Waiting

Waiting ...
Waiting for Legal Advice, 1857, James Campbell (1828 - 1893) (British)
" … the machine will continue to grind …"

I think of waiting as an adult time out. Most delays amount to SmallThings, a few realigning moments between actual destinations, and I'm learning to simply accept them for what they are, which is never defining, a small interruption to the regularly scheduled programming. A brief respite between some here and there no matter how interminable each might seem. A challenge to cobble together a short alternate to the expected experience. I keep an audio book enqueued on my iPhone or some other worthy distraction which I access to fill in the space. Now that we all have smart phones, every waiting moment quickly transforms into a Facebook or email scan, we're rarely truly idle. Most of our interactions with our government seem to become exercises in patience, at the post office, the DMV, the title registrar, or some other outpost of our humblingly huge bureaucracy. We anticipate these waits, bringing along a newspaper or a book with which to entertain ourselves as we idle. I prefer to watch the machine working in the same way that I gawk at the automated tortilla machine or the juice squeezing juke box when waiting for a restaurant table.

The machine seems to never idle, whether present as a single inadequately-staffed post office window or a dozen numbered windows around a waiting area with actual seating.
They've reserved most of the square footage of the place for waiting, and each patron clutches a numbered slip of paper, watching the overhead screen hoping to see their number called as if waiting on a lottery draw. Some carry on conversations while others scan their paperwork as if last minute cramming for an important exam. These places work like narcotics for me, leaving me inordinately sleepy. I cannot focus upon whatever distraction I might have brought with me to fight expected boredom because my head keeps nodding. I wonder how the clerks manage to stave off sleep while working there. Five minutes in, and I feel as if I were already way past my nap time.

Each clerk's cubicle holds a few personalizing items, a calendar, perhaps, or an unusual paperweight, each a clue to who that person might be and a small dissent from the otherwise uniforming bureaucracy. These displays attempt to humanize the faceless desk jockeys who are there to wait on you after you've waited for them. The whole operation seems to be a waiting machine producing both waiting ons and waiting fors in hopefully equal volume. Few experiences seem so immediately dispiriting as walking into a waiting area to find fifty people already there before you. Memories of the Christmas queue at the post office nearest you immediately come to mind. I'll find the queue number machine and mark my place before settling into what initially appears will be an infinite wait. At the car dealership, the waiting room features freshly brewed coffee and a big box of donuts which the staff sneaks in to steal when nobody but idling customers are watching. It also features a BIG screen TV with the sound turned down to silence, a pantomime distraction nobody seems very interested in. I've brought my laptop and write through the otherwise interminable wait.

Some waits seem truly interminable while others seem to quickly slip by however long they might last. I treasure the time I spend in the Post Office Christmas queue, a snaking line filled with hope and impending joy, benefactors on parade. I consider myself an expert on whatever process I watch while waiting, identifying roadblocks and inefficiencies, though I deep down understand that I'm observing superficialities. Somebody actually designed this machine and it seems to be working for somebody, though often apparently not any of the observable actors. I and my fellow wait-ers are small factors in a much larger machine, one which probably features longer wait queues than the one I'm presently imbedded within; it's a system. None of the business transacted there is half as simple as it seems to me to be, and those harried clerks hold together one critically important piece. Most of us have learned to humbly acquiesce while waiting.

Somebody always seems somehow destined to stress the machine. Like me in the Post Office Christmas queue, they wheel in three or four hand truck loads of packages when most hold a simple one or two, or they bring a complicated case requiring two or three clerks to confer and a supervisor to intrude, leaving the line to freeze for a fresh eternity on top of the one already there. A collective sigh arises. A few have not gotten the memo outlining proper waiting behavior. Nobody else in line, let alone the clerks, care a rat's ass how late your wait's making you. Your faunching won't change anything. Your explosive reaction to some normal bureaucratic infraction matters not to anyone, the machine will continue to grind leaving everyone either in an eddy or in a bind. There's my yawn again.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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