Food For Thought

You're Wasting My Time

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

Robert Fulghumís book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, talks of the many rules that are fundamental to a working society. One of the most important and difficult-to-understand rules is the need to wait in line.

The concept of the line must have been one of Godís greatest creations. How could society exist without the ability to recognize the need for lines? Kindergarten children rapidly learn that there is a line to get on and off the bus, to go to lunch and to the restroom. When visiting an elementary school youíll see kids lined up everywhere and, in many instances, they are even holding hands to ensure their proper place.

Lines drive me crazy. Iím a type-A personality and just standing there doing nothing works on my psychť. Waiting in line seems such a waste of valuable time. I once considered calculating the amount of time I wasted waiting in line each month, but didnít want to become too depressed.

When I leave my house I know Iím going to be in one of the most dreaded of lines; the traffic in most metropolitan areas and even in many rural areas has become intolerable. The ability of most people to wait in long lines of slow-moving cars on superhighways is a credit to what they learned in kindergarten. Itís a wonder there arenít more cases of road rage. There are thousands of people just wasting their lives sitting in traffic. We spend great amounts of money on medical science to extend our lives. An easier way to get more free time on this earth would be to decrease the time we wait in our cars. My son, a teacher, changed schools and cut his driving time in half. The half-hour he saved each day amounts to approximately five 24-hour days each year, time that was wasted sitting in a car. By the time he reaches retirement heíll have accumulated 175 days of time.

Think of the productivity lost by workers having to sit in traffic. A nearby interchange has traffic back-ups of at least five miles every morning. The time to travel five miles on the interstate should be less than five minutes. It takes 30 to 45 minutes to travel that distance at this interchange on most days, and this is just one of several bottlenecks that many of the workers who travel this route will encounter. You do the math.

When voters and political representatives refuse to accept the responsibility to build roads that could move workers to their jobs more quickly, I think they are only hurting themselves. We spend thousands of dollars on drugs attempting to lower our cholesterol with the objective of obtaining additional time on this earth. Why not make each day more efficient by reducing the time spent in lines and achieve the same result ó more free time?

I dislike going to the store because most of the time Iíll have to wait in line to pay for the products Iím purchasing. Youíd think the owners would want to quickly get my money. On several occasions, I just left the items and went to another store. Stores seem to have plenty of cash registers; they just donít want to man them. Most of the time less than a quarter of the available check-out lanes are open. One local store had a sign stating that if more than three people were in line they would open another register. They were always violating the promise. Theyíve now taken the sign down. I guess I wasnít the only one who reminded them of their failure to follow their own commitments. Some places provide self-checkout services. I use them when I have a few small items. I just donít feel comfortable listening to a machine that thinks itís smarter than I am. These machines can speak more languages than I can. They count and take my money faster than I can make it, but they donít have a diploma on the wall. I have several and that makes me feel more secure as I blindly respond to the machineís every instruction.

Banks are notorious for their lines. My bank has four lanes for drive-up banking. Most of the time youíre lucky if two are open, and both of those lanes are controlled by one teller. They tell me to use the Internet for my banking needs. I do, but Uncle Sam wonít let me print my own money. Iím usually disturbed when I go to the bank. Somehow it upsets me that they have my money and make it so difficult for me to get some of it back. Theyíre always advertising how friendly they are, but I donít think banks by their very nature are friendly places; the people may be, but the bank? Ö Nah. These stores and banks are always telling me that the things they do are for my protection. If thatís the case, then I should be the one who decides if I need that protection. Less protection would move the lines a lot faster.

Iím finishing this article after returning from Florida on the Amtrak Auto Train. This is a great idea to reduce the number of cars on the road, but it also has lines. I spend an average of three hours waiting from the time I arrive at the station until my car is loaded and the train begins to move. When I get to my destination, seldom is the train on time. Amtrak trains spend a lot of time waiting on sidetracks because they have a lower priority than freight trains. When I get to my destination, I have to wait two hours for my car to be unloaded. A lot of senior citizens were returning from Florida. The total trip took about 26 hours. It is still far superior to fighting the lines of traffic on I-95 going 80 m.p.h., and more relaxing. Maybe we should use more trains?

We say human life is valuable, but we waste a lot of it in unnecessary lines. If we could bank the minutes we saved not waiting in line and extend our lives, Iím positive weíd build more roads, open more registers, and use more mass transportation. Until that time of awakening, Iíll just learn to bow to a talking machine and allow freight trains to have a higher priority than human life.

Iíll close with the words of a favorite cowboyís song, ďHappy Trails to You.Ē 


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