Dad, You Were Right About The Lines

 

I have many fond childhood memories of not going in to fun places because my dad wouldn’t wait in a line. Ah, the places we didn’t go: movies, museums, restaurants, Aida at the Baths of Caracalla. To be fair, that last one had more to do with parking. I always thought he was a bit over the top when he acted as though tortured by the prospect of waiting in a line, but, come to find out, it might actually have been torture.   

A recent article in the New York Times’ Sunday Review, “Why Waiting Is Torture”, looked at several different aspects behind the psychology of queuing.  Some of the highlights were:

Being lied to makes us feel better about a line …

“… All else being equal, people who wait less than they anticipated leave happier than those who wait longer than expected. This is why Disney, the universally acknowledged master of applied queuing psychology, overestimates wait times for rides, so that its guests — never customers, always guests — are pleasantly surprised when they ascend Space Mountain ahead of schedule.”

Our sense of fairness about lines can be deadly …

“Perhaps the biggest influence on our feelings about lines, though, has to do with our perception of fairness. When it comes to lines, the universally acknowledged standard is first come first served: any deviation is, to most, a mark of iniquity and can lead to violent queue rage. Last month a man was stabbed at a Maryland post office by a fellow customer who mistakenly thought he’d cut in line. Professor Larson calls these unwelcome intrusions “slips” and “skips.””

Waiting has to be worth it …

“Fairness also dictates that the length of a line should be commensurate with the value of the product or service for which we’re waiting. The more valuable it is, the longer one is willing to wait for it. Hence the supermarket express line, a rare, socially sanctioned violation of first come first served, based on the assumption that no reasonable person thinks a child buying a candy bar should wait behind an old man stocking up on provisions for the Mayan apocalypse.”

Billions and billions of stressful hours are spent in lines …

“Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year waiting in line. The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away. The last thing we want to do with our dwindling leisure time is squander it in stasis.”

I think attitudes towards lines are also cultural. In Tokyo, a line was considered a good thing. It meant there was something so extraordinary that people were willing to wait insane amounts of time for it. Krispy Kreme donuts always had a two hour wait. I never waited two hours for a doughnut, because … well, it’s a doughnut. But I did wait two hours to vote in Florida in the 2004 general election, because of Florida in the 2000 general election.  

Ricochet readers, I’m curious, what is longest amount of time you’ve ever spent in line, and what was it for?

There are 49 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    10 hours to get seen in a hospital emergency room!  I shudder to think about how long it would have taken if I did not have an emergency.  

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    @TimothyGogolin

    8 hours in a mall waiting for the first iPhone. No special hand signals though, Daniel.

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    @WillCollier

    Probably for the King Tut exhibit back in the ’70’s, in New Orleans.  I was very young, but I still remember the line seemed to last forever.  Long enough to rate a mention in Steve Martin’s song, at least…

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    @MiffedWhiteMale
    tabula rasa: DMV:  two hours in the wrong line–two more hours in the right line.

    Is there something unique to DMVs that make them the ultimate bad bureaucracy?  And is there a national association that has set a standard that no DMV employee ever smile or act like the poor taxpayer is a human being?

    Did you ever see the TV show “Reaper”.  About a guy who’s parents sold his soul to the devil, he’s given the job of capturing others who have escaped from hell and returning them.  The drop-off point was the local DMV.

    Lines drive me nuts. I see people standing in long lines, and I just don’t get it.  I wouldn’t stand in line for an hour if they were handing out $100 bills at the front of it.

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    @IsraelP

    In the army. For everything.  (That’s Israel Defense Forces.)

    • #5
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    @TonyMartyr

    8 hours for tickets to Dire Straits in 1981 (and for, ultimately, pretty poor seats) – and, from the the first note of Once upon a Time in the West“, absolutely worth it!

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    @Charlotte
    DocJay: Padres vs Cubs game 4.  We camped out all night at Jack Murphy stadium to get tickets in the morning.  I was with college buddies and made a party of it.  Steve Garvey hit a walk off home run in the ninth to tie the series and the place went nuts.  The Padres won the series 3-2 to advance to the world series.

