Every time I go to the airport and I get as far as security I invariably pick the wrong queue and join the slowest river of moving people. Sometimes there is a man or woman to sift, sort and tell you which little rivulet you may run off into, but often you must choose for yourself. And I always seem to choose the least speedy line. I avoid the one with small kids and buggies and then end up behind hapless teenagers, making a meal out of shedding and then re-assembling a staggering array of accoutrements. How on earth do they manage to get out of their bedroom each morning? Shoes and belts, and seven moisturisers, two phones, a tablet and a computer, and chargers, and change, and jewellery, and chatting to their friend, all ending with consternation over an emergency jar of marmite in their carry on bag that exceeds 100ml and has to be confiscated. Yet, in the main, my impatience has no basis, as I can’t remember the last time (and I hope I don’t jinx myself) my schedule was tight and I needed a speedy passage through to catch a flight.
Don’t tell me you don’t do it at supermarket checkouts too? With too many items for the self-serve checkout (which I avoid, even when I only have three items) we all try to assess which of the four open checkouts will move most quickly, saving us valuable time. Test: middle-aged woman with a full trolley versus an older man with a trolley just two thirds full. I tuck myself in behind the older man. It’s a no brainer. Or is it? Turns out the middle aged lady has the checkout down to a fine art: goods placed on belt according to frozen, tinned, dairy, detergent, meat, bottles; bags ready and open in the empty trolley corresponding to pre-sorted goods on belt; and a packing system that would give an Ikea warehouse a run for its money. Bish bash bosh; £167.32 later and she’s through in four minutes. The adjacent trolley (the one that’s just a third full, and the one I am standing behind), contains un-weighed fruit and veg, goods strewn on the belt like the contents of a four year-old’s Christmas stocking, and a helpful check-out lady suggesting revisions to the older man’s shopping list due to missed offers. “The Twining English Breakfast Tea and the Jaffa Cakes are both on two-for-one this week, shall I ring for someone to go back and get you one more of each?” “Well that would be lovely dear!” “Do you need bags?” Of course he does! Slip, slide and grind to a halt; his £34.60 worth of goods has taken twelve and a half minutes to put through.
Multi-storey car parks are another good test of one’s patience. Generally there might just be two queues to exit, but how many times have you chosen the shortest only to realise you have pulled in behind the driver with no coins, or who didn’t know it was pre-pay and so he has pressed the ‘help button’ and is being talked through alternatives while you fester behind him wondering if you are being tipped into the next hour’s charging band and will have to pay another £2.50. M. says that she can’t walk past a set of lights on the street where the green man is flashing – inviting the pedestrian to cross – without crossing the road herself. A peculiar impulse propels her forward regardless of whether she is going that way or not. Something is triggered inside, an urgent voice saying, “Cross! Take the opportunity while you have it. Go, cross!” And off she goes in a direction that she doesn’t need to.
So what is it about us that we feel we need save time by choosing the right queue? Why do we deem it a little victory worth celebrating when the green man appears just as we approach the crossing negating any waiting time? After all, what is the big rush and what is all that saved time going towards? You might have a better answer than me, you’re probably busier than me and need all the time you can get. But a few minutes here or there waiting in your queue isn’t going to kill you. Next time you find yourself waiting, you could take your phone out, look up a poem and read it. Try ‘Desiderata’, by Max Ehrmann, the first line of which tells us to, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste.”