Productive Time Spent Waiting in Line

Waiting in line isn’t my favorite pastime, especially when I’m pressed for time. My composure is severely tested when I see several cashiers and a manager trying to help solve one customer’s problem while the line of waiting customers grows longer and longer. My white hair has given me the courage now to take a deep breath, project my voice and say, “May I suggest something? Could just one of you help that customer? We really need more cashiers.” This usually brings results, and I receive grateful looks from the meeker waiters-in-line. This might not have worked so easily when I had auburn hair. Also, I doubt that this method would achieve results at the Department of Motor Vehicles

Recently, however, I didn’t mind waiting in line for very good reasons. I had a conversation with the person just ahead of me in line (the first Brazilian I’ve ever met), and I became acquainted with an employee who couldn’t have been more helpful, and a woman who gave me some good advice on one way to prevent identity fraud.

The venue was a busy copy center. Everyone was waiting for the service person to return from lunch. There were only heavy stools near the counter for customers’ convenience. As I approached, the gentleman from Brazil pulled a stool toward me, wincing a bit as he dragged it.

“Are you all right?” I added after I’d thanked him.

“Yes.” But he sounded qualified. “It’s just my kidneys.” He proceeded to describe very casually his problem, and illustrated it on a piece of scrap paper. I was enthralled. I’d never before been drawn into such a personal introduction to a total stranger. We proceeded to converse like two old crones having an “organ recital.” Eventually the subject changed to his background – his brother in Brazil, who wrote children’s books, the fact that his countrymen speak Portuguese, not Spanish. “We can speak Spanish, but they (other Latinos) don’t understand Portuguese.” He asked me, “Habla usted español un poco?” (“Do you speak a little Spanish?”)

“Mas que un poco” (more than a little), I answered, to his surprise. Then we began a halting conversation in Spanish, more for fun because each of us was hardly fluent. About then he reached the first place in line, and the service person was back to help him.

My turn came shortly after the Brazilian’s. Meanwhile, the employee had announced to all of us that the big laminating machine wasn’t working. Sigh! I had come to the store to have large posters made by scanning a book cover, printing and laminating them. I had driven some distance to this copy center, and had I also waited in vain? After Liana, the employee (I had become acquainted with her by now), had asked me how large I wanted the poster and I told her, she said, “Oh well, that’s no problem. The other laminating machine is working.” Calmly and patiently she experimented with the images and tried different kinds of paper until we decided upon which combination looked better. I learned that she was from the Philippines and she had two teenage sons. They happened to be nearby, so she introduced them to me.

At last I had my posters and it was time to pay. I’d forgotten my discount card. Liana asked for my telephone number. Without lowering my voice I gave it to her. I didn’t pay attention to the signals another customer kept trying to give me. After my transaction was complete and I was ready to leave, the woman beckoned me aside. With the clandestine manner of a security agent she lowered her head and confided, almost in my ear, “It’s a good idea to write down your telephone number and show it to her. You never know who’s around to memorize it.”

“You’re right. I never thought about that. Thank you.”

A day or so later, for the first time I tried writing down my phone number for a clerk in another store. As I showed it to her, she said in loud, pear-shaped tones that everyone in her vicinity could hear, “Is that … ?” and she repeated my entire phone number. So much for the prevention of identity fraud. But I still think it’s a good idea.