    Thanks a lot for dredging up memories of that heartbreaking October 1984. My ten-year-old Cubs fan self was inconsolable. I’m still mad at Steve Garvey for beating out Jody Davis for the NLCS MVP award. And those horrible taco-colored uniforms the Padres had!

    I need to go lie down.

    Sorry, what were we talking about?

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    @AlohaJohnny

    I the world of iPhones, has “queuing tolerance” gone up?  You can play games, talk to friends, listen to Ricochet podcasts, read Ricochet, etc.  I think folks are more willing to line up then before.  I know I am.  

    And I hate lines to the point of paying for access to the site that tells you what days the lines are shortest at Disneyland.  Well worth it.  

    • #8
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    @Bluebottle

    Three hours for a Social Security card.

    It will be three or four decades before I’m eligible for that program’s entitlement benefits, so you’ll have to wait until then before I discover whether it was worth it or not.

    …Being lied to makes us feel better about a line …

    “… All else being equal, people who wait less than they anticipated leave happier than those who wait longer than expected…

    So if the program bankrupts before I retire, I’ll be sure to remember your quote about Disney line psychology and feel better about it. <grin!>

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    @user_31634

    Peter Tosh in 1981. Camped out around midnight for 8am sales. Me and a buddy were still the only ones there when the sun came up. But, got second row center seats and it was epic. I always felt a connection to Tosh after that and still feel heavy-hearted when I think about his murder several years later. He was an amazing talent behind the success of Bob Marley.

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    @thelonious

    This doesn’t count as a line, but I’ve endured a few 5 hour rounds of golf.  Nothing worse than waiting 10 minutes between each shot.  A 3 hour round of golf is bliss.  A 5 hour round is pure frustrating agony.

    • #11
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    @Fredosphere

    But is he saying it would it be fair for an old man buying a candy bar to wait behind a child stocking up on provisions for the Mayan apocalypse?

    • #12
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    @FloridaRachel

    I was recently running errands with my two eight-year-olds, a couple of days before we went on a two week vacation to Ireland and Northern Ireland.  The list was long, and included trying to find a jacket for my daughter.  It’s not easy trying to find a child’s jacket in Florida in July. 

    So we went to the Salvation Army to see if they had any jackets.  As my daughter and I were looking at jackets, my son wandered over to the bike section.  He needed a new bike, which we had promised to get him once we got back from vacation.  He found the “perfect” bike, which actually was pretty perfect, the right size and in good shape.  I said we could get it, then I started wondering why there were all these people standing around in our way.

    It was 1/2 price Wednesday at Salvation Army and I realized the line was snaking through the store.  At that point, separating boy from bike would have been a struggle I couldn’t endure.  We waited almost an hour for the bike. 

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    @user_31634

    Worst. World’s largest prarie dog exhibit in Kansas. Line was about 10 seconds long.

    • #14
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    @FloppyDisk90

    Don’t know about the longest line I’ve been in but I *absolutely* sympathize with the compulsion to shank line jumpers.  They scream “my time is more important than yours.”  This is why I tailgate the car in front of me at all on-ramp/off-ramp queues on the highway.

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    @

    Over three hours at the DMV waiting to get my drivers liscence. Because they que you with a number like at the deli counter, I used the time to drive 30 mi from the north end of a major city to a southern suburb, attended a Dr. Appt. and returned with 15 minuites left before my number was called.

    That doesn’t even include the 2 1/2 hours I waited the prior day, before abandoning the effort.

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    @CharlesRapp

    2 hours to go through Mount Vernon. Worth the wait.Mt.jpg

    • #17
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    @Foxfier

    Roughly two years, it was called “being stationed at sea”. 

    /humor

    Seriously, though, I think the longest one where I was waiting for a single, defined thing rather than window to window was when I went to get a new driver’s license after changing my name; I got there at  7:30 and the line was already reaching from the door, back around the atrium and out the front door.  Half an hour later, they opened.  I got my number about ten minutes later.  About a half hour after that, I remembered the garage door was open, and it took about twenty minutes to gather the Kit, get home, fix that and get back.  Three hours later, my number was called.

