No cutting

Friday 2 September 2016 — Main Street, Falmouth — waiting in line at Dippin’ Donuts

Now that schools are gearing up for another academic year, school children everywhere will need to be reminded of proper classroom etiquette. Children tend to forget such things during summer vacation. I remember the drill since childhood: no talking in class, respect your elders, pay attention, sit up straight, follow directions, do your homework, no fighting, and, of course, no cutting in line. 

I suspect some of those old-fashioned rules may no longer be enforced. I know one of them has been challenged in court. This should come as no surprise to you, dear readers, given these litigious times. It involves, however, not schoolchildren but senior citizens. I read about it in the Wall Street Journal. Being a card-carrying senior citizen myself, the article piqued my curiosity.

It seems the city of Fortaleza, Brazil, has passed a law allowing people aged 60 years and older to cut to the front of any line, any place, at any time. Businesses that fail to give seniors immediate attention can be fined $750 for each offense. 

Some businesses and government offices in Brazil had already installed designated windows (caixas preferenciais) for senior citizens, but this new law goes further. I’m not fond of waiting in line. Perhaps line-cutting is an idea whose time has come. Let’s consider the possibilities.

It’s not so much the wait that annoys you, but rather those who try to hoodwink you out of your rightful place in line.

A late-arriving youth surreptitiously realizes that his long-lost best friend forever happens to be at the front of that very line. Of course, he’s going to walk up to express a tribal greeting by launching into a complicated handshaking ritual. It’s the polite thing to do. You can bet he’ll not be returning to his place at the end of the line. 

Or there’s the innocent-looking little old lady who forcibly rams your shopping cart out of the way so that she can beat you to the checkout. This, some say, is the origin of bumper car rides at amusement parks. 

Then there are those ahead of you who, while waiting in line, are mindlessly texting. The queue moves on without them. You stay put.

How about those who appear to be calmly waiting in line, then suddenly start flitting about, running over to check the price of bananas in produce or dashing off to pick up a jar of relish on aisle No. 87? “Save my place?” they ask.

I use two criteria in determining which checkout to choose. The first is the length of the line. The second is who has the fewest items in their shopping carts. Signs proclaiming “10 items or less” are pointless. 

My criteria fail when a person actually has two shopping carts — one in front of them and one behind — like someone preparing for Armageddon. Or when half the items in someone’s cart need price-checks. Or when the person in front of you pays with a personal check and has forgotten to bring some form of identification. Not to mention those dreadful Ziploc bags filled with expired coupons. 

By the way, it’s a proven fact that the next line over always moves faster than yours. 

I notice bank tellers simply ask, “May I help the next person in line?” then smile while customers elbow each other out of the way. Most Scripture scholars maintain that this is not the meaning of the Biblical phrase, “The first shall be last.”

There are scientists who actually study the psychology of waiting in line. Really. I am not making this up. You encounter their conclusions every day. 

You’ll be less impatient if the line appears to be moving. This has given rise to the zigzag line. Disney is a master of this tactic. It may seem you’ve progressed by leaps and bounds, but you’ve only moved ahead a few inches. 

You’ll be less frustrated if there’s an “estimated wait” announced. This has been used not only at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, but also on most highways leading to Cape Cod. “Bourne Bridge — 5 minutes.” The estimated time of arrival cheers you up while you’re stuck in traffic. I suspect it raises to 45 minutes as soon as you’ve passed the sign. 

Computers can be programmed to tell you how many people are ahead of you before a real person finally takes your telephone call. Might as well enjoy the insipid music.

I think awarding Cape Cod senior citizens line-cutting privileges would be a disaster. The vast majority of us are senior citizens. The line for people over 60 would stretch around the block. Young people would be forced to remain at the end of the line until their AARP card arrived in the mail. It may work in Fortaleza (the median age in Brazil is 29 years) but in Falmouth, young and old alike would be waiting in line ’til the cows come home. 

Call me old-fashioned, but the “no cutting in line” rule still works for me. 

Did she say, “Next, please”?

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts