through some miraculous discovery, man has found a way to physiologically turn back the clock. All you have to do is stand in line. Stand in a line 356 hours in one years time and you will essentially remain the same age. Rack up 730 hours, and you are one year younger.
A small device, would be permanently attached to your hip, (much like one of those pedometers that you got as a kid by saving cereal box tops – akin to standing in line because it took so long to save them). This device would record the hours spent in lines, and the number of days of youth regained.
Oh, how the world would change.
Instead of 40, pimply-faced teenagers behind the counter at McDonalds – shouting out orders and running about like Keystone Kops – there would be just one or two lonesome, but overworked employees. Those cattle-gate-like devices used in such restaurants would stretch hundreds of yards into a parking lot 10 times their current size.
To hear someone in the line ahead of you request a special order would not trigger exasperation or a loss of patience. “Ten more minutes in line here, and I’ve gained two days today.”
Likewise, the bozo who wants his senior discount, might be questioned by a suspicious counter person. But the crowd behind him would just smile. Somebody might call out; “Way to go, Mac” or, “Check his I.D. and his meter.”
Cell phones would disappear. Praise the lord, and pass a roll of quarters. Everyone would want to stand in line at public telephone booths as well.
Concerts and sporting events would be great places to “pick up a few days”, while doctor’s offices would do away with chairs in the waiting rooms. The doctors would make people stand in line instead, providing those same old 1978 issues of Good Housekeeping to keep your mind vacant, but somewhat occupied.
A factory owner might be able to postpone buying an employee a gold watch for retirement by taking out all but one of the plant’s drinking fountains, and making paychecks available only after waiting in a long line.
Sensible shoes would become the byword, and all sorts of service business would evolve to cater to those people standing in lines. There would be vendors selling shoe shines, refreshments, newspapers, and toys for the kids. “Sorry mister. All I got left are these novelettes. Ran out of War and Peace a couple of hours ago.”
People would relax more. They would become more patient – take life as it comes, or in this case, ebbs and flows.
But the concept has its faults. “Yes, that’s our son out there, playing on his new swing set. He got his Ph.D. from the university last year, but he is so obsessed with standing in lines that he’s regressed to the age of 12. His father and I just think that’s a bit young to work for IBM, so we had him move back home for a few years.”
And, a husband might detest the thought of standing in a line, while his wife might take the opposite view. As the gap in age would widen, the marriage would fall apart. “I’m sorry honey. I just feel trapped in this marriage. Besides, I know that you’re not happy either. I see the way you roll your eyes when my girlfriends and I talk about next year’s rally squad tryouts.”
If standing in lines actually made a person younger, I would be returning from my journey a very young man. However, it would have taken me twice as long to complete the trip. Therefore, I would have an intensification of the deep feelings of homesickness that I have for friends and loved ones. The trip would have cost a great deal more. I would have needed an extra bag or two for souvenirs and trinkets, and just how many refrigerator magnets does a man need?
So, in retrospect, the whole thing is probably a bad idea. Ah hell, it was just something I thought of while standing in line.