    So, about four and a half hours? 

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    @DeanMurphy

    1.5 hours in near freezing weather without a coat for…

    HoneyBaked Ham.

    • #19
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    @HeartofAmerica
    Dean Murphy: 1.5 hours in near freezing weather without a coat for…

    HoneyBaked Ham. · 11 minutes ago

    I might have been in the same line with you! Out the door, down the sidewalk…all to pick up our “reserved ham”, which I am suspect really wasn’t reserved for me at all.

    • #20
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    @dittoheadadt

    Does being on “hold” on the phone waiting for the next available rep count as being in line?  Because if it does, the IRS has my gold, silver, and bronze medals.

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    @captainpower
    tabula rasa

    dittoheadadt: Does being on “hold” on the phone waiting for the next available rep count as being in line?  Because if it does, the IRS has my gold, silver, and bronze medals. · 29 minutes ago

    Edited 28 minutes ago

    But doesn’t it make you feel better when the recording comes on every couple of minutes to tell you how important your call is to the IRS?  Social Security is just as bad. · 11 hours ago

    I hate having the “on hold” music interrupted with a pre-recorded voice. It gives me false hope each time and increases my anger over the course of the wait.

    That gets compounded when I ponder that someone thought it would be a good idea.  Gives me the impression that they don’t care a whit about their customers, which increases my resentment as I wait.

    • #22
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    @livingthehighlife

    I’m a line curmudgeon – I won’t wait more than 15 minutes unless absolutely necessary

    I training my children well – they don’t like to wait either.

    • #23
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    @Pseudodionysius

    Canadian healthcare: 7 hours to get stitches.

    • #24
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    @jameslileks

    Minnesota DMV: generally takes about 15 minutes. Hah! 

    The longest wait was probably at Disneyworld, where queueing is a science. The line is broken down into discrete experiences, so you move from one room to another, a new set of stimuli replacing the old. It’s quite effective, and gives you the impression that the wait is part of the experience. 

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member
    @tabularasa

    DMV:  two hours in the wrong line–two more hours in the right line.

    Is there something unique to DMVs that make them the ultimate bad bureaucracy?  And is there a national association that has set a standard that no DMV employee ever smile or act like the poor taxpayer is a human being?

    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Member
    @tabularasa
    dittoheadadt: Does being on “hold” on the phone waiting for the next available rep count as being in line?  Because if it does, the IRS has my gold, silver, and bronze medals. · 29 minutes ago

    Edited 28 minutes ago

    But doesn’t it make you feel better when the recording comes on every couple of minutes to tell you how important your call is to the IRS?  Social Security is just as bad.

    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Contributor
    @DianeEllis

    2.5 hour wait to go through the security check point at the Las Vegas airport last year.  I missed my flight, and then proceeded to wait another 10 hours for the next plane with available seats.

    • #28
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    @wilberforge

    Oregon DMV, two to four hours. Santa Ana, Calif. , best of luck.

    Bastrop, Texas DMV, 15 minutes. They also split drivers lisc. and auto registration into two seperate functions and offices.

    Let’s not forget the Post office. Do not recall ever encountering a State or Federal employee that smiled, must be in the rule book. A recent suggestion by Postal Admins. to reduce complaints about the wait times was to remove the clocks from public view. Charming devotion to customer service.

    • #29
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    @DianeEllis

    There’s this really good old-style Italian restaurant in San Francisco. They don’t take reservations, so you just have to wait. The first time I went, I waited in line 2 hours.  Then when James Delingpole was in town, I thought I’d take him there for dinner.  I got there 1.5 hours early so I could do the waiting for the two of us. But since we were dining on a weekday, there was zero wait.  So I just sat in the lobby reading Ricochet on my phone for an hour and a half and drank a few glasses of wine while I waited for James.  The best part:  A table of middle-aged men thought I’d been stood up, so they kept inviting me over their table to dine with them.

    • #30